Bar-B-Q King: Adapted From A Report by Ms. Lara Ramsey
The Bar-B-Q King is located at 2900
Wilkinson Boulevard in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Beginning at the northwestward corner
of Wilkinson Boulevard and Weyland Avenue, westward 171.4 feet along the
northern side of Wilkinson Boulevard, northward 128.25 feet, eastward 75
feet, northward 32.2 feet, eastward 96.4 feet, southward 160.45, to the
point of beginning. See Exhibit A.
The boundary encompasses all of
the property historically associated with the Bar-B-Q King.
Statement of Significance
The Bar-B-Q King, erected in 1961, is
a structure that possesses local historic significance under National
Register Criterion A as a reflection of the growing influence of the
automobile in Charlotte’s booming post-World War II economy. America
emerged from World War II as a world leader, politically and economically.
The new-found affluence of those on the home front and those returning
from the war, along with the increasing numbers of new suburbs built to
house these veterans, created a great demand for cars, which had not been
manufactured during the war. By the 1950’s, America had become a society
centered around the automobile. Charlotte was no exception – its
diversified economy adapted well to post-war economic trends, and the
state’s Good Roads program (begun decades earlier) laid the groundwork
for a more extensive system of roads needed to support growing numbers of
In response to Charlotte’s
increasing dependence on the automobile, many businesses began catering to
the needs of motorists. The Bar-B-Q King is an excellent example of one
type of business that emerged to accommodate the flourishing car culture
– the drive-in restaurant. Located along Wilkinson Boulevard, a heavily
traveled main corridor between Charlotte and nearby Gastonia, the Bar-B-Q
King provided good food and fast service to customers waiting in their
cars. The Bar-B-Q-King, like other drive-in restaurants, also became a
popular meeting place for teenagers, to whom automobiles provided a means
of independence and status.
The Bar-B-Q King is also locally
significant under National Register Criterion C as representative of the
end of what could be considered the "first generation" of
roadside architecture. America’s obsession with automobiles not only
influenced the way businesses worked, it also changed the way they
designed their buildings. The design of drive-in restaurants, as well as
other roadside buildings, revolved around two goals: attracting motorists
moving quickly along the highway; and serving these customers as quickly
and efficiently as possible. Bar-B-Q King, like most smaller drive-ins,
combined flashy neon signs with efficient, functional building designs to
accomplish these goals. Although drive-in restaurants like the Bar-B-Q
King shared with later fast-food chains (like McDonalds) the desire to
draw motorists and serve them quickly, most drive-in’s sought to enhance
the pleasure of automobile travel by providing a place where people
could enjoy a meal and the company of
friends, all from the comfort of their automobiles. The architecture of
Bar-B-Q King (and other drive-in’s of the late 50’s and early 60’s)
reflects the fading image of the road as a place for adventure and
individuality that contrasts sharply with the interstates and expressways
that have the same drive-through restaurants at every exit.
Commerce and Social History Context
and Historical Background Statement
The Bar-B-Q King, erected in 1961, is
an excellent example of the ways in which businesses adapted to the
growing dependence on automobiles in post-war Charlotte. America
experienced a surge of economic growth in the years after World War II,
and the newfound affluence of its citizens translated into unprecedented
levels of home and automobile ownership. Through the aid of FHA and VA
loans, which "accounted for ‘nearly a quarter of the new housing
units during the period of 1946 through 1967’ constructed in the United
States," many Americans were able to afford a home in the suburbs.
This move away from the centers of towns and cities, along with low gas
prices and the appeal of mobility, caused the demand for new automobiles
to skyrocket – the number of cars registered in the United States grew
from 23 million in 1931 to 60 million in 1955.
Charlotte was in a particularly good
position to take advantage of the post-war boom. Its diversified economy,
"resting on the three legs of manufacturing,
wholesaling/transportation, and banking," gave the city "an
adaptability that smoothed economic bumps" and allowed it to enter
the "information age" after World War II. North Carolina’s
Good Roads Program, which had its beginnings in Mecklenburg County in
1879, allowed Charlotte to develop as a distribution and trucking center
and provided a network of paved roads for the growing numbers of
automobile owners. One of these roads was Wilkinson Boulevard. Built in
1926, the highway became the first four-lane road in North Carolina,
carrying motorists between Charlotte and Gastonia. Although overshadowed
by the opening of Independence Boulevard in 1949, Wilkinson Boulevard
still carried the second heaviest traffic in the state. The highway became
an active commercial corridor, attracting businesses hoping to capitalize
on the numbers of motorists traveling the boulevard. The Bar-B-Q King
joined the ranks of these roadside businesses during the hey-day of the
American drive-in restaurant. Owned by Omega Foods, Inc (partners Charlie
Psomadakis and Jack Law), the restaurant served hamburgers, some seafood,
desserts, and, of course,
barbecue. Like most drive-in’s, the Bar-B-Q King employed carhops.
Originally, these carhops took orders from customers and served their
food. To avoid confusion as to which carhop served which customer, the
hops used an "open-call" system. A hop would claim a car coming
in through the Weyland Avenue entrance by calling out "swing
left"; to claim a car from the Wilkinson entrance, he or she would
say "swing right". Similarly, a carhop could claim the car by
calling out its model ("swing Chevy" or "swing
Buick"). The first to call the car would serve it. The Bar-B-Q King
installed a speaker system in 1965 to increase the speed of service. These
systems consisted of a speaker "similar to the kinds used in drive-in
theaters" mounted to an extendable serving tray and permanent menus.
Customers could now push a button on the speaker and give their order when
they were ready. This innovation cut the number of carhops at the Bar-B-Q
King in half.
Even with this new improvement, the
Bar-B-Q King still had trouble keeping up with the crowds that came on the
weekends. Pete Gianniks, who began working at the restaurant soon after it
opened, recalled that the majority of weekend customers were teenagers.
This was typical of most drive-ins in the 1950’s and 1960’s – teens
were looking for a place where they could be free of the constraints of
their parents, where they could socialize with peers and gain a measure of
independence. The drive-in restaurant made for an ideal hangout for these
youngsters; all they needed was "the ownership of a car or the
ability to borrow one." For the teen, the drive-in restaurant became
a home away from home." Most of the teenagers would congregate under
the canopy in the back of the Bar-B-Q King’s parking lot. Although the
restaurant hired a patrolman to monitor their behavior (another officer
directed traffic), the teens were often rowdy, often getting out of their
cars to talk to friends and blaring music from their car radios; sometimes
scuffles would break out "over a girl or the ball game"
Despite the occasional problems with
unruly teenagers and, more importantly, the rise of drive-through and
walk-up restaurants like McDonalds and the proliferation of new
expressways and interstates highways, the Bar-B-Q King continued to serve
customers traveling Wilkinson Boulevard. On June 12, 1972, Pete Gianniks
bought the restaurant from Jack Law; in 1979, he and his brother Stravos
Giannikas bought the property. Mr. Gianniks continues to run the
restaurant, and says that, by expanding the menu and providing take-out
service, the business is still strong. The Bar-B-Q King remains a tangible
reminder of the ways that the automobile changed Charlotte’s commercial
and social fabric.
Architecture Context and
Historical Background Statement
The Bar-B-Q King is an excellent
example of what is generally called "roadside architecture".
Although this term can apply to any building sitting on or near a roadway,
there are differences between the roadside architecture of the 1950’s
and ‘60’s and the roadside buildings of today. Andrei Codrescu,
filmmaker and author, states that these differences are a reflection of
"two different generations of roads." The first, spanning from
the 1920’s to the mid-1960’s, "was a giddy and adventurous
enterprise that legitimized the new freedom of the car." With the
construction of expressways and multi-lane interstate highways in the
mid-1960’s and the 1970’s, highway travel became more monotonous, and
roadside architecture soon followed – instead of individual restaurants,
the same fast-food franchises appeared at every exit, promising continuity
and stability in the place of adventure and novelty.
The characteristics of Wilkinson
Boulevard place it somewhere in between these first roads and the newer
expressways. Although built early in the 20th century,
Wilkinson Boulevard was not a winding back road; the first four-lane
highway in the state of North Carolina, it still carried the
second-heaviest traffic load of any road in the state as of 1959. Because
of this large number of motorists, roadside businesses proliferated along
this corridor – the sheer number of businesses along the boulevard
actually kept it from being widened considerably as part of Charlotte’s
thoroughfare program in the early 1960’s. The Bar-B-Q King’s design
reflects Wilkinson’s standing as a relatively large highway that was
still a long way from becoming a superhighway. In this way the restaurant’s
design also represents well the period in which it was built – a period
of heavily traveled boulevards like Wilkinson and Independence but before
the advent of I-85 and I-77.
The Bar-B-Q King’s design revolves
around the two goals of the business – to attract the attention of the
motorist, and to serve the customer as quickly and efficiently as
possible. The first goal is accomplished through colorful, eye-catching
signage. A blinking red neon arrow carrying the name of the restaurant
curves around to point down to the building, while a billboard just
underneath lists some of the day’s specials. In order to attract
motorists traveling on both sides of the street, the sign is double-sided
and situated perpendicular to Wilkinson Boulevard. The building that
houses the kitchen, in contrast to the elaborate sign, is a simple and
unadorned structure that reflects the restaurant’s second goal of
providing fast service. Because the customer had little need to come into
the building, there was no need to add any frills to its design. The plain
yellow brick façade, plate glass
windows and flat roof give the building a very functional, modern
appearance. The metal canopies are also functional in their design –
built to provide protection from the elements for customers and car hops,
they are little more than simple metal sheds, with only a simple line of
red neon adorning the edge of the roofline. This combination of functional
building design and eye-catching signage is evident in several other
post-war roadside businesses in Charlotte, an excellent example of which
is the Dairy Queen (1947) on Wilkinson Boulevard.
The type of roadside architecture
represented by the Bar-B-Q King is reflective of the changing
characteristics of automobile travel in Charlotte in the early 1960’s.
Although increasing numbers of lanes and faster speeds caused businesses
to streamline their efforts at grabbing the motorist’s attention,
drive-ins were still primarily a destination point rather than just a
quick pit stop. Motorists, while being served as quickly as possible, were
allowed to linger under the shade of the canopies, and teenagers packed
into the parking spaces every weekend to socialize. These drive-in’s
would soon be replaced with drive-thru restaurants, which would sacrifice
individuality in the quest for higher production, just as the interstate
highway would give up the "narrative quality" of the smaller
road for speed.
The Bar-B-Q King is located on a
.570-acre lot in the northwestern corner of the intersection of Wilkinson
Boulevard and Weyland Avenue, west of Charlotte’s central business
district. Situated along this main corridor connecting Charlotte to
Gastonia, the site was ideal for a restaurant catering to the many
motorists driving between the two cities. The one story, rectangular,
yellow brick building housing the kitchen and takeout area is located on
the southwestern corner of the property, facing east toward Weyland
Avenue. The rest of the property is paved with asphalt for use as a
parking area. Two aluminum canopies run from the western to the eastern
side of the site, covering the parking spaces. The red neon sign on the
southern edge of the property is perpendicular to Wilkinson Boulevard and
designed to attract drivers traveling on both sides of the highway.
The Bar-B-Q King, designed by Angelo
Forlidas, exhibits characteristics typical of post-war roadside
architecture. The structures on the site are designed to be primarily
functional and are devoid of any kind of superfluous ornamentation. The
building that houses the kitchen and take-out counter has yellow brick
walls laid in common bond; plate glass windows trimmed in white run along
the entire east elevation (facing Weyland Avenue) and parts of the south
and north elevations. Two entrances are located on the east elevation –
one with a red metal door, the other with a glass door. Another entrance
is located on the on the north elevation. The two metal canopies are
connected to the building, one extending from the east elevation, the
other connected by a metal shed extending from the north elevation. These
canopies are painted white, and the roofline of the canopies and the
building are painted red and accented with red neon lights. Underneath the
canopies and between the parking spaces are metal speaker systems, with
two extendable trays and speakers attached to each side of the permanent
menu. The only source of ornamentation on the site is the large sign
designed to attract motorists on Wilkinson Boulevard. The red neon sign is
double-sided and consists of a curving arrow inset with a red rectangle
containing the words "Bar-B-Q King" and, below it, "curb
service." Below the arrow, on the pole holding the sign, is a small rectangular
The Bar-B-Q King retains its historic
exterior character, and has continued in its original use as a drive-in
restaurant since its construction. Some minor changes have been made –
incandescent globe fixtures have replaced the fluorescent lighting
originally used under the canopies. In the mid-1990’s, a tornado
destroyed the neon sign and part of the canopy that extends from the
eastern elevation; the canopy was repaired with the identical materials,
and a nearly identical, slightly smaller sign replaced the one damaged by
the storm. Even with these alterations, the Bar-B-Q King retains its
exterior integrity as an excellent example of post-war roadside
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