Ford-Wyoming 1-5 Drive-In - Michigandriveins.com

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Ford-Wyoming 1-5 Drive-In Theater
Dearborn Michigan
Michigan Drive-In Theaters - Michigandriveins.com
Name: Ford Drive-In
Address: 10400 Ford Rd. Dearborn, MI 48126
County: Wayne
Phone: (313)846-6910
Website: Forddrivein.com
Open Date: 5/19/50
Status: Open in 2013
Car Capacity: 1,525
Screen Count: 5
Owners: Wayne Amusements/Ford Wyoming, Inc./Charles Shafer
Aka: Ford-Wyoming Drive-In
Submit: Info On This Drive-In
Ford-Wyoming 1-5 Drive-In

Ford-Wyoming 1-5 Drive-In Theater
History & Comments

History: Purchased by Charles Shafer in 1981, the single-screen Ford-Wyoming eventually grew to five screens, and four more at the adjacent Ford-Wyoming 6-9 on Wyoming Rd. In the early 1990's, two other Wayne Amusements drive-in's, the Wayne, and the Algiers gave up their six screens to the growing Ford-Wyoming. Open Year-round, the Ford-Wyoming runs movies all-night long, convenient for nearby Chrysler plant workers. (Michigandriveins.com)


News Article: "We didnt know what the hell we were doing," recalls Charlie Shafer, waving his arms expansively at the ring of mammoth movie screens that surrounds him. But Shafer was just 28 back then. It was 1948, and he had spent the better part of two decades working in his dads movie theaters. Drive-ins were entirely new to him. "I had seen a drive-in over on the east side," recalls Shafer, who despite his 75 years, pooh-poohs any suggestion of retirement. "It was just a field -- half the cars couldnt see over the other cars. Then, I saw one in New Jersey and it had ramps" that elevated the cars. But Shafer didnt know anything about building ramps. Of course, he didnt know anything about laying underground wiring for speakers, either, or raising a "tower" -- the enormous screen that makes a drive-in possible. "It was really something, that tower" Shafer says of the massive screen at his first drive-in, the Wayne, which opened in 1949, in Wayne Township. "It had offices and all kinds of rooms in there, but . . ." He can hardly bring himself to say it: The screen fell down. But gravity couldnt bring down the family theater business the way it had the screen. With the help of his brother, father and mother -- and a structural engineer -- Shafer put that screen back up. And by the late 1970s theyd built a mini-empire. Within a decade, though, the empire had been dismantled, a victim of inflated property values and national theater chains. Still, Shafer has survived -- thrived -- with that most unlikely of theater options: the drive-in. Long left for dead -- nationally, the 4,663 drive-ins of 1958 are down to about 800 -- the drive-in has found new life at the nine-screen, 3,000-car Ford-Wyoming theater in Dearborn owned by Shafer and new partner Bill Clark. To survive, Shafer has combined special touches -- he runs movies all night, with the last shows starting around 4 a.m. -- with the drive-ins enduring attractions: you can show up in your pajamas. And each time Shafer opens the gates to those all-night, double-bill extravaganzas, hes defying logic every bit as much as he did when he OK'd construction of that oversized tower in 1949. But now, it seems, he knows what the hell he's doing.

Mom n pops business

The Shafer theater business once included brother/business partner Martin and Mom and Dad -- pop ran the theaters, Mom held the purse strings. By the late 1970s, their indoor and outdoor chain included the Algiers, Quo Vadis, La Parisian, State, Dearborn, Ecorse, Wayne and a slew of other theaters around metro Detroit. But as in so much of American commerce, the family-owned gave way to the corporate-owned. Multiscreen complexes came to define the modern moviegoing experience. Drive-ins faced additional foes, particularly high property taxes and television. The taxes made drive-ins more profitable as real estate than as entertainment centers, while television meant that people didnt have to leave home to be able to talk and eat while they watched a picture. The Shafer empire was dismantled, sold to make way for shopping centers and factories, such as Fords Wayne Assembly Plant, built on the site of the Wayne drive-in. And Charlie Shafer was left with the Ford-Wyoming, which he purchased in 1981. "A few years ago, a lot of people were ready to pronounce drive-ins dead," says Tim Thompson, a Grand Rapids drive-in aficionado who maintains one of the slickest drive-in Web sites on the Internet. (You can find Thompsons site at Driveintheater.com.)

Serving the customer

While drive-ins all around him were closing, Shafer expanded, taking the Ford-Wyoming from one screen to the current nine. But Shafer has always operated a bit independently and with an eye toward what his customers want. In the old days, if a movie wasnt selling, Shafer would simply change the title. The classic "Beau Geste" was dead at the box office until Shafer advertised it as "Beau Geste: Fighting Soldiers." The studio was distressed, but didnt object to the extra cash he was able to send them from his boosted box office receipts. Shafer and Clark leave the movie titles alone, but they have tried many other innovations. They sell you two first- run movies for the price of one -- for example, this Fridays double bills include "The Phantom" with "Mission: Impossible" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" with "Toy Story." They maintain a menu that has movie house staples like popcorn and candy, but also includes shrimp rolls and Polish sausage. They operate all night: They dont object when folks haul out the lawn chairs or plop the kids on top of the car in sleeping bags. They dont even complain if you bring the family pets -- Charlies seen snakes, a baboon and more than a few monkeys in his day. The only thing they really object to is barbecuing: "They used to start too many fires," Charlie says with a shrug. "Theyve adopted many of the elements that were begun by the indoor theaters," Thompson says of the drive-in owners whove survived. "Theyre playing first-run movies, theyve added more and more screens, theyve made the food better. And then, of course, the radio sound has helped immensely." Well, not at the Ford-Wyoming.

The Ford-Wyoming, like other drive-ins, decided some years ago to bypass the less-than-ideal sound of those speaker-on-a- pole systems and replace them with high-quality, low-wattage broadcasts that theatergoers tune in on their car radios. "But people here didnt want it," Shafer says. "It was like a rebellion. They were afraid theyd run down their batteries." That was enough for Shafer and Clark: The speaker poles stayed, even if it meant hiring a full-time employee to keep them all working. Come as you are The success of the Ford-Wyoming indicates drive-ins were doing something right, after all. Maybe its the baby boomers trying to relive the pleasures of their youth. Maybe its a population in search of activities that dont bankrupt the family budget. At the Ford- Wyoming, for instance, kids 11 and younger are free, a boon when a movie like "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" opens, as it does today. Being accommodating is the drive-ins chief business. Here, the moviegoers cars are surrogate living rooms. "People can dress any way they want here," Shafer says. "They show up in bathing suits or with the kids in pajamas -- they cant go to an indoor theater like that. They can smoke here. They can even have a drink if they dont bother anyone."

And then, of course, there are the lovers, the denizens of the "passion pit" school of drive-in theaters. "Oh, theyre still here," Shafer says. "They dont bother anybody. They park in the back and the families park in the front, near the playground. Nobody worries, because theyre probably doing the same thing in the next car. Its never been a problem." And maybe thats the key. Despite their reputations as passe or as places less respectable than "real" movie theaters, drive-ins might be one of the countrys final outposts of civility. Drive-ins are places where people are still thoughtful enough to dim their lights and drive slowly, where they go out of their way to help a lost kid returning from the concession stand, where "live and let live" is the cardinal rule. Its a place, agree Shafer and Clark, where families reign. "Theyre our future," says Clark, whose three young sons already tag along with their dad, just as Shafer had with his father back in 1930. And though the day will certainly arrive when Shafer is no longer out there cruising the aisles to be sure everything is running smoothly, he says hes in for the long haul. "Are you kidding? I wouldnt give this up for anything. I had two other businesses in my life and I went bankrupt. This is where I belong. Therell always be drive-ins." We just can't forget American Graffiti It had stars in the making (Richard Dreyfuss, Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, director George Lucas). It had cool cars. Heck, it had Wolfman Jack. And "American Graffiti" still has lots of fans. "American Graffiti," released in 1973, was far and away the most popular choice of the 100 or so readers who responded to an invitation to pick their favorite car movie. Other frequently named movies included "Smokey and the Bandit," "Tucker" and "Thunder Road." And tastes ran the gamut, from the lovable Herbie of the "Love Bug" series to the considerably less lovable "Christine," based on the Stephen King novel. (Detroit Free Press 6/21/96)


News Article: Drive-ins create classic, unusual cinematic atmosphere - DEARBORN - You've waited for tonight. It's dark. It's cozy. You're sitting right next to each other and whispering in each other's ears as the movie starts. And then, you make "the move" - giving a gentle yawn and stretching your right arm over her tank-topped shoulder. But as you do, your left elbow grazes the wheel and you commit the ultimate first-date faux pas. You've accidentally honked the horn. If the mile-long lines of Porsches and pickup trucks were any indication last Saturday night at Dearborn's Ford-Wyoming Drive-In, the days of the drive-in are far from over. The innocent air of the 1950s sock hop may be long gone, but in the industrial heart of Detroit, the familiar atmosphere of the standing Saturday night date still remains. The 30-acre site of the Ford-Wyoming Drive-In is one of only a handful left in the state and the only one within easy driving distance from Ann Arbor. Owner Charles Schafer said that drive-ins are nowhere near as popular as in their mid-'50s heyday, but his business still thrives. "We've got 3,000-car capacity, nine screens and 18 pictures a night. They come in all night," Schafer said proudly, adding that once the features start just after sunset, "we don't stop until the sun comes up." Like the postal service, neither rain, nor sleet, nor threat of snow can stop the screenings, shown every night of the year with the help of a 50-person staff. For Schafer, 75, the childlike awe of the concrete cinema is still there. A movie theater veteran, he and his brother started out in the business just helping their father, who was the general manager of Detroit's Fox Theatre when it opened in 1925. After a few years of management practice, the senior Schafer bought an indoor theater in Wayne, in 1930, just after the stock market crash sent others into the dumps. "My dad took his life savings for that theater, after making $8 a day," Schafer remembered. "Admission was 10 cents and no candy bar cost more than a nickel." Later on, he said, the family built more indoor theaters in the suburbs of the metro area, but it wasn't until May, 1949, that the brothers started with drive-ins, erecting the second drive-in Detroit had ever seen. (Correction: Shafer's Wayne Drive-In was actually the 12th drive-in opened in Metro Detroit. There was only one drive-in actually IN the city of Detroit, the Bel-Air.) Within a few short years, Schafer said, he and his brother had landscaped the pavement for outdoor theaters in Wayne, Westland, Taylor, Dearborn Heights, Dearborn and even Ypsilanti - a small empire of 24 screens. "When we first started, it took 20 acres to build a drive-in and you couldn't buy it in the metro area because it was too expensive," Schafer said. With land selling at $50,000 per acre in town and only $500-$1,000 outside, the brothers moved out to the boondocks to set up shop. The parked-up farm lands were illuminated nightly with visions of Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant looming large overhead. Except for the Ford-Wyoming, all are now gone.

Schafer and his current business partner, William Clark, still own the Ford-Wyoming because Schafer doesn't want to retire. Otherwise, he might have sold it, like the approximately 50 theaters, indoor and out, that he owned. He sold the lots not because of any lost love for the cinema, but because the land became so valuable. One became a shopping center, another a McDonald's. Ypsilanti's Willow Drive-In, located on Michigan Avenue, was sold in 1985 to become a trailer park. And Showcase Cinemas bought out Schafer's indoor theaters in Detroit. "I sold because of all the competition and the multiplexes," Schafer said. "A six-screen theater is nothing compared to a 30- or 40-screen complex." Even Ann Arbor's quaint movie house scene will be hit with more competition soon, when Showcase adds 12 more screens to its current 14, he added. In the old days, just as today, families went to the drive-in in droves; parents were eager to have their own semi-private date with the kids sleeping in the back seat. No babysitter is needed and at the mid-Detroit landmark, children under 12 get in free. Traci Robinson, a 1995 LSA alumna, went to the Ford-Wyoming last weekend to see "Soul Food" with her boyfriend of two years. Though it was their first time at the drive-in together, Robinson remembered many a family trip to the Benton Harbor Drive-In some years back. "You'd come in your pajamas, climb in the back seat, bug your parents a little, and you'd always have to take a friend," she said as she munched on nachos purchased at the concession stand. Years later, the 24-year-old said, the in-car flick is a lot more romantic than she'd remembered. Schafer said the cozy atmosphere is part of the lure of the drive-in. "People come dressed in pajamas, T-shirts, bathing suits from the beach, tuxedos from the prom," he said. "They don't care. They're in their car. There's no dress code in your own car." Ken Kull and his fiancee, Kim, of Wyandotte, had their own private party while watching Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins spar in "The Edge." In classic dinner attire (Kim, 26, in a Wayne State sweatshirt and Ken, 31, in a Michigan Athletics t-shirt), the couple dined on Mexican bean dip, meatballs, and beer brought from home, before heading over to the next lot to see Kurt Russell's "Breakdown." The couple said they average about twice a month at the drive-in, going for the economical but fun night out. With a ticket price of $6.25 for a double feature, the seclusion of your own car and no one else's kids talking in your ear, what's to question?

And no one seemed to, with lines of cars stretching down Ford Road to enter the toll-booth-style entrance, where the money only exchanges hands after a head count. Soon after, Chevys, Pintos and old hatchbacks were lined up in front of the nine screens, choosing to either tune into 91.9 FM for stereo-surround sound - the latest in drive-in sound technology - or to pull the metal speaker box off the yellow posts and into the nearest window. Still others climbed out of their rusty station wagons and reclined in lawn chairs, taking in the action while enjoying the early autumn air. The kids were free to run down the lane to the bathroom or the concession stand for hamburgers, nachos, shrimp rolls, or 130 oz. popcorn buckets (only $4.40!) to share with the whole gang. Still, not everyone is really in it for the savings or the family feel. As his girlfriend walked by to check that he was only talking to a reporter and not volunteering his phone number, Detroit native Harry Little said he thought most of the people on drive-in dates had ulterior motives for heading to Dearborn's cozy car confines. "Ninety percent of the people don't come to watch the movie," said Little, 23. "Especially if you came in a truck, like I did." "You're right by the movie screen, but you don't watch it at all," he said, hiding a grin before heading back off into the enveloping darkness, towards the screen's glow. (Michigan Daily 10/2/97)


News Article: DEARBORN -- Despite the move toward huge multiplexes, the Ford Wyoming Drive-in, one of the few left in the country, is thriving. "You can bring a kid under the age of 11 for free and not have to pay all the money you would at a cineplex. It makes all the difference," said manager Virgil Berean. "People also like a change of scenery and being outside helps. And since we are the only drive-in for miles around, we havent lacked for business." The first drive-in theater patent was given in 1933 to Richard M. Hollingshead, who worked out the details by hanging a sheet for a screen in his New Jersey back yard. Dearborns facility, on 10400 Ford Road at Wyoming, is one of nine throughout Michigan. More than 100 drive-ins were functioning in the state in the 1950s during the height of the outdoor cinema era, with close to 5,000 across the country. Now four of the 50 states no longer have a single operating outdoor theater, according to driveinmovies.com. The novelty began to wear off in the 1980s when more families began buying VCRs and subscribing to cable, which provided an even more convenient form of entertainment, Berean said. Ford Wyoming is the last drive-in in southeast Michigan. Built in 1951, the facility represents one of the countrys largest drive-in theaters with nine screens that play 18 first-run movies daily and has parking for about 2,500 cars. Its open year-round and has traditional in-car heaters and speakers. There are about 35 people on staff. (Detroit News 8/11/02)


Update: Actually its 545 cars per screen and just a little shy of that at screen 5 with 378 capacity. (Michael 5/12/04)


News Article: Drive-In Theater Reportedly Target Of Arson - A Dearborn drive-in theater was reportedly the target of arson Friday morning. A security guard spotted someone near the ticket booths at the Ford-Wyoming theater around 5:15 a.m., Local 4 reported. The three ticket booths and some equipment were reportedly damaged by the fire. Investigators said the suspected arson does not appear to be random. The culprits used paper towel to ignite the fires, according to the Dearborn Fire Department. Police do not have anyone in custody for the fire. A reward of up to $5,000 is being offered for the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible for the fire, according to the Fire Department. Anyone with information should contact Dearborn police. (Yahoo News 5/28/04)


Update: I just want to say that I know for a fact that (Wayne Drive-In) screens 1, 3 and 4 are in use today at the Ford Wyoming Drive-In. I was the Projectionist and my girlfriend was the "one armed bandit" for those of you that remember the last season at the Wayne Drive-In when it closed and still have the notice of closing that was written on a piece of hand towel by Bill Ryan when it close. Screen 2 was the original screen and was taken down and scrapped, all Speakers poles and Projection went to the Ford Wyoming. "Ladies and gents this concludes our show for this evening. Please hang your speakers back on the poles and thank you for coming to the Wayne Drive-in Goodnite and Good Morning. (Jerry Smith 8/11/04)


Ford-Wyoming 1-5 Drive-In Theater Gallery
Click Thumbnails For Large Images
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Original Marquee 1955
Steven Clark Image
Single Screen
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Grand Opening Ad 5/19/50
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Intermission 1999
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Screen 1 2002
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Screeb 1 2002
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Marquee 2002
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Projection 2002
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Scrren 4 & Marquee 2002
Joe Niedzielski Image
Screen 2007
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Screen 2007
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Screen 2007
Joe Niedzielski Image
Screen 2007
Joe Niedzielski Image
Screen 2007
Joe Niedzielski Image
Screen 2007
Gaelyn Sale Image
Marquee & Screen 4 6/28/08
Gaelyn Sale Image
Screen & Ticket Booths 6/28/08
Gaelyn Sale Image
Speakers 6/28/08
Gaelyn Sale Image
Snack Bar 6/28/08
Gaelyn Sale Image
Snack Bar 6/28/08
Gaelyn Sale Image
Speakers & Screen 3 6/28/08
Wayne State Image
Aerial 1952
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Aerial 1957
Wayne State Image
Aerial 1961
Wayne State Image
Aerial 1967
Wayne State Image
Aerial 1981
Live.com Image
Birds Eye Aerial 2007


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