The real estate cliche "location, location, location" may be beaten to death; however one cannot argue its truth. Eastwood Mall in Birmingham had the incredible advantage of location and access. The property was triangulated by three major thoroughfares: Crestwood Blvd (US Highway 78; at the time also known as Atlanta Highway), Montclair Road and Oporto Avenue (today known as Oporto-Madrid Blvd).
Simply put, Eastwood Mall sat on one of the best parcels of land in the city. Even when the only way to get anywhere in Birmingham was on regular surface roadways, it was still easy to get to Eastwood -- people in the south suburbs of Mountain Brook, Homewood and Vestavia could access the area through Montevallo Road or Montclair Road. Folks from downtown Birmingham, North Birmingham or Ensley could get here via Crestwood Blvd. And if you called Roebuck, Pinson or Trussville home, one simply took Madrid Ave. or Ruffner Road, then Oporto ... and you were at Eastwood before you knew it. As icing on the cake, residents of distant areas like Pell City, Ashville, Anniston, Gadsden and beyond took advantage of their proximity to Eastwood Mall.
As you can see on the map below left, that convenience
was no small feat:
Prior to Eastwood Mall's opening in 1960, that stretch of US 78 was uncluttered. The only evidence of commerce along 78 in the pre-Eastwood era was the Starlite Drive-In, a couple of gas stations and the legendary Motel Birmingham.
On the coattails of Eastwood and all the traffic it generated, other businesses soon began sprouting like mushrooms. Among the first to open was a Howard Johnson's Restaurant, 28 flavors of ice cream and all. Kemmons Wilson put up an impressive multi-story Holiday Inn next to the HoJo's in 1962. A Shoney's Drive-In was built on the property in front of the mall in 1963 ... back when they had carhops, offered curb service, and was part of the Big Boy chain (remember when the "Big Boy" statue used to be outside the front door?) Shoney's became a popular hangout. All of the curb stalls were numbered, and WSGN had regular contests, where the DJ called out stall numbers throughout the evening. If you and your date were parked there, and you were listening, you could claim a free meal.
And since this WAS Birmingham, Alabama, and Eastwood was the new growth area, it only made sense for Mr. Jack Caddell to open a location of the upstart fast-food chain bearing his first name. Jack's Hamburgers had its grand opening for the Eastwood Mall store in January 1963. As expected, the kiddie show icons were the stars of the show. Channel 13's "Cousin Cliff" Holman was there, and Channel 6 was represented by Benny Carle. And we all fondly remember the jingle (and if you don't, now you do): Jack's Hamburgers for fifteen cents are so good - good - good ... you'll go back - back - back, to Jack's - Jack's - Jack's for more - more - more! Now if you were hungry after all that shopping at Eastwood Mall, and the lunch counters at Kresge, Newberry or Liggett weren't your speed ... you could swing through Jack's and grab a hamburger or "Fish-on-a-bun" and a milkshake for the drive home (be careful -- no interstates, remember; just stop and go traffic!)
In back of Eastwood, a Wagon Ho! restaurant opened somewhere in the 1966-67 time frame. It was a drive-through restaurant ahead of its time, complete with a Conestoga-style roof and "driver" ... Wagon Ho! was a short-lived chain of restaurants, and the Birmingham location eventually became part of Kelly's Hamburgers (another B'ham-based fast-food eatery). When Kelly's bit the dust, it became known as Dilly's Deli.
|This is the only photograph
of a WAGON HO! restaurant known to exist.
There's no mention as to where this one was located, but I believe we can safely say it's not "ours."
(courtesy Tim Hollis archive)
||Here is the Conestoga building
during its time as a part of Kelly's Hamburgers. (circa early
'70s). Kelly's took the original backlit sign frame from Wagon Ho!
and added a classic neon style.
This comes from a Kelly's postcard (the other four locations were pictured, and this one was in the middle). It beautifully captures the restaurant and the mall in its prime.
(courtesy of the Warren Reed collection)
A scan of the entire postcard may be seen on Warren's website.
(photo by Russell Wells, October 2003)
(photo courtesy of Paul Kinnane)
Here are some more images of the area surrounding Eastwood Mall:
(except where otherwise noted, all photos below are from the collection of Alvin Hudson)
ON 78, MARCH 1965:
At the lower left is the original signage for Eastwood. The circle on top had the "E" insignia, and the word "EASTWOOD" was spelled out in individual circles below.
Dead center of the picture is the Shoney's Big Boy Restaurant ... note the covered stalls. This was curb service at its finest.
Next door was a Shell station(don't you wish you could shrink your car into this picture and fill your tank with Super Shell for 29.9 cents a gallon! And not have to get out of your car to pump ... the friendly attendant would even check under the hood, too!) And check out their tall sign!
And next to the Shell was Jack's Hamburgers. It's strange seeing just trees on the other side of 78; today, this is a very built-up and clogged section of roadway.
||THE BIG BOY
CAN'T WAIT TO HAVE YOU OVER...
Here is the Eastwood Mall Shoney's, circa 1965. My kingdom for a picture of that sign at night, all lit up - neon, chase-sequence lights, and a backlit Big Boy on top.
You can still find Shoney's here and there today, but since they parted with the Big Boy chain in the early-ish '80s it hasn't been the same. My big pet peeve was when they stopped putting OLD GLORY on the "All-American Burger"! Today, your sandwich comes garnished with a generic Shoney's logo on the toothpick flagpole. HarrrrrrrrUMPH!!!
A trademark of Shoney's restaurants once upon a time was the Big Boy statue out front!
Here's a picture sure to make Drive-In Theater enthusiasts swoon: this is the Starlite Drive-In.
The marquee is visible toward the bottom, the projection room and concession buildings are seen here ... and a great view of the screen.
The Starlite was torn down to make way for Eastwood Plaza in 1970, a strip center adjacent to the mall.
I'm sure your eyes are drawn first to the grand poo-bah of roadside lore: the Holiday Inn "Great Sign." (A POX on the person who made the decision to retire that sign!)
Along the bottom are the many buildings of Motel Birmingham, which first opened in 1953. The triangular sign, seen here, is still a familiar sight along Crestwood.
Between Motel Birmingham and the Holiday Inn are the Howard Johnson's and an Polynesian restaurant known as The Luau.
The Starlite marquee portal is visible on the lower left. A closer look is below:
MOVIE IN TOWN, MY FRIEND, IS SHOWING AT OUR DRIVE-IN" -Jingle
for the Waters drive-in theater chain during the mid '60s.
Here is the STARLITE DRIVE-IN marquee, in this picture dated March 21, 1951. Did your heart skip any beats? Thought so.
This from a time when signs did more than just tell you the name of the business ... they were nothing less than ornate, distinctive, one-of-a-kind works of art!! (Below the words "WATCH FOR DATE", in small lettering, is the sign's maker: DIXIE NEON)
(courtesy of the Dixie Neon Company archive)
The east Birmingham Holiday Inn from another angle. (Doesn't the Great Sign just tug at your heart?) Of note is that swimming pool out front ... and the neon "Holiday Inn" sign on the roof at the left. Behind the motel appears to be The Luau.
Across the highway is an American (Amoco) gas station. Judging from all the trailers parked off to the side of the gas station, I imagine this was also a rental facility for U-Hauls or Ryders.
In the '70s, the Holiday Inn BARELY missed being in the crosshairs of I-20; the Amoco station wasn't so lucky. By 1962, when this motel went up, the path for I-20 was already decided. I have no doubts that Holiday Inn founder & then owner Kemmons Wilson planned for this.
(courtesy of Tim Hollis)
Newly-found color postcard *
LANDMARK FOR HUNGRY SHOPPERS:
The HOWARD JOHNSON'S Restaurant on US 78 between Motel Birmingham and the Holiday Inn (of note here is the original, pre-'triangle' Motel B'ham sign). Their signature orange roofs were a common sight along postwar roadside America.
The logo atop the sign is named "Simple Simon & Pieman."
HoJo's was in the restaurant business for many years before they branched into motels
more from old pictures ... and you get it!
Looking south on Oporto toward the
intersection with Montclair Road, 1966.
Of note are the vintage gas station icons ... the sign for COOPER'S BBQ ... and the private residence (and Jehovah's Witnesses hall behind it). Five years later, those would be bulldozed to make way for a McDonald's.
The original picture is far more detailed than as shown here. Click here to view some close-ups...
THE BIG RED TRIANGLE: Among the pictures in Alvin Hudson's collection are a couple of gems taken inside of the AMF Eastwood Bowling Lanes:
||THINGS GO BETTER
It's league night at Eastwood Lanes ... yes, those are Coca-Cola logos on their shirt backs. This picture is dated 1960.
Does it make YOU thirsty for a 6-1/2 oz. bottle of Coke, too? (Anyone old enough to remember 'em will agree: Coke tasted so much better in those little bottles!)
this is an AMF presentation of some sort. Lots of bowling balls,
bags and shoes can be seen here.
Red triangles are all over the place; this was an AMF facility right down to the floor tiles.
And check out those lights above the rental desk ... and the overhead screens, back in those pre-electronic scoring days, when leagues would score using transparent grids and grease pencils.
|Close-up of an AMF logo appearing
at the presentation above. "Bowling's Fashion Line" No
offense to the fine folks at (A)merican (M)achine & (F)oundry or the
equally fine people who enjoy knocking down up to 120 pins (I enjoy bowling,
too!) ... but I find it difficult to put the words "bowling" and "fashion"
in the same sentence.
Gotta love that plaid bag on the upper left.
The late '60s and early '70s ushered in an avalanche of stores, restaurants and other businesses around Eastwood Mall. Of special interest is the McDONALD'S which opened July 1971 at the corner of Montclair Road and Oporto, just behind the bowling alley. This very Mickey D's goes down in history as being the first of their restaurants TO HAVE A PLAYGROUND ON THE PREMISES! It was modeled after the "McDonald-Land" TV commercials which ran in the early '70s, complete with backlit arches over the little bridge leading into the playground......
the sandwich-board sign on the curb. This picture was taken during
the grand opening of the Eastwood McDonald's, July 1971. The marquee
read: "GRAND OPENING SAT & SUN. RONALD - SGT.
JACK & COUSIN CLIFF" "Sergeant Jack"
was the kiddie show hero of the '70s - his daily show was on WBMG channel
42. SJ was played by the late Neal Miller - who also made his name
in radio; Neal was one of the original "WSGN Good Guys" in the early '60s.
It's funny seeing the name SGT. JACK on that sign. He was named after JACK'S ... a chain no doubt feeling a thorn in its side from Mickey D's!!
||Can we hurry up with this stupid yo-yo photo-op, so we can eat and go play?? -- Four kids playin' with Duncans on the bridge connecting the restaurant and the playground.|
|"WHAT THE....!!! WHO LET JACK CADDELL'S KIDS IN HERE?!?!?!"|
||A "Kroc" of
fun! -- In the middle is The Man himself, Ray
Kroc. He was in town to attend the grand opening of
the Eastwood store. On the left is The Other Man, "Cousin
Cliff" (who by then was director of advertising for the Birmingham
area McDonald's restaurants).
We're not sure about the gentleman on the right; Tim Hollis assumes it's Ed Levin, the co-owner of the Birmingham McD's franchise.
Here are two interesting facts you may not know:
1) Co-owner MAX COOPER was a creator of the current day Ronald McDonald (as opposed to the original, cruder incarnation created by Willard Scott in the Washington, DC area).
2) Ed Levin CREATED the now-famous "two all-beef patties..." jingle popularized in the 1970s, forever etching the burger's ingredients onto our minds forevermore.
Imagine that ... those pop-culture favorites have a BIRMINGHAM connection!
I'M INTERESTED IN SEEING PICTURES OF THE EASTWOOD MALL AREA, ESPECIALLY ANY FROM THE 1970s AND 1980s. (copies or scans -- although I would never reject any offers of originals)
PLEASE E-MAIL IF YOU HAVE ANY TO CONTRIBUTE ..... and, of course, appropriate credit always will be given.
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Page constructed 11/11/2004
-- 949 PM EST