A postcard shows front and rear views of the Civic Theatre Drive-In Cafe. It calls attention to its location on both Route 66 and the Jefferson Highway.

Ancestors, Legends & Time

Civic Drive-In was a place to dine before the show

Jeanne Newby

Did you ever wish you could be a quick thinker or better yet one to take quick action? Did you ever have an idea cross your mind, but let it gently fall by the wayside… until someone else comes up with the same idea,  acts on it, and becomes an instant success. And you are sitting there thinking, “That could have been me!”

Well, Larry Larsen was that kind of quick thinker and took quick action. He was well known for his designing of amazing theaters, including the Fox Theater in Joplin. In Webb City, Larsen had the Civic Theater on Daugherty Street and the Junior on Main Street. He had an idea to create a cafe that was close to both theaters to allow patrons to have a nice dinner before going to the movie.

Larsen purchased a piece of property on Webb Street where Broadway “T”s with Webb street. There was an historic home on the property at the time, but it had recently had some fire damage and not much thought was given to preserving historical places in those days. So the town’s first brick house, that happened to be built as the home of city founder John C. Webb, was demolished. It had also been home to the Webb City Register Newspaper.

Larsen went to work with his innovative idea of a drive-in cafe in 1936. He started out small with a building up front with a drive-in window so folks could pull in, order their food and take it with them. But this plan was defeating his purpose of having a nice place for folks to dine before going to the movie. He needed an area for sitting down to leisurely dining. Construction began, and he added a glassed-in section toward the back and curved to the north. There was a tree growing out of the canopied roof added to the unique architectural design of the Civic Drive-in Cafe.

The cafe was a hit until the war began. With business faltering a bit, Larsen was ready to listen to the offers of another shrewd businessman in Webb City, Sam Kallas.

Kallas had moved to Webb City in 1923 from Kansas City with an innovative idea of his own. He had opened up a little eatery named Coney Island, the first in the area to serve a coney dog. Nobody had ever heard of a coney dog, so Sam went to work. He arranged with Etter’s Bakery to design the buns for their coneys. He had the weiners shipped in from Chicago. He opened for business at 2 S. Main Street.

The coneys sold for only 5 cents each or six for 25 cents. But Sam made approximately $500 a day on weekdays and $1,000 per day on the weekend. (These figures were told to me by Paul Kallas). It takes a lot of 5-cent coneys to add up to that much. And during the 1920s that was a lot of cash for some folks.

Sam saw an advantage to a larger cafe, and Larsen was an eager seller. Everyone was happy. So Sam and Paul Kallas purchased the Civic Drive-In in 1945 and business was good. Especially with Route 66 bringing customers right by the drive-in.

Many fond memories are associated with the Civic Drive-In. The dance area with the nickelodeon, the car hops, the glassed-in dining area, the coneys. The atmosphere added up to great fun in Webb City.

The Kallases lost their lease in 1951, and the new owner thought he could profit off the Kallases’ success, but a kitchen fire put him out of business. The building was used a bus terminal for a short while.

Most locals are aware that in 1958, Bob Baker, Bill Myers and Max Myers established the Myers, Baker,  Myers Investment Co. and turned the old Civic Drive-in Cafe into impressive offices for accountants and lawyers. The names of the incorporation grew to become Myers, Baker, Rife and Denham and later, Myers, Taylor, Whitworth & Associates.

The building now houses the Ozark Community Health Clinic.

Jeanne’s new book, “The Zinc City, Webb City, Missouri” is now available at Webb City Chamber Office.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.