Famous in its day: the Parkmoor

It’s been somewhat frustrating researching the Parkmoor chain of drive-ins that once did business in St. Louis, my home town. My main source has been a book written by Lou Ellen McGinley, daughter of the chain’s founder and manager of the Clayton Road Parkmoor from 1977 until its closing in 1999.

The book is called Honk for Service, yet throughout it are shown menus that say clearly at the top “Flash Your Lights for Service.” Alas, this is but one tipoff that somebody wasn’t totally on the job.

Nevertheless, the book enlightened me about a number of things, especially that there were once six Parkmoors in St. Louis. I had thought that the Parkmoor at Big Bend and Clayton was the one and only. In fact it was the sole survivor as well as the original, in 1930 the site of a Tudor-style drive-in. Three more Parkmoors opened in the 1930s and two in the 1950s, but all five of them were gone by 1971.

From 1940 to 1953 there was also a McGinley Parkmoor in Indianapolis. Parkmoor was a popular name for mid-century drive-ins. The Parkmoors in Amarillo TX, Knoxville TN (one O), Dayton OH, and Sarasota FL were not related.

I enjoyed the book’s charming illustrations, but I was disappointed to find only a single blurred and partial image of the exterior of the modern orange-roofed Parkmoor building that most St. Louisans knew (pictured above after being closed; razed in 2004). And there was no mention of when it was constructed, who designed it, or why the McGinleys chose what was for architecturally conservative St. Louis such an exotic, California-style design.

As I remember it, the interior was impressively ugly. It had a tall peaked ceiling and a lava-stone back wall. All the seating was built-in and covered in orange leatherette. To the right of the entrance was an L-shaped counter with cantilevered seats that projected up diagonally from the base. Down the center of the room was a 3-foot high divider with plants growing from the top. On either side of the divider were rows of two-person mini-booths, while larger booths ran along the continuous windows to the left.

From what I’ve been able to discover poking around, the Googie-style Parkmoor was built in 1969. By that time the restaurant was no longer a drive-in. Honk for Service does not say when carhops were dispensed with, but according to a newspaper want ad they were still being hired in 1963 even though two locations had adopted speaker-based ordering systems by then.

Lou Ellen’s father, William Louis McGinley, began his business career in the 1920s as head of a Texas company that sold trays to drive-ins. According to Honk for Service he was inspired to open a drive-in in St. Louis as an “I’ll show them” response after he was informed by Dorr & Zeller, an old-line catering company, that St. Louis was not the kind of city that would accept drive-ins.

Was it a similar motive that led McGinley to open a Parkmoor very near Dorr & Zeller on DeBaliviere in the city’s west end? It turned out to be an ill-fated locale. A brawl there in which police shot and killed two men in 1965 may have contributed to the demise of that location a few years later.

Both generations of McGinleys were cattle ranchers who spent much of their time in Texas while overseeing the Parkmoor. As with most drive-ins, the menu featured hamburgers; the beef was ground in a two-story commissary building erected on a corner of the Clayton Road Parkmoor’s parking lot. The beef, however, did not come from the family’s Texas ranch.

A little taste of Texas appeared on a 1930 menu which offers a Top Sirloin Steak served with French fried potatoes, lettuce, tomato, bread and butter – plus a “Texas preserved fig” – all for 55c. Add a Dr. Pepper for an additional 5c.

© Jan Whitaker, 2012

38 Comments

Filed under food, history, restaurants

38 responses to “Famous in its day: the Parkmoor

  1. There’s a new t-shirt out celebrating The Parkmoor. http://www.bygonebrand.com/parkmoor-t-shirt/

  2. Wasn’t the cheese that was on the Premium actually a sauce? I remember the menu saying a molten cheese sauce which I would love to know how to make.

  3. Judy Angelbeck

    I grew up in Clayton and every Friday night we went to Parkmoor at Clayton and Big Bend for burgers and fries. I especially remember having a hot fudge sundae with the hot fudge served on the side. We usually ate inside at a booth. Thanks for the info. Judy Angelbeck

  4. Kay Lohman

    Does any one have the recipe for the onion ring batter or the sauce for the King Burger?

    • There are recipes in Honk for Service but I don’t know how useful they are. King Burger Slaw Sauce: “Shredded lettuce and shredded onions whipped with mayonnaise.” Onion Rings: “2 gal Insta Mix, 20 large eggs, 1/2 oz black pepper, 3 oz salt, 2 oz MSG, 9 lbs unbleached flour, 4 oz baking powder. Mix all ingredients together except flour. Add flour, 3 lbs at a time, mixing well. Check batter by cooking 3 onion rings.” If they are not crisp either thicken with more flour and egg or thin with milk and egg.

      • Kay Lohman

        Thank you so very, very much. I am going to try whipping some up. Can’t have the burger until tomorrow, hamburger Is all frozen. Something I do make from time to time is the lemonade with pineapple sherbert in it. I was in the hospital at St. Joseph’s in Kirkwood. I was 18 and had just had a hysterectomy for cancer. My mom smuggled a King Burger and onion rings in to me. It sure did help. Funny what makes us feel better.

  5. Anonymous

    I am violet Lloyd Stegall . I was a waitress at De balievere and also on n. kingshighway I remember a lady who worked at the Maull’s store. I don’t remember her name but she had a nephew named Bill Tanner.

    • Darrell DuBois

      Hi Violet. My sister who worked at Maul’s was Edna Leroy. She also worked at the Parkmoor on North Kingshighway after that. Here’s a bit of trivia for you: The huge clock that stood in front of the Maul’s grocery store was restored and moved downtown to Laclede’s :Landing. It stands near 801 Second Street.

  6. Hi, Darrell and Dennis, I am still working on the history of DeBaliviere, and I’m on the hunt for the Vic Vac drawing–anyone with any idea of its location, or other memories of eating places on DeBaliviere, please contact me at jvatcha@gmail.com. I’d also love to see a photo of the Goody Train, if one exists!
    Jo Ann Vatcha

  7. Pingback: Readers Top Pick For Closed Restaurant They Wish Was Still Open: The ParkmoorUrbanReviewSTL | UrbanReviewSTL

  8. Paula Carpenter

    King Burger eating contest at the Manchester-Lindbergh location, it was broadcast from a radio station. Harry Davis and Jeff Busby were the participants. They also served frog legs on their menu.
    There was also a nightclub on DeBaliviere called The Terrace Lounge.

    • Darrell DuBois

      Good call on the Terrace Lounge. I remember it too but I was only 16 when I worked at Parkmoor so I wasn’t a customer! haha

    • slhis13

      Would love to see your memories of the Terrace Lounge. Do you remember if it was run by the same ex-wrestler, KO Koverly, who had previously owned the Mural Room nearby on DeBaliviere?

      Jo Ann Vatcha

      • Dennis Kiernan

        KO Koverly! I saw him fight Wild Bill Longson once, at the Arena or Keil Auditorium I guess. That was before professional wrestling got to be the moronic stuff it is today. I think that started with Gorgeous George, whom I also watched one time.

      • Darrell DuBois

        Oh yeah and who could forget Dick The Bruiser? My mom used to watch wrestling on TV mostly with the sound off because my dad did NOT like that or westerns either. When we were kids he would hear all of the shooting between the indians and the cowboy and yell “I’m surprised that tv still works with all those dead indians in the bottom of it! He didn’t like Harry Carey broadcasting the baseball games. LOL

      • Darrell DuBois

        Hi Jo An, I can only tell you that I do remember the Terrace Lounge. It was only about a block from the Parkmoor where I was a car-hop/soda jerk. I was too young to go there so I can’t help with your questions but in was fun being reminded of yet another great place on the Big Little Strip (DeBaliviere).
        Another bit of history about that area: At the north end of DeBaliviere where it started at Delmar there was a grocery store called Maul’s. They were famous for their BBQ sauce and you can still buy it in the stores here in St. Louis. My sister was a cashier there.

      • You can see my articles in the TIMES of SKINKER DEBALIVIERE at:
        http://sdtimes.org/index/html

        The article in the September-October 2013 issue is about skating at the Winter Garden.
        The article in the February-March 2014 issue is about KO Koverly.
        The article in the April-May 2014 issue is about Evelyn West and others on the “strip”.
        Next up in the Summer 2014 issue will be about Garavelli’s and the 20’s.
        I am doing a whole series and hope to get to the Parkmoor soon, and I’d love to include some quotes!

  9. ohnonothimagain

    Wow-I mostly remember the Onion Rings and Hot Dogs from the Parkmoor. We lived in University City when I was real young and went there a lot. Still went a lot when we moved to the “burbs” in Bellefontaine Neighbors. I’ve not lived in St. Louis since 2002, and am saddened to learn that so many of the memories I have of St. Louis remain that-only memories. Going out to eat was always a treat for me since my Mom hated to cook and she would even travel 100 miles or more to try a “new found” restaurant in Missouri or Illinois..Keep up the great site.

    • eaglgrp@aol.com

      We called the hot dogs “Premium Franks” and served them with a slice of bacon and melted cheese. Yummy! As an old soda jerk my favorite thing to make and eat was the Hot Fudge Cake Sundae. We made it with two slices of pound cake with a scoop of ice cream in the middle and smothered it with hot fudge and topped it with a bit of whipped cream. Don’t want to know how many calories were in it! On another subject I’ve been trying to find an old Parkmoor menu online. Does anyone have a link?

  10. Darrell DuBois

    There was a piano bar right on the corner of DeBaliviere and McPherson where you could hear the great jazz music from the street. Hopefully someone can remember the name of it. Across the street was what I think was the first Garavelli’s Cafeteria (not sure of the spelling). I think it went on to be a small chain. It was similar to the old Pope’s Cafeteria. Great Italian food!

  11. ron parker

    My uncle Fred Parker was general manager for St. Louis Parkmoors. He was called “Pop” Parker. He did the hiring. He lived in Webster Groves MO.

  12. I’m Violet Stegall and I was hired by Pop Parker to work at Debaliviere Parkmoor in 1945 when I was 17. My last name was Lloyd at the time.A young lady by the name of Gwen Jackson trained me. We became good friends. I later worked on kingshighway and cote brilliante with Eileen Mahoney. She became my very best friend. I’m now 84 years old.

  13. Violet Stegall

    I started in 1945 at Debaliviere and worked all but south side. It was the best time of my life. I last worked at north side and I met such wonderful people, both customers and employees. And I just loved it. Such wonderful memories. Violet Lloyd Stegall violetstegall@charter.net

  14. Barb

    How did they make the molten cheese sauce for the pedigree hot dog?

  15. Amber Weidenhamer

    I’m fascinated by googie buildings…

    Have you ever seen/heard of ‘The Gobbler’? It was a pretty famous restaurant and motel completely done in googie style.

    Here’s a site dedicated to it:
    http://www.lileks.com/institute/motel/index.html

  16. H. Darrell DuBois

    I was a car hop and then a “soda jerk” who worked behind the counter at the DeBaliviere Parkmoor in 1959. I worked there for about a year under Mr Don Wilmouth (not sure of spelling). Worked there and went to Soldan High School until joining the Air Force in 1960. Wow, what an experience. I still miss the Parkmoor and wonder what happened to some of the old employees. The last batch worked at the last store on Clayton Road.
    My favorite dish? Tough question: Maybe the Hot Dog, Hot Fudge Sundae Cake.
    I made em all!
    Darrell DuBois

    • Thanks! I’d love to hear more.

    • slhis13

      Mr. DuBois,
      I’m researching DeBaliviere and would love to know more, especially about carhops at the Parkmoor! Do you remember any of the clubs that were on DeBaliviere in the 50’s and 60’s?
      Jo Ann Vatcha
      jvatcha@gmail.com

      • Darrell DuBois

        Wow, I will really have to put my “memory hat” on for that one! The old Stardust of course was very famous for Evelyn West (the stripper). I think there was a club called Sorento’s or something like that. I will have a conversation with an older sister and try to think of other “clubs” that might have dotted the old neighborhood.
        Regarding the Parkmoor of course you can find a lot of history about the old Texan who started it and the daughter who finally sold the last spot on Clayton Rd. where a Walgreen’s now stands. Her father invented the metal tray that was used to attach it to the window of a car. I think he made a lot of money selling that to other drive-in restaurants in those days (like Steak and Shake).

      • slhis13

        Thanks for the reply. Of course we remember the Stardust! Do you recall any others? I have a photo with signs for Sorrento’s, Little Las Vegas, and Pepe’s Pizzaria. Others I’ve heard about include The Holy Barbarian and The Mural Room. I’d be interested in any other memories you and your sister have. Did you live in the neighborhood? I look forward to hearing more!

      • Darrell DuBois

        Of the ones you mentioned I vaguely remember Little Las Vegas and Pepe’s the other two I can’t say I remember at all. Keep in mind I was only 16 at the time so I couldn’t get into a lot of “clubs”. And yes, I did indeed live near. We lived at 5208 Waterman Blvd. between Union Ave. and Kingshighway. I was close enough to walk to work. The thing I liked most about living there was the close proximity to Forest Park. I spent many days getting on my bike and riding over to the zoo and art museum. I could walk over to Delmar Blvd. and catch the streetcar to go see a movie at the Fox Theatre up on Grand.
        I went to grade school at St. Stephens Lutheran School which was just two blocks of what later became Gas Light Square. In those early days there were only a handful of coffee shops where “beatniks” would read poetry while someone played a guitar or whatever.
        Wow, what a flashback!

    • Dennis Kiernan

      I was a carhop at the Clayton Parkmoor and later the South one, around 1946 when I was 14-15. I’d started at The Crossroads, out in Kirkwood, when I was still 13. The owner said he thought I cd pass for 14, which you needed to be to work nights. Also carhopped and soda-jerked at Pevely Dairy. Made very good money for a kid. Too bad the young ones today dont have the opportunities or the freedom we had then. I delivered for the drug store, ushered at the ballpark, the Arena, and Keil Auditorium, caddied at St. Louis Country Club, and unloaded boxcars.
      Carhopping cd be a little rough at times. There were a few unruly customers and sometimes fights with the rest of the help, but you learned to take care of yourself.
      I had forgotten completely about those Hot Fudge Cake Sundaes at Parkmoor They were great.
      I also remember a picture on the wall of the main Parkmoor, a big cartoon done by the Globe-Democrat artist Vic Vac, showing huge numbers of people all hurrying from all over town to get to the Parkmoor. I wanted to be a cartoonist, too, and used to admire that picture very much.
      Dennis Kiernan

      • Dennis, You were very enterprising as a teen! I’d love to see that cartoon.

      • Darrell DuBois

        Hi Dennis,
        I actually remember seeing that picture of the Parkmoor “crowd”. I’m not sure where it ended up. I’m glad you remembered the Hot Fudge Cake. My other big favorite was the Premium Frank. For those who never heard of it, it was a hot dog on a extra large bun with cheese and a strip of bacon on it. I last had them when I was a salesman for a steel company. I would stop by the last Parkmoor on Clayton Road and get one to go and drive over to Skinker Blvd. and have lunch in the car in Forest Park. And you’re right; if we hustled we made pretty good money for kids our age. Sure beat pushing a sno-cone hand truck in the streets around the neighborhood.

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