Tuesday, May 26, 2009

1964 Downers Grove, Illinois Drive In Restaurant History

By early 1964 the City of Downers Grove, Illinois had its fill of rowdy teenagers at the local drive in restaurants. Fed up with the seeming lack of response by some of the drive in operators, councilman John Behnke, with the assistance of the Illinois State Highway Department, took it upon himself to conduct a study of the behavior at one local drive in.

His study was conducted on a Friday night between the hours of 9:00 pm - 1:30 am. On that single evening, Mr. Behnke counted an amazing 654 cars "looping" through the lot of this drive in! Interestingly, not one of those cars made a single purchase. He also noted that some of these cars were from as far away as Chicago and Aurora. The reason behind this huge volume of traffic was that every other drive in closed at midnight on Friday night while this one stayed open until 2:00 am.

The next city council meeting found Mr. Behnke presenting his findings to the rest of the council including the Mayor. It was decided that the following city council meeting would result in a city ordinance to limit the closing hours of all drive ins.

Fearing that their restaurants would be affected by the behavior of one business, the next meeting was heavily attended by local drive in owners. The owners proposed a set of rules that they would personally enforce (without the need for a city ordinance). The city agreed, and on September 30th, 1964 the "Code of Conduct" was adopted by all drive in restaurants located in the city of Downers Grove. While the new rules were suitable to both the city and the owners, it still took 3 or 4 weeks for the patrons to realize the rules were going to be seriously enforced. Those first few weeks resulted in numerous arrests for "peeling, speeding, reckless driving, loud mufflers, etc.".

Below are those 12 rules.


1) Prohibit any continuous looping or circling of our parking lots.

2) Not permit patrons to congregate outside their cars.

3) Not serve teenagers under the age of 18 after curfew hours. 11:00 pm Sunday through Thursday 12:00 am Friday and Saturday.

4) Have cars left unattended towed away at car owner's expense.

5) Request that patrons enter and leave the premises as quietly as possible. Racking of pipes, peeling of tires and unnecessary use of horn will be prohibited.

6) Cooperate fully with police on duty at our establishments, whether hired by us or on city duty.

7) Prescribe a reasonable time limit for eating for the purpose of discouraging loitering.

8) Prohibit alcohol on the premises anywhere and at any time.

9) Prohibit cars to exceed 10 mph on the premises.

10) Make every effort to avoid the scattering of refuse onto other people's premises, and will police our own lots and neighboring grounds to control littering.

11) Make every effort to obtain license numbers of patrons who have caused problems to the public as well as to the operator.

12) Ask disorderly groups to leave the premises.

We hope you enjoyed this look back at the rowdy side of drive in history!

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Remembering Aquarama - Vintage Roadside visits with an Aquamaid - Part 2

We hope you're enjoying our interview with Janie from the long-gone Missouri attraction Aquarama! We're thrilled to present Part 2 of our interview.

Vintage Roadside: What were your costumes like?

Janie: We wore basic swimsuits that Nola had embellished with heavy stones; some one-piece, some modest two-piece, complete with padding where we needed it. The boys wore black tights and long-sleeved, black shirts. Often costume pieces, scarves and belts, were added to the basics depending on the routine.

Vintage Roadside: You mention Nola working on the costumes, that sounds like quite a bit of work.

Janie: She really made our costumes special with all the hours spent attaching rhinestones and fringe.

Vintage Roadside: Were there any "novelty" acts performed?

Janie: We had many routines, including the Beatles, a bullfight, gypsy dance, mermaids rising out of giant seashells, trapeze, clown acts, etc.

Vintage Roadside: Who was responsible for inventing the acts?

Janie: Most of our original routines were choreographed by Barbara Hodgson and Mark Johl. Mark also was responsible for keeping all our equipment in good order, including the HUGE tank (50,000 gallons?) with a glass front that we swam in. I remember we had to shut down for a couple of nights when the pool water was too cloudy due to an algae outbreak to allow the audience to see us.

Vintage Roadside: What days/months did you work?

Janie: Excluding spring rehearsals, our shows ran Memorial Day to Labor Day. At first, we did three shows a day, six days a week. I think it was in the second year we reduced the schedule to two shows in the evenings. Then we could have rehearsals in the daytime, allowing us to change things up a bit.

Vintage Roadside: How was the reaction from visitors to Aquarama?

Janie: We were always given positive feedback from "out front". Nola and Wally gave constructive criticism about performances and we tried our best to please them. Most of our parents were regular attendees, and their suggestions were helpful too.

Vintage Roadside: I remember my job at 15 and it was nothing like working at Aquarama! It must have been great to be one of the Aquamaids?

Janie: It was cool to be known as a "performer" and not just a kid with a summer job. Nola was a great promoter and saw to it that we were featured in all the local advertising pieces and parades.

Vintage Roadside: So the Aquamaids were recognized around town?

Janie: Because we spent so much time underwater, the hair of all the girls turned green by late summer from the chlorine. (Most were blondes to begin with.) Locals would always recognize us as "Aquamaids" from that.

Vintage Roadside: How long did you work at Aquarama?

Janie: Five summers as a swimmer and one year as director/restaurant hostess when the show building was converted to an oriental restaurant/underwater show in 1969, with a live band for dinner music between shows. The business was then called Cabaret-Aquarama. The year before that, the Johl's had taken on partners in the business named Wilbur and Esther Whitehead from Mexico, Missouri. The Whiteheads bought out the Johls and I worked for them the last season, when I ran the show from "up front" and didn't swim. This involved running all the taped music and lighting from a booth in the restaurant, and serving as hostess until the restaurant closed, usually around midnight. I think the restaurant ran one more year, without the water show, then closed. I married and left the area for 7 years in 1970.

Vintage Roadside: Do you still enjoy swimming?

Janie: My husband and I have a home on the lake, but boat more than we swim. We do occasionally take a dip with our two-year old granddaughter.

Vintage Roadside: Janie, thank you so much for sharing your history at Aquarama with us. It's wonderful to speak with you about your time as an Aquamaid and to learn more about one of our favorite attractions.

Janie: You're welcome!

If you have any memories and stories from Aquarama we'd love to hear from you. Also, if you'd like to read more history you can visit our Aquarama page here.

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside

Monday, May 11, 2009

Remembering Aquarama - Vintage Roadside visits with an Aquamaid

Aquarama, located in Osage Beach, Missouri offered visitors to the Lake of the Ozarks a show that not only featured live mermaids, but also included an underwater Beatles act, underwater bull fights, and underwater trapeze acts!

We're thrilled to start the week off by sharing Part One of our interview with Janie, a former Aquarama performer.

Vintage Roadside: When did you first hear about Aquarama?

Janie: In the fall of 1964, a couple named Wally and Nola Johl, having moved to the area from Florida a few years before, began construction on a show building to house the Aquarama. They got the idea from attending Weeki Wachee in Florida. Wally was in the pool building business here, so it was right up his alley.

Vintage Roadside: How old were you at that time?

Janie: I was 15 years old.

Vintage Roadside: How did you land your job at Aquarama?

Janie: Nola approached my mother at church, asking if I might be allowed to try out for the show they were starting in Osage Beach. Since I was pretty athletic then, mom thought I'd enjoy the experience.... and I did!

Vintage Roadside: What were your initial thoughts about working at Aquarama?

Janie: I'd finished my first summer job as a carhop, and the thought of swimming for a living with others my age sounded like great fun. We were all in high school when it started. In retrospect, I think it was a great idea, a little ahead of its time for the Lake of the Ozarks. The Lake was then known mostly for the country music shows in the area and the tourists didn't always "get it".

Vintage Roadside: What were your first days as an Aquarama employee like?

Janie: As the building/pool was still under construction, I met with the Johls and several other potential "aquamaids" at the Johl's home that fall. We started working that day on some floor routines which we hoped to adapt to an underwater show. A former swimmer from Weeki Wachee, Barbara Hodgson, had been hired to be our coach and star of the show that first season.

Vintage Roadside: You mention training at the Johl's house, how long did you train there?

Janie: We practiced in the Johl's living room until early March, when we started water training in an outdoor, unheated pool at a local motel. It was freezing, we wore sweatshirts and thermal underwear, but we were all kids and survived it. It was there that we learned to use our breathing hoses which allowed us to stay underwater for prolonged practices. By early May, the Aquarama pool was completed and we began everyday practices there.

Vintage Roadside: When Aquarama opened to the public what was your role?

Janie: I was one of the original Aquamaids, kind of in the chorus, as Barbara was the star. She left after the first season to return to Florida and the rest of us worked into her routines.

Vintage Roadside: How many employees did Aquarama have that first year?

Janie: If memory serves, I was one of six girls in the cast, plus Miss Hodgson. There were also two teenage boys, including the Johl's son Mark. Over the years, I would guess there were about 20 other cast members.

To be continued.......

We hope you're enjoying reading a bit of the wonderful history behind Aquarama.

If you'd like to read more of the general history we've put together for Aquarama you can visit our Aquarama page here. And, if you've got any memories, photos, postcards, or stories from Aquarama we'd love to hear from you!

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Want to see a real mermaid? Only three more chances to catch Marina the Mermaid!

Nothing brings back the feel of 1960s roadside attractions, especially 1960s Florida, like a live mermaid show. For the past few years one of the best remaining mermaid shows could be found every Friday night in Ft. Lauderdale's Wreck Bar, located in the Yankee Clipper Hotel.

The Yankee Clipper, which has a wonderful history of live mermaids dating back to 1956, is slated to close for extensive renovations on June 1st. The fate of the Wreck Bar and the mermaid shows is uncertain at this point. What is known is that there are only three more chances to see Marina & friends perform in this historic setting.

The remaining dates for the mermaid shows are May 15th, 22nd, and 29th. Each show begins at 5:30 pm. We hope you'll take the opportunity (and your camera) to experience a true piece of roadside history before it's gone.

The Yankee Clipper and Wreck Bar is located at 1140 Seabreeze Blvd, Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

You can read more about Marina, including her work as a fire dancer & fire eater, a belly dancer, and more at her website here.

Photos courtesy of Medusirena.

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside

Monday, May 4, 2009

Vintage Roadside will be manning the Velveteria this weekend!

Happy Monday everyone,

We wanted to let everyone know that we'll be doing a little something different this Friday and Saturday - staffing a real roadside attraction! And not just any attraction, the one and only Velveteria. The Velveteria features a rotating exhibition of 350+ velvet masterpieces from a collection of over 2000 paintings, both vintage and contemporary, by artists such as Burke Tyree, Cecelia Rodriguez, Charles McPhee, and Edgar Leeteg.

The Velveteria at 2448 E Burnside is open from noon to 5:00 pm Friday through Sunday and admission is $5.00.

We hope to see some of you this weekend!

Jeff & Kelly
Vintage Roadside