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Hilltop Drive-In Theatre

Highway 183 S
La Crosse KS

Closed Outdoor Theatre
Record #21726  
 Opened: June 15, 1953
 Closed: 1973
 Current Use:
Capacity: 285 cars
Architectural Style(s):
National Register:
Current Organ: none
 Also Known As: Hil'top Drive-In

Information for this tour was contributed by Brad Penka.

In late 1952, Ralph Larned decided it was time for Rush County to have a drive-in theatre. In January 1953, he leased a ten-acre plot of ground at the south edge of La Crosse from Loris Erbes. On June 15 of that year, the Hil'Top Drive-In, a 285-car outdoor theatre, opened to the public.

The concession building was twenty-two feet by fifty feet and included a projection booth, storeroom, and restroom facilities. A glass wall on the front of the building allowed patrons to view the movie while waiting in the concession line. A playground was situated behind the building. Movies were projected onto a Cinema-Scope-sized Boyer pre-fab screen that stood fifty-six feet into the air with a picture area sixty-four feet wide and thirty-four feet high. The screen was constructed of laminated lumber with white glatex shingles on the picture area. Two Brenkert BX-80 35mm Projectors illuminated by Brenkert Carbon Arc lamphouses beamed movies onto the giant screen. Patrons could hear the movie through individual Ballantyne in-car speakers mounted at each parking stall.

The opening feature at the theatre was Jubilee Trail, starring Forrest Tucker and Joan Leslie. The theatre was managed by Gordon Holiday and opening night staff included: concession operators, Lillyann Suppes, Valta Ochs, Velma Kanage, and Kathryn Wilhelm; ticket cashier, Della Parker; and projectionist, Robert Peterson.

In spring of 1966, a windstorm destroyed the original pre-fab screen forcing the theatre to close for the remainder of the season. The following year, a new steel screen tower was constructed. The Larneds reopened the theatre for a short period of time before closing it and moving to Texas in the late 1960s.

In 1971, Sterling Bagby of Stockton and Steve Bagby of Hays took over operation of the theatre. The theatre struggled to remain open for three more seasons until permanently closing in the fall of 1973.

After a fire destroyed the LaCrosse Country Club a short while later, the golfers utilized the concession building as a clubhouse until the mid-1980s. Until 1985, the drive-in still contained all of the original concession and projection equipment. In 1986, the box office, fences, and parking ramps were removed.

Over the next decade, time and the elements began to take their toll. The building suffered considerable damage from water and rodents. In the summer of 2001, the concession building was dismantled leaving only the towering screen to serve as a monument to a once thriving business.

 Photos remain the property of the Member and may not be reproduced without the written consent of the Member.

October 2009 photos from the Adam Martin collection.

52 KB · 625x418


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Last featured 10/20/2002. Last edited 10/27/2009.

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