Dinner and a movie

When you hear the word Drive In, you think of two things.

1: Drive in Movies

2: Drive in car hops

Growing up I remember the local foster freeze’s, Union city drive in movies, and the capitola drive in movies.

Most of the Drive in movies are gone now, with expensive ticket pricing, large in door seating theaters that have a concession stand menu larger than the menu at Mc Donalds establishments.  Going to the drive in movies was a very unique experience. There is only one theater that I know of that is still in operation, it is located in Capitola CA. As you may know from reading my blogs, I love diners too. Diners with out door parking spaces that you can state your order via a little speaker box and then wait for your food arrive via the girl on roller skates. I have always thought that it would be fun to own a diner or drive in. I am sure that if I was able to have a car hop diner, the liability would be if someone fell while delivering food on their roller skates.

Sonic Burger is a business that has been around since the early 1950’s and is still open today. It is a decent size franchise chain. The next car hop/drive in that I am going to talk about is not a chain but rather the simple mom and pop shop eatery called “Heights Drive In”

Here is the story about the conservation effort from a couple who are really keeping the nostalgia flowing.

Residents in and around Dearborn Heights who are longing for the good old days of the drive-in, car hops, good food and great milkshakes have a new “home.”

On Tuesday, Dearborn Heights Mayor Dan Paletko will join city officials, local business owners, and members of the city’s Tax Increment Finance Authority (TIFA) for the grand opening of the Heights Drive-In, located at 5152 S. Beech Daly. The long-ago home of another drive in, the building was recently purchased by the husband-wife team of Ben and Nicole Walling who, through major interior and exterior renovations, are bringing the restaurant back to the era when drive-ins were “the place to go.”
“It’s great to see this long-time landmark brought back to life” Paletko commented. “Many of us have fond memories of heading down Beech Daly and spending time at the drive-in. A lot of us are now looking forward to many more enjoyable visits there.”
A classic car owner himself, Paletko was particularly pleased to learn the restaurant will play host to some classic car shows this summer. “I’ll be there” he said. In addition to traditional dining room service, the restaurant also features curbside service by car hops for those who long for the “good old days” of drive-in service.

Co-owner Nicole Walling, a 15-year veteran of the food industry, comes with extensive restaurant management experience. Backed by a master’s degree in restaurant management, she worked in several restaurants throughout Michigan before deciding to – along with husband and former GM employee, Ben – open their own place.

“We like to cook” she commented, “and we have some great recipes of our own we have added to the menu.”
The menu includes a variety of items, ranging from the simple to the complex.
“Our day starts with breakfast, which we serve until 11 a.m.. The rest of the day we have everything from home-made chili, to fried chicken, to a great selection of burgers, to deep-fried hot dogs and polish sausage. Since we are using our own chili recipe,” she grinned, “We don’t call them chili dogs. In here, they’re known as Walling Dogs. We also have a Philly Cheese Steak sandwich that is the best you’ll find, along with a big selection of ice cream products — ranging from inexpensive things like pre-packaged drumsticks and other novelty items, to full-service ice cream parlor items, like sundaes and a 24-ounce milkshake. We’re hoping the restaurant – in addition to providing regular meals – will be a place neighborhood families can visit in the evenings for an ice cream treat.”
The restaurant will soon have outdoor benches that will allow customers to stop by and enjoy their ice cream in the open air.
In addition to designing a menu with a wide range of offerings, the Wallings also kept their selections attractive to the cost-conscious.
“We know it’s tight out there” she explained. “And because of that, we made sure our products were affordable. We want to make sure even those on a tight budget can come in, have a good meal, and enjoy themselves.”
While the Wallings are bringing back the “old-time” flavor of the drive-in, they have also added a few modernizations, including televisions and free WiFi service for their patrons.

The Heights Drive in is open seven days a week: Monday-Friday 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is located at 5152 S. Beech Daly Road, just north of Van Born.

Like I had mentioned earlier, I remember the Union City drive in’s like it was yesterday. The entrance had these golden arches that always reminded me of Mc Donalds. They had closed down in 1998 and after being leveled and torn down, they placed a huge strip mall on the former drive in location. The strip mall is ironically furnished with a 25 screen movie theater. Here is a little bit of the history of this wonderful drive in.

Gone but never forgotten…

union city drive-in-2.jpg

Before Union Landing came along, it was the home of the Union City Drive-In Theatre.

Located at Alvarado and Highway 880, The Union City Drive-In was a source of pride for our city when the curtain first rose in l966. Its six screens were more than any other nearby theater had, and its huge, red and white marquee served as a massive welcome sign to the city.

In March 1998, after 32 years, the Drive-In closed. The event was marked by a farewell gala billed as “The Last Picture Show”; showing classics including the l957 movie “I was a Teenage Frankenstein.” The theme for the evening was the 50’s heydays of drive-in theaters. Local classic car clubs brought their cars to set the mood. Other shown that evening were: “Rio Bravo” with John Wayne and Dean Martin, “Go Johnny Go” with Richie Valens, and “Invasion of the Saucer Men” a B movie from 1959.

union city drive-in2.jpgClosing the Union City Drive-In was like destroying the American dream. Watching a movie in a car under the stars in Union City is now history. A mix of high land prices and commercialization drove the Union City Drive-in out.

This photo of the top Union City Drive-In was captured by Alex Vosicka, on the 22nd of August 1998.  All aspects with the exception of 1 screen and a lot of memories, had been totally bulldozed into the dumpster of Oblivion.

When I went down south to LA, I noticed that there are still a few of the Drive in movies plex’s still around. Most of them are utilized as flea markets, and or other business’s like used car sales. In the mid west and east coast some of the old drive in’s are just abandoned.. which is sad. I think that it is really sad to see an establishment that once brought happiness, laughter, and an escape from everyday life, just sit there and slowly be dilapidated and eventually unusable. Here are a few shots of some that are in need of repair and or need some love and tlc.



Movie theaters, drive in movies, and car hops are a great piece of Americana. When you see any kind of old building, don’t say “what a dump”. You should look into saving these road side icons. The kids of today are going to be asking what drive in movies were, and if we do not save them it will become an extinct attraction that the kids of today won’t be able experience.

Thanks for reading,

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