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Fire destroys Admiral Twin Drive-In screens September 3, 2010

Posted by Ron Warnick in Movies, Theaters.

The remains of the Admiral Twin Drive-In theater's screens after a fire on Friday.

A fast-burning fire on Friday afternoon destroyed the double screen of the historic Admiral Twin Drive-In theater in Tulsa. Whether the Admiral Twin, beloved by Tulsans for nearly 60 years, will reopen remained in doubt.

Blake Smith, whose family has operated the drive-in near the Admiral Place alignment of Route 66 since 1987, told the Tulsa World that the screens were not insured. He said because the screens were within a wooden structure, insurers refused to underwrite it. Smith estimated that rebuilding would cost up to $300,000, and he voiced doubts early Friday afternoon whether it would happen.

The remains of the Admiral Twin's screen can be seen at right, behind the ticket booths.

However, a Save the Admiral Twin Drive-In page launched on Facebook within hours of the blaze. By 7 p.m. Friday, the page boasted more than 5,000 followers. By early evening, a fund for donations to help rebuild the screens had been set up at Security Bank. A SavetheAdmiralTwin.com site also was launched.

The Admiral Twin's screens before the fire. (Photo by Emily Priddy)

The cause of the fire, which started shortly before 2 p.m., remained unknown. Witnesses reported that the blaze had rendered the screen to almost nothing within 15 minutes. Photos of the fire in progress can be seen here and here.

Burning embers drifted across nearby Interstate 244 and forced the closure of at least one lane for a short time.

The ticket booths, projection booths and concession stands appeared to be undamaged.

The drive-in opened in 1951, and the second screen was built a year later. Even as the number of drive-ins in the United States dropped over the decades, the Admiral Twin continued to show first-run movies during the spring and summer.

In addition to its long association with Route 66, the Admiral Twin served as an inspiration during a scene in Tulsa native S.E. Hinton’s famous novel, “The Outsiders.”

This clip by TulsaFilms.com explains the Admiral Twin’s historical significance and its “Outsiders” link:

A scene shot at the Admiral Twin in “The Outsiders” movie in 1983 can be seen at the 4:15 mark in this clip below. Director Francis Ford Coppola filmed the entire movie in Tulsa and the surrounding area.

Again, it remains iffy whether the Admiral Twin’s screens will be rebuilt. But the massive outpouring of support and love for the drive-in from Tulsans and around the world has to be encouraging, at the least.

UPDATE: KMOD radio reports that the Admiral Twin’s owners will try to rebuild.

It’s remarkable how Tulsans are rallying in an effort to bring back the Admiral Twin:

  • Bigfoot Prints is printing up “Save the Admiral Twin” T-shirts for $10. All profits go to rebuilding it.
  • A benefit concert will be held at the Rose Bowl Events Center on Sunday, Oct. 10, with shows by Chuk Cooley & the Demon Hammers and other bands to be announced.
  • Boomtown Tees in Tulsa will give a portion of its proceeds from its special Admiral Twin shirt.

I’m sure there will be more announcements.

UPDATE2: The Tulsa World this morning reported that although the ticket booths were still standing, they were damaged by the blaze’s intense heat.

The fire department also said the fire started on the north side of the screens. FYI, the screen did contain lighting fixtures, so an electrical fire cannot be ruled out.

The Save the Admiral Twin Drive-In page on Facebook had almost 12,000 fans by Saturday sunrise.

Here are a couple of videos from passers-by. The second one shows why the highway was closed for a while:


1. Tonya Pike - September 3, 2010

The Rock Cafe came back from fire, this can too. I’m glad to see a fund has already been set up, and that the owners are already talking rebuild. Please keep us updated, Ron, on what is going on with this.

2. David Canoy - September 4, 2010

The “Save the Admiral Twin” Facebook page mentioned above has links to the paypal you can use to donate directly to the fund… there was some damage to the ticket booths as the were just south of the inferno ans it was a HOT fire. embers ignited grass fires on both sides of I-244 and some cars ignited. The old screen was the largest wooden projector screen in the nation. the new screen will have to be metal in order to get insured. On the upside nothing could bring Tulsa together like an icon removed from our skyline. the money will come and the place will reopen and business will boom. you don’t know what you’ve got, till its gone.

3. Rich - September 5, 2010

Bring it back! Rebuild!

4. Admiral Twin rebuild effort raises $25,000 so far « Route 66 News - October 6, 2010

[…] in donations have been collected to rebuild the Admiral Twin Drive-In theater in Tulsa after its outdoor screen burned down Sept. […]

5. Admiral Twin slated to reopen « Route 66 News - March 3, 2011

[…] historic Admiral Twin Drive-In theater in Tulsa, which saw its screens destroyed by a fire in September 2010, will almost certainly reopen later this year, reported KTUL-TV in […]

6. Admiral Twin will be rebuilt « Route 66 News - March 23, 2011

[…] historic Admiral Twin Drive-In theater in Tulsa, which saw its iconic double screen destroyed by fire last year, will rebuild and reopen this summer, according to a report by KJRH-TV in Tulsa. Blake […]

7. Admiral Twin will be rebuilt « Route 66 News - April 13, 2011

[…] told the Tulsa World yesterday he’d secured a loan to rebuild the double screen that was destroyed during a huge fire last September. The loan will allow him to not only reconstruct the two-sided tower – made of […]

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