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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.