It’s widely recognized that the first drive-in theater was Hollingshead’s drive-in opened in New Jersey June 6, 1933. It offered viewing for up to 400 vehicles and a 40 by 50-foot screen. The owner advertised his drive-in theater with the slogan, “The whole family is welcome, regardless of how noisy the children are.” The facility only operated three years, but during that time the concept caught on in other states.
Drive-In Theaters in Michigan’s Upper Thumb
The drive-in’s peak popularity came in the late 1950s and early 1960s, particularly in rural areas, with some 4,000 drive-ins spread across the United States. During its height in popularity, Michigan had about 130 drive-ins. Huron County is recorded in having two drive-in’s, the Blue Sky between Caseville and Pinnebog and the M-53 Drive-In near Bad Axe.
Intermission – 10 Minutes Between Movies
Caseville Blue Sky Theater
Blue Sky operated from 1950 – 1977. Surrounded by farmland it offered summer nighttime movies for 300. Faced with a decline in attendance the drive-in showed “blue films” in the 1970s. Remains of this theater were evident until about 2010 when landowners removed the last of the speaker stands and cement footings. All that remains is a small pile of rubble east of Gott’s Corners on Kinde Road. Soon that will be gone too.
Bad Axe Drive-In Hung In Until the 1980s
M-53 opened in 1953 and ran until 1988. I recall bringing a bunch of friends from college at Michigan State to the Drive-In. Only to meet the same bunch friends of we hung with in East Lansing. Located just west of town, its 400 spaces drew folks from all over the county. Today the site is occupied by DTE Energy Offices.
Hi-Way Drive-In near Sandusky
Today there are no drive-ins in the Upper Thumb. The nearest one is the Hi-Way Drive-In in Sandusky. The Hi-Way is considered the oldest continuous running drive-in in Michigan. This drive-in has the traditional snack bar & indoor concessions, open seasonally since 1948. You can check to move times on their hotline at 810-657-6684.
Drive-In Theaters that Remain in Michigan
There are still eight drive-in theaters in Michigan. They are a fun reminder of when everyone drove huge vehicles were the backseat was as big as a couch. Those that remain still offer a glimpse of the days before VCRs, DVDs, and Streaming Services.
- Five Mile Drive-in Movie Theater – Dowagiac
- Sunset Drive-In Theater – Hartford
- Ford Drive-In Theatre – Dearborn
- The New US 23 Drive-in Theater – Flint
- Getty Drive-In – Muskegon
- Hi-Way Drive Inn – Sandusky
- Cherry Bowl Drive-In Theatre – Honor
- USA Hockey Drive-In – Plymouth
Related Reading for Drive-In Theaters
- Upper Thumb Radio Stations
- Neat Things to Do in Michigan’s Upper Thumb That Are Free
- Tour Wind Farms in the Upper Thumb
- Interview with Author Jacki Howard