|Director, George Lucas standing between a '58 Impala & a '66 Citroen across the street from Mels.|
|A few days before the grand opening|
|Mel Weiss (far right) & unidentified others stand proudly at the entrance of the new restaurant.|
The original location of Mels drive-in was at 140 South Van Ness Avenue near Mission Street and was the perfect location. It consisted of ample grounds, attractively landscaped with the capacity for 110 cars, and a two-story rectangular building. The distinctive Streamline Moderne structure had great expanses of glass that wrapped around the circular dining portion of the building and a foundation of orange tile. It's round shape suggested the mobility of a flying saucer ready to spin off into outer space. And, like the aerodynamic wing of a jet, a roofing canopy (with smooth edges and recessed lighting) stretched alongside the rectangular portion of the building to cover cars. During the later part of the 50s, the appearance of automobiles with flared, rocket-like tailfins were a perfect match for the building’s mobility imprinted design.
As many as 14 girl carhops prompted fast service and many repeat customers.
1948 FIRE MAP
|The 1948 fire map above shows that Mels drive-in (highlighted area) was surrounded by a used car dealership, service station, welding shop and other businesses with streets that received plenty of traffic. The property included a huge parking lot to accommodate many customers.|
MORE OF A GOOD THING
|The second Mels in San Francisco at 5199 Mission St. near Geneva.|
In the mid-1950s California became the North American state with the highest rate of car ownership in the nation. Witnessing the growth of the automobile culture, Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs began expanding the San Francisco-car service based restaurant into a successful chain.
By 1954 the Mels franchise was pulling in about $4 million annually. It was estimated by Weiss that they were cooking up 15-20,000 hamburgers a day. But, the menu consisted of many more items than just the Melburger. Along with the proverbial beverages, desserts and fountain specials, the Chicken Pot Pie for .85 cents was a popular item. In fact, the choices of American-style food were almost endless. Depending on the individual restaurant location, one could order Half Fried Spring Chicken (like mother used to make), Roast Young Tom Turkey, Fried Jumbo Prawns, a Chef's Salad Bowl, Thick Top Sirloin Steak & Eggs with potatoes or sandwiches such as the Mels' Pore Boy, (with a full pound of choice ground beef on a quarter loaf of French bread served with salad).
|The 3rd San Francisco Mels located at 3355 Geary had it's grand opening on 3/12/1953|
Mels became a fixture of contemporary life, with lurid neon lighting, carhops, and a pre-fast food menu. During the 1950s and '60s you could find one or more Mels drive-ins located throughout Northern California, in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Sacramento, San Jose, Walnut Creek, and Salinas.
|A typical billboard advertising 3 Mels locations in San Francisco. circa 1950s|
At one point Mels also ran several bowling alleys and restaurant complexes including a franchise of Mels Jr. restaurants. Mels also branched off into a second chain called KINGS. The Kings restaurants were located on the Peninsula south of San Francisco.
|Mels @ 16th & E. Santa Clara, San Jose, CA.|
|Mels Bowl @ 2580 El Camino, Redwood City, CA. (Opened:1960. Closed: 2011|
During the 1950s Mels' was a thriving franchise and was an example of capitalism at its best however, as the end of the decade had begun to give way to the turbulent 1960s, the reputation of Mels Drive-In was not to go unscathed. To find out more click on the Mels menu below to go to part 2.
- Bayer, Patricia. Art Deco Architecture. London: Thomas and Hudson, Ltd., 1992.
- Burger Chain Delivers Mels on Wheels Cruising Modesto. The Modesto Bee. Oct. 5, 1991.
- California Living Magazine, November 20, 1983.
- Freeman, Jo. From Freedom Now! to Free Speech: How the 1963-64 Bay Area Civil Rights demonstrations Paved the Way to Campus Protest. Website. Retrieved 8/13/2012. http://www.jofreeman.com/sixtiesprotest/baycivil.htm
- Freeman, Jo. At Berkeley in the Sixties: Education of an Activist, 1961-1965. Indiana University Press
- Hurley, Andrew. Diners, Bowling Alleys and Trailer Parks. New York: Basic Books, 2001.
- Mels Drive-in Web Page. Retrieved 8/12/2012. www.melsdrivein.com.
- Obituaries. San Francisco Chronicle. August 18, 1994. H. Dobbs, Began Famed Drive-in Eatery. Sun Sentinel.com Retrieved 1/27/2013. http://articles.sun-sentinel.com/1994-08-18/news/9408170431_1_mel-s-drive-in-restaurant-san-diego-mel-weiss
- Online Archive of California; Specialty Real Estate Web Page. Retrieved Sept. 6, 2012. www.specialtyrealestate.com/issues/nov98/aclassickeepsonrockin.htm