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Busch’s Drive-in Tacoma Washington 1951

This image of Busch’s Drive-in located at 3505 South Tacoma Way in Tacoma, Washington, was taken in June of 1951. It isn’t the first drive-in on the West Coast, as others had been built earlier in Los Angeles in the mid-1930s. What it lacked in history though was made up by its sleek modernist design, signage and stainless steel with neon accents.

Later 1950s photos show that more covered parking spaces with carhop services were located on at least of side of the restaurant. The structure has not survived and in its place today is a kitchen and bath store.

The trio of enlargeable photographs below courtesy of the Tacoma Public Library show detailed views of both the building and the vehicles. Tell us what you find of interest in the images.

34 responses to “Busch’s Drive-in Tacoma Washington 1951

  1. Looks like somebody was up from California, because there’s a dark background plate with a letter in its sequence. The only other Western states I know of using letters in 1951 were Utah and Arizona. It’s not Utah, because Utah had double letters in a vertical column and only three numbers. Arizona’s plate had a white background in 1950 and 1951.

  2. Is that a Dodge between the MG and Willys with a modern style plastic window convertible top? Looks nice whatever it is, a real improvement in rear vision.

  3. What a fantastic sight this must’ve been on a Saturday night! Too bad the photo isn’t color–I’d want a print to frame for my wall! Someone eating there has a new `51 Ford Crestline Victoria hardtop, and wants to show it off; I don’t blame them. The cvt. top on that cvt. sedan (`36 Ford?) looks to be aftermarket–the rear window doesn’t look original. Very nice nonetheless. Among the American iron, tucked in there is a post WWII MG roaster–VERY populr with the returning GI’s.

  4. The first thing that caught my eye wasn’t a car, but the trash! Wow. And then I noticed the old sedan (a Chrysler product but not sure which one) with great convertible top with 3-piece backlight. Reminds me of the early Ford and Chrysler hardtops. All in all, a great set of photos!

  5. The reader board seems to be telling customers to tune their radio to the end of the dial in order to pick up a short-range broadcast. That must have been pretty high tech for 1951.

    • “Dial your radio to 1010 for our own juke box music” 1010 is right in the middle of the (then) 540kc to 1600kc AM broadcast band.
      Not at all high tech, there was a series of books “The boy’s First (Second, Third) book of Radio” that had plans for a very low power transmitter, using IIRC a 6P7 triode-pentode. There were other plans available, as well as kits and at least one (probably many more than one) record player which would also transmit a very low power signal.
      Apparently as long at they had a range of no more than a block or so, and did not interfere with broadcasts from commercial stations the FCC wasn’t too concerned.
      I remember making several such devices for both AM and FM broadcast bands in the early 70s.

  6. The new 1951 Ford sedan has a plain rear bumper, lacking its overriders (bumperettes)… Where they not standard or could it be a delete option?

  7. As much as I love the movie “American Graffiti” ( I’ve only watched it about 25 times, give or take ), this photo depicts a more realistic portrayal of drive-in’s across the U.S. during the era……Love It !

  8. Was a great time for the neon sign maker. The Willys looks like a ’46 or newer 4-63 or 6-63, 2 wheel drive station wagon. Headlights on, but no driver.

    • Maybe they went to the rest room, I see a sign that says Please leave lights on for service. Do not sound horn. And I like the ghost images, a cool spooky look.

      • Hi Leiniedude, I remember the signs at drive-ins,,” Blink lights for service,,,try as we might, we can’t see who beeped the horn”.

  9. A shark-nosed Graham and a ’39 Plymouth convertible sedan with an up-to-date wrapped rear window and whitewalls, what a great image! The Streamlined Moderne architecture and neon lighting is out of this world, would love to see a color photo of it at night.

  10. The mismatched tires on the Willys wagon reminds me of how often you saw that. Tire failures were frequent, and tires were often bought individually rather than sets of four.

    • I do believe that the war instilled that into Americans with rubber rationing which carried on into the 50’s. Passing on tires to family, buying used ones, only replacing what was bad. Just last week, I gave my brother two good tires that matched his in size and close to the same tread pattern. Some habits are hard to break and maybe they shouldn’t be broken.

  11. What an amazing lineup and in Tacoma yet… It looks like something out of Las Vegas but in ’51 Vegas didn’t get much beyond Freemont Street , the ‘”Strip” as we know it didn’t exist yet. “Moderne”was just winding up and here we see these amazing cars … starting w/ the ’41 Chrysler, a ’42-8 Buick Special Sedan,, the little MG TD, the fabulous ’39 Plymouth Phaeton with its’ fantastic custom convertible top, the WIllys “Greenbrier” Jeep rounding the corner to the wild ’38-9 “Sharknosed “Graham Sedan… and then a ’50 Ford and next to it a ‘new for then ’51 Ford Victoria skip a bit and finally a ’42-8 Chevy Fleetline Aero Coupe. the whole “Tour de Force ” wrapped up w/ many neon bands accented with a big Buschs out and upfront – the whole “Wedding Cake” topped with a huge “neoned up” Buschs mast on top…bet you could see it for miles, climbing up into the sky. Just a real dreamscape; if only it were in rich vibrant Kodacolor. You could sell a million. Best of all it isn ‘t even there ( no copyright issues- no royalties),,, just wonderful! It would be “Huuuge”!!!

    • South Tacoma Way was the local name for U.S. Route 99, the main west coast highway that was later replaced by Interstate 5. So, there may have been some travelers dining that evening. The license plates are not clear enough to read but there is one dark plate in a sea of light ones.

  12. Fun “Fire- Bottle” talk about the small AM Transmitter to provide Music at the Drive-in, Bill D.! One “caution” was running the AM Car-radio too long, —- as their 6 – Volt “Vibrator Power Supply, – drew a significant amount of current, and when it came “time to go” it the car wouldn’t start. (this was before jumper cables were “popular”) Another caution was; IF the car did not have an: “Accesssory” position (Earlier 6 Volt cars) on its ignition key switch, then: There was a possibility if: It was wired: “Through the key” that : There was a chance of burning up the distributor’s points and the coil(!) — if the points “happened to be: closed, when the engine stopped ! (A “craps – shoot” on that one !) Edwin W.

  13. My hang out in the late 50’s, we cruise Buschs Drive-in and Hill Top Drive-in I think on 6th Ave off South Tacoma Way,
    Next to Buschs was a Sure-Fit Seat cover store. This all happen Friday & Saturday night . Those were the days ! Graduated Clover Park High School and off to the Navy .

  14. Tacoma was in fact, the Cruising Capital of the Pacific Northwest and BUSCHS was the largest Drive In north of San franciso. From 1951 to 1959 it was common to see 25 to 300 Hot Rodders at BUSCHS. Bill and Thelma Busch are no longer with us and their twin Sons, Dan and Ed are retired.

    There is going to be a 75th Anniversary BUSCHS Reunion Sunday, August 26th at Griots Garage located at 3333 South 38th Street in Tacoma. All special interest cars are invited. For further information, call 253.922.2200 or 253.328.7029.

  15. In these vintage photographs, the motion blur with the pedestrians is apparent due to the fact that the photos were taken at night. It must have been pain for the photographers to work with what they had at the time. Nevertheless, they sure did capture history with grace and keen craftsmanship.

  16. Bushe’s was my favorite hangout in 1958 through 1963… Sat. nights were “car shows” as all of the cool rides circled the large parking lot at about 2 miles per hour… Showing off their ‘iron’… Everyone was there…
    I’m 78 now but I have all the memories

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