Drive-in theater

Gary Short, a Wapello County resident, continues to build a drive-in theater despite an order to shut down from county supervisors.

OTTUMWA — Since last summer Gary Short, a Wapello County resident, has been in the process of building a drive-in theater in the county.

It is a project he started for his own personal use before realizing he wanted residents to enjoy it. He calls his project “Short Town,” a town that has a 1970s theme with six buildings: a concession stand, a mechanic’s building, a gas station, a hardware store, a record store and a motel.

“I’m trying to make it a little town,” he said. “I think it would be awesome to own a town. What I’m working on is not just for me — I’m putting in playground equipment and I’m going to have bands.”

While some have praised the plan, county supervisors have ordered Short’s project to shut down because the drive-in theater is in an agricultural area.

Supervisor Jerry Parker said there would have been no issue if Short had built the theater that wasn’t on zoned agricultural land and if he had a permit. He said the county planning/zoning division project is responsible for issuing permits and did not give him one; he started building without consent from the county.

“You can’t build something without a permit,” Parker said. “It’s against the law. The county did him a favor — to see if he wanted to come in and get in the process of obtaining permits [before building], but he never did. We can’t support illegal activity. This is out of our hands. The county followed the proper procedure.”

Short said supervisors had sent him letters last fall asking him to tear down his movie screen but objected. He didn’t see a need to apply for a permit because the theater is on his land.

“I’m not going to tear it down,” he said. “I’m going to fight them on this. I ain’t heard nothing from them. It doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s right in front. If it’s such a bother to them, they can talk to me … they know where I am.”

And Short doesn’t see himself discontinuing the project anytime soon.

“This is my passion,” he said. “This is something I want. I’m going to continue to finish. I ordered a projector. As soon as the COVID stuff is over I will play movies. They’ll be ‘70s movies and there’ll be a kids’ night.

“There’s nothing in this town for kids to do,” he added. “There’s a movie theater inside and there’s a swimming pool, but I want them to experience what it’s like to have one outside. I want people to continue to push this issue.”

Chiara Romero can be reached at


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