The drive-in movie and restaurants were all the rage in the 1950s and ’60s and Downriver was no exception. There were three main drive-in movies that existed for our entertainment.
The Fort George, with a capacity of 1300 cars, was located on Fort Street in Southgate (Ecorse Township at that time). It opened on May 4, 1950, with the feature film “Battle-ground.” In 1990, the screen at the Fort George was damaged in a windstorm and never reopened. It gave up its location to the present Meijer store.
The Michigan Drive-in, located on Dix in Southgate, opened on July 23, 1948, with the feature film “Swords-man.” It had a capacity of 1200 cars. This drive-in closed in 1990 and the property was taken over by Best Buy; several years later it was demolished and became the current home of Walmart.
If you wanted to go further out, located on West Road, in Brownstown Township, the Holiday Drive-in appeared, with a capacity of 1100 cars, opening Sept. 29, 1955. It was located in an unpopulated area and very dark. If you wanted to see a class B-movie, and make out, this is the place you wanted to be. Okay…forget the movie! After you paid your admission, you entered a gravel parking area. You found your favorite aisle and drove up a small incline next to a post with your attached speaker and heater (if needed). Many became unintended souvenirs when patrons pulled away after the movie ended, forgetting about the attached speaker.
Some patrons (I won’t mention any names) brought in non-paying guests in the trunks of their cars. Attendants were on alert for cars with sagging rear ends. Although, some guys purposely lowered the rear ends of their cars to be “cool!” The term was “shackled.” They were the first to be pulled over and ordered to open their trunks. Embarrassing? Yes, but still cool! The Holiday Drive-in closed in 1986 and is now the home of Henry Ford Medical Center-Brownstown.
These large-screen behemoths arose from cornfields before Southgate and Brownstown even became cities.
Drive-in restaurants were also more prevalent in this era. The Courtesy Drive-in in Trenton was the most popular spot to hang out. It sported a California style, featuring a slanted roof with a stone and glass facade. Flickering yellow lights danced on the marquee. Friscos Drive-in and Stall’s drive-ins, both in Southgate, also featured a California design. It seemed everyone wanted to emulate the “California lifestyle” at that time. Was this a connection to the Beach Boys and their music?
The modern drive-in restaurants at that time proved an excellent backdrop to showcase the new cars of the 50s and 60s. Young people were proud to show off their new rides. Those with older model cars that were spruced up and hopped up also enjoyed the “looping procession” through the drive-ins. This provided an ego trip of 200 feet or more. Although “looping” was unlawful, it was unevenly enforced.
As we all know, the “50s” experience is highly nostalgic, as evident by the most recent attendance of the Woodward Dream Cruise. Even enthusiasts from California came to partake in our “Midwest lifestyle.” It’s as if it has all come full circle …
And it’s more proof that, “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery.”