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  • Douglas Towne

Rodeo Drive-In Was One Wild Hayride

The Rodeo Drive-In opened in 1953 in an industrial area of Phoenix near 12th Street and Buckeye Road. It was the Valley’s seventh drive-in, with room for 550 cars with each auto charged $1 for admission. The Rodeo had a challenging evolution, with increasing neighborhood crime and changing film tastes until closing in 1981.


The Rodeo Drive-In opened in 1953 in an industrial area of Phoenix near 12th Street and Buckeye Road, which was then called Henshaw Road. The theater owners paved the entire site with asphalt for comfort—and to dissuade excavations on land that was once the Jacob Waltz ranch.

“Every inch of that property had been dug up by treasure hunters, hoping to find the fabled gold of the Lost Dutchman mine reported buried on his ranch,” J. B. McCormick, theater co-owner, told the Arizona Republic.

The Rodeo was the Valley’s seventh drive-in at the time. The 10.5-acre site included room for 550 cars, a 64-foot screen, and a snack bar. “Popcorn is the sweetheart of theater owners,” added McCormick. “We’d all go back to cow pastures without it. As long as we charge only $1 per car for admission with as many as eight persons per car and show three features on weekends, it’s the popcorn that keeps us in business.”

Opening night featured the movies, Branded, Flying Leathernecks, and The Sniper, all just “24 Short Blocks from the Heart of Phoenix.” The drive-in, which included “Always Two Cartoons,” was built by John C. Kelton & Son Contractors, signage by Myers-Leiber Company, and enclosed by American Fence Company. Patrons could walk-in for 40 cents, children for just 10 cents...


To read the rest of this article, you are invited to purchase the digital issue here.

This article originally appeared in the Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Jan/Feb 2019 issue, Vol. 8, No.1. The Arizona Contractor & Community magazine is a Bi-monthly publication.

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