Broadway Auto Theater

vintage drive in theatre
Not the Broadway Auto Theater, but a drive-in during the 50’s.
Courtesy: Allan Grant/Getty

In a cinematic twist of Wichita’s history, veteran Kansas theater operator Lee Sproule and his partner Ted Williams shook up the scene by introducing the State of Kansas’ very first drive-in venue, the Broadway Auto Theatre. Located at 2900 S. Broadway. Nestled just a half mile from the tranquil Arkansas River and near the imposing John Mack Bridge, their venture brought a dash of innovation to the city.

I could not find any pictures of the Auto Theater. If you have any please let me know.

The brilliance of this operation lay in its convenience. Second-shift workers could clock out and roll right into a cinematic experience.

Picture this: On June 1, 1942, the Broadway Auto Theater flickered to life for the first time. The opening night featured Jean Arthur in “Too Many Husbands,” accompanied by a cartoon and a comedy short. As the ads proudly proclaimed, this was a groundbreaking moment, marking Kansas’ inaugural drive-in theater.

Auto Theater Ad 5/31/1942
Courtesy: The Wichita Eagle

Fast forward to January 1, 1946, and the Wichita Eagle couldn’t help but mention Lee Sproule as one of the new faces behind the Novelty Theater at 408 East Douglas. The article went on to say, “The Sproule brothers, known for their theater prowess in Winfield, Marysville, Ft. Scott, and Chanute, had expanded their reach to theaters in Hutchinson, Newton, and McPherson.”

Alas, even with their bold foray into drive-in entertainment, the Broadway Auto Theater had its limitations. Sound was relayed through a single loudspeaker, and more sophisticated ramp designs would grace Wichita’s landscape after World War II, with improved materials becoming readily available. This led to the eventual closure of Sproule and Williams’ auto theater in 1948.

The 2900 S. Broadway area is an empty lot right now.