Roadside Classics: LA Before the Drive-Thru

(first posted 10/9/2017)      Carpenter’s Sandwiches (6265 Sunset Boulevard, between Vine Street and Argyle Avenue, Hollywood). For 30 cents, you could enjoy a hamburger and wash it down with a beer while sitting behind the wheel of your car. Premium beer cost 5 cents extra. (1932)

In the years between WWI and WWII, Americans became fond of eating in their autos. So was born the drive-in, where drivers would park, order, eat, and pay; all without the need to dismount. Later years would see ascendancy of the coffee shop (like Denny’s or Sambo’s), where diners inside could keep an eye on their parked cars through large windows. (Today’s favorite for eaters-on-the-go is the drive-thru, where money is collected and food passed out to motorists who queue outside the restaurant.) This LA-area photo compilation looks at the classic, carhop-served drive-in… from its inception, through the height of its popularity in the 1940s, to its demise in the 1960s as other formats began to occupy the valuable, high-traffic locations that drive-ins formerly dominated.

Nighttime view of Carpenter’s Sandwiches. (1930s)


Four people enjoy a tray-served meal inside their car at the (still-there) Tam O’ Shanter. From a 1933 advertisement for the newly remodeled Tam o’ Shanter and its drive-in service: “We are happy to welcome you to our remodeled Tam o’ Shanter Inn. Important among the changes made, is the re-establishment of Car Service de luxe – a feature which we originated eight years ago. Ingenious tables installed in your car, enable you to sit and eat in the comfort and privacy of your own automobile…” (1930s)


A carhop picks up a finished tray from a patron. (1936)


View showing cars parked in front of McDonnell’s Drive-in. “Rusty” McDonnell operated a chain of drive-ins in the Los Angeles area during the 30s and 40s (well before fast-food behemoth McDonald’s came on the scene). McDonnell raised his own chickens on a 200-acre ranch near Daggett, California. His later restaurants, designed by the revered architect Wayne McAllister, were fabulously kitsch and garish – customers could spot their huge neon signs from miles away. McDonnell’s survived until the 1950s. (1935)


View showing McDonnell’s Drive-in at the northwest corner of Sunset and La Brea. Tiny Naylor’s Drive-In would be built on this corner in the 1940s. (1930s)


Night view of Tiny Naylor’s Restaurant; Sunset Boulevard at La Brea Avenue. (1980)


View of Herbert’s Drive-in; Southeast corner of Beverly and Fairfax. (1945)


The Track Drive-in used a horizontal dumbwaiter to serve patrons. Patented by Kenneth Purdy in 1948, the Motormat system eliminated carhops by having all service performed via conveyor belt. The Track, originally located at 8201 Beverly Boulevard, had 20 stalls arranged around the central building like the spokes on a wheel. [Large sign above window reads: NO TIPPING] (1949)


A woman sitting in a convertible at the Track Drive-in waits for her meal to be delivered via conveyor belt. Customers would fill out an order, push a button, and then send the bin scooting back to the kitchen. While cooks prepared the order, the bin came back bearing the check. After diners returned the bin with payment, the food and change would be sent back down the rails. [Writing on bin reads: BUSHER] (1951)


Stan’s Drive-in Coffee Shop sat on the Southeast corner of Sunset and Highland (6760 Sunset Blvd), across from Hollywood High School and Currie’s ice cream. Stan’s was a chain of drive-ins operating in at least a dozen LA locations by the late 1950’s and 60’s. Previously occupying this site was a Simon’s Drive-in…one of two Simon’s on Sunset since 1938. Stan’s stood on the Southeast corner as seen above until its demolition in 1971. Today, a Chick-fil-A stands on the lot. (1958)


Nighttime view of Simon’s drive-in with customers sitting at counter and others in their cars. (1939)


A couple of jitter-bugs pull in to Simon’s, no doubt stunning the carhop with their zebra-stripe upholstery. (1948)


View looking northwest across the intersection of Sunset and Vine from the front of Carpenter’s Drive-in Restaurant. NBC Radio City is across the street to the right, while Wallich’s Music City appears at left. (1940s)


Pre-war cars surround Robert’s Drive-in at Olive Avenue and Victory Boulevard in Burbank. Wayne McAllister was the architect of this circular, Streamline Moderne drive-in. It sported a neon-trimmed roofline and advertising pylon, along with neon rings around the underside/overhang of the roof. A whimsical ball and neon detail top the pylon. (1940)


Guinn’s Coffee Shop and Drive-in, designed by Harold Bissner and Harold Zook, 2915 E. Colorado Blvd. [US 66] in Pasadena. Demolished in 1992. (ca.1947)


Scrivner’s Drive-in at the corner of Sunset and Cahuenga in Hollywood. Scrivner’s was early DJ Art Laboe’s most popular remote location, and one that he would occupy from 1951 to 1959. (1950s)


Art Laboe surrounded by teenage fans in the parking lot of Scrivner’s Drive-in. The huge popularity of his broadcasts created traffic jams around the restaurant. (1950s)


Prop tray. No date. (Vehicle, CCers?)


This view of the Los Feliz Brown Derby shows the circular drive-in portion of the restaurant with its bold neon lighting. This was the only drive-in among the four Brown Derby restaurants. The building is still there, and still a restaurant. This was the last of the four Brown Derby Restaurants to open around Los Angeles; the first sat on Wilshire across from the Ambassador Hotel; the second opened in 1929 in Hollywood, the third in Beverly Hills on Wilshire Boulevard in 1931. (ca. 1947)


Night view showing a very crowded Bob’s Big Boy Drive-in, (4211 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank). Local residents Scott MacDonald and Ward Albert built this Bob’s in 1949. It remains the oldest Bob’s Big Boy in the US. Designed by renowned architect Wayne McAllister, this Bob’s incorporated a 1940’s transitional style of streamline modern architecture, while anticipating the more free-form 1950’s “Googie”-style coffee shop. The towering Bob’s sign is an integral part of the building and its most prominent feature. (ca. 1949)


Adam West and Yvonne Craig pose as Batman and Batgirl in this publicity shot at Bob’s; “I’ll have the Bat-Sundae™!” (ca. 1967)


Bridging the drive-in/drive-thru gap (like the Burbank Bob’s) was Harvey’s Broiler at 7447 Firestone Boulevard, Downey. Later operated by Johnie’s, the restaurant/coffee shop/drive-in building was almost completely demolished in 2007. Bob’s Big Boy stepped in to fully restore and reopen the location in 2009.


Bob’s Broiler, Downey (ca. 2013)


Before the last drive-in was gone. (ca.1964)


Most photos and caption information courtesy of Water and Power Associates.