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Who is the TeePee Drive-In’s new operator? June 18, 2012

Posted by Ron Warnick in Preservation, Theaters.
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Volunteers have been busy in recent days clearing brush and cutting grass at the long-dormant TeePee Drive-In.

Records show that the Florida businessman trying to revive the long-closed TeePee Drive-In on Route 66 in Sapulpa, Okla., has conducted business under at least two different names while operating a string of movie theaters in recent years that failed or where he left after a short time.

Russ Glen, CEO of Florida-based Starz Theaters, acknowledged during a phone interview Saturday that he is also known by his birth name of Russell Glen Brannan, CEO of Chalet Theaters in Florida.

In early May, Glen lease-purchased the TeePee, which closed in 1999, from owners Marsha and James Baccus of Owasso, Okla. At the time, Glen announced he would bring a 3-D digital projector, a 40-foot-tall teepee-shaped neon sign, and eventually a second screen to the property at 13166 Ozark Trail, an older alignment of Route 66. He touted Starz as a company that had revived several historic theaters in the past.

During two phone interviews, Glen became defensive during questions about his background. He refused to name the other theaters he had operated or say exactly how many.

“I don’t like the media and never have. I’m sorry if you feel like this is confrontational,” he said.

No records could be found from the Florida Secretary of State’s website about either the Chalet or Starz theater companies, but e-mail, Internet and phone records linked Glen to Brannan and Chalet.

Glen admitted Chalet Theaters has experienced failures in recent years but said it has had good times as well as bad. He offered little evidence of the chain’s long-term successes.

Since May, the TeePee’s long-neglected grounds have seen a flurry of activity – volunteers clearing brush, removing debris from the projection booth and concession stand, and mowing the grass. Electrical work and repainting the screen are planned for the coming weeks.

Glen was scheduled to show up twice at the TeePee in recent weeks but begged off, citing family obligations.

He set up a Facebook page and Web site for the theater. He also set up the TeePee Drive-In Theater Association, with three local trustees that can accept donations of money and equipment for the theater’s restoration; it may be weeks or months before the group is actually granted nonprofit status.

“It is being done by the book,” Glen said during a phone interview. “I’m not even on the bank account there in Oklahoma. We can’t make any money until the theater actually opens.”

Today, Tim Ferguson, one of the TeePee’s volunteers, said the association is suspending the acceptance of donations, and money from the bank account has been removed because of “issues with the legitimacy of the nonprofit.”

In an email, Glen said: “There is no problems with the non profit. All was done correctly.”

“I’m trying to do the right thing. I want to get this drive-in open,” Glen said several weeks ago. “I want it to succeed, and I think it can. This can make a lot of people in Sapulpa happy.”

With the help of volunteers, it’s hoped to have the TeePee showing movies again by fall.

Glen wouldn’t name any of the long-term successes in his Chalet chain. But several instances were found where the business failed or he walked away from it after a short period:

— Frank McCarthy, who co-owns the Lawford Theater in Havana, Ill., with his son Greg, said in a phone interview that a Robert Brennan subleased his theater about five years ago from a Chicago firm and operated it for about six months.
McCarthy said Brennan “went by several names.”

“Whenever he called, he said ‘This is Robert,’” McCarthy said.

After Brennan left town, McCarthy said he received bills to the theater addressed to Robert Brennan, Russell Brandt and Russell Brannan. Three stories in the Pekin Daily Times also listed the theater’s operator as Robert Brennan.

Glen/Brannan acknowledged he subleased and managed the Lawford for a time, but in an e-mail, he denied ever using any names other than Russ Glen or Russell Brannan.

He said when the primary lease expired, Frank McCarthy bought out his share.

“I got into a situation where Frank wanted more money, and it wasn’t worth it,” Glen/Brannan said.

McCarthy said Brennan had trouble renting films from studios due to credit problems and occasionally had to rent them through McCarthy’s name.

“When he left the theater, he left a lot of bills,” McCarthy said. “I’d be kinda careful.”

Glen/Brannan said in an email he might have experienced financial difficulties at the time, possibly due to medical bills for his family.

— Sherri Walthall, who operates the Sky View Drive-In in Tompkinsville, Ky., with her brother, theater owner Robert Whiles, said Russell Glen leased their theater for “just a few months” in late 2009 and early 2010.

“I wouldn’t trust him,” she said of Glen during a telephone interview. “He left bills the owner had to pick up.”

When asked to elaborate, Walthall said Glen failed to make the final $500 lease payment and left town with an unpaid $1,000 phone bill.

Glen says he maintains a friendly relationship with Whiles and Walthall.

“I’ve talked to Rob several times since then, and he’s said he would love to have me back there if I wanted,” Glen said. “That theater was closed for 10 years, and I got it back open.”

Glen also e-mailed the text of what he said were genial Facebook conversations between him and Walthall.

— Brannan once operated the Pioneer Theater in Falfurrias, Texas. Gilbert Vela is its owner.

“He left owing people a lot of money, including myself,” Vela said in a phone interview. “I’d be careful with him.”

Brannan denied he left town with unpaid debts.

“If you can go back and get receipts of people who say this, this might make a big difference,” Brannan said. “I’m pretty sure everybody got paid.”

He said the Pioneer had been closed for years, and he spent $13,000 bringing the theater’s electrical wiring up to code.

Brannan said the theater’s attendance dropped after about six months because bootleg DVDs of first-run movies were making their way into the area from across the Mexican border.

— Brannan became embroiled in a nasty dispute starting in late 2011 after leasing the Clewiston Theater in Clewiston, Fla., from its owner, Dennis Mann. A long story in The Clewiston News contains allegations about Brannan not paying employees and his lack of credit to rent films – both which Brannan denied.

Brannan said “someone with a key” stole or sabotaged theater equipment several times, and the building suffered from code issues. The ugliness over the Clewiston culminated with a suspicious fire in April that forced its closure.

Brannan said he and the owner hammered out a settlement during mediation last Monday in which Brannan no longer operates the theater. He said he’s under a gag order not to discuss it.

— Brannan operated the Maverick 4 cineplex in Mankato, Minn., for a little less than a year before someone bought out his share for $5,000, he said. The Maverick 4 closed not long after that, he said.

“It wasn’t making a ton of money,” Brannan said. He acknowledged difficulties in managing it over a long distance from his home.

Overall, “I’ve had my share of good theaters, and I’ve had my share of bad theaters,” Brannan said. “I’m not going to run from that.”

Finding successful theaters in Chalet’s portfolio has proven difficult, however. Brannan has refused to identify the theaters he operates, despite requests to do so. He said he has two unnamed partners, one of whom is “well-known” but shies away from publicity.

“My corporation is private, and I keep my finances private,” he said. “I don’t divulge to anybody. I have people I’m held accountable to … some of those people are well-to-do people.”

When pressed, Brannan said he operates more than five but fewer than 10 theaters.

As for his use of the names Russ Glen and Russell Brannan: He insisted the former is a legally binding name that has been notarized. He said he signs papers as Russell Glen or Russ Glen.

“That’s how I’ve done it, and that’s how I will continue to do it,” he said.

He did not explain why he uses two names.

At one point Saturday, Brannan said he would walk away from the TeePee project and take down its websites if a story about him was published.

“I’m not going to take that chance,” he said. “I’m not going to put my heart and soul into this and get these people fired up, just to have it ruined in the muck.”

Brannan said he would show up at the TeePee on Wednesday – his first visit to Sapulpa – and help other workers with the renovations, but on Sunday, he was reconsidering.

“I do not want to create a media 3 ring circus,” read one e-mail. Another read: “I will give you to sunday evening to decide if your national inquire (sic) type attitude is for helping the theater, or helping yourself sell media be it fact or fiction.”

If Brannan does walk away, all may not be lost for the TeePee. At least two of the theaters Brannan ran – the Skyview and Lawford — had been closed for years and are operating to this day.

At the least, Brannan was a catalyst. And the volunteers who have labored on the TeePee so far may inspire the rest of the community to continue their efforts.

UPDATE 6/19/2012: KJRH-TV in Tulsa reports that the reopening plans have hit a snag:

The developer out of Florida tells 2News the project is “out of his hands.” And he doesn’t know if it’ll get back on track. […]

He tells 2News he had a lease agreement with the property owners, but says he wasn’t able to get a title finalized.

UPDATE 6/20/2012: An update by KTUL-TV in Tulsa:

Angela Cooper is one of many residents concerned about Glen, who sometimes goes by Russell Glen Brannan.

“Myself and some others have asked just general information. We’re concerned, and he gets really defensive, and he eventually deletes you off his page,” she said. She said Glen deletes people, including herself, from TeePee’s Facebook page when they ask questions about legalities.

The TeePee page admitted Glen walked away from opening two theaters Wednesday. However, the page otherwise maintains Glen does not have any legal problems.

UPDATE 6/21/2012: Fox23 in Tulsa talked to Keith Holder, one of the volunteers at the project:

Holder has spent countless hours working at the site and leading a small army of volunteers. He was also one of two local volunteers who set up a bank account for the drive-in on Glen/Brannan’s request. The other volunteer even put $2,000 in the account. Glen/Brannan claimed he put $10,000 in the account.

“There is no record at the bank whatsoever of anything of any nature like that,” Holder said. “He did not put one red cent in there.”

Fortunately, Glen/Brannan was not a signer on the account, so the other volunteer was able to get most of his money back before closing out the account.

UPDATE 6/22/2012: This new story from Fox23 in Tulsa treads over familiar ground, but is still worth viewing:

UPDATE 6/24/2012: Here’s another theater overlooked in this story’s intial research. Brannan backed out of a lease with Rob and Terri Hicks, owners of the Tropic Theater in Leesburg, Fla., just before the showing of a movie. Brannan cited fire and safety-code violations his action.

From the Daily Commercial in Leesburg:

Bill Wiley, community development director for Leesburg, said there were potential violations and safety items that needed to be addressed, which were discovered during the courtesy fire inspection. The Hicks pulled the permits for the work to be done.

The city said recommendations were made to fix: Exposed wiring, open holes in electrical boxes that needed to filled, adding a fire wall in the theater, along with replacing a 33-inch emergency exit door with a 44-inch wide one, as required by federal law.

“There was a fire wall that had to go back in that had been taken down,” Wiley said […]

Terri Hicks said Brannan violated a lease agreement, which listed him as being the responsible party to bring the movie theater up to code, along with paying rent. […]

Brannan said he hasn’t paid the owners because of concerns about the building.

UPDATE 6/26/2011: For some strange reason, this story hasn’t been allowing comments in recent days. I’ve fixed that problem. Please keep in mind that comments will be moderated, as usual.

UPDATE 6/29/2011: Glen / Brannan deleted his Facebook page on Friday evening. He’d mentioned the liens against the TeePee were preventing him from managing the property, and repeatedly said he might walk away from the project.

On the TeePee Drive-In’s website, he said:

Just recently someone had a vision and put that vision to work. People were volunteering there time and energy to reopen and renew this theater from the past. That was not to be. One person, James Baccus Jr. made sure of that. he gave a lease/purchase he could not do and all the work was for not. Sadly, its going to die again. This page will stay up as a testament for all of those who tried to help rebuild once again, The Teepee. Someday, we hope that someone has the vision and the drive to try once more.

Comments»

1. Ron Mc Gregor - June 18, 2012

Great read, great work !

2. Tim - June 18, 2012

This,is class act journalism. Really, I seriously mean that. From a guy (for those who don’t know me, former Chicago Tribune, NPR, six books, Emmy nominated OK?) who knows it when he sees it.

It’s like the guy asked for the rope to hang himself with. There’s no agenda here, the sad truth is the guy is just a plain freakin asshole, and Ron just…I don’t know. I would have taken the guy to task a lot more. I would have rode him hard and put him away wet.

This should be on the wire.

3. Linda - June 18, 2012

Very nice work, Ron. You’ve done a great favor to potential victims of this guy.

4. Lynn "Lulu" Bagdon - June 19, 2012

This is my gut reaction. Anyone who has to use several names? There is something not right there.

5. Laurel - June 19, 2012

Great piece of reporting, Ron!

6. Brad - June 19, 2012

Ron, thanks for digging into this… I had been curious. There’s just been something about his tone on Facebook that was making me uneasy…

I wish him success for Sapulpa’s sake, but hope Sapulpans will proceed with some caution.

7. Andrew - June 19, 2012

The teepee Facebook page is blowing up! When I brought up the aliases in front of everyone for him to explain, he deleted me.

I want the teepee up and running. If he would only satisfy everyone’s questions, I think things could move forward. But no one likes looking at that many red flags.

Cookie - June 19, 2012

I had gone to the page this morning and then afternoon and read what can only be described as a day long rant, which I think stemmed from this article – there also seems to be some ranting towards comments that have been deleted so I’m not sure what has been said but now the page is giving Disney tickets and prizes. I had liked the fb page thinking it was a fun new community project and was excited about the drive-in, after reading the posts and this article I walked away feeling disturbed. It all seems so odd and I’m glad this article brought it to light.

8. AC - June 20, 2012

There is something definitely wrong with the entire situation! NO ONE is going to give away Disney and Branson Trips to people who volunteer a few hours. Plus this man is not even in Sapulpa-he is in Floridia! You post anything on his page questioning his intent and he deletes you. I’ve notified as many local news stations and newspapers in our area I can! We don’t want this man doing anything for the Tee Pee!

Cookie - June 20, 2012

@ AC – I thought the same thing – I also noticed no one seemed to know anything about the contest or Disney prizes – he just started posting names -

9. Lindsay - June 22, 2012

I was supposed to be one of the winner’s of the Disney trip…he emailed asking for my phone number saying he would fill me in on the details but that was Tuesday. I haven’t heard anything more about it. I was kind of skeptical anyway but now I really am. Good thing I didn’t get my kids hopes up by telling them we were going because I don’t feel like this guy is telling the truth.

Angela - June 22, 2012

Lindsay contact me on Facebook. Angela Matney-Cooper. I would like to pass your info on to a reporter at channel 8.

10. Denny Gibson - June 22, 2012

I poked around the teepeedrive-in website and made it to the “About Us” page which contains a small photo of an active historic drive-in. It’s the Van-Del in Ohio on the Lincoln Highway. Strange but true.

11. Denny Gibson - June 22, 2012

I had posted a “very nice job” comment before the Van-Del comment. I assumed it was awaiting approval but when the second comment appeared immediately I decided it had really gone missing. So here’s the “Very Nice Job” I intended earlier.

12. Kay Holder - June 27, 2012

My husband and myself were very involved with the cleanup at the TeePee. We were a little skeptical but were told by reliable sources that this man was fine and had a good reputation. So we went to work. The source continued digging after flags were sent up and we were told to run away as far and as fast as we could. Now we have been told that we and all of the volunteers could have been arrested on clean up day for trespassing and who knows what else. I wish there was a way to press charges against this guy. I did not speak to him in any way for 2 weeks. He really made an ass of himself the day it all blew up in his face. Ron, you did a wonderful thing, covering this episode. Sorry I was so defensive the day you came to write the artical, but I was starting to get skiddish about the whole thing. I really hate it for the people who supposedly won the trips. Its a sad day when someone can get by with doing damamge like that. I to have been banned after I told him to slither back under the rock he slithered out from. I cryed big cocidile tears–glad he got found out before anyone was more hurt. We really got by lucky. Thank You Ron.

Cookie - July 3, 2012

Kay – I thought the same thing thank God this guy was brought to light, but all the households with kids that got duped into thinking they were going to Disney – I can’t even imagine telling my kids our family won a trip and then finding out it was all a scam – We’re adults we take our chances in this world when we put ourselves out there but our babies – this guy has no limits – horrible!

13. Gary Alexander - July 4, 2012

Can someone explain a little further, please?
Glen/Brannan seems to be the bad guy here, but the TeePees website says “People were volunteering there time and energy to reopen and renew this theater from the past. That was not to be. One person, James Baccus Jr. made sure of that. he gave a lease/purchase he could not do and all the work was for not.”
I read this to mean that Baccus, Jr. was the problem.

Ron Warnick - July 4, 2012

The title for the property apparently was not free and clear for Glen / Brannan to lease, Gary. Whether Baccus was to blame for this, or Glen / Brannan not doing his homework before trying to lease the property, is debatable.

Emily - July 8, 2012

If you look at Glen/Brannan’s history, he does a lot of lease-purchase agreements — never an outright purchase — on places that have some kind of issue: It’s a sublease arrangement, or there’s a lien against the property, or the ownership isn’t clear, or the guy he’s leasing it from did him dirty, or … you get the idea. If he’s just unlucky, you have to wonder why he doesn’t vet the properties before he gets involved with them. How could one person accidentally tangle himself up with properties that are in legal limbo over and over? Why doesn’t he look for properties that are free and clear? Why doesn’t he check property records before making an offer to lease-purchase? Why doesn’t he buy them outright? What does he gain by repeatedly setting himself up for failure? It’s always something, but the something is almost always avoidable.

14. chuck roseboom - September 18, 2012

russ brannan is nothing but a cheap little con artist who lies about his past and his holdings,,I know because I did work for him as advertising consultant here in clewiston,, and as a former owner of the cleweiston theater for over twenty years, could not find out anything good about him within the theater circut here in florida,,he is a master at conning people into doing work for him tho,especialy taking advandage of a retarded youth here who he never paid,,you would be best off without him in your neck of the woods…

15. Bill Houghtaling - April 16, 2013

Now he is in Philidelphia trying it again. Two theaters not even open and takings peoples money already.

Judge Dredd - May 3, 2013

Bill Houghtaling, oh please do share the links and names of the theaters with all of us here!! There are now 3 agencies interested in Glenn.

Mik Ocirrac - February 3, 2014

would love to know more info…thanks Mik

16. Stacia Scheitrum - May 5, 2013

Brannen tried to screw over the Mahoning Drive in In Lehighton PA also, left the owners a major mess to clean up. I pray they come out of it unscathed… but I know they have a mess right now.

Stacia Scheitrum - May 5, 2013
Bill H. - May 5, 2013

Yep,He goes from place to place messing peoples theaters up and collecting money then does a no show or just hauls ass after tearing things up. I still have his cell number and texted him a while back after hearing of the TeePee’s deal and he said ” Thats just the way it is ” I texted ” I see you are back at it again “. Such a loser. I ran the projector here in Clewiston at Manns and also for the two previous owners ( 25 years ) and when I met him I told Dennis that something was not right. He told us he owned ten theaters and was bringing in about $10,000.00 a day. His hair was all messed up, holey jeans, nasty shoes, and it looked like he took epoxy putty and made his bottom teeth. Nasty. I told Dennis that a guy with this much money pays for someone to do the work for them and dresses nicer. After a few months of Russells crap Dennis said I was right. I guess Russell has made a hobby or career out of this. He also told me he knew how to run a projector but I had to show him everything and then he still managed to break all the film and it all landed on the floor. He seams to have a thing for young girls also so watch out !!!

17. Stacia Scheitrum - May 6, 2013

No Worries here, When you play with dirt things get messy… but that’s ok I have bleach and pesticide… and legal back ground.. he’s slandering the owners now that he’s been run off and i’m making them aware they have legal rights to stop him from doing what he’s doing. I just wish there was a way to get his name cross country so other people can steer clear of him. I can’t believe higher law agencies aren’t looking into him.

18. steve yagor - June 30, 2013

I hear all the stories but i also have looked into a few, it seems the teepee was leased to him by the owner that could not even lease it,,,and he did everything right, even did a Oklahoma corp. Legaly he did it all. What was sad is that he was opening it, and doing good, it was not his fault that the owner could not lease it,,,from what i see he has taken old defunt theaters and tried to open them, failing that he left, many people out there including some well well known do worse then this guy,, at least he had tried doing things failed but has never ripped people off,,, the florida thing if you look at the mediation court records which i dug up,,, he actually won. I believe the guy has been sincere but through others he has not been a success,there are MANY people we can point fingers at doing business like Trump, and more people,, so he failed, least some of them i see are running because of him

19. brian - June 30, 2013

WOw this guy is unlucky in all these damn theater! I have read a lot on this and looks like most if not all are closed and he is trying to reopen them, the one in florida, this teepee,, seems he is just trying but guess the public closed it for reasons and they dont support it now and he ran up bills and could not pay them. its to bad because the town looks like it needed them but never supported them after or before they closed. He might have done it all wrong by leasing instead of buying but at least he tried. Good luck on future ones! You might find a winner someday/

Ron Warnick - June 30, 2013

Steve Yagor and brian, you can knock it off on the sockpuppet comments. I know that both of you are posting comments from an identical IP address in central Florida.

Or should I call you Russ? Or Russell?

20. russell b - June 30, 2013

Since you would not let the other people say something and deleted there comments, here you go.
this is russell, have i left owing some bills? Yes i have because i could not pay. Am i paying them slowly? yes. , have i failed in theaters? yes, Sometimes as was in the case in OK, your own person there James Baccus leased me a theater closed for 10 years, almost open, then find out he cant because he was involved with a divorce that prevented him from doing so, but no one says to much about that, only me, ok, that is fine, but its there. Have i came back and tried to save or open closed ones? yes. , at no time have i taken any money for myself and that is easily found out. Did i try for these theaters, yes i did, why did they close anyway? I have managed to hurt people by them closing again, is it because of me or the people not supporting it? The later most likely since all were closed anyway except one which would have. Ok so there we have it, anyone can continue this for whatever reason they want to. I wont be a part of the drama because i have told my story,,I failed and have joined the millions that have before me, and ones that will after me, even stars fail.,, you can see it in the media, I still sleep at night because i know i never did anything wrong except to owe, which i am paying off anyway on the ones i can and have let me. thank you

21. Kris4077 - September 19, 2013

Well one thing I can say about Russell is that he brought a community together, to work on a project. a community which put up some money and got things going. As for were he went wrong, I would say that he is not a manager but more of a promoter, in trying to manage these theaters he did not do so well, but he suceeded in getting alot of them up and going, with a few hitches. I think his future purpose should be to get these theaters up and going and leave the managment to wghomever he partners with, taking maybe a 10% or more cut. As for the Teepee I think the people let what was going on with Russell and the lease kill their community spirit, I think they should have keep working despite of all this, maybe even working with the divorce lawyers for an option to lease or buy the property. Moral of this story is don’t let the devil steal your glory. No matter what the circumstances keep those fires of purpose burning and sucess will follow.

22. autumnmeg - July 18, 2014

DO NOT TRUST RUSS Brannan or what ever he likes to call himself. I worked at a theater in minnesota (maverick 4) for him for over 6 months. I am still owed 400 dollars. he promised to pay. i contacted him recently and he magically had “family problems” and said he was out of town. deleted his face book. which was under the name Iris Gucor. wont answer emails.
he is nothing but trouble.
no business should deal with him. he has been pulling this kind of stuff forever. he had tons of debt and walked away. he brought in a partner and said the guy woouldn’t pay and than suddenly had to close the theater becuz of the guy not paying.
seriously. nothing but bad news.


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