The Thunder Bay Drive-In Theatre

Sat. photo from

May 1993 satellite image obtained with Microsoft TerraServer

If that shot had been taken a few days earlier, it would have shown the drive-in intact.

* Map Legend:

  1. Concession Stand/Projection Booth... In rubble on top of its foundation. The projection booth was directly in front of the concession stand and part of the building.
  2. Screen Tower... Lying on the ground in pieces (*sniff*). The tower was enclosed, storing, among other things, marquee letters and lawn equipment.
  3. Marquee and DI Entrance... Just above the #3 was the plain marquee. I used to watch the guy change the movies on Sunday nights.
  4. Row of trees lining driveway... Planted by my father.
  5. Ticket Booth... Just above the #5, demolished.
  6. DI Exit... Aligned perfectly with my grandmother’s front window, so at closing, things got pretty bright!
  7. House where I grew up.

* History:

The 10 acres were purchased from my great-grandparents, and the family was given life-time passes. The theatre was built in the mid-50s and operated nearly 30 years. As a teenager, my mother worked the concession stand and my uncle even washed car windows as a kid. The theatre ran exclusively on speaker sound.

The angle of the tower and the trees obscured most of the screen from my bedroom window, but my grandmother had a pretty good view. The path running outside the back fence (starting at the exit) and veering off to the right leads to my uncle’s hunting camp and is where I used to ride my bike back and forth in order to not get eaten alive by mosquitoes while watching the movies. I’ve heard the intermission reels so many times from my bedroom at night, that I can still replay the whole ten minutes in my head. Scaaarry, eh, kids?

But, what’s really scary is the fact that Detroit rocker Alice Cooper performed at the theatre on his Flush the Fashion ’80 tour, in an ill-fated attempt by the owners to make the drive-in an "Outdoor Auditorium."

I was thirteen at the time and, of course, thought this whole business was cool as beans (I still have Cooper’s "Clones" 45 single), but my family thought otherwise, so the adults "policed" our front lawns in case any crazy teenagers tried to trespass. I watched a lot of the concert from the back fence and I remember Cooper’s crew on the roof of the concession stand and the big screen being used for images during the show.

From what I remember, we only had a couple of minor... uh, situations on our property. Thing was... the theatre was built for 300 cars, but it seemed like most were parked along the road and were walking up for a free show. In other words, I think the owners took a bath with the whole drive-in concert idea.

In 1993, the screen tower and concession stand were bulldozed into two piles... amazingly, the tile floor of the snack bar is still intact. Most of the poles have yet to be removed... the speakers are long gone. The property was sold in summer 1998. I got permission from the owner to snoop around the lot... the only thing I came back with was about 1/3 of a PIC intermission film reel (D. Vogel plays it at the Bengies and it was also featured in Tim Reed’s Revenge of the Intermission Clocks). If it wasn’t one of my favorite DI clips, I would have just tossed it since it’s in pretty bad shape.

* Some photos of the Thunder Bay, circa 1955-60...

 November 19, 1998
 Updated February 2, 1999