In my opinion, this was a heart-felt letter to the editor written by News-Herald staff on June 19, 1985, addressing the then-deplorable condition of the railway viaducts running above Eureka Road near Roosevelt High School in Wyandotte. Every year when the Wyandotte Street Fair would roll into town, Eureka, as the major east-west street, would be traveled by thousands of visitors, most of whom were likely appalled by the condition of these viaducts. This one may have been the one to finally get the ball rolling and now, of course, they are well maintained with the help of Roosevelt students.
"Cleanliness is next to Godliness" goes the adage. Certainly, it ranks with Mom and apple pie
... However, one blemish on the face of Downriver is the Eureka Road viaducts in Wyandotte. The weedy growth and graffiti combine with the aging train bridgework to make for an eyesore.
Wyandotte Mayor James Wagner has said that since Eureka is the only major east-west thoroughfare in the city, motorists and pedestrians are confronted with these unsightly conditions. In fact, Eureka is the principal east-west road Downriver, feeding right into the heart of downtown Wyandotte, where an array of ethnic festivals, shops and outdoor events... attract hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
... This problem is more than just that of the city ... It is that of Wayne County, which is supposed to maintain Eureka, a county road, but only cut weeds by the viaduct for the first time this year earlier in the month (June). It is also the problem of Roosevelt High School, whose students use the viaducts as a hangout, sometimes to throw junk at passing cars or to deface the aging structure with graffiti.
Also at fault are the railroads, whose trains have caused wear and tear on the five viaducts beyond their age.
(Mayor) Wagner has called for a meeting of all the parties involved. Pressure should be brought to bear on the county to maintain the viaduct area regularly... Wyandotte Public School officials ought to consider ways to limit access to the viaducts from the Roosevelt parking lots.
... For far too long now, men and women with responsibility have let the viaducts go to seed. However, the Project Pulchritudes (a Downriver cleanup project of the time) of the area have proven infectious in heightening community awareness.
If our civic and business leaders make good on their concerns by restoring the viaducts to their original condition, we suspect the graffiti-mongers will take their activities elsewhere."
The drive-in theater has had a rich history throughout the country. The first commercial drive-in was initially tried out in 1915 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and by 1932 the idea was officially patented by Richard M. Hollingshead Jr., in Camden, New Jersey. The drive-in that most of the older generations remember best was perfected by 1941, when RCA manufactured and installed the portable sound radio mounted inside every attending car.
It would be seven additional years before Downriver received their first drive-in theater, which would be the Michigan in 1948, at the corner of Dix-Toledo and Eureka Roads, where the present-day Wal-Mart stands in Southgate. The idea was extremely novel at the time, as it was one of only twelve operating in the state in 1948. Following this were the Ecorse, the Fort, the Holiday and the Jolly Roger, which were all in operation by the early 1950s.
By 1972, Michigan had reached its peak of drive-in movie houses, with a total of 137 state-wide. However, this number began declining rapidly in the early 1980s. Chief among reasons cited were the advent of the home video cassette recorder (in BetaMax or VHS format), in addition to continued technological improvements for the more traditional indoor movie houses.
Convenience and comfort were becoming more important to the moviegoer, who may have considered the drive-in theaters as nothing more than a passing fad. The total number would dip to 82 by the mid-1980s, including the Michigan's closure in 1984.
By 1990, with the closure of the Fort and the Jolly Roger, the drive-in movie theater Downriver was but a memory. The state's total would dip under twenty locations by 1991, and has not seen that level since. From that time forward, with a few notable exceptions (the failed Pontiac Silverdome project as well as a one-summer-only attraction at the old Wyandotte Theater site), the only local alternative has been the Ford-Wyoming 8, near Detroit.
In February 2016, talk began about a revitalization of the drive-in concept in Brownstown, near the southeast corner of Sibley and Telegraph Roads, an area which is largely undeveloped. Recent history has shown that former "fads" tend to make comebacks after fading from the scene for several years. In other words, to paraphrase, the old becomes new again. Debate over the use of this site became more heated in March 2016, but seemed to die out by April and, as of this writing, no further mention has been noted.
Proponents have included long-time fans of the genre, as well as the younger generation seeking to relive what the older generation enjoyed. They argue the proposed Brownstown area is not near any immediate residential districts, and is near one major thoroughfare, with additional easy access provided by I-75. They also mentioned it would provide a needed economic boost to the area in-season, and become a tourist attraction in its own right, all in a relatively safe area.
Opponents counter by claiming the drive-in was past its peak back in the 1970s, and cannot be revived. They have mentioned the complete overhaul of the indoor movie theater, which now includes advanced stereo sound, as well as recliners and advances in IMAX digital technology, as important points that the drive-in movie house cannot duplicate due to logistics (fearing first-time customers may be disappointed). They also claimed there are in fact residential areas nearby, that nearby parcels are not zoned properly, and that the Telegraph & Sibley interchange is woefully inadequate for the proposed increased traffic.
But... Could a revival of the dormant - yet still iconic - drive-in theater indeed make a comeback, and could Downriver take the lead role in making this a reality? Many new ideas we see these days come from old ideas enjoyed generations before, and this may be no exception. It may be a way to be able to escape the technology for one night, and return to something a little simpler.
Stay tuned for more.
WEBMASTER'S NOTE: This blog entry takes the place of the former page dedicated to the Looney Rooney legend. For three years, we have been trying to get the true story about this legend, without much success. When we are able to get the definitive story, we will post a new page about it. In the meantime, these are some of the recollections gathered for the site in 2014.
- KEVIN HARRISON
"On Grosse Ile, there was a hermit who lived in an old house without electricity. People would go to his house, park in the driveway and he would come out and tell stories about 'The Old Days.' His name was Looney Rooney. The house was hidden down a dark, unlit road and he was supposed to have always fired several shots into the air, to show that he did not want any troublemakers, as your car approached."
- JAMES T. CALLOW
"The old eccentric... was Din Rooney, and I hope we will hear a lot about him. I knew him fairly well, and he was a remarkable, intelligent man, especially interesting if you were keen on local Indian history as I was. I think there was a time when a lot of young people on GI (Grosse Ile) spent time with him. I have a photograph of him taken by Pat O'Connor, not all that long ago, when Din must have been at the end of his days, maybe 100 years old. He lived in a 19th century derelict house, no heat, water or plumbing, was kind of a health nut, drank out of the Detroit River all his life.
- TOM MCGUANE
Grosse Ile Memories Blog
"Yes, a lot of young people spent time at his house. He was eccentric, to say the least. A little nutty--hence his nickname in the 60s: 'Looney Rooney'. He would welcome us in for a tour of the old big house at night, in the dark, walking with a flashlight. The highlight was the skeleton of his wife, which was an old bra and girdle resting in a rocking chair. I still remember being scared but I suspect he had the last laugh."
- BARBARA PACIEJEWSKI
"I lived on Grosse Isle from 1945 to 1951, so I was a little kid when I would “run away from home” on my bike down Parke Lane towards Den's incredible Victorian (as I remember it) many, many a time.
Den was a kind and wise man. During the winters, he'd sweep the snow off the river for the kids to ice skate on. There would be a little fire crackling, and he'd give us hot cocoa to warm ourselves up. In finer weather, when I was upset, what I needed to do, he'd say, was climb the huge cherry tree and pick (and eat) as many as I could gather. That's what I needed to do to feel better: pick the fruit off the trees, the cherry, mulberry, maybe peaches too and sure enough, it worked. Other times, he'd pass me notes from the ground floor up the dumbwaiter instructing me to go find some knick-knack or other, and send it back down. He'd also ask us to write our names down on slips of paper, and tuck them under any of the wonderful curios and antiques we would like to have after he dies. Only years later, when I lived in New York and first stepped into Tiffany's on 5th Avenue, did I realize how some of those lamp shades, vases, and other items could well have been a Tiffany or Lalique or the like.
I loved Den. I'm 81 and I think of him often. He was a gift in my life. Calling this incredible man, this wonderful character “Looney” is just another sad example of how people treat the memory of someone who doesn't conform to a narrow-minded norm.
- SCARLET COLSEN (aka Charlotte Kar)
BY JOE CAMILLERI
(There) was something that was unique about Murray's through the mid 90s... if you think back, most auto parts does prior to that were dark, smoky, smelled like stale cigarettes and grease. Most of the merchandise was behind the counter, which was manned by Randy, Bobby, Bubba, and some old guy they called Squeaker. They all had dirty hands, grubby jeans, grunted, darted, and scratched a lot. There was a rack/wall of parts manuals, brown with age, pages all tattered, but if you knew what you needed, the guy behind the counter would spend 30 seconds flipping through the catalog, walk over to the shelf and go, 'yup, here ya go' or 'nope, don't have it, but I can order it and have it in two weeks.' Unless you were a 'car guy's buying parts was intimidating!
Then came Murray's. Clean, well-lit, everything out in the open, friendly uniformed staff with both men and women behind the counter and patrolling the aisles offering to help. Great selection of things other than car parts, like accessories, gadgets, seat covers, and the ever-so-trendy crown air fresheners. You had your choice of every major brand of oil, every brand of filter, and I'd say, at least when I worked there, parts on the shelf for 75% of the most common vehicles, and warehouse stock for about 20% more available overnight. In my opinion, it was the first auto parts store that wasn't intimidating its customers. Women weren't afraid to stop in and pick up parts for their husband, or ask about wiper blades and tire pumps. It was a very unintimidating way to buy stuff for your car.
Then the mega chains moved in... Auto Zone came, then Advance, then Pep Boys tried their hand, but weren't a good fit for the region, I think. Technology was a double edged sword... Made some things faster, but in the early 90s was only about 95%accurate on the 90% of the items that were loaded into the system. The computer was quick for common hard parts for common vehicles, but was no replacement for paper catalogs, and couldn't perform cross references between brands either. All the manuals could... Bring me the part number off the old part and I could almost always find a cross form it. Also, the paper manuals have info on other vehicles, like mowers, tractors, boats, chainsaws, weed whackers, snowblower, motorcycles, snowmobiles, four wheelers, jet skis, and many others. Trailer parts? We had a shelf full of them. Boat parts? Three shelves of the common distributor caps, plugs, wires, points, condensers, trailer wheel bearings and seals. Again, get me a number off the old one, and if ii didn't have it, I could usually get it in a couple days.
...Miss those days... used to like the challenge!
PROVIDED COURTESY OF LAURALOU ANDERSON BASHLOR
A little house with three bedrooms, one bathroom and one car on the street.
A mower that you had to push to make the grass look neat.
In the kitchen on the wall we only had one phone,
And no need for recording things, someone was always home.
We only had a living room where we would congregate,
Unless it was at mealtime, in the kitchen where we ate.
We had no need for family rooms or extra rooms to dine.
When meeting as a family, those two rooms would work out fine.
We only had one TV set, and channels maybe two,
But always there was one of them with something worth the view.
For snacks we had potato chips that tasted like a chip.
And if you wanted flavor, there was Lipton's onion dip.
Store-bought snacks were rare because my mother liked to cook,
And nothing can compare to snacks in Betty Crocker's book.
Weekends were for family trips or staying home to play.
We all did things together -- Even go to church to pray.
When we did our weekend trips depending on the weather,
No one stayed at home because we liked to be together.
Sometimes we would separate to do things on our own,
But we knew where the others were without our own cell phone.
Then there were the movies with your favorite movie star,
And nothing can compare to watching movies in your car.
Then there were the picnics at the peak of summer season,
Pack a lunch and find some trees, and never need a reason.
Get a baseball game together with all the friends you know,
Have real action playing ball -- and no game video.
Remember when the doctor used to be the family friend,
And didn't need insurance or a lawyer to defend?
The way that he took care of you, or what he had to do,
Because he took an oath and strived to do the best for you.
Remember going to the store and shopping casually,
And when you went to pay for it, you used your own money?
Nothing that you had to swipe or punch in some amount,
And remember when the cashier person had to really count?
The milkman used to go from door to door,
And it was just a few cents more than going to the store.
There was a time when mailed letters came right to your door,
Without a lot of junk mail ads sent out by every store.
The mailman knew each house by name, and knew where it was sent;
There were not loads of mail addressed to "present occupant."
There was a time when just one glance was all that it would take,
And you would know the kind of car, the model and the make.
They didn't look like turtles trying to squeeze out every mile;
They were streamlined, white walls, fins... and really had some style.
One time the music that you played whenever you would jive,
Was from a vinyl, big-holed record called a forty-five.
The record player had a post to keep them all in line
And then the records would drop down and play one at a time.
Oh sure, we had our problems then, just like we do today
And always we were striving, trying for a better way.
Oh, the simple life we lived, still seems like so much fun,
How can you explain a game: just kick the can and run?
And why would boys put baseball cards between bicycle spokes?
And for a nickel, red machines had little bottled Cokes
This life seemed so much easier and slower in some ways,
I love the new technology, but I sure do miss those days.
With all today's technology... We grant that it's a plus!
But it's fun to look way back and say, Hey, look, Guys, THAT WAS US !!
During the winter of 2015-16, the Downriver area was spared the brunt of the brutal snowstorms we had been experiencing the past couple years. We set no annual snowfall records like the 94 inches we received in 2013-14, and we did not have a measurable snowfall of 16 inches as we did on Super Bowl Sunday, 2015.
Those snowfall amounts were among the worst Downriver has seen in a generation. Yet perhaps, due to their recent date, the record books do not trumpet these as being catastrophic.
In modern times, we have been told the winter blizzard of January 1978 was incomparable. Photos taken around the Midwest portion of the United States clearly show snowfall levels which literally shut down entire cities for days on end.
I was seven years old at the time, living in Southgate. It was one of the first times I had ever experienced a power outage. The cold was bitter. We had to go the unsafe route of turning on all the burners on the stove as well as the oven just to keep from freezing. Fortunately my uncle, who lived in Lincoln Park, still had power, and my mother and I spent two nights there.
Family photos taken of my street show snow levels literally dwarfing me. Even had I been my height of today, it may have approached shoulder level, at least.
This blizzard, as well as the Derecho "Green Storm" of 1980 rank among Downriver's most severe weather outbreaks in recent decades. However, I happened upon a couple websites which try to discount the amount of snow that fell. In one instance, the official storm total (by NOAA) listed the Detroit area receiving just 9.2 inches.
That amount is somewhat hard to understand when you compare our total with the amount shown in some of the photos taken around the Midwest. For example, I can understand a nine inch snowfall temporarily disabling some operations at Detroit Metro Airport. But some local airports were disabled for up to three days. Unless they did not have snow plows and de-icers in operation, I don't see how a smaller snowfall total could have affected them that badly.
With the 9.2 inch total being official (apparently), the 1978 blizzard everyone remembers does not even rank in the Top 20 snowfall totals for a day in our history. I've seen some photos of the resulting gridlock, and now I'm wondering how that came to be.
Cars were stalled out everywhere. I-75 was a virtual abandoned junk yard; cars littering the shoulder overtaken by snow drifts, some of which took days to find and recover. Power outages - although scattered - were widespread, and snow days for school kids was the order of that week.
But has the passage of time taught us to stop and rethink? The world looks mighty big in a child's eyes from a physical standpoint. Our 1,000 square-foot house in Southgate looked like a giant castle to me. If I were to visit the same house today, it would looked cramped. That is simply because our perception of vision changes as we get older, and the big things start looking smaller.
Has our perception of the 1978 storm changed as we've gotten older? It may have, but allow me to be daring by saying, "Darn those record books!" It was a big event to us growing up, and will always be with us, in spite of the fact it doesn't "rank."
Memorial Day weekend of 2016 did not prove to be a good one with regards to respecting our fallen and deceased members of the military. In scattered spots throughout the country, we read about the desecration of memorials, as well as cemetery headstones.
One particular instance struck too close to home: a historical burial ground in Flat Rock behind Huroc Park was the target of vandals for the second time in the last five years. More alarming is the fact that painstaking restoration of damaged headstones had only been completed two years ago, in a volunteer effort which took many hours of manpower to accomplish.
To even the casual observer, the damage caused is inconceivable with no reason as to why it was done. To a historian like myself, it is even more damaging. The Flat Rock location houses several pioneers, including the Vreeland family remembers, vital settlers from Downriver's start in the 1700s. Their final resting place is one to be contemplated, honored and respected. They as well as their surviving family members do not deserve the heartache and grief that come with this.
What has been done is literally unspeakable and unexplainable. The debate over who or what to put the blame on could rage on forever. But the damage cannot - and must not - continue.
There are many community events and other attractions that people can spend their time enjoying in peace with family, friends and others. Destroying history and peace for the sake of a joyride or thrill is unacceptable.
What will be the outcome? We can only hope that the proper justice will be dispensed to those found guilty of these crimes.