Crusin' Woodward - Past, Present, and Future
By: Lawren Dame \ Associate Editor \ June 6, 2014
On the third Saturday of August each year, a grand occurrence takes place throughout Southwest Detroit. Marked by the screeching tires, honking horns, and joyful exclamations of onlookers, the city booms with a new vibrancy. Tens of thousands of automobiles of all makes and designs, from 50s cruisers to personally customized vehicles, flock to one central location: Woodward Avenue. This celebration, the Woodward Dream Cruise, is the largest single-day automotive gathering in the world. The Dream Cruise revved up and started rolling on August 19, 1995, and will have spanned the course of 19 years this coming August.
The Dream Cruise may currently draw over 40,000 cars and 1.5 million people from all across the world, but this iconic event arose from humble beginnings. The Woodward Dream Cruise actually began its adventure as a small fundraiser to raise money for a soccer field in Ferndale, Michigan. Nelson House, a plumber from Ferndale, was originally inspired to fund the field with a cruise. The aim was to reflect the nostalgia of the 50s and 60s, back when hot rods and muscle cars raced down Woodward Avenue blasting rock n’ roll tunes, and cruisers frequented the drive-ins and restaurants peppered along the street. Little did House and his fellow volunteers know, but this idea for a cruise to raise money for the children in his community would blossom into the annual summertime spectacle it has become today.
In fact, that first year, the inaugural cruise was expected to draw in about 30,000 people. Instead, 250,000—nearly ten times this number—came wheeling down Woodward in August, 1995. Since that first boom of car enthusiasts, this number has only grown, reaching the current 1.5 million people that annually attend from across the globe. With the influx of people comes an income boost for Detroit’s economy, as well. Though the Woodward Dream Cruise is free and anyone may attend, it draws in money just as it draws in spectators, bringing in over $56 million to Metro Detroit each year.
Why Woodward? Going even further back in time, Woodward Avenue was once a simple roadway, newly transformed from logs into planks as of 1848. This allowed for the very first races on Woodward, when youth would compete in carriages upon its planked surface. Nearly 50 years later, cars were introduced to the streets, with Henry Ford being the second person to ever drive a car on Woodward in the year 1896. By 1958, cars were freely gracing its paved roadway, seeking it out for street racing due to its wide width and median, and lack of a large commercial presence.
By the 1960s, the main form of entertainment for the average car-toting teen was to cruise the avenue, carousing between drive-ins and hot-spots, challenging peers to race. Cruising became the hottest thing to do on an evening. Teens piled into shiny waxed cars and filled Woodward from 10 Mile, where traffic was most heavy, to northern Oakland County, aiming to see and be seen.
Sadly, the 70s brought an end to this long-cherished pastime due to a wild increase in gas prices, the shut-down of drive-in restaurants, and a crackdown on cruising. However, thanks to one small idea and man’s love of carrying on tradition, the magic of the past was rekindled and kept burning bright in the form of the Dream Cruise. To represent this blast from the past, some participants of the Dream Cruise even wear 1950s-inspired clothing and blast rock music from their tricked-out rides.
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Currently, Woodward Avenue stretches through eight communities in Metro Detroit: Berkley, Bloomfield Hills, Bloomfield Township, Ferndale, Huntington Woods, Pleasant Ridge, Pontiac, and Royal Oak. The avenue is, in most areas, eight lanes wide, with four lanes headed each direction (north-south) divided by a median. Custom, collector, and special interest vehicles troop along the Woodward Dream Cruise as it loops through these communities for a 16 mile distance, taking them from the south end of Ferndale to the north end of Pontiac. Anyone can drive the cruise free of charge, but those not driving classic cars are asked to stay out of the right lanes, those closest to the curbs.
Looking to the future, spectators and cruisers alike are expected to thoroughly enjoy this tribute to Americana once again this coming August 16, 2014. As always, there will be a medley of cars and entertainment culminating in one giant festivity paying homage to a bygone era. For a day, classic, antique, and custom vehicles will all join together in this free event, as a love of Detroit’s golden age is portrayed via the vehicles parading down Woodward Avenue.