By Carolyn Marnon – The Wayne Drive-In movie theater opened May 19, 1949 as a single-screen facility with an 850 vehicle capacity. In the 1970s, a second screen was added. Movie goers enjoyed the drive-in for many years. One memory posted online from “Work at Ford Truck Plant” reads: “We worked at the Truck Plant next to the drive-in and loved it. There was a break room on the second floor that had windows that faced the screen. The electricians snuck in one day and ran wires for sound before it went to radio broadcast. Many people were late coming back from a break watching the movie. It was a sad day to see it go.” And go the theater did; the drive-in theater was closed and demolished in August 1990 to make room for a Ford parking lot. By the time it closed, it had been showing movies on four screens.
The last features listed in the newspaper, according to an online poster, were Die Hard 2 with Night Breed, Days of Thunder with Another 48 Hours, Dick Tracy with Gremlins II, and Robocop 2 with Total Recall.
Twenty-five years later, the Wayne Drive-in sign made an appearance at the Whitworth Estate Auction on September 12, 2015 in New Boston, MI. Listed for sale were “many items from Wayne Drive-In including the large sign (22 feet long x 7 feet high and 18 inch thick with legs folded in.”
Nathan Lippe, AdvertisingCollector.com, saw the sign and bid on it. He collects and sells advertising signs as his hobby. His winning bid was just under $2800. He says he had to use a crane to get the sign off of the Whitworth property. As he says on his website, “It’s all about the pursuit of the rare, unusual, and the valuable.” After winning the Wayne Drive-In sign, he had to decide what to do with it. He thought of famous Wayne’s that might possibly want the Wayne sign and tried to contact them: Wayne Newton, John Wayne’s birthplace, and even Tim Allen who is from the Detroit area. He also thought of the star of Velocity’s TV show “Chasing Classic Cars,” Wayne Carini.
“Chasing Classic Cars,” a TV show that follows the master car restorer as he takes viewers on his personal mission to uncover the world’s most rare and exotic cars. Wayne takes viewers along as he tries to locate high-end automobiles stashed in homes, garages and barns in the U.S. and abroad. Wayne got interested in cars when he was 9 years old. His dad restored cars for a living. They went on vacation to the Adirondacks and a man in a neighboring cabin hooked Wayne up for a ride in a Ferrari. Wayne was indeed hooked. “Now we restore them for people all over the country.”
Wayne says Nathan emailed him about the sign and whether he might want to buy it. Wayne had purchased another sign from Nathan previously. Wayne doesn’t usually buy auto-related signs, but he was interested in this one. Nathan drove the sign from the Chicago area to meet with Wayne in the parking lot of the Antique Automobile Club of America Museum in Hershey, PA. When he first saw the sign, Wayne was “very happily surprised. Then I said what am I going to do with this? Where am I going to put it? and she’s (his wife) going to kill me.” He agreed to purchase the sign. In order to keep the character of the sign intact, he asked Nathan to restore the neon to working order, but to leave the rest of the sign as it was.
Nathan drove the sign back home to the Chicago area, restored the neon, then drove it back to Wayne’s home in Connecticut. That’s a lot of travel for a 22 x 7 x 1.5 foot sign. Nathan says the costs to fix the sign and transport it were over $4,000. Wayne had recently purchased a farm and happened to have room for such a large sign. It now sits just outside the Carini barn. Wayne plans to put it on a hill in between some trees. He wants to grow ivy over it to make it look like it’s been there over 100 years. He’ll need a crane to get it up on the hill, so he plans to wait until springtime to do that. People driving by won’t be able to see the sign.
Right now, he turns it on when friends come over. Wayne says it’s a cool sign, but it won’t be lit much. Wayne also has a sign from The Pines restaurant that says “Charbroiled steak” that is 5 feet by 8 feet. It’s going in the cookout area by the swimming pool.Wayne also now possesses old rolls of tickets in different colors that say Wayne Drive-In on them. After the show aired in which Nathan presented Wayne with the drive in sign, lots of people reached out to Wayne to tell him about their experiences at the drive in. According to Wayne, the sign is “unique and sort of fun. That’s what this is all about is having fun.”
Stay tuned to “Chasing Classic Cars” as Nathan says the sign will be making another appearance in the future.