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SHOWTIME WITH THE SHELTONS

Houston couple enjoying operating the Phoenix Theater

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Phoenix Theater and Drive-In owners

One of the recreational choices citizens of Houston and the surrounding area have is to go to the movies.

In fact, people can enjoy the movie experience indoors or outdoors because Houston’s Phoenix Theater and Drive-In not only has an indoor screen, but a rare drive-in screen.

Long-time Texas County residents Josh and Jennifer Shelton took ownership of the business last June. They also own a farm in the county and have three kids in the Houston Schools system.

“We had been considering this for a couple of years,” Jennifer said. “I think when we made the move it was a God decision; He knows the right timing.”

“It’s going well – it’s busy,” Josh said. “Jennifer always told people we love to watch movies, and that’s a lot easier when you own a theater.”

Phoenix Theater indoor venue

The Phoenix Theater and Drive-In's indoor venue has seating for up to 190 patrons. It can be rented for video game parties.

Phoenix’s indoor and outdoor facilities are both equipped with digital projection systems and Dolby surround sound systems that allow for showing first-run new releases.

Phoenix Theater digital projector

Both the indoor and outdoor screens at Houston's Phoenix Theater and Drive-In are equipped with digital movie projectors.

“We try to get the popular new releases as often as we can,” Jennifer said.

The indoor facility can seat up to 190 patrons and features a concession stand with many choices, including popcorn-and-drink combos. The Sheltons’ plans for the indoor facility include updated seating, expanded restrooms and a few cosmetic changes.

The drive-in can accommodate close to 150 vehicles and has a sound system designed to be heard on an FM radio. A centrally-located building houses a concession stand (with burgers, hot dogs, nachos, snow cones in the summer, and many other choices), restrooms and space for the digital projector.

Phoenix Theater concession stand

The Phoenix Theater and Drive-In's indoor concession stand features numerous choices, with popcorn-and-drink combos available.

“We haven’t had any complaints about the sound,” Jennifer said. “Everything seems to run smoothly – except for someone’s car dying now and then if they leave it on too long. But we happily give them a jump.”

Phoenix Theater new releases

Both the indoor and outdoor screens at Houston's Phoenix Theater and Drive-In show first-run new releases.

Pets are OK in the drive-in if they don’t become a distraction.

“As long as they’re not being disruptive, it’s fine,” Jennifer said.

An unusual option available at the Phoenix’s indoor theater is it can be rented for video game parties including wireless controls. The Sheltons said seeing the game image on the “silver screen” is amazing.

“It’s one of the coolest things we’ve been doing,” Jennifer said. “I’m not even a big video game nerd, but it’s really wild and people seem to love it. The previous owners said they thought it was possible, but they had never figured it out.

“Josh said, ‘we’re going to figure it out,’ and we did.”

A BIT OF MOTION PICTURE HISTORY

 

Houston’s drive-in opened in 1951 and was then called the Sunset Drive-in. The indoor venue began showing films in the early 1970s.

To say that drive-in theaters are rare these days is a major understatement. There were about 5,000 across the U.S. during their heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, but now there are only nine still in operation in Missouri.

The Phoenix’s original outdoor screen was blown down by a strong, straight-line wind in the mid-1990s and replaced by the current unit with a stronger metal base.

The Sheltons understand and enjoy the historic nature of their business. Josh even has childhood memories of going to the drive-in.

“It’s pretty awesome,” he said. “I can’t tell you any specifics about it, but I remember running around and playing out there.”

The venue is even a stop on the popular “Pokemon Go” game.

“It even says, ‘one of the last known drive-ins in Missouri,’” Jennifer said. “That’s really amazing.”

Phoenix Theater drive-in screen

The drive-in movie venue at Houston's Phoenix Theater and Drive-In opened in 1951 and is one of only nine still operating in Missouri.

The Sheltons said they have seen people be pretty creative with their seating arrangements at the drive-in, including using a mattress and a futon in the back of pickups.

“There are a lot of people who come here for the first time and mention how neat it was,” Jennifer said. “The drive-in really is a great experience.”

Josh’s mother and aunt used to talk about buying the theater complex.

“I think they thought we were pretty crazy when we said we were thinking of buying it,” Jennifer said. “But they were really excited. This whole family just has a love for this kind of thing.”

Digital movie

Now that film is a thing of the past, Phoenix Theater co-owner Josh Shelton holds a digital motion picture device.

The Phoenix’s indoor venue operates almost every day with varying show times. The drive-in was open on weekends during the holiday season, and will operate on a week-by-week basis until re-opening for good in the spring and showing movies into late fall.

“We kind of go with the weather with the drive-in,” Jennifer said. “We love doing this, our kids love it, and we’re just following what God is doing here.”

Phoenix Theater and Drive-In

Houston's Phoenix Theater and Drive-In is located on Highway B just east of U.S. 63.

Phoenix Theater movie posters

A sizable collection of movie posters at the Phoenix Theater and Drive-In.

Phoenix Theater outdoor building

The red building on the drive-in grounds at the Phoenix Theater and Drive-in includes a projection room, concession stand and restrooms. The red paint job was done courtesy of the Faith Fellowship youth group, who did the work literally on the first day Josh and Jennifer Shelton took ownership of the movie complex in Houston.

Phoenix Theater digital projector control panel

The control panel on the side of the indoor digital projector at Houston's Phoenix Theater and Drive-In.

Staff writer

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FACT CHECK See inaccurate information in this story? Tell us here.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email him at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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