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How Wichita's Starlite Drive-In has Thrived Through the Years

Starlite Drive-In, originally called Rainbow, opened in 1974. The idea of the drive-in movie theatre took the world by storm in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Half a century later, however, few of the theatres remain operational.

Wichita’s Starlite Drive-In Theatre is one of just 348 left in the United States. Of those, just five are located in Kansas.

Gary Quick, who has been with Starlite since it was built, says that the closure of so many drive-in theatres really comes down to dollars and cents.

“I know the company I worked for at one time, United Artist Theatres, they had tons of drive-in locations in California that they had paid $50,000 for the land in 1948, and sold it in 1992 for $25 million. The property just became so valuable,” Quick said. “Back when they were building drive-ins in the late 40’s and 50’s, they would build them out on the edge of town, out in pastures basically, and over the years the towns grew out to them.”

Quick went on to add that accommodating technological advances has proven another challenge for drive-in theatres.

“The conversion to the digital projectors from 35 mm (film) is a very costly expense. Most drive-in theatres are in very small communities that can’t afford to make the conversion.”

Starlite’s prime location in Wichita, at the intersection of MacArthur and Hydraulic, has helped the theatre to stand the test of time and remain profitable. The theatre has also held fundraisers in recent years in order to help fund the conversion to digital projection.

Now, an upgraded system isn’t the only recent addition to Starlite. Chuck Bucinski was added to the management team about a year ago. He has helped to further upgrade the facility.

“We had to update our electrical, we had to update some security, and we had to do some work, too, for our exhaust systems for the projectors.” Bucinski said of the conversion process.

 “We’re going to be around for as long as Wichita continues to support us, we’re very family oriented, we love our customers, and nothing’s going to be changing,” Bucinski said.

Starlite Honors its Former Owners

The 2016 season has been dedicated to Starlite’s previous owners, Jim Quick and Jim Goble, who both passed away in 2015.  Jim Quick was deeply devoted to the Starlite Drive-In and was instrumental in helping it to become what it is today. Jim Quick was a local teacher who highly valued his family and his Christian morals. Jim Goble had a long history of film industry experience, working in Hollywood and operating a drive-in in Englewood, Colorado prior to purchasing Starlite in 1998. Goble held multiple offices with the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association.

The legacy of these two men will live on at Starlite for years to come. On-site memorials have be dedicated to Jim Quick and Jim Goble, and a tribute video has been made to honor their memory. 

How Does it Work?

It all starts with a booking agency, who negotiates with the film studios to offer Starlite the best rates possible for the film. Now that the theatre operates digitally, the films come on hard drives, which are then ingested into a computer system where playlists are built and automated show times are set.

From here, the movies are transferred to the screen on which they will play. Chuck Bucinski  gave us a behind the scenes tour of the projection room. Take a look at the video to learn more.


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