|Another cool pic of the first Mels drive-in 2 days before the grand-opening on December 23, 1947.|
Before, we dig into the meat of this post I'd like to preface it with two things. First, if you haven't read Part 1 of this article, I suggest you turn your happy ass around and do that before digging into Part 2. Second, I want to present some clarification and a bit of an introduction to what is sort of a mini, San Francisco, Bay Area history lesson. When we think about and discuss America in the 1950s we tend to associate the era as a pleasant time when things were much simpler. The era is often connected with cultural teenage icons like the greaser, hot-rod cars, and rock and roll records. Yes, indeed they were great times. However, when one takes off the rose colored glasses it is clear that those wonderful years were not so wonderful for everyone. If you were African American,
|A patrol car cruises past Mels (Bottom left). This scenario would be replicated 15 yrs later in American Graffiti|
|"One cup of coffee and 6 straws, please!" Protesters occupied all the seats in Mels Drive-in and refused to order. Over one hundred were arrested.|
At the bottom of this page I've posted a clip from the documentary, Decision in the Streets (1965) by Harvey Richards which has some historic footage from the 1963 protest that took place in front of the Mel's Drive-in located on Geary Street.
|A typical afternoon crowd at Mels. circa 1964. (Photo by: Alan J. Canterbury)|
|Mels Drive-Ins with carhop service were pushed out of business by fast-food chains such as McDonalds. (photo 1962)|
|New paint and lights helped make the drive-in movie worthy.|
|Richard Dreyfuss crosses arms over chest in an attempt to stay warm between filming scenes at the drive-in|
|The outfits worn by the carhops in the film (including roller skates) were not typical garb for the Mels employees.|
I spoke with the set decorator for the film, Douglas Freeman a few years back and he conveyed an amusing anecdote that took place when they were filming at the restaurant. Apparently, he and “Woody” (Prop man, Dale Woodall) had gotten the "munchies," and this led to some indulgent behavior. "We went crazy in their kitchen and started making all sorts of sandwiches, burgers, and ice cream floats for the crew and ourselves," he remembered. "Without really thinking about the consequences, we’d eaten several hundred dollars worth of their food and when the drive-in opened up the next day they lost a lot of business because they were out of so many things," he said with a chuckle and then added, "Needless to say the management was not too happy."
|12-yr-old Mackenzie Phillips relaxes between scenes in a booth at the restaurant.|
|The tall trees to the right and precarious camera positioning helped to obscure the fact that the drive-in was not located in a small California town, such as Modesto but, rather in the enormous city of San Francisco.|
Sometime after filming had completed, Foster's eventually filed for bankruptcy and the restaurant was sold once more. Contrary to what's previously been written about the original drive-in, it did not close down immediately after filming. The eatery was open several more years before it met its demise and was torn down in the Fall of 1976.
|The location where the first Mel's once proudly stood was a vacant lot for a lengthy amount of time. In 2002 it became the permanent locale for an 11-floor, 212 unit high rise luxury condominium development. To the right is a Chevron Car Wash that takes advantage of its angled corner location by allowing customers to enter the wash on Van Ness Ave and exit with a clean vehicle on Mission Street.|
Fortunately, Mels drive-in, at 140 S. Van Ness in San Francisco, with it's dramatic structural form and dazzling neon has been preserved in George Lucas' classic film. And, the popularity of the film, has helped to establish Mels as an icon of mid-century American popular culture. In addition, the "Next Generation" Mels Drive-ins and Mels Diners which first opened in the mid-'80s, have assured that the name, spirit, sights, and sounds of the original eatery are alive and well for many people to enjoy.
- 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.
- Figari, Rick. 1986. Photographer. Pictures of '32 Coupe in former Mels' parking lot.
- 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.
- Old, Traditional Drive-in Yields to Fast-Food Site. Lawrence Journal World. Nov 17, 1976. http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=slcyAAAAIBAJ&sjid=KuYFAAAAIBAJ&pg=5701%2C2649580
- Online Archive of California; Specialty Real Estate Web Page. Retrieved Sept. 6, 2012. www.specialtyrealestate.com/issues/nov98/aclassickeepsonrockin.htm
- Picketers photograph: San Francisco News-Call Bulletin newspaper photograph archive. Retrieved 8/10/2012. http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/hb9w1009k9/?order=3&brand=calisphere