The Gratiot Drive In was built in 1948 and stood as a local landmark for 36 years. The new Roseville message board was designed as a tribute.

The Gratiot Drive In was built in 1948 and stood as a local landmark for 36 years. The new Roseville message board was designed as a tribute.

Photo provided the Roseville Public Library Photographic Archive


New Roseville message board honors Gratiot Drive In memories

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published December 14, 2018

 An artist’s rendering of the new LED message board that was scheduled to be installed by the city of Roseville Dec. 14 shows how it was modeled after the iconic sign that marked the entrance to the Gratiot Drive In until it was torn down in 1984. The new sign will now stand on Gratiot Avenue near the intersection with Common Road.

An artist’s rendering of the new LED message board that was scheduled to be installed by the city of Roseville Dec. 14 shows how it was modeled after the iconic sign that marked the entrance to the Gratiot Drive In until it was torn down in 1984. The new sign will now stand on Gratiot Avenue near the intersection with Common Road.

Image provided by Scott Adkins

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ROSEVILLE — The 115-foot-tall sign that marked the entrance of the Gratiot Drive In was an iconic Roseville landmark until it was torn down in 1984. Now the sign is being commemorated in conjunction with the celebration of the city’s 60th anniversary.

Roseville had long kept a pair of message boards in the median of Gratiot Avenue to inform residents about community news and events, with one facing each direction of traffic. One was destroyed in an accident earlier this year and needed to be replaced. City officials saw it as a good time to upgrade the signs, and they opted for something original.

The two signs will be replaced with an electronic LED sign modeled after the former drive-in sign. It will provide information on both sides to drivers on Gratiot.

“The drive-in was a long-standing landmark of Roseville, and this was a nice callback to a bygone era,” Roseville Police Chief James Berlin said. “It’s different. Everyone has an electronic marquee, but this is modeled after the art deco design of the original sign, and that sets us apart a bit.”

City officials said the sign will be a significant upgrade over the previous signs, which required that messages be switched out by hand.

“We started a couple of years ago looking at our community message board on the Gratiot median,” City Manager Scott Adkins said. “We’ve had these manual signs (that) people would have to go out and change by hand. Our last one was taken out in a car accident. We needed to replace it but saw everyone was using electronic message boards. We didn’t want to do a standard LED board that could get lost between the landscaping and the surrounding buildings. With the 60th anniversary this year, we thought to do something unique to Roseville. We began working with Philip Sound and Lighting to make a re-creation of the historic Gratiot Drive In sign.”

By upgrading the sign to an LED screen, the public sign can now be used to instantly update residents on news, emergency information or road closures.

“It can be updated from someone’s desk or even someone’s cellphone if necessary,” Adkins said.

“It’s much simpler to get real-time information out to people electronically rather than sending two guys out there with a box of letters,” agreed Berlin. “We can post emergency messages to people this way almost immediately. This turns the sign from an information board to a real means of communication with residents.”

The Gratiot Drive In opened April 30, 1948, and had a car capacity of 1,065 vehicles. Besides movies, it featured pony rides, a merry-go-round and other attractions for children. The back of the 115-foot-tall screen tower featured a living curtain waterfall, illuminated at night by colored lights to simulate a waterfall.

Adkins said many in the community have such fond memories of the theater that bringing it back to life in some small way would be far more meaningful to people than a plain electronic message board.

“Most people remember the Gratiot Drive In sign as a prominent landmark in Roseville,” he said. “Anyone can buy an LED message board. This makes it specific to Roseville and celebrates our history and the city’s anniversary. This sign will have everything on it, from upcoming events to emergency messages like road closures.”

The city was able to avoid spending city funds for the sign through a combination of grant money and the insurance payout for the destroyed sign.

“The sign had a price tag of $54,321.13,” Adkins said. “We got some insurance back from the destroyed sign, which was $15,000 of that total. Grant funding covered the rest of the cost. These grants included things like law enforcement communications grants to combat drunk driving and community development block grants.”

The sign was installed on Friday, Dec. 14, and was scheduled to be dedicated at the city’s anniversary celebration at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18, after press time. 

“We are installing what we like to think of as functional art,” said Adkins. “We think it will be a welcome addition to the community.”

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