Family Fun at Boulevard Drive-In Theatre: Bring Back Memories of Yesteryear—and Create New Ones

Article Kris Koederitz Melcher
Photography McKenna Mathewson

I remember my first drive-in theatre experience as a kid. It was the early ’80s and we saw Disney’s Herbie Goes Bananas from the comfort of my parents’ VW camper complete with a pop-up roof, which proved to be the ultimate viewing spot. We’d made popcorn in our hot air popper beforehand and I was clad in my Holly Hobby pajamas and clutching my Cabbage Patch Doll, excited that I got to stay up so late. It’s one of my best summer childhood memories.

Fast forward more than thirty years (ouch!) and I had the opportunity to create memories with my own family at the Boulevard Drive-In Theatre, located at 1051 Merriam Lane in Kansas City, Kan. I wasn’t disappointed. The drive-in boasts 4K digital resolution and digital audio, a small playground in front of the screen, a well-stocked and reasonably-priced concession stand (patrons can also bring their own food and drink), and exceptionally nice and clean restrooms. Cost is $10 for adults and kids 11 and under are free (cash only).

I was delighted to find out that my nostalgia for the drive-in was right on par. Before the first movie, my son Jack played on the little playground, and everyone enjoyed a preshow live video of all the kids dancing and having fun at the drive-in (think Jumbotron).

Equipped with chairs, blankets, snacks and drinks, we were ready. It was a beautiful spring evening and we started off outside our car in chairs, but when it got a bit chillier, my husband Jeff, Jack and I were all to happy to climb into the back of the propped-open SUV and snuggle under blankets with our pillows and watch the rest of the movie. We enjoyed the first movie, The Croods, and Oz played afterward, but unfortunately my son was too young (and my husband and I were too old) to stay for that one.

“Our motto is ‘excellence is entertainment,’”says Brian Neal, operator of Boulevard Drive-In Theatre. “Kids can be kids, and people like so much that it’s great family value and fun.”

Brian Shalton of Leawood is one of those people. He frequents the drive-in with his daughter, Emersyn.

“I have always loved going to the drive-in,” says Shalton. “It’s fun to just throw a bunch of pillows and blankets in the back of the car and have a nice relaxing family evening. It’s a great atmosphere and for me, it is also nostalgic.”

Sara Jane Raine, also of Leawood, agrees. “One of the things that is important for me to do as a mom is to create life-long memories,” says Raine. “I have strong memories of piling into our station wagon in our jammies and backing up to the screen for a summertime movie. We took our kids to see Brave last summer and they brought their bean bags, sleeping bags, and wore their jammies and slippers—they loved it! Everything down to the sign as you enter and the playground at the front is exactly as I remember when I was little. Boulevard Drive-In tops the list of things they want to do again this summer.”

For Neal, the drive in itself is a family affair. Sixty seasons ago, his grandfather Wes Neal, who now owns Boulevard Drive-In, bought a ticket on a Friday in the summer of 1954 and asked if he could work there. They called him the next day and he was working that night.

“Grandpa has done everything from custodial duties to maintenance to traffic direction and worked his way up to owner,” says Neal. “He grew up picking cotton in Arkansas, so he was never afraid of hard work.”

The Boulevard Drive-In first opened on June 30, 1950, with A Lady Takes a Sailor starring Jane Wyman and has remained open every year. This year the season opened April 5 and will run every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night through the second weekend in October. The gates open at 7 p.m. and the first show begins 30 minutes after sunset with a second one following. The drive-in receives new releases the same day as indoor theatres. On Saturdays and Sundays, the drive-in hosts a Swap & Shop (the garage sale of all garage sales”) from 5 a.m.-2 p.m. year-round, weather permitting. Admission is $1 and seller spots are $10.

So how would I rate our experience at the Boulevard Drive-In? I’ll let Jack do that: “Mom, that was the best night ever!”

Out of the mouths of babes.

For more information or to see what’s playing, visit BoulevardDriveIn.com or follow them on Facebook.