SOCIAL HISTORY: DRIVE-IN RESTAURANTS – THE “FABULOUS THIRTIES, FORTIES AND FIFTIES” IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Social History: DRIVE-IN RESTAURANTS – THE “FABULOUS THIRTIES, FORTIES AND FIFTIES” IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

Cars, cars and more cars! They just seem to keep coming in, nonstop. The summer weather is warm, especially warm for evening. The car hops are busily skating around the parking lot delivering sizzling hot cheeseburgers, mouth-watering milkshakes, and golden french fries. The kitchen is busy with cooks and waitresses running all over the place trying to fill the orders that are handed them by the operator.

This was a common occurrence at drive-in restaurants in the ‘fabulous fifties.’ The drive-in restaurant is an old-time favorite that has been around since the idea was conceived by J. G. Kirby. He created what is believed to be one of the first drive-in restaurants with a ‘barbecue’ theme and a suitable name—The Pig Stand. It was built on the Dallas-Fort Worth Highway in 1921 at the beginning of the “Roaring Twenties.” Kirby’s idea was actually an update of the chain ‘destination restaurant,’ a theory begun nearly 70 years earlier by an Englishman named Frederick Henry Harvey. From then on, the ‘craze’ caught on, and people were yearning for more. They liked the idea of eating in their cars. They liked the unique style of these restaurants. They liked the speedy service that they all offered. However, the very idea of a drive-in is, as the name states, to “drive in” to the lot. Without the inception of the automobile, there would never have been a drive-in built in Glendale, and there would not be any drive-ins around today.

Throughout the fifties, drive-ins were a popular commodity. They attracted many people because of their uniqueness and just the very idea of being able to be served in your car; however, that attraction began to wear out with the introduction of fast food restaurants like McDonalds. There were many cities that, in the fifties, had four or more drive-in restaurants because they were so incredibly popular, but as fast food made its rise, it became more popular than the drive-in and the ‘fabulous fifties’ restaurants began to steadily close down. It was difficult for the drive-ins to keep hold of their customers, but some did remain. It was difficult for owners of these restaurants to hold on to them, they needed to regularly hold ‘fifties nights’ and events that would entertain their customers while they were eating. The very “nostalgia” of the restaurants kept them coming back.

Drive-in restaurants employed a rather unique style of serving by allowing customers to eat in their cars. They would have women (or in some cases men) hand-deliver the food to the cars on special trays that would hang from the windows. (Be sure to roll your window over half-way down!) The majority of service personnel at drive-ins were women. The most popular case of men being employed at a drive-in that I have heard of was the “tray-boys” working for Roy Allen and Frank Wright serving the most popular root beer in existence today—A&W Root Beer.

The women that would wait on customers in their cars came to earn the name “carhops.” Their uniforms consisted of many different things—from roller skates to sneakers, dresses to jeans—it all depended on what image the employer wanted to show to the customers. The most common image that we associate with the ‘curb girls (as they were also called)’ is one of a slender, young girl on roller skates and wearing a flowing dress that was completely spotless. In some cases, the employers required that the dresses be spotless because of the image he wanted to give. If there were any spots on their dresses, they would have to do jobs beyond their normal, daily routine, like folding thousands of napkins, and when other “accidents” occurred, the ladies could be dismissed from their jobs if the incident was serious enough.

Nowadays, drive-in restaurants seem to be making a comeback. Many of the ‘children of the fifties’ want to experience what they had back then, and the fifties-style that has become sort of a standard for drive-ins today is attracting more and more attention. Many different restaurants of that style are searching long and hard for the precious artifacts of the era. By obtaining the environment of the fifties, the owners of these restaurants can keep their customers coming back for more.

Entertainment is also a key to keeping the customers coming back. Many owners of drive-in restaurants are holding “fifties nights” where they bring local bands in, and could even hold a sock hop! Even just the simplicity of piping in music from the 1950s can keep people coming back. Personal experience has proven this to me. Working in a drive-in has somewhat enticed me to do more research on the wonders of the ‘fabulous fifties.’

Drive-in restaurants are a way of life that need to remain in America. Their fun and unique style of service will be sure to keep people of all ages coming back for more of the ‘fabulous fifties.’ The fifties flashback is a quality of these restaurants that provides an entertaining theme, and there is always a carhop, curb girl, or tray-boy nearby to serve you anything on the menu!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

3 comments

  1. I grew up at Pico and Western in the 1940s. I remember a Robert’s Drive In Restaurant on the SE corner.
    Do you have any information to verify that memory?

  2. What was the name of the drive-in at the north-west corner of Sunset and La Brea in the late 1950s?

  3. In 1957 my friends and I would sneak off campus at Hollywood High to smoke and eat hamburgers for lunch at the drive-in on the north-west corner of Sunset and La Brea. Does anyone remember the name of that one?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*


8 − = four

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>