Another One Bites The Dust

November 30, 2017

Today is December 1. It is the 335th day of this year. There are 30 busy days left in 2017. During this time the northern hemisphere will experience the first day of winter, also known as the shortest day because of the shortest appearance of the sun at any time. We will experience the least amount of daylight of the year on the 21st. We’ll then plunge right into what we hope are the most enjoyable days of the year with Christmas and the welcoming of a New Year.

Julie Traynor Postcards from the Pine Columnist

Julie Traynor
Postcards from the Pine Columnist

Sadly, one old area iconic favorite won’t make it into the next year. The closed and empty Hillcrest Drive-In on the south side of Cadillac was torn down this week. Its demise follows pretty closely on the heels of the Frosty Cup and Spot Roller Rink fires, which took out those landmarks earlier this year. It’s been a hard year for the memories of those of a certain age.  Another one bites the dust.

When it opened as the Hillcrest Drive-In Restaurant in 1957 it was an innovation in our part of the world. Imagine. Drive in, park and order food from your car on a speaker much like the one we knew from the drive-in movie theatre. Then, before we knew it those burgers, fries and colas were delivered to the car window by a girl on roller skates. (As I recall the waitresses wore skates in the early years.) It was just amazing. 

It didn’t take long until the “Hill” became a Friday or Saturday night destination for teens from every surrounding town. Marion kids were no exception. A drive to Cadillac and a ‘cruise’ of the Hillcrest was the thing to do; a Coke, burger and a basket of fries was the thing to order and enjoy while watching the hot cars and family wagons drive through. If you waited long enough you were bound to see most of your friends.  It was a teen heaven.

I was a kid when the Hill opened and so at the mercy of others when it came to going there. Most I was often in the company of Mom and Grandma who only went to Cadillac during daylight hours. It took a serious beg and plead to get them to stop at the Hillcrest for lunch. Sometimes, however, I prevailed and we drove in for the basic menu fare. Sometimes we stopped for dessert and went in to indulge in the Hill’s greatest creation, the Hot Donut Sundae.  My, my what a treat. This was a hot, homemade donut, topped with a generous portion of vanilla ice cream which was lavished with hot fudge and finished off with whipped cream, a cherry and nuts. In those days it cost the princely sum of seventy-five cents, and worth every penny.
By the time I was in high school, the Hill was truly an institution. We went to Cadillac to the movies, the Cadillac Drive In or the Lyric, and on Saturday nights, that rock and roll Mecca, the Platters. All of those destinations required a stop at the Hill to see who was there or who was driving through. 

Although the ‹drive in› part really meant drive up, park and go order at the window, Marion›s Frosty Freeze, aka The Alpine Drive-In, has been a Marion favorite since 1966. 

Although the ‹drive in› part really meant drive up, park and go order at the window, Marion›s Frosty Freeze, aka The Alpine Drive-In, has been a Marion favorite since 1966. 

No matter what you drove, Mom’s grocery-getting-kid-toting wagon or a secondhand clunker, you made the circuit at least once. The cruise strip was well established; from the Hill to the north end of Cadillac, where Mitchell St. makes the bend at the Clam River and back again. If you went as far as Round House Lumber or the fair grounds you were out of town. That was the loop. It took you past the Lyric, through two or three traffic lights and back to the Hill again.  It was all we needed. It was big time.

In the mid 1960’s Marion got its own mini, hometown version of the Hillcrest in the form of the Alpine Drive In (now known as the Frosty Freeze). True, it was called a drive in, and both served the same sort of fare, but any further similarities between the Alpine and the Hill was coincidental. Marion had no roller skating waitresses or speakers clamped to the car window. You drove in, parked your car, got out and walked to the window to place your order. Then you stood around or sat on one of the two picnic tables to wait for your order. 

The Alpine served up some fine cuisine. Big burgers, fishwiches and the best pizza burger to be had anywhere. All were accompanied by fries, and of course a pop. The Alpine was also an ice cream establishment. They served up the basic swirled cones in several sizes as well as sundaes, floats, shakes and malteds. It was a nice little piece of heaven right on our own Main Street.

The Alpine was a place to go after the summer dances, baseball games and to stop by on a date. Folks strolled downtown on warm summer evenings to purchase an ice cream cone to enjoy on the walk back home. It was where your friends gathered, and being Marion you knew everyone.

Those without a car sat at the Alpine to watch those who did drive Marion’s version of a cruise; a U-turn at Main and Clark and another at Main and Carland, or maybe a block beyond. Should you wish to drive a little further, school to school. It didn’t take very long to cruise Marion, yet some made it a great sport. It is rumored that there is an unofficial record, totaling several hundred miles, chalked up one long weekend on Main Street, one half mile at a time.

The Hillcrest and the Alpine made several generations of kids feel connected, to each other and to the rest of the world. We may have been here in far off northern Michigan but we had good places to get together; burgers and of course, rock and roll. The writers of “American Graffiti” surely must have known Cadillac. 

Those really were “Happy Days”. 

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One Response to Another One Bites The Dust

  1. Connie Reply

    November 30, 2017 at 10:14 pm

    Why is the picture with the article the Frosty Freeze in Marion?

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