Gratiot Drive-In - Michigandriveins.com

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Gratiot Drive-In Theater
Roseville Michigan
Michigan Drive-In Theaters - Michigandriveins.com
Name: Gratiot Drive-In
Address: 31900 Gratiot Ave. Roseville, MI 48026
County: Macomb
Open Date: 4/30/48
Close Date: 9/3/84 - Demo Date: 10/14/84
Status: Demolished, retail stores now on site
Car Capacity: 1,000
Screen Count: 2
Owners: Alex Schreiber (1957) - Community Theatres (1977)
Submit: Info On This Drive-In
Notes: Demolition occured while the Detroit Tigers won the World Series
Gratiot Drive-In

Gratiot Drive-In Theater
History & Comments

Status: GRATIOT -- Gratiot at 13 1/2 Mile Road, Roseville -- The Gratiot drive in was the first drive-in I worked at. The front of the theater was a huge waterfall and was an amazing site. (Evil Sams Drive-In Theatre Guide/James Szeles 1996 )

Update:Reportedly cost $400,000 to build

Update: I still have fond memories of this old DI. The curious perpendicular "screen" was not a screen at all, but a barrier put up in the last years to keep light from a new strip mall next door from washing out the images on the screen... (Bob Alexander 4-1-03)

Update: I lived off common road from 1969 till 1997, from my bedroom window I could see the pink neon lights of that grand old drive in, and clearly remember that sad day when she came down, and that night, for the first time in my life..as I lay in bed, the neon lights didn't greet me. (TW 2-2-04)

Update: I remember driving down I-94 to go home on Sunday nights from my dads and watching the movie for about 2 minutes or so before we drove by. The speed limit was still 55 then... the last movie I remember seeing there was GREASE with my brothers and cousins. (Mahfet 2-25-04)

Update: I have pictures from the Gratiot Drive In 3 days prior to the demolition. My friend and I climbed to the top of the screen and he stuck his head through the neon "o" on the Marquee. I have pictures from the top!! If anyone is interested in the final days of this wonderful and unique theater, I will post them. Please let me know. (AL 3-23-04)

Update: There is a model of the Gratiot theater in the Roseville library/city hall building. (Regina 8-31-04)

News Article: Old Gratiot Drive-In sign remains intact - Joe Niedzielski remembers the night of Oct. 14, 1984, for something other than most Detroit-area people recall it. While revelers celebrated the Detroit Tigers World Series victory by honking car horns and screaming from their vehicles on Gratiot Avenue, Niedzielski worked up a sweat within a couple hundred feet of the main drag. Niedzielski, who lived nearby, used his 1958 Edsel to drag heavy steel letters that had been perched on the top of the Gratiot Drive In theater screen. He was salvaging them from a demolition site. "Everyone is celebrating and here I am dragging these things," Niedzielski said. "No one knew what I was doing. I was trying to preserve history." The last film was shown at the theater Labor Day 1984, which was Sept. 4, 20 years ago this weekend. The landmark on Gratiot near Masonic was razed within weeks. On demolition day, Niedzielski asked the construction crew chief if he could have the cursive art deco letters, which are several feet high, and made of steel and coated with porcelain. "He said if I could take 'em away I could have 'em," he said. Too heavy to carry, he attached a chain to his Edsel's back bumper and dragged them from the demolition site. He left them there overnight while waiting for transportation in a trailer a couple of days later. While sitting there unguarded, the dot to the "i" in "Gratiot" was lifted. "I couldn't believe someone would take it," he said. Last fall the Roseville Historical Society was contacted by an elderly woman who was moving from her longtime home. While rummaging through family artifacts, the woman discovered the dot. Her son apparently had taken the dot. The woman gave it to the society, and it is being stored as part of the city library archives. "It's about as big as a laundry tub," society president Pat Chownyk said. Chownyk said she has known for years that Niedzielski saved the letters. The city allowed him to store them at the Department of Public Works building until 1989, about the time he purchased a St. Clair County home. Chownyk's interest piqued after the woman donated the dot, and the 20th anniversary of the theater's closing and demolition approached. Niedzielski, 49, last week moved the letters from a friend's farm in Capac to his home in Kenockee Township, west of Port Huron. He plans to display them in his yard. "I've seen Roseville lose a lot of its past," the Roseville native said. Niedzielski, who has a collection of Edsel cars, said the sign reminds him of the 1950s when he was a child, and automobiles, outdoor movie screens and waterfalls were bigger than life. He would like to see the letters restored, which could be expensive. "They're in pretty bad shape," he said. "They didn't take it down gently." The letters crashed to the ground from more than 80 feet during demolition, he said. The letters are noteworthy because the Gratiot Drive In was a destination. Opened in 1948, its screen structure was stronger and more elaborate than most drive-ins, Niedzielski said. It featured a waterfall from the top, with the water cascading to a small pool on the ground, and was built to withstand strong winds. According to a 1948 photo published in the Echoes of Macomb book published by The Macomb Daily in 2001, the first movie to play at the drive-in, on Friday, April 8, 1948, was "Yellow Sky," starring Gregory Peck and Anne Baxter. "Everyone from this whole area knew about the Gratiot Drive-In," Chownyk said. "People came from Warren, Eastpointe, St. Clair Shores." Chownyk remembered pranksters putting soap in the tub to produce a mountain of bubbles. The area in front of the screen served as a playground for youths. Chownyk recalled watching movies with her husband at the theater many times before and after they were married. They often took their children on weekends. "The kids would bed down in the back and watch the show," she said. "It was cheap entertainment for the family." Today, a three-foot tall model replica of the old drive-in screen is on display in a glass case in the lobby between the Roseville City Hall and Roseville Library. (Jameson Cook - Macomb Daily 9-4-04 )

Update: Hi, My name is Joe Niedzielski and I'm the fellow who is featured in the Macomb Daily article at your Gratiot Drive in portal. I was just wondering if you have any way of contacting the contributors to the site. I would love to correspond with them in the attempt to build a greater data base of information regarding this Drive In. The Gratiot Drive In was special among all because of the unique waterfall on the front of the screen tower. Those of us who care (and there are many) are stiull in anguish over the devastating loss of this landmark. The developer of the shopping center should have embraced the magnificent structure as a constructive re use as it would have been a spectacular centerpiece for the site. I remembered that I tried to get some of the city council people to fight for the historical preservation, but my pleading fell on deaf ears. After the tower was toppled, I endevoured to rescue the "Gratiot" portion of the sign that had graced the pinacle of the screen tower, even though it suffered some damage from the crash landing. My heart drove me to arrest time and circumstance and I was determined to change the outcome of this disaster and not let the Gratiot disappear completely. I have the sign at my home and am presently researching sources and methods to restore this artifact to it's rightful beauty and' as on of the contributors put it, "MAJESTY"! I have just been informed that I will be retaking possession of the "dot on the "i" from the Roseville city archive. The dot had been stolen from the area where I had piled the sign pieces after I cut them off the supporting framework that had held them since 1948. I measured the length of the sign and it is approximately 48 feet in length. The last "t" in "Gratiot" suffered the most damage of all the letters and the top, down to the bottom of the "cross" is pretty mangled. The neon tubing is completely gone, having been shattered, however, some of the glass "electrodes" still remain. They were held against the facing by metal retainer rings which had rusted and weakened badly over the years. Most of the neon tube "stand offs" are gone but I have several intact ones to work with for matching purposes. I looked at a neon sign at a local Olive Garden restaurant and the glass stand offs and metal mounting brackets look quite similar to the original ones. I'd like to keep the sign as original and authentic as possible. I may even be able to obtain some useable parts from similar "parts" signs if I can locate them. The sheet metal of the sign was coated with porcelain and will have to be totally redone. I feel badly that it may detract some from the originality, but if the sign is ever to glow again, it is a necessary evil, but will contribute to the greater good. A photo of the "Wayne Drive In" sign shows quite similar construction and materials to the Gratiot sign but is much smaller. I'm going to be tracking down as much data as possible and I will share this with you. I'd love to find people who were employed there and record their memories. Several years ago, I met a man who said that he and his father installed the copper sheeting on the front of the waterfall side of the screen tower and I believe that he still lives in the same home in Roseville. I will also be visiting the library where the Macomb Daily newspaper and it's predecessor's issues are archived on microfilm. This is going to be a grand adventure and hopefully I'll be able to flesh out the entire history. Please let me know it you can help me network with the contributors of the Gratiot Drive In information you have on the site. It would be fun and helpful to have others along for the ride! It would be great to see the photos of the Gratiot Drive In before it was destroyed that the one fellow said that he would share. I'll be anxiously waiting to hear from you! Thank you for having such a wonderful website! Sincerely, Joe (Joe Niedzielski gratiotdrivein@yahoo.com 9-16-04)

Update: This was the first real job I had as an usher in 1970. Part of being an usher was to set in my car by the exit and wait for people trying to sneak in. The waterfall had not worked for years. Every 4th of July they would have a fireworks display. (Jim Szeles 12-28-04)

Update: The Gratiot was first advertised as a twin screen drive-in on November 2nd, 1979. The movies listed were "When A Stranger Calls" with "Hardcore" on screen one and "Last House On The Left", "Don't Look In The Basement", and "House That Vanished" on screen two. (Michigandriveins.com 1-29-05)

Update: How wonderful to find this site! I grew up in Roseville at Beaconsfield and Georgia. I remember going to the the Gratiot Drive In many times with my parents and later as a teen. There was a playground at the front of the lot right below the screen with swings, teeter totters, monkey bars the whole works. And the bonus was the boat ride! A small pool with revolving boats. We would beg our folks to take us up to play and ride the boats before the show. And if we were still awake during intermission, the pleading would begin anew. Year later, a girlfriend of mine worked in the concession stand and I could drive in, no charge, after intermission and pick her up when the stand closed. She always brought a big bag of leftover popcorn and we'd sit and watch the rest of the second feature and sometimes stay to see the first feature re-run. Thanks for re-newing old memories. Keep up the good work. (Jim Badgero 5/12/06)

Update: Growing-up in the St. Clair Shores/Clinton Township area, me and my family have many good memories of going to the "drive-in". (Mike Malaga 8/17/06)

Update: My memory of Gratiot Drive-in dates back to 1970. My friends and I snuck in to watch a movie by crawing under the back fence. However, we were caught within the first 10 minutes and hauled off to the drive-in office for questioning. They let us go and threatened to call police if they see us there again. Fond memories of living in St. Clair Shores in the 60's and 70's! (Dave Pyle 10/28/06)


Gratiot Drive-In Theater Gallery
Click Thumbnails For Large Images
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot Drive-In in Operation - Early 1950's
Theatre Catalog Image
"What Makes a Drive-In Successful?" - 1952 Theatre Catalog Article
Michigandriveins.com Image
Grand Opening Ad 4/30/48
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Waterfall Admirers 1950's
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot 1950's
Moviegoods.com Image
Gratiot's First Movie in 1948
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Mother Rose
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Gratiot Marquee 1948
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Gratiot 1948
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Gratiot 1948
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Gratiot 1948
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot Article 4/29/48
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Gratiot Article 4/29/48
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot Ad 4/3/48
Joe Niedzielski Image
Speaker Ad 1950's
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Gratiot 1950's
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Aerial 1950's
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Aerial 1950's
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Drive-In Field 1950's
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Lot Attendant 1950's
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Night Shot 1950's
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Ticket Booths 1950's
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Screen With Wings Late-1950's
Gratiot Joe Image
Gratiot Pony Rides 1950's
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Reference Data 1950's
Gratiot Joe Image
Gratiot and Mall Sign 1960's
Gratiot Joe Image
Colorized Shot
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Gratiot Screen 1980's
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Gratiot Screen 1980's
Bill Rauhauser Image
Gratiot 1970's - Bill Rauhauser Image
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Unusual Twin Screen Arrangement 1980's
Alan Finch Image
Gratiot Twin Annotated Layout
Alan Finch Image
Shot From The Top Of Screen 1984
Alan Finch Image
Shot From The Top Of Screen 1984
Alan Finch Image
Shot From The Top Of Screen 1984
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Sunset Behind The Screen 1984
Alan Finch Image
Shot From The Top Of Screen 1984
Alan Finch Image
Shot From The Top Of Screen 1984
Thomas George/Joe N. Image
Demo 1984 - Thomas George/Joe N. Image
Thomas George/Joe N. Image
Demo 1984 - Thomas George/Joe N. Image
Thomas George/Joe N. Image
Demo 1984 - Thomas George/Joe N. Image
Thomas George/Joe N. Image
Demo 1984 - Thomas George/Joe N. Image
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot Demo 1984 - Gratiot Joe Image
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot Demo 1984 - Gratiot Joe Image
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot Demo 1984 - Gratiot Joe Image
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot Demo 1984 - Gratiot Joe Image
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot Demo 1984 - Gratiot Joe Image
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot Demo 1984 - Gratiot Joe Image
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot Speaker - Gratiot Joe Image
Joe Niedzielski Image
Roseville 50th Booklet - Gratiot Joe Image
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot Model
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot Model
Joe Niedzielski Image
Gratiot Model
Joe Niedzielski Image
Original Gratiot Sign 2005
Joe Niedzielski Image
Original Gratiot Sign 2005
Joe Niedzielski Image
Eastsider Article 1994
Joe Niedzielski Image
Eastsider Article 1994
Joe Niedzielski Image
Eastsider Article 1994
Joe Niedzielski Image
Macomb Daily News Article 2004
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Gratiot T-Shirt front
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Gratiot T-Shirt back
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Former Gratiot Site 2003
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Gratiot Topo
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Gratiot Aerial
Terraserver-usa.com Image
Gratiot Aerial
Wayne State Image
Gratiot Aerial 1952
Wayne State Image
Gratiot Aerial 1957
Wayne State Image
Gratiot Aerial 1962


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