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When drive-in restaurants made their way to Mesa

Jay Mark, Special for The Republic | azcentral.com
Published 7:01 a.m. MT July 27, 2017

The Marquee is believed to have been Mesa’s first drive-in restaurant as Americans took advantage of their automobiles’ convenience

The dawning of the age of the automobile opened the world to all sorts of new businesses.

Just as soon as the car came along, establishments sprung up along the nation’s roadsides offering easy access to motorists.

Motor hotels, dubbed “motels” first appeared in 1925. Diners, patterned after Mr. Pullman’s renowned railroad eating cars, began providing quick, inexpensive meals.

Not long after, some smart people began to think of even easier ways to provide service to customers without them ever leaving their beloved motorized chariots.

In 1933, Camden, NJ, moviegoers got their first look at Richard Hollingshead’s “Park-in” theater where they could watch a Hollywood blockbuster in the comfort of their own automobile.

By 1930, more than 23 million cars were plying the nation’s roads. The term “drive-in” didn’t enter the vocabulary until 1937.

Drive-in restaurants debut

Responding to the new car culture, one of America’s most iconic roadside businesses debuted in 1921.

When they opened Kirby’s Pig Stand in Dallas, Texas, little did Jessie Kirby and Reuben Jackson realize what they had given birth to when they started serving messy barbecue to diners sitting in their cars.

Today, the drive-in restaurant is as much a part of the American landscape as the car itself — adding to our lexicon terms like tray boys, carhops, curb service, cruising.

By the end of World War II, Mesa’s population had reached nearly 15,000 — double what it was when the war began. Like in most American towns, cars had long replaced the horse and buggy.

Gas rationing was in the past. Automobile manufacturers were once again sending shiny new vehicles down the production line. Most streets were paved. It was an era of Sunday drives.

Mesa gets in the game

Even though small in population, Mesa was on a major Federal highway route. Along with U.S. 89, coast-to-coast highways 60, 70 and 80 came down Main Street — right through the heart of town.

The time was ripe for a progressive community like Mesa to have a drive-in restaurant.

In 1947, C.C. Sandy, a prominent Clearfield, Pennsylvania grocer built for his son, Leo Toney, The Marquee, likely the town’s first drive-in restaurant at 216 E. Main St., just east of Hibbert.

Toney first came to Arizona with his parents in 1922 with occasional return visits over the years.

In 1942, then 30-year-old Toney moved his family to Arizona, working at Luke Field during the war. He decided to stay.

The Marquee began as a circular diner, with parking around the building for those wanting to eat in their cars. An arcade was later added to accommodate more vehicles.

Why Mesa was selected is still undetermined.

By all accounts, the Marquee with its giant neon sign featuring a nesting chicken on top was an instant hit with teenagers.

Four and a half years later, Toney sold the eatery to James Lucas who had been the restaurant’s chef since its opening.

Sadly, The Marquee succumbed to progress and was demolished some years later.

Reach historian Jay Mark at jaymark@twtdbooks.com

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