The owner of the last remaining drive-in movie theater in Oklahoma City said Monday he will rebuild and reopen after Friday night's storms caused major damage.
Strong straight-line winds or a small tornado tore the roof off the drive-in's main building, which houses a concession stand, projection room and an office. Besides the structural damage, the storm ruined the theater's digital projector and trashed the sound system.
The wind tore air conditioners and fans off the building's roof. One of the fans was used to cool the projector. When it was torn from the roof, it left a hole that channeled water directly into the projector.
Lindy Shanbour's family has owned the Winchester Drive-In, 6930 S Western Ave., since it opened in 1968. The building damaged Friday was built when the theater opened.
“That projector was brand new,” Shanbour said. “We just put it in a couple of weeks ago. You wouldn't believe what you would see on the screen. It was so bright and colorful.”
The storm also downed trees and a fence around the theater and put a small hole in the base of the screen, although the screen itself was unscathed. The drive-in's historic neon cowboy sign also survived, although half the marquee on the sign was blown out.
Running a drive-in theater is tough in the best of times, which is why there are only a few still open. The business model was obsolete long before streaming online movies.
Shanbour said drive-ins have always had to deal with rainouts and the seasonal nature of the business. But the Winchester isn't primarily about making money.
“I do this for the public that wants it open,” he said.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service in Norman said at least five tornadoes touched down during Friday night's storms, which also had straight-line winds of more than 90 mph.
Shanbour has been encouraged by the support from customers on Facebook, many of whom have offered to help clean up the damage. Insurance should cover the damage to the building and the electronics.
The nostalgia associated with the Winchester means it has a loyal following and fans who will come back when the damage is fixed and the theater is reopened. Shanbour said he is determined the business will not die because of storm damage.
“There is no question about it,” he said. “I don't know how long it's going to take, but we will reopen. You get this in your blood, and you can't get it out. I can't tell you the feeling it gives me.”