July 13: US 23 Drive-in Theater, Flint MI

US 23 neon marquee and screen silhouetted at sunset

photo by Ron, from the Carload Flickr pool

It’s Day 194 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. It was a nice easy drive of about an hour and a half to get from the Hi Way Drive-In Theatre to the US 23 Drive-in Theater in Flint MI.

The US 23 was the third of what would eventually be five large drive-ins in Flint. At their peak, each could accommodate over 1000 cars. The US 23 is the only one that survived. It started in 1950 with a ornate single screen with a built-in 5-room apartment for the manager. They added a second screen in 1986 using parts from a dismantled drive in screen tower.

Tragedy struck in 1997 when an arson fire destroyed the huge main screen. That was replaced that year with the remaining pieces of what had formed the second screen. They had been set aside for a third screen, which as a result didn’t get added until 2009.

Louis Warrington and Lee Stallard opened the US 23, and Warrington and eventually his son owned it until Louis Jr. passed away at the age of 72 in 2009. The family sold the drive-in to Johnny Thomas.

That original neon sign and marquee, which used to point to even more neon along the original screen tower, is one of the finest surviving 1950s drive-in signs, in my opinion. If you want to see it in motion, and how the US 23 looked in 2010, check this short advertisement. If you want a great glimpse of the history of the drive-in, check out MichiganDriveIns’ 1997 YouTube video, with a Lou Warrington Jr. interview and photos of what the great old screen looked like before it burned down. (And some footage of what it looked like as it was burning.) For older photos but less interview, also check Outdoor Moovies’ 1993 video on YouTube.

I settled in for my 42nd (yay!) consecutive movie night with my root beer float and popcorn, I saw three screens, but two of them had Despicable Me 3 as the early show. Thank goodness for Spider-Man: Homecoming, which I saw for just the second time. It’s a good drive-in movie.

Miles Today / Total:  85 / 24483 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Spider-Man: Homecoming / 110

Nearby Restaurant: Well, Mario’s was directly across the street, but I figured I could handle another couple of blocks to the Canton Chinese Restaurant. Like the US 23, it closed after a fire (2014) but reopened as good as new. The family meals looked great, but since I’m alone, I got the special Canton Three Delight of sesame chicken, Mongolian beef, and shrimp broccoli, a tasty mashup of three dishes I already like separately.

Where I Virtually Stayed: Ah, good old Hampton Inn, my go-to hotel for reliable comfort. This one’s less than three miles away, and TripAdvisor says its the best hotel in Flint. No microwave or mini-fridge in my standard king room, but the wifi was good and the standard Hampton breakfast in the morning was better. Staying here was just a no-brainer.

Only in Flint: Aside from that lead in the drinking water thing and being documentarian Michael Moore’s home town and first target, Flint might be best known for its weather ball. It was built in 1956 at the top of what was then the Citizens Bank. Its light tells the weather forecast, according to Michigan Public Radio: When the Weather Ball is red, higher temperatures ahead. When the Weather Ball is blue, lower temperatures are due. Yellow light in the Weather Ball means there will be no change at all. When it blinks in agitation, means there will be precipitation.

Next stop: Danny Boy’s Drive In Movie Theater, Ionia MI.

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