I’m a little embarrassed to have overlooked this one for so long. Back in 2017, I was excited to notice the reopening of the old US 2 Drive-In in Manistique in Michigan’s upper peninsula, at least for a few shows. I even paid it a virtual “visit” that year as part of my Drive-In-A-Day Odyssey.
After two years of tentative plans and occasional movies, the drive-in showed signs in the summer of 2019 that the experiment was over. (That’s why I hesitated to add it to the Carload drive-in theater list.) In fact, that’s about when the Upper Peninsula Film Union acquired the place and changed its name to the Highway 2 Community Drive-In Theater. The great news is that the Highway 2 is continuing to show movies, with four more dates set for 2022.
“Community” is much more than just a word in the drive-in’s name. Different sponsors pay the licensing fee for each night’s movies. Different charities run the concession stand and keep the proceeds. Patrons are admitted free, and this fine old ozoner gets a fresh set of faces every month or so.
The original US 2 was built in 1953 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. In 1972, David Vaughan bought the drive-in and renamed it the Cinema Two, not because he added a second screen, but because his new indoor theater in town was called Cinema One. It was the last active drive-in in the upper peninsula when it closed in 2001, and now that’s what it is again. Here’s to another 50+ years of community involvement and fun.
WPBN, Traverse City MI’s News Leader, ran a pleasant little story this morning noting the reopening of the Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre for another season. Owner Laura Clark said, “Watching everybody come for the first time for the season, everyone’s always very hyped, very excited. Because when the drive-in opens, it’s definitely a reminder that summer is here.”
There’s not a lot of drama in this story, and that’s a good thing. For some reason, I can’t get the video to embed here, but I’ll take any excuse to show off at least link to a bit of drive-in video. Enjoy!
Karen Dybis wrote the book on the Ford. In fact, that’s the name of the 2014 book – The Ford-Wyoming Drive-In: Cars, Candy & Canoodling in the Motor City. Shortly after World War II, brothers James, Clyde and Harold Clark bought a vacant parcel to build the Ford-Wyoming. It opened for business in May 1950 with one screen, a glorious Streamline Moderne tower typical of drive-ins of the time.That tower is still there today. There was room for about 750 cars.
The Clarks ran the Ford-Wyoming for over 30 years before selling it to Charlie Shafer in 1981. Shafer was a big believer in multiple screens. He added two more within two years. By 1984, he had added a fourth screen, and manager Ed Szurek told the Detroit Free Press he wished he had room for five more. That wish would come true soon enough.
Screen number five was squeezed in before the 1988 season. Three years later, the drive-in expanded by taking over a plot of land two blocks north and setting up screens 6-8. The ninth and final screen was added before the 1995 season. At that point, all those viewing areas added up to a 3,000-car capacity, and the theatre began to make the claim of being “the largest drive-in in the world.”
In early 2010, the second parcel was closed and those four screens demolished. The drive-in was renamed the Ford, but its layout matches its 1988 five-screen configuration, and as of Dybis’s book, Shafer is still the owner.
Kristen Gallerneaux, Curator of Communication & Information Technology at The Henry Ford, has a great blog post about a 2013 visit to the Ford Drive-In and its manager that you really should read. It’s a great verbal picture of a venerable institution with new digital projection.
The video of the day is a bit of a prank. It was uploaded in 2010, and it’s just over two minutes of the old Ford-Wyoming marquee with its moving lights. There are also two fine videos of the place from Outdoor Moovies; they are really old (1995 and 2007) and low-res but great time capsules.
Here I was in the middle of the metro area, so it was only appropriate to choose Detroit as my movie of the night. It was a hard movie to watch, but I doubt that I’ll run into it too often in the weeks to come.
Miles Today / Total: 23 / 27124 (rounded to the nearest mile)
Movie Showing / Total Active Nights: Detroit / 139
Nearby Restaurant:Ford’s Garage is such a natural fit for Dearborn that it’s hard to believe that most of the restaurants in this small chain are in Florida. There are Model T cars suspended from the ceiling here. I had the signature burger, including barbecue sauce, cheddar and bacon, with fries and a beer.
Where I Virtually Stayed: I was back to my mid-level favorite, the Hampton Inn of Dearborn. It’s close to The Henry Ford (see below), full of friendly people, and has all the standard Hampton elements that make me feel a certain continuity. There were cookies when I checked in, a room with all the standard amenities, and the solid Hampton breakfast in the morning.
Only in Dearborn:The Henry Ford is a museum of American innovation, an old-time village (that happens to have Thomas Edison’s lab), a factory tour, and the home of the Saturday morning show Innovation Nation, hosted by Mo Rocca. With all the car memorabilia around, it’s a great place to visit for any drive-in theater fan.