Fire Destroys Screens At Tulsa's Admiral Twin Drive-In

Friday, September 3rd 2010, 2:54 pm
By: News On 6

TULSA, OK -- The screens at the historic Admiral Twin Drive-In, 7355 East Easton, have been destroyed by fire.

The screens were painted plywood attached to a large wooden framework. The fire started at about 2 p.m. and destroyed the structure in less than 30 minutes.

What's left of the structure was being torn down Friday evening.

"Unfortunately, it looks like the structure and the screen structure is going to be a total loss, which, obviously, has historical significance to the city and to the nation," said Captain Michael Baker, Tulsa Fire Department.

There's still no word on what caused the fire that has left a lot of people heartbroken. Among those mourning the loss of the Admiral Twin is the man who owns the drive-in.

The owner says even if he could rebuild, it will never be the same.

"It broke my heart. It's still breaking my heart. It's hard to look cause that tower really was such an icon of Tulsa," said Blake Smith, Admiral Twin Drive-In co-owner.

She brought the silver screen to thousands in the open air and her fiery demise stopped traffic and drew on-lookers, determined to get their last glimpse and final pictures of the Admiral Twin. But to some, this was more than just a piece of history, it was home.

"We been here since 1951. The city seems to love this place and we loved being here. It's gonna be difficult. It's gonna be hard to drive down 244 and not see the screen tower anymore," Smith said.

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"Speakers and stuff, I used to have to be the one to take care of them during the daytime, and then run the theatre at night. Put that picture on the screen," said Gary Filby, who is a former employee.

Filby had to say a somber good-bye to the theatre he tended for more than a decade.

"A lot of people have never got to experience, a lot of kids will never get to see something like this. It's disheartening and sad to see something like this happen," Filby said.

Before the ashes could even cool, some wondered whether the legendary drive-in would rise again. Smith says no insurance company would cover a nine-story wooden tower. Smith says even if he could put back what was lost, the Admiral Twin has no equal.

"We'd have to build it out of metal at this point. So it will look completely different. But we'll have to see what the future holds," said Smith.

According to the drive-in's website, the Admiral Twin was Oklahoma's largest drive-in. It opened originally as a single screen in 1951, when it was known as the Modernaire. When a second screen was added a year later, the drive-in was renamed The Admiral Twin Drive-In. The nine-story structure was also the largest wood screen tower ever built.

Memories Of Tulsa's Admiral Twin

Author Of 'The Outsiders' Weighs In On Loss

The Admiral Twin Drive-In was featured in Frances Ford Coppola's classic 1983 film "The Outsiders" based on the novel by Tulsa author S.E. Hinton and set in the 1950s.

S.E. Hinton, who still lives in Tulsa, says she remembers driving by the Admiral Twin on a trip home from the airport.

She says: "They were showing 'The Outsiders' and I happened to pass by right as it came to the scene at the drive-in. So I was watching the Admiral Twin on the screen of the Admiral Twin. It was like one of those infinite mirror moments, and it just reminded me how long the Admiral Twin has been a part of my life. It's just so sad to think it's gone."

Hinton tells The News On 6 she has e-mailed the actors who were in that drive-in scene. She says Ralph Macchio has replied that the fire made him very sad.

Crowd Gathers As Firefighters Put Out The Flames

Some were brought to tears as they watched the landmark burn.

Terry Thomas, witnessed fire: "This is my stomping ground, its right across the street. It was almost like watching my own house burn down."

Roger Connelly, witnessed fire: "My wife and I have been married over 21 years, been together over 23, and this place was our very first date."

Brian Jackson, witnessed fire: "To see the ashes is just heart breaking. All the many people, the families that come here every season for the drive-in, it just brings me to emotion right now."

The fire has struck an emotional chord with many Tulsans, both current and former. One user commented: 

"The first movie I remember going to was Billy Jack. That was the place to take a date when I was in high school. We would come from Claremore for our dates there. More than once I remember getting halfway home and realizing that I drove off with one of the speakers! Remember those HUGE iron things hanging on the window?"

Shawn Cook wrote:

"The summer that the movie 'The Outsiders' was made, I was an extra in that movie.  The way they redid the entire drive-in for that movie brought it back to life!!  It will surely be missed.  I have taken my children there since they were small babies.  Now they are grown up and still frequented that place.  We have had family movie nights there.  It's like a tail gate party.  So sad!!!

9/3/10  Related Story: Movie Goers Remember Tulsa's Admiral Twin Drive-In

Facebook Page Devoted To Saving Admiral Twin Drive-In

Fans are already banding together, calling for a comeback.

There's a Facebook page devoted to saving the Admiral Twin. And, it has more than 4,000 fans, some who are willing to donate money if it means they'll get their drive-in back.

An account has been opened at a bank in Jenks.

Donations can be made at Select Cinemas Security Bank at 51st and 169 or P.O. Box 1165 Jenks, OK 74037. 

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has reopened all lanes of I-244 between Memorial Drive and Sheridan Road. The entire stretch of highway had been shut down due to "limited visibility." 

In the meantime, you can send photos and videos to Feel free to send images of the fire, or of you and your loved ones attending movies there.

Leave your memories of the Admiral Twin in the topix section below.