Brian Croft
Painting the History of Vancouver and British Columbia

348 Drive In Heaven - 1968

Limited Edition Stretched Canvas Giclee Print, (unframed): sn195, ap20, pp10

20x32 (inches) sn $700, ap $800, pp $850

28x44 (inches) sn $1100, ap $1200, pp $1250

34x54 (inches) sn $1500, ap $1600, pp $1650

From an original painting by Brian Croft

For those of us who spent our teen years in the Fifties and Sixties, it was an unforgettable time. The automobile had only recently evolved into an affordable and even essential component of family life. We teenagers were lining up for the first time to take driving lessons and when it all came together and we turned the ignition key on our first solo driving experience, the whole world lay at our feet. Free to roam, free to explore our new world, we quickly discovered the more stuff you could do in a car, the better; that included eating!

Of course, this had all been figured out a long time ago and drive-in restaurants had popped up everywhere. A teenager, armed with a new licence, Dad’s borrowed car and a few pals on board needed to look cool and the local A&W was very very high on the “cool-list” of places to be and be seen.

It is nice to think that Roy Allen might have foreseen all this, in 1919, when he purchased a unique recipe for Root Beer and opened, what may have been, the first drive-in (then called “stand”) in Lodi California. A second stand followed and in 1922 Allan partnered with Frank Wright a former employee at the Lodi stand. Allan and Wright condensed their last names into A&W and a legend began. A&W, anchored by an unsurpassed Root Beer, was destined for success, growing to more than 2000 restaurants by 1960. In 1956, A&W expanded into Canada, choosing Winnipeg for the first drive-in location to launch a phenomenal drive that created hundreds of Canadian A&W’s.

Today, A&W restaurants, more popular than ever, thrive with their famous Root Beer and burgers but the drive-in restaurants that were once so familiar have slipped into oblivion. To be sure, the reasons for the demise of the drive-ins were soundly based on economics but that doesn’t make it any easier to accept. The A&W drive-in, quite simply heaven to teenagers since the 50’s, is gone.

The last A&W drive-in “stand” in Canada served its last burger on April 30, 2000 in Langley, B.C. I live in Langley and happened to drive by the last stand just after the closing. Seeing crowds of people there, I went home and got my camera. It was a strangely quiet gathering, no food was being served, people were just milling around. Just about every stall was occupied by a pick-up truck backed in so that the guys could stand on the truck beds and work-away with wrenches, detaching the back-lit menu boards that hung under the centre walk-way roof. I even saw a couple of chaps with a hacksaw cutting through the steel pole of the “entry” and “exit” signs on the curb side. The very people that loved the drive-in so much were taking it apart piece by piece in a last desperate attempt to save parts of this iconic story from the demolition bin. I shot a roll of slide film that night but I found little inspiration in the poor quality slides that resulted. Many years later I looked at them again and this time found a single slide that anchored this painting, Drive-in Heaven. I scoured the internet for reference material and even contacted the good folks at A&W for information. I then selected the cars to be in the painting with the newest one being a 1968 Ford Mustang GT 500 Shelby and so it was this car that defined the date of the painting as 1968. Next job was to find the menu and prices in 1968 and a lot more detail. Even the A&W roadside logo sign got a lot of attention as the dark brown background, that I painted, is a reversal to today’s white background A&W logos; but briefly, in the late sixties, that’s the way it was.

The Langley A&W, back in the 60’s and 70’s, anchored an informal cruising circuit. Teens would cruise up and down Fraser Highway between Dog and Suds and the A&W putting on mile after mile on their dad’s car. Windows were down, elbows over the sills and engines revs were skillfully converted into a screeching crescendo which punctuated the loud rock and roll music on the new-fangled eight-track tape installed under the dash. If this wasn’t heaven, then finding another car load of school chums at the A&W end of the circuit, certainly was. I painted Drive-in Heaven, not really meaning it to be the Langley location but rather as a fond memorial of all the A&W drive-in stands that we simply miss so much. If you find in these paintbrush strokes, a memory or two, if I have put a smile on your face or helped you remember a special someone, then that is good enough for me.

Brian Croft