Forsyth County, Local History, North Carolina History, Winston-Salem

Cruising Stratford, the early years…1940s – 1960s

For larger images, on Mac, control-click-view image; on Windows, right click-view image. Most of the pictures in this post are original monochromes. Since I have been experimenting with colorization, I decided to colorize most of them using various algorithms. The monochrome originals are safely stored in their original format.

Myrtle Beach, Ninth Avenue at Ocean Boulevard, c 1955. The Pavilion opened in 1948 and was demolished in 2007.

“In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, Stratford Road was the place to be on weekends for high schoolers.” From a newspaper article written a few years ago. Whoever wrote that must be one of those people who think that history began the day that they were born, because, as we shall see, “cruising Stratford” began quite a few years earlier.

Zoot suiters, East Los Angeles, c 1940

The “cruising” culture in the United States appears to have originated with the ancient “paseo” ritual in Mexican towns, in which the young unmarried men and women paraded around the town square, the men moving in one direction while the women moved in the opposite direction, making eye contact and, often, blushing at such forward conduct. The purpose was obvious – making connections. At some point, a young man might offer a young woman a flower. If she accepted it and carried it for one turn, they might step out of the circle to talk with one another, the first important step in forming a courtship.

Early low rider, East Los Angeles

The first known use of automobiles in such rituals, involving carloads of boys and carloads of girls, occurred in the barrios of places like East Los Angeles and El Paso in the 1930s, influenced by the pachuco / zoot suit culture and included the budding low rider automotive style, especially along Whittier Boulevard in East LA. In California, it quickly spread to the black culture along Crenshaw Boulevard in South Central LA and the white culture in several places in Hollywood.

By the post-WWII 1940s, Winston-Salem had its first cruising zone, along the Clemmons Road, recently renamed South Stratford, stretching for a mere block between two roadhouses, the Cottage, near Oakwood Drive, and the Forest Inn, at the intersection with Knollwood.

Chip Berrier operated the Cottage, which was already a drive-in. In 1951, Lawrence Staley leased the Forest Inn and turned it into his second local drive-in and the game was on. It wasn’t much, but the local cruising set had found its beginnings.

Staley’s on Stratford, 1954. Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection.

In 1956, Doris and Ralph Slaydon bought the Cottage and changed its name to the Castle. Five years later, in January, 1961, the cruising zone more than doubled its length with the opening of the Triangle Drive-in next to the new East-West Expressway near Five Points.

The Triangle opened in January, 1961. The sign for Expressway Lanes can be seen at the far right across the East-West Expressway. Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection.

In those days a car was necessary to the ritual, but the kind of car didn’t matter much. The purpose of the exercise was essentially unchanged from the paseo, making connections with the opposite sex. You just had to drive from one place to another, circle the parking area, then drive to the next place and the next and so on.

I remember “dragging” Staleys ……. I think that was the term we used meaning “drive around the parking lot looking for girls.” Girls drove around the parking lot looking for boys, but rarely did stop. They would just look, giggle, and drive off.

rjr niftie fifties blog
Selected / Biltmore Dairy Bar. Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection.
Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection.

If you made a connection, there were other useful places nearby to get to know your new friends. The earliest was the dairy bar at Selected Dairies (1938), which by the late 40s had become the Biltmore Dairy Bar. The Farmer’s Dairy Bar opened in 1954, as did the world’s second Putt Putt. There were two bowling alleys and the Town Steak House #2. When the Thruway Shopping Center opened in 1955, WTOB-TV, UHF channel 26, began holding live teen dance parties in a roped off area of the parking lot adjacent to the Town Steak House on weekend nights. Eventually other attractions would open, including an excellent go kart racing track near The Castle.

Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection.
Major League Lanes. Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection.

In 1963, the Slaydons sold the Castle to Bill Gibson. Unfortunately, shortly afterward, the Castle burned to the ground. But the Slaydons were already at work, in conjunction with Robert Burcham, a long-time Staley’s man, to open a new drive-in at 550 South Stratford. By the time their new place, the Chuck Wagon, opened in 1964, Staley had renovated his restaurant and was no longer in the drive-in business there, but the Chuck Wagon again extended the range for cruisers by a few hundred feet.

My ride then was a 1946 Chevy Coupe. A straight six with wide whitewall tires, AM Radio, and nylon plaid seat covers. Gas 21 cents/gal. Chevy got 16 mpg. Zack Reynolds used to drag Staleys in his black 1944 jeep named “The Black Mully” Taking a date there, parking (backed in) to watch cars go by.

RJR Nifty fifties blog

When Hanes Mall opened in the 1970s, the range was greatly extended, but soon the Triangle and the Chuck Wagon were gone and people had to find new turnaround spots, mostly fast food restaurants that were poorly adapted to the cruising culture. And the character of the cruise changed as the type of car, typically a big American made muscle car or even a flashy pickup truck, became more important. By then, cruisers were coming to Stratford Road from miles around, which created a tremendous traffic jam on weekend nights.

Area businesses complained that they were losing money because customers were unwilling to endure the long waits in traffic. The Winston-Salem Police Department tried a number of remedies, but finally, in 1991, the city council laid down the law. The police were to monitor traffic and if the same car passed the same point too frequently, they were to be cited. Problems continued for several years, but by the mid-1990s the great Stratford cruise came to an end, almost fifty years after it began.

Farmer’s Dairy interior. Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection
Selected Dairies / Biltmore Dairies exterior. Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection
WTOB TV tower lit up for Christmas. Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection
Putt Putt ad, 1955
Major League Lanes burned to the ground, February 14, 1969
Staley’s first drive-in in the Twin City opened in the late 1930s on Reynolda Road across from the present day Reynolda Manor Shopping Center. Some energetic cruisers extended their run from Stratford out to the Reynolda Staley’s. Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection
In 1959, Lawrence Staley replaced his first drive-in with a more modern facility on Reynolda Road. Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection
The new Staley’s had push button ordering, but the goods were still delivered by car hops, as seen here. Forsyth County Public Library Photograph Collection
In segregation days, the black teenagers from Carver and Atkins High Schools and Winston-Salem Teachers College had their own cruise point at Ray’s Roadside Drive-in on US 311 North near Winston Lake. And they had something that white kids could only wish for, Daddy-Oh, broadcasting school day afternoons from the glass booth on top of the restaurant. on WAAA radio. His usual sign-on: “This is Daddy-Oh, at the Patio, coming to you from the black spot on the radio.”
In the 1950s and 60s, Greensboro was one of the few places in North Carolina where beer was legally sold on Sundays, so the cruising action moved to the Gate City one day a week. One of the most popular destinations was the Boar and Castle Drive-in on West Market Street.
Another popular destination was Hams, which for the guys had the added attraction of being near Women’s College
Brian Randall stands in front of my favorite Greensboro drive-in, Monroe’s, on East Bessemer Street, very near the legendary Castaways music club.
George Lucas’ 1973 film “American Graffiti” did a pretty good job of capturing the cruising scene, Anywhere, USA. It was shot mostly in Petaluma, CA, but the drive-in segments were made at Mel’s Drive-in in San Francisco. My friends and I were able to identify each of the characters with one of our own friends and acquaintances.
For the complete story of Lawrence Staley’s restaurant empire, click the image above.

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