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Latest Information Updates

3/3/2021 - Fremont Cinema - Fremont - Andy Gray
Albert S.

(Al) Johnson completed a "Fremont Theatre" job but our family records don't provide a project date. His theater job slides also don't include any shots of this theater.Based on the history provided on the Cinema Treasures website, my best guess is that Johnson Construction Company remodeled the theater in 1939 in conjunction with its renaming to the New Fremont Theatre: "The Ideal Theatre was opened prior to 1918. Around 1939 it was renamed New Fremont Theatre.

.. It was closed around 1947. It now houses the Chamber of Commerce.

" The WaterWinterWonderland.com site has an image (see below) showing two pairs of the trademark "art moderne" style "Johnson doors" with matching half hexagonal glass inserts. The two films on the marquee in that photo were released in 1939. The New Fremont Theatre was located at 7 East Main Street in Fremont, Michigan.

A Google Maps image shows that the former theater building still houses the Fremont Chamber of Commerce..
3/3/2021 - Oakdale Theatre - Hazel Park - Andy Gray
The second historic Michigan theater we'll look at today is the Oakdale Theatre in Hazel Park.

My uncle's list of Johnson Construction Company theater jobs indicates two projects associated with this theater. One job was simply identified as "original" and the second job was completed in 1947.My grandad Al Johnson left behind just one Kodachrome slide with a street view of the theater taken in December 1949. It's a great time capsule view of suburban Detroit life during that era.

The theater features three pairs of classic red "Johnson doors," an ornate marquee and a prominent vertical "Oakdale" sign. To the left of the theater are a "Hall for Rent" and a Five-and-Dime store. Across the side street to the right is a drug store and a gas station. The slide also shows several old cars and trucks.

The WaterWinterWonderland.com website provides this description: "..located on the northwest corner of 8 mile and Stephenson Hwy/Oakland Ave in Hazel Park, next to Oak gas station on the corner. There was also a dance hall located upstairs next to Dr. office next to theater." Personal disclosure: if that office was the Helen Meinke Hospital, I was born there several years later.

The theater was located on Eight Mile Road, but a precise location is the subject of debate at WaterWinterWonderland.com. When Interstate 75 was built through the area it might have obliterated the block where the theater stood.
3/2/2021 - Fowler Theater - Fowler - Andy Gray
Today I'll highlight two old Michigan theaters for which my grandfather Al Johnson's company was the general contractor.

The Fowler Theatre stood at 225 N. Main Street in Fowler, Michigan - a small community just west of St. Johns on M-21. My uncle A.

S. Johnson Jr's records show that the Johnson Construction Company worked on the theater in 1940 and again in 1947. Al Johnson's slides show an image of the front of the building dated May 1948. A Roy Rogers movie "The Gay Ranchero" is listed on the marquee.

Several slides with interior views of the theater, including a rare view of the concessions area, were dated May and September 1949. The gentleman seen in one of the images isn't a family member, so I'm guessing that he was the theater manager in 1949. The Cinema Treasures website provides this history: "This short-lived theatre was erected shortly after World War II, and dismantled in 1951. The theatre’s seats were moved to the Howell Theatre in Howell.

Today the building serves as offices and a meeting room for the Village of Fowler." .
3/2/2021 - Ken Theatre - Frankenmuth - Andy Gray
The Ken Theatre, which opened in August 1947, was a unique design incorporating an arched roof Quonset-style building.

It was located at 195 E. Jefferson Street in Frankenmuth, Michigan. The style of the entrance as seen in my grandfather's June 1948 color slide is very similar to that of several other Johnson theater projects. The Cinema Treasures website says "Built in 1947, from ground breaking to opening day was 12 weeks.

Cost was $27,000.00." The waterwinterwonderland.com website includes several photos and detailed descriptions from a "1947 theater catalog.

" Despite this extensive documentation, the name of the general contractor is not mentioned. So the main basis of the Ken being built by my grandfather's company is that he included it in his collection of slides of his theater and drive-in projects.The Ken Theatre has since been demolished.
3/2/2021 - Garden Theatre - Frankfort - Andy Gray
The Garden Theater, at 301 Main Street in Frankfort, opened in August 1924.

My Uncle Bud's Johnson Construction Co. theater job list shows this as a 1947 remodeling project by his father Al's company. The "art moderne" style of the Garden Theatre is consistent with a 1947 remodel. Current images of the theater, which remains in use, show three pairs of green doors with paired half-octagonal glass panes.

These match the patented "Johnson doors" used in several of Al Johnson's other theater projects of the era. Unfortunately, my grandfather left behind no 35 mm slides of this theater project. The Garden Theater website says "On December 30, 2020, The Friends of The Garden Theater, a charitable organization, purchased the Garden Theater and continues with fundraising efforts to save the theater for future generations." It also indicates that the theater hosts a film festival each October.

3/2/2021 - Devil's Lake Amusement Park - Manitou Beach - Rick
My Cousins lived at Devils Lake in the mid 60s to mid 70s. Always had a great time visiting there. Saw Strawberry Alarm Clock at Greens but I don't have the specific date. I remember a local band called The Wrenched Souls.
3/1/2021 - Rapids Theatre - Eaton Rapids - Bob
This old theater is now a Bank in downtown Eaton Rapids.

The building is located at 111 W. Hamlin St. in Eaton Rapids. It is currently the: Homestead Saving Bank.

2/28/2021 - Flat Roc Theatre - Flat Rock - Andy Gray
Another theatre that served clientele southwest of Detroit was the Flatroc in Flat Rock, Michigan.

My grandfather Al Johnson built this theater, which stood at 26263 Gibraltar Road, in 1939. His son's list of Johnson Construction Co. projects lists this job without the year, but I was able to deduce it from some historic online photos. On the WaterWInterWonderland.

com site, there's an image of the marquee showing "Gala Premier Opening Friday September Twenty Second," and another marquee photo with "Ann Southern in Congo Maisie" which was released in 1940. The only year between 1935 and 1940 in which September 22nd fell on a Friday was 1939. My grandfather shot his color Kodachrome slides of the Flatroc nine years later in 1948. Al's exterior slide was shot in May 1948 and it shows two pairs of his patented "art moderne" or "art deco" style "Johnson doors" with matching half-octagonal windows.

Al took the four interior images in November 1948. One is labeled "Vlachos" and shows a sharply-dressed John Vlachos, who was the theater owner. Another image is the only one in 150 or more slides that my grandfather left behind that shows movie-goers in a theater that he built. A distinctly young audience appears to be waiting for the Western "Marshal of Amarillo" staring Allan "Rocky" Lane to start.

Today the building appears to house an insurance business..
2/26/2021 - Rapids Theatre - Eaton Rapids - Andy Gray
Today we're going to head over to Eaton Rapids and back in time to 1950 to look at the Rapids Theatre.

The Cinema Treasures website says: "The Rapids Theatre opened on February 28, 1950. Designed by architect Talmage C. Hughs, with Albert S. Johnson as theatre consultant.

The façade is finished in a porcelain enamel. Inside the auditorium, seating was provided in orchestra and balcony levels, and there was a cry room at the rear left hand side of the balcony. The decorative treatment comprised of free hand drawings on the side walls and front of the balcony which consisted of curves and swirls." This is one of a couple instances in which I've read that my grandfather served as a "theatre consultant" while also being the general contractor.

Some of the "free hand drawings" mentioned in the article can be seen in two of my grandfather's 1950 interior images below. The waterwinterwonderland.com site has has what appears to be an excerpt about the theater's opening from the industry magazine Box Office, which I've included below. The six color 35 mm slides that I've posted below were taken by Al Johnson in 1950.

They include four images of the entrance at different times, and two of the interior. Here are links to the two websites mentioned above: http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/20088. Cinema Treasures shows the address as 451 N.

Shore Drive, but when I attempt to map it, I can't find that address in Eaton Rapids. Perhaps someone from Eaton Rapids will recognize the more recent photos of the building on the waterwinterwonderland.com site and can provide an accurate address. The building is no longer in use as a theater.

2/24/2021 - Tawas Drive-In Theatre - East Tawas - Andy Gray
Today I'm featuring the Tawas Drive-In, a project that my grandfather Al Johnson's construction company completed in 1952.

The drive-in was located at 2005 N. US-23 in East Tawas, Michigan. Al's slides include one showing construction of the concession/projection building with what could be a flatbed well-drilling rig in front of it. This image was taken in March 1952.

The remaining slides were shot in July 1952. These show the project nearing its completion. Vertical tongue-and-groove knotty pine sheathes the concession/projection building doors and also covers the ticket booth. A Jeep, used to set the precast speaker stands, is shown in one slide.

A swing set can be seen in front of the screen. Child play areas, sometimes with benches or chairs from which their parents could watch over their children, were a common feature of drive-ins of the era. Two images show the drive-in on opening night. The marquee reads: "Gala Opening Tonight 'Thief of Bagdad' and Judy Canoya in 'Hit the Hay' Souvenirs to first 500 cars.

" .
2/23/2021 - Eastwood Theatre - Eastpointe - Andy Gray
The Eastwood Theatre was located at at 21145 Gratiot Avenue in Eastpointe, The June 1949 image below was shot by my grandfather Al Johnson, whose company, Johnson Construction Co., built or remodeled the theater. The new-looking bare block walls suggest that the project was new construction. The use of the word "Cool" painted in two places on the front of the theater highlight its air conditioning system.
2/23/2021 - Drayton Theatre - Drayton Plains - Andy Gray
The Drayton Theatre in Drayton Plains, Michigan was a 1941 project by Johnson Construction Co.

It's not clear whether this was a remodeling project or new construction, though the gabled roofline and brick chimney might indicate that an existing building was renovated into a movie theater at some point. The slide that Al shot seven years later in September 1948 shows an "art moderne" style incorporating tan brickwork and a cream and red color scheme typical of many of the Johnson projects. There's little online information available about this theater, other than that it was located *"on Dixie Highway between Sashabaw and the short little street, Monroe." * Two 1948 movies are listed on the marquee: "Jinx Money" (a Bowery Boys film) and "Carson City Raiders" (a Western).

2/22/2021 - Bagley Theatre - Detroit - Andy Gray
This shows the Bagley Theatre at 3327 Bagley Street.

This slide was taken in March 1949, and it shows street car tracks running in front of the theater. A.S. Jr.

's (Bud's) records show this as a 1947 project by my grandfather's company..
2/22/2021 - Liberty Theatre - Detroit - Andy Gray
This image is the Liberty Theatre, which was a 1941 Johnson new construction or remodel project.

Al shot the photo on August 1948, and it shows the theater in typical "art moderne" style with period-appropriate doors, marquee and accents. There is some question in my mind as to the location of the Liberty Theatre in my grandfather's 1948 slide. The CinemaTour website lists the address as 1020 Farmer Street, which is in the heart of downtown Detroit. Historic photos on the Cinema Treasures site show a three-story Liberty Theater in a former church.

The peak of the gabled roof parallels the street and the front of the theater. Al's 1948 slide appears to have been taken in a less dense area of the city, and it shows a flat-roofed two-story theater building. Also, the front of the Gibbs Lumber store to the left of the theater shows an address of "25135 Van Dyke," which is several miles to the north of the old Farmer Street Theater Row. I believe the Liberty Theatre that Grandad Johnson built or remodeled was at that location rather than downtown on Farmer Street.

Here are three websites with info on the Liberty Theatre:.
2/22/2021 - Carlton Theatre - Detroit - Andy Gray
This image is of the Carlton Theatre, at 13125-13135 Fenkell Avenue, and it was shot in June 1948.

Similar to the Graystone, this theater appears to be in an older building that had recently been renovated. Family records don't indicate when Johnson Construction Co. might have worked on the Carlton. The marquee is an older more ornate style - perhaps dating to the 1930's.

Two 1943 films "Sahara" (starring Humphrey Bogart) and "Destroyer" were playing when the photo was taken. The marquee also says: "De Luxe Pushback Seats" and "Academy of Proven Hits." On the right side of the photo you can see a worker standing on top of a Faygo Beverages truck which is parked in front of the soda shop next to the theater. Talk about Michigan history! The building has been demolished.

2/22/2021 - Kensington - Kensington - WinterWinterWonderland
Great info here: Kristina Scarcelli web site
2/22/2021 - Tunk - Tunk - WinterWinterWonderland
Source: Ghost Towns of Michigan Vol 1 by Larry Wakefield
2/22/2021 - Maxine Theatre - Croswell - Andy Gray
Another Michigan theater slide, shot by my grandfather A.

S. "Al" Johnson in August 1948, shows the Maxine Theatre located at 91 N. Howard Avenue** **in Crosswell, Michigan. I really like this image because the three bystanders in front of the theater almost look like they were posed.

Al's son Bud's theater job list does not include the Maxine, so if Johnson Construction Co. remodeled the theater, it's not clear what year it might have occurred. On the waterwinterwonderland.com website it says that the *Maxine Theatre *opened on July 5, 1920 and closed on October 31, 1964.

The theater was named after the builder, William Carter's daughter, Maxine. Google Maps indicates that an auto parts store currently occupies the building..
2/22/2021 - Town Theatre - Chesaning - Andy Gray
Today I'm sharing images of two Michigan theaters, taken in 1948 by my grandfather A.

S. "Al" Johnson. The first theatre is the Town Theatre at 135 N. Front Street in Chesaning.

Al's son listed this Johnson Construction Co. job as a 1948 project. Al's slide, below, shows the characteristic "art moderne" style "Johnson doors" in a natural color and with semi-round glass. "Angels' Alley," a film released in 1948, appears on the marquee.

The cinder block building construction suggests that the 1948 project was a new theater rather than a remodeling job.The waterwinterwonderland.com website suggests that the theater operated until the 1960's, after which the building housed a bowling alley and an auto parts store. A Google Maps search shows the building as a closed pizzeria with a "for sale" sign.

2/21/2021 - Hi-Road Drive-In - Kenton - Cinema Treasures
Opened June 11, 1949, the Hi-Road Drive-In originally had a screen that measured 40' by 80', but this was blown down by heavy winds in January 1952, and replaced by a screen about half the original’s size.

The Hi-Road Drive-In originally had a capacity for 400 cars.The Millers acquired the Hi-Road Drive-In in 1999, and found it needed a lot of work, having fallen into disrepair over the decades.The Millers remodeled the concession booth, cleaned and cleared the lot, and restored the Artcraft marquee to its original 1940’s appearance.The Millers are currently seeking to replace the present screen with one close to the original screen’s size as well as improve lighting around the parking area and driveway.

The Hi-Road Drive-In can accommodate over 600 cars in its lot, and now has two screens..
2/20/2021 - Maple City Drive-In Theatre - Charlotte - Andy Gray
Today I have a treat for Michigan drive-in aficionados: ten photos taken in the fall of 1952 during the construction of the Maple City Drive-In in Charlotte.

These 35 mm slides were shot by my grandfather A.S. "Al" Johnson, who owned the Johnson Construction Company and built dozens of Michigan theaters and drive-ins between 1934 and 1956.These images provide a rare look into the the early phases of a drive-in project: site clearing, layout, applying water-proofing tar to the lower blockwork of the concession/projection building, building the foundation for the tower, and tower framing and assembly.

One slide shows car speaker posts with precast concrete bases. These later will be interconnected and set in place, then the concrete bases will be covered with gravel prior to the final grading of the parking area.The same slide shows several timbers soaking in drums of creosote for protection against rot. Some of the timbers piled in the back will be cut to length and bolted together with steel gussets to form vertical trusses.

These will provide the primary structure of the tower.A series of slides shows the workers raising one of these tower trusses into place using ropes, block and tackle. Once in place, these vertical members will be connected to adjacent trusses with horizontal timbers to form a rigid framework.Though not shown in these slides, the final step of the tower construction involved sheathing the whole tower frame with plywood, applying one or more coats of paint, and then covering the whole tower with a final layer of panels.

Ron Gross, administrator of the Michigan Drive-ins.com Facebook page, says that asbestos panels typically were used for the final sheathing layer during this era. To see part of the tower sheathing process, please see my February 12 Michigan History post on the Starlight Drive-In.The waterwinterwonderland.

com site provides this history: "The Maple City Drive-In opened in June of 1953 and closed around 1990. This single screen drive-in had a capacity for 500 cars." The site also reveals that, as of 2013, the projection/concession building and a very damaged marquee were all that remained on the site.The Maple City Drive-In was located at 2812 S.

Cochran Avenue. I've been unable to find any contemporary photos of the completed drive-in. A current Google Maps view shows part of the parking area and the remains of the concession/projection building in the rear of the site.
2/17/2021 - Algiers Drive-In Theatre - Westland - Leah
Hello, I was born and raised in Garden City MI close to the Algiers, I remember we went to the drive in just about every weekend even in the winter months. My mom and dad would stay in the car and watch the movies while I was either at the playground our in the concession stand playing arcade games, Uncle Dave would give us kids free popcorn and credits for the games. I made lots of friends there and even worked there for a short time before the close of the Algiers drive in sometime in the early 80s. I remember a few people on this list below including Bud and his brother Gary, hope you are all doing well and keep the memories alive, thanks!!!
2/17/2021 - Cameo Theatre - Detroit - Bob Bell
I lived on Robinwood and attended Greenfield Union elementary school and later Nolen intermediate.

Cameo theater was a regular visit on Saturdays. So much has changed but the old neighborhood is still there IF...you look closely. Good memories last forever.
2/17/2021 - Owosso Speedway - Ovid - Jason
Hello All, Many years late to this page but I have some really good news.

...I have newspaper clippings of THE ROCKET MOTOR SPEEDWAY from 1951-1957 that my grandmother saved and dated.

A few people have asked about "WINDY DALEY" which I have to say he was mentioned a lot in these articles, also pictures. From what I have been told he was great friends with my grandfather BUD SHEPHERD. There are over 200 drivers mentioned in these articles. My intentions have been to put a book together with as much information as possible.

I have heard some interesting stories over the years that I would love to know more about and possibly add to the story. A story about a "PRISON CAR". If anyone would like to share some stories, pictures, information or direct me to any other websites or people, please advise.
2/17/2021 - Broadway Theatre - Detroit - Matthew Wilkinson
This is not the Broadway capital theater. Broadway capital is the Detroit opera house now. This theater must have been demolished years ago.
2/15/2021 - Westwood Cinemas - Jackson - Jim Twining
This like Stadium Cinema 1&2 in Midland was run by United Artists theater's.

I got to know Ron Haney and his assistant Jack well as I spoke to them nightly giving them my revenue numbers which they then passed on. This was before computers.1978 to 1985 time frame. There were road trips to Jackson to pick up my films for my late shows.

Enjoyed going with Ron to the Hunt Club for a Cold one and a Wiley Potato.Lost touch with most of my former theater manager friends. .
2/14/2021 - Memory Lane Drive-In Theater - Monroe - Owner
10 years ago we envisioned opening a Drive-In Theater that would provide a peaceful relaxing environment for the community to enjoy. We want to create a place where you can take your family, a date or a loved one to enjoy a wonderful memory making experience while having the feeling of getting away from the hustle of our daily lives. Our goal is to build it in a place that provides that setting while keeping it close enough to travel to and from.
2/14/2021 - Tibbits Opera House - Coldwater - Andy Gray
Between 1934 and 1956 my maternal grandfather, Albert S.

("Al") Johnson, built and remodeled theaters and drive-ins throughout Michigan. His company was called the Johnson Construction Co., and it was based out of Birmingham. His first theater job, according to records compiled by his son A.

S. Johnson Jr. (my "Uncle Bud"), was a remodel of the Tibbits Theatre, in Coldwater, which Johnson completed in 1934. The Tibbits, which opened originally as the Tibbits Opera House in 1882, later began showing silent films and eventually "talkies.

" This photo, taken by Al Johnson in June 1948 fourteen years after his remodel job, shows the theater still in its 1934 "art deco" or "art moderne" style. The theater has since been restored to its original opera house style and is open to this day. Johnson theater work became something of a family affair. My dad (Doug Gray) and paternal grandfather (Robie Gray) both worked for Johnson on theater and drive-in jobs for many years - as did Al's son Bud Johnson.

Dad related to me that during one theater renovation job, an old car (a Model T or earlier model) was discovered at the back of the original theater stage when an interior wall was removed. The car had been used as a prop for a theater production and had been left in place during an earlier renovation. When it was discovered, the theater owner assumed ownership and had the car delivered to his house. I'm almost certain that this story referred to the 1934 Tibbits Theatre project.

2/14/2021 - Main Theatre - Coldwater - Andy Gray
Between 1934 and 1956 my maternal grandfather, Albert S.

("Al") Johnson, built and remodeled theaters and drive-ins throughout Michigan. His company was called the Johnson Construction Co., and it was based out of Birmingham.His son A.

S. Johnson Jr. (Bud) compiled the Johnson theater projects and his list includes the 1943 "Main" theater project in Coldwater. The Cinema Treasures website says that the theater opened in 1942.

A slide that Al Johnson's shot in June 1948 shows the theater as an "art deco" or "art moderne" style, with three red double doors with half-octagonal glass. This style epitomizes the more than forty theaters that Johnson Construction Co. built or remodeled between the 1930s and late 1940s. The building survives but is no longer in use as a theater.

2/14/2021 - Bad Axe Theatre - Bad Axe - Andy Gray
This photo of the Bad Axe Theatre, was taken in September 1948 by my grandfather A.

S. “Al” Johnson, who remodeled the theater in 1935 and again in 1947. The theater is located in an old Knights of Columbus building at 309 E. Huron Avenue in Bad Axe, Michigan, and it’s still open.

The image of the theater shows four red "art moderne" style entrance doors with half-octagonal glass. These doors, or identical replacements, are seen in a 2020 view of the theater, and are typical of several theaters that Al built or remodeled in the 1940’s and ‘50s. The Cinema Treasures site says: "This classic small town movie theatre in Bad Axe, Michigan opened on February 21, 1916 with 500 seats.

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