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Ford Drive-In

Address: 10400 Ford Rd at Wyoming
City: Dearborn State: MI Zip: 48126 Phone: (313) 846-6910  
County: Wayne
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Open: 1950 (5-19-50) AD Closed: OPEN IN 2006 Capacity: 750 (1950) Status: Open  
Owner History: Ford Wyoming, Inc.
Web Address:
Number of visits to this page since Sept 2013: 28342

5/16/2017 - Vince Speelman
I'm happy to report that as of 5/2017, Ford drive-in is still alive and kicking, running double features every night. They just completed an overhaul for the concessions stand and upgraded counters, equipment, lighting, etc.
5/19/2014 - Chris Carpenter
Attended the Ford Drive-in on Sunday May 18, 2014. All5 screens were open. Most of the parking spots on screen one still have the old fashioned speakers even though most people listen to the movies on their radios. The staff were very friendly. Since it was Sunday night it was slow and one poor gentleman had to run concessions all by himself.

Take the orders, cook the food and be the cashier.
10/26/2013 - jt
According to thier website, as of today, the ford drive in movie complex is now completely digital.
11/30/2010 - jt
Winter is here, the drive in is now open on friday, saturday, and sunday only.
6/7/2010 - jt
This theatre has dropped the Wyoming part of thier name and is now known as The Ford Drive - In. The website has changed it''s name to forddrivein. com also. They make no mention of Wyoming anymore.

3/17/2010 - jt
With the return of warm weather, Theatres 1 - 5 are now open 7 days a week.
3/8/2010 - Dave Luzynski
I am GLAD to see the Drive in is still open on the weekends during the winter. I love the atmosphere of the Drive In and see as many movies I can there. It is a great place to take the family and the FM sound has greatly improved (the speakers are still available as well). The Ford Wyoming is a Dearborn icon and I hope it will stay that way for many years to come! Thank you Martin for carrying on the tradition.

4/16/2009 - Fredrick Ryan
I''m happy to announce that the Ford-Wyoming 1-5 is now open daily.
2/17/2009 - Nick Heatherton
For the first time in as long as I can remember: The Ford-Wyoming is now closed during the work week. It still runs movies on the weekends, however the site sits deserted from Monday to Thursday nights. Perhaps the economics of running pictures in sub-zero temps during the work week is not profitable in such hard times?.
2/2/2009 - martin shafer
ok first off its shafer not schafer and i am the grandson of the late great Martin Dennis shafer i just wanted to thank all of you for your continued loyalty to the Ford Wyoming with out all of you the drive-ins would be history Thank you for helping keep my uncle charlie''s dream alive.
7/2/2008 - Jake Nelson
I went to the Ford Wyoming a couple weeks back to check out The Happening and Street Kings. It was, as I expected, pretty packed with people of all ages. I see nearly all my movies at this theater and the business you see is astounding for all types of pictures. Last year I saw The Simpsons Movie and the Fantastic Four and you couldn''t find a place to park. I had the same problem a few years ago when I went to see Martin Lawrence:Runtelldat and Undisputed (a man had to physically try to squeeze between two cars to park!).

Point is: this place is a MUST and I thank my lucky stars people seem to love and appreciate it! It''s a place I hope they keep around for a LONG time. I have to admit that it''s always rather special seeing the teenagers playing catch, the little kids running around in their PJ''s, the lawn chairs and the smell of somebody having a BBQ (even though it''s posted not to!), the little intermission cartoons and hearing that sound through the little box (even though you can get better sound with the radio). That''s what American summer is supposed to be about and The Ford-Wyoming remains the best way to see a movie and get the real Drive In experience. If you can go, GO! It will really bring back the best memories of being a kid.

4/18/2008 - Packard Guy
The Ford-Wyoming 6-9 will be opening for the summer on April 25th.
3/8/2008 - Steve
I was just here on 3/5/08 and talked to one of the workers who has been there for like 15 years and asked him about the 6-9 and he said that yes they are opening in the spring then later in the night they were making an announcement and again stated that the 6-9 would reopen in the spring which is great news for drive-in lovers everywhere.
7/2/2006 - Detroit Free Press
Part 1 - June 21, 1996 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 OKd construction of that oversized tower in 1949. But now, it seems, he knows what the hell hes 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 http:// www. mich. com/TILDEdrivein/index.

html. ) 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.

7/2/2006 - Detroit Free Press
Part 2 - 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 cant 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.
7/2/2006 - Detroit News
August 11, 2002 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.

4/17/2006 - Fredrick George Ryan
According to Charles Shafer, this will be the last season for the Ford-Wyoming 6-9. The drive in opened last Friday and will be open weekends only until warmer weather. Currently the drive in will close sometime after Labor Day.
2/12/2006 - Eric Mackey
I think the change in population demographics and its proximity to the city of Detroit have contributed to its decline. If it does close, I hope they just dont tear it down like so many others.

1/12/2006 - John Ignatowski
Rumor around the SE Michigan movie circuits is that the owners of the Ford-Wyoming, after experiencing low attendance in 2005, may call it quits after Labor Day 2006 if business continues its downward turn.
1/11/2004 - Cinema Treasures
Opened in 1950, as a single-screener, with a colossal, late Streamline-style screen, the Ford-Wyoming could originally accomodate around 750 cars. It also once advertised a kiddie playground and boat rides for children. The drive-in was acquired by Wayne Amusements in 1981, and by 1990, and grown to five screens. Another four screens were built during the early 90s. Today, the still-very popular drive-in is the largest in the United States, parking-wise, with space for over 3000 cars.

(The largest drive-in screen-wise is the Thunderbird in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with 13 screens). The Ford-Wyoming is open year-round, a rarity for drive-ins, and supplies car heaters along with speakers during the winter season. Cinema Treasures Link.
12/18/2003 - Box Office Magazine
July 1959 - Boyd Beauchene is managing the Ford-Wyoming Drive-In at Dearborn, in place of Jack Wagner, Edward B. Miller is operator there following the retirement of James W. Padfield, who moved to the Upper Peninsula.
10/16/2003 -
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 1990s, two other Wayne Amusements drive-ins, 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.
10/13/2003 - Michigan Daily
DEARBORN - Youve waited for tonight. Its dark. Its cozy. Youre sitting right next to each other and whispering in each others 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. Youve accidentally honked the horn. If the mile-long lines of Porsches and pickup trucks were any indication last Saturday night at Dearborns 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 industr SEDER BURNS/Daily Cars throng the parking lot of the Ford-Wyoming drive-in theater in Dearborn.

ial 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. Weve 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 dont 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 Detroits 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 wasnt until May, 1949, that the brothers started with drive-ins, erecting the second drive-in Detroit had ever seen.

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 couldnt 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 doesnt 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 McDonalds. Ypsilantis Willow Drive-In, located on Michigan Avenue, was sold in 1985 to become a trailer park. And Showcase Cinemas bought out Schafers 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 Arbors 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 would come in your pajamas, climb in the back seat, bug your parents a little, and youd 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 shed 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 dont care. Theyre in their car.

Theres 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 Russells 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 elses kids talking in your ear, whats 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 Dearborns cozy car confines. Ninety percent of the people dont come to watch the movie, said Little, 23. Especially if you came in a truck, like I did.

Youre right by the movie screen, but you dont watch it at all, he said, hiding a grin before heading back off into the enveloping darkness, towards the screens glow.
1/6/2003 -
Managers Ed and Virg were courteous in giving this drive-in nut what information they could offer about their 9-screen operation. The Ford Hwy side is the original, with the original tower. and the lot later subdivided.

Guard rails separate the gravel covered lot(s) of speaker poles with real speakers (besides radio sound). The 5-screen side is the part that operates year-round. 4-minute intermissions whereon each screen displays the last 4 minutes of the Filmack animated snack circus clock. Check it out! Justin West.

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