July 15: Manistique Drive-In, Manistique MI

It’s Day 196 of my virtual Drive-In-a-Day Odyssey. For a very special occasion, I drove five hours from Ionia in the middle of Michigan’s mitten all the way up I-75 to the Upper Peninsula and on to the drive-in in Manistique. It’s the Brigadoon of drive-ins, rarely available, but it was open Saturday night.

What’s now referred to as the Manistique Drive-In (there’s no name on the sign) started its life as the US-2 in 1953. The single-screen theater was owned by J.L. LeDuc, who owned the indoor theaters in town, and planned to close one of them in the summer when the US-2 was open. Within a few years, the Delft Theater chain took over operations, and the theater was listed as the Highway 2. At some point, that name evolved further, to the Cinema Two, not because there a second screen, but because the indoor theater in town was called Cinema One.

Whatever it was called, the drive-in dropped off the International Motion Picture Almanac lists in the mid 1970s. Cinema Treasures says the Cinema Two closed in 2001.

Fast forward to July 2016. Even though the Cinema Two had sat idle for over a decade, the Tourism Action Committee of the Schoolcraft County Economic Development Corporation opened it for a free, one-time showing of Back to the Future. Response was overwhelming, with 343 vehicles packing the lot. That led to Eric Sherbinow launching a GoFundMe campaign to raise $2500 for a “professional projector” to improve the experience. That goal was quickly met, and two more free screenings were held in September and October.

The system the Manistique drive-in used reminds me of Connecticut’s Southington Drive-In. There, the town owns the drive-in and local civic organizations take turns selling concessions and reaping the profits.

So this past week, I’ve been zigzagging around Michigan, and I noticed a note in Wednesday’s Escanaba Daily Press. One night only, the “Manistique Drive-Inn theater” would be showing the classic Jurassic Park and and the cheap-to-rent Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet. Concessions benefit St. Francis de Sales School in Manistique. What serendipity! I had to change my plans and drive up for this one.

Part of the original Cinema Two sign is still there on US Highway 2, across from the airport. I don’t care. I’m happy to be a part of the slow return of a drive-in to its community. Check out the YouTube video embedded above to see what it’s like.

Miles Today / Total:  318 / 24885 (rounded to the nearest mile)

Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Jurassic Park / 112

Nearby Restaurant: It was time to visit another vintage drive-in, but Clyde’s Drive-In is a restaurant. I bellied up to the bar for a Big C burger, 3/4 pound of meat on a bun, with a basket of fries. With a malt on the side, I knew I wouldn’t need a full dinner at the concession stand that night.

Where I Virtually Stayed: What the heck! Jankowski’s Holiday Motel is right next door to the drive-in, and it turned out okay. It’s just a mom and pop motel with decent rooms at a really good price. My room had the full set of amenities, including fridge and solid wifi, and banana bread with coffee at breakfast.

Only in Manistique: Ripley’s Believe It or Not featured the Siphon Bridge over the Manistique River here, because it was lower than the water it crossed. It was actually over a large flume to the local paper mill, and the concrete bridge used the rushing water and atmospheric pressure to help support it. The bridge is still there, but the flume isn’t, so now it’s just a bridge over a river.

Next stop: Field of Dreams Drive-In, Liberty Center OH.

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