Posted By admin on August 13, 2010
The year was 1994 and a Ferndale plumber, Nelson House, being community minded, decided the city needed a children’s soccer field. So he enlisted the support of the community to make this happen. The idea was a fund raiser focusing on a “remembrance time” when classic cars cruised the strip of Woodward Avenue. The idea was original, it focused on the heartbeat of “The Motor City” and everyone knew car enthusiasts or was one themselves. So the community organizations voted to make it happen. The premise was to recreate the nostalgic heydays of the 50’s and 60’s, when music, youth, food and Motor City steel dominated Woodward Avenue. It was to be a fair atmosphere, a happening with lots of opportunities for merchants, restaurants, and businesses to capitalize on the idea. Profits from the “Dream Cruise” sales would build the “field of dreams”. On August 19, 1995 no one anticipated the magnitude of the response. By mid-afternoon of that day, the cruising strip of Woodward Avenue was a sun baked first gear idling parking lot of cars of every make and color. There were electric orange Chevrolets, purple Buicks with passengers in matching purple bikinis and these were joined by classic Ferraris, Fiat 600’s and the unthinkable, real running British cars from Morris Minor to Rolls Royce. It was a visual heyday of motor machines. The result was amazing as organizers initially expected 30,000 to 40,000 people to come to the inaugural cruise (in Ferndale, Pleasant Ridge, Berkley, Huntington Woods, Royal Oak and Birmingham) about 250,000 actually showed up.
Today the Woodward Dream Cruise is the world’s largest one-day celebration of car culture. It was a modest idea which has become an annual tradition with ancillary celebrations in the nine communities along the 16 mile cruise route. As of 2005 the event attracted nearly two million spectators, and participants and 40,000 classic and custom cars. This classic car event is held annually on the third Saturday of August, but even a month before this date classic cars can be spotted practicing the course and spectators bringing out their collapsible chairs testing out their best locations for maximine viewing.
For many people it brings back memories of drive-in restaurants and hang outs of the era like Ferndale’s Totem Pole Drive-in. This opened in 1954 and featured a 16 foot pole hand carved by Ojibway Chief White Wolf of St. Ignace. The restaurant introduced the “Teletray”, a 2 way speaker through which customers could order the popular Big Chief Burger. There also was Ted’s Drive Inn near Square Lake Road in Bloomfield hills. This became one of the avenue’s most popular destinations. Beginning in 1934 as a lunch wagon trailer it was known for “the world’s largest hot dog”, priced at 35 cents. At these places and others roller-skating waitresses sporting bobby socks and serving trays delivered shakes and fries to duck tailed greasers in leather jackets and beauty queens sporting class rings and initialed cashmere sweaters. It was a time for “burning rubber” in a quick getaway from a turning green light. Blazing from the radios during the 60’s were the sounds of MC5 and WABX where the popular DJ, “Jimi” held audio court. The real attractions, though, were the cars. The pavement of choice for showing off a new or customized car was the north end of the course at Square Lake Road just south of Pontiac. For those interested in romance a shaded gravel crossroad named Trowbridge is where hearts were lost or won.
After 16 years of cruising the cars are still the stars. They vary from hot rods to muscle cars to convertibles to hard tops. There are over-sized tires, custom painted flames and every year there is the guy driving a bathtub called “Splish Splash”. These marvels of machinery are still cool and hot. Emanating from the radio decks are sounds of vintage rock and roll coupled with the rumble of a big block V8. Varoooom! The cars in the 60’s and early 70’s were built prior to the OPEC oil embargo and prior to the creation of fuel efficient smaller engines. Interestingly, the Big Three tested some of their prototypes on Woodward. Great nameplates like Pontiac’s GTO, Chrysler’s Hemi cars and Ford’s Mustang variants experienced “Dream Cruising” with marketers and engineers hanging onto and recording the comments of the public.
Sometimes called the “Boulevard of Dreams” Woodward Avenue has a history going back to 1896 when a car was first driven down the avenue. A few months later, Henry Ford followed in his new test automobile. On August 4, 1924 Woodward made history when it became the first concrete paved highway in the world creating the stage for “Cruisin’ Woodward”.
Nelson House passed away Thursday, August 12, 2010. He was 69 years old. This is just about a week prior to the annual Dream Cruise. One likes to speculate he’ll have a great celestial view of the Cruise beginning his year.
Margery Krevsky is the author of Sirens of Chrome: the enduring allure of auto show models published by Momentum books. Available at: amazon.com, www.sirensofchrome.com, www.momentumbooks.com