Grand opening photo takes us back to 1950

Cars facing a narrow drive-in screen at the Meadow Lark Drive-In in 1952.

The Meadow Lark Drive-In (Wichita KS) in 1952.

Over in The News-Herald of Southgate MI, guest writer Wallace Hayden starts with the 1950 grand opening photo of the Fort Drive-In in nearby Wyandotte. Then Hayden, the historical librarian at the Bacon Memorial District Library, weaves a thorough, interesting tale of the Fort in particular and drive-ins in general.

(You’ll have to click the link to see that photo along with Hayden’s great story. I didn’t have any other photos of the Fort available, so I used the opportunity as an excuse to share another great photo from the 1952 Theatre Catalog. This one is from the Meadow Lark Drive-In (Wichita KS), which might have been the first to convert from a single screen to two of them. Don’t you just love that narrow screen? But I digress.)

Hayden provides a lot of great background information for his story. “Today this is the site of the Meijer’s store in Southgate,” he wrote. “However, at that time the area was mostly open land in Ecorse Township that was experiencing rapid development. In the years from 1946 to 1950, more than 2,000 homes were built in the township.”

He continues by painting a full picture of the drive-in experience back then, with its gravel lot, teenagers in the trunk sneaking in for free, and indoor booths at the concession stand. Hayden even adds an interesting historical footnote. “In 1951, the Fort received national attention when Boxoffice magazine cited it as an example of a drive-in showing adult material.”

Aha! I wonder if Hayden has the original source material, a really good memory, or the same Drive-in Theaters book that I do. According to author Kerry Segrave, in fall 1951, a Boxoffice writer found this ad in the Detroit Times: “Fort Drive-In – Three adult hits … The Burning Question, Guilty Parents, and How to Take a Bath. … Exposing the stark naked facts of life!” Most folks now know that first movie as Reefer Madness, and the other two were similarly “shocking” pseudo-educational short films made in the 1930s.

Not only does Hayden do a great job of telling us the story of the Fort and other nearby drive-ins, he sticks the landing. “Like the favorite doll or toy truck from childhood, most of these roadside attractions vanished unnoticed while their clientele grew older and concerned themselves with other interests. But, like those things of childhood, drive-ins still live on in memory.” For much, much more of this great writing plus that grand opening photo, you already know that you need to go read it!

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