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Decidedly more upscale than most diners, this was taken after a fairly extensive refurbishment. Mel's Drive-In is a famous diner in Santa Monica, located just a few blocks from the pier, and it has a long and storied history. It's also a surviving example of Googie architecture, which has something of a cult following in Los Angeles. It's usually packed, but I was there very early in the morning, so it wasn't terribly crowded and I was able to get some interior photos without mobs of patrons.

The original Mel's Drive-In WAS a drive-in, although the one in this present location is a sit-down restaurant. The original dates to 1947, when an explosion of diners erupted throughout the US in the wake of the so-called second Transportation Revolution, when interstate highways were being constructed throughout the United States and people, due to increased ease of access, were more frequently on the move. Mel Weiss and Harold Dobbs opened the first drive-in restaurant in Santa Monica, where the weather was highly desirable and contributed to the proliferation of carhop service restaurants. In the mid-50s, California had become the state with the highest rate of car ownership, due in part to the post-war housing boom and the tremendous expansion of the suburbs which necessitated a car in every garage, and sometimes two.

The first Mel's location was at 140 S. Van Ness Ave., a sprawling site with a capacity for 110 automobiles and featured a two-story rectangular building, an iconic structure which appeared in many motion pictures of the day. There was also a dining room which could seat about 75 people, decorated in typical diner style, with formica countertops and chrome accents. A long, circular dining counter wrapped around two soda fountains, pie cases and coffee urns. Mel's was also a model of modern efficiency, featuring a cooker which could crank out 180 hamburgers a minute.

The restaurant was wildly popular, generating the entire cost of the building and startup in the first month's sales alone. In the wake of such booming success, the owners opened two additional locations in San Francisco, and shortly thereafter, Mel's became a large franchise throughout the state of California, with locations in Oakland, Berkeley, Sacramento, San Jose and Salinas, generating about $4 million annually and serving some fifteen to twenty thousand hamburgers a day. These were the most popular item served, but additional American comfort foods such as chicken pot pie, fried chicken, roast turkey, steak and eggs and a variety of made-to-order sandwiches also appeared on the menu.

Things took a downturn, unfortunately, with the growth of fast food chains, which also proliferated throughout the country. In fact, Weiss and Dobbs sold the chain to the Foster's franchise in 1972. Sadly, Foster's filed for bankruptcy not long after the purchase of Mel's, and the original restaurant was closed and demolished in 1976.

Not content to let a great thing die, however, Steven Weiss and Donald Wagstaff opened up a new Mel's Drive-In in 1985, first on Lombard Street in San Francisco. A major factor in its success was the fact that some of the old patrons who had many fond memories of the original restaurants began bringing their children and grandchildren to Mel's, whose creators took great effort to create in the spirit of the originals. Two years after the opening of the Lombard location, the owners re-opened a facility in the same building where another restaurant had once been, which had since been converted into a stereo store. Much of the original infrastructure was still intact, however, uncovered and then restored during renovations. Thus, the owners recreated the interior space to look just like the original. This location is still in operation, and is wildly popular.

Additional Mel's were opened in Southern California in 1989, first in a historic Googie-style building in Sherman Oaks, then on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, which rescued an old Googie building that had been slated for demolition (it was then declared a historic landmark, ensuring its continuing survival), and in multiple additional locations as well. There are now seven Mel's Drive-In locations, with possible additions to come!

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Additional Photos by Terez Anon (terez93) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 88 W: 78 N: 949] (1735)
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