Birney’s Drive-in is shown in 1947 in Port Angeles. (Greg Higgerson)

Birney’s Drive-in is shown in 1947 in Port Angeles. (Greg Higgerson)

BACK WHEN: Birney’s Drive-in fondly remembered in Port Angeles

THERE WERE QUITE a few comments on the May picture from the past.

The photo of Birney’s Drive-In on the corner of First and Eunice streets was taken in 1947.

According to historian June Robinson’s” Back When” column written in 2007, Birney’s was a drive-in with a small area with tables to sit at.

Birney Higgerson and his wife, Frieda, opened Birney’s on June 6, 1947, a few years after they had moved to Port Angeles from Bellingham.

Karen T. Robinson wrote that you could see the trees of Jessie Webster Park over the roof line.

She said that her parents were friends with the Higgersons so they ate there often.

Her family lived only two blocks from the drive-in.

In the mid-1950s, Robinson’s dad would take her to the drive-in for ice cream where they sat at the counter.

In the 1950s and early 1960s it was her family’s tradition to go to Birney’s after church for breakfast.

Robinson said, “That is where I acquired my taste for pancakes.”

Robinson started working for Birney’s when she was 16 at the request of Frieda Higgerson.

They were swamped and needed someone to clear tables.

She worked five summers for them.

She remembered Gilda Zink, who was one of the cooks.

Vera Conrad, another one of the cooks, was famous for her wonderful pies.

A complete dinner could go for $2.85.

The food was not gourmet, but family-style and most of it was prepared on site.

Robinson also remembered Virginia Peterson playing an organ on the weekends for dinner music in the dining room.

She commented on the seasonal fruit stand to the west of Birney’s operated by the Wares.

Her family owned the lot and rented it to the Wares.

Cantaloupes sold for three for $1.

That area is now part of Swain’s parking lot.

Sometime between 1956 and 1958, Birney’s was remodeled to expand the drive-up curb service and in about 1960, a large dining room was added to the west.

The curb service was moved to the east side of the building only and in 1965 curb service was discontinued when the dining room was expanded and a lounge was added where the curb service had been on the east side.

Birney died in 1969 and Frieda continued to run the restaurant.

Their son, Greg, helped her and when he completed college in the early 1970s the business was incorporated and he assumed general management of the operation.

The restaurant was listed in the 1975, Polk Directory as a full service restaurant.

It had a bar, the Chart Room, and was used as a meeting place for several of the town’s service clubs.

Frieda left the restaurant for Greg to run in 1979 and went on to open a photo processing lab.

She sold that business in 1983 and went back to part-time as the face of Birney’s until it was closed in 1996 after 50 years of service when Greg was seriously injured in a car accident.

The building has been demolished and the area is now part of Swain’s parking lot.

Allen Brennan wrote that he recognized Birney’s Drive-In from some time in the late 1940s and early ’50s.

Ross Krumpe also knew it was Birney’s.

Paul Lotzgesell responded to the column but guessed it was Fairmount Restaurant.

Several people guessed the photo to be Fairmount.

Mike Jacobsen wrote that the restaurant was a “big spot in the ’50s and ’60s for the car-cruising crowd.”

He said that the Higgersons were neighbors on west Eighth and Ninth streets.

Jacobsen remembered picking blackberries from some of the logged-off areas and selling them to the restaurant to make pies.

He said, “The movie, ‘American Graffiti,’ captures the essence of the era.”

‘Lots of memories’

“Lots of memories from the time.

“As youngsters we would (well, three of us) show up at the Higgerson’s house on a Saturday morning (I’m guessing, 7 a.m., or, thereabouts) and stare at the TV which only showed the test pattern, a static image that never changed.

“On reflection, it seems like an hour or so before some cartoon program finally appeared on screen.

“I suspect there are others in PA that did the same thing.”

Cindy Schlaffman remembered Birney’s was where she had her first pepperoni pizza.

Ted Bedford said, “Photo looks like Birney’s Drive-In with the trees of Jessie Webster Park in the background.

“Looking at the old cars in the photo, it must have been taken before my memories of this place in the middle 1950s and early 1960s.

“I lived just down the alley from the restaurant on Second Street.

“Actually, my house was located where Swain’s warehouse is standing today.

“Birney’s was the place for the young folks to ‘hang-out,’ either cruising around [or] dining at curb service outside or inside.

“My brothers and good friend Chuck who lived just behind the facility would spend hours inside taking up a booth, drinking chocolate cokes and playing the juke box. Fond memories.”

My personal memories of Birney’s are in the late 1950s when my girlfriend and I walked down First Street to the Lincoln Theater and then stopped at Birney’s on the way back.

One time, we tried as many of the ice cream sodas as we could handle.

In those early years, Birney’s had a full fountain with flavors from tutti frutti to bubble gum along with Green River soda and dusty road sundaes.

The banana splits were huge and a big seller.

I also remember the brunches and lunches in the dining room.

During the mid-’70s Birney’s teamed with Peoples Department store and offered monthly fashion shows emceed by Helen Fox.

Vicky Morrow wrote, “I have fond memories with my dad at that restaurant.

“He was janitor at Monroe Elementary from the time I was in kindergarten through sixth grade.

“Every morning at 4 a.m. he and I would head to Birney’s and have breakfast with all his old friends.”

‘Best of times’

“That was the best of times with Daddy.”

Connie Wakefield wrote that she had her wedding reception at Birney’s 45 years ago.

Throughout the years, Birney’s became a landmark in the community and common place for meetings of groups small and large and many will remember the big coffee table where locals would come to pass time, spin yarns, discuss fishing and even hook up for jobs in the area.

In a recent visit with Greg Higgerson, he said, “It was Birney’s wish in the beginning that Birney’s always be a place where everyone could come, have a meal and feel welcome and comfortable, and that philosophy was kept in place to the last day of operation.”

________

Alice Alexander is a Clallam County historian, author, and a descendent of an Elwha Valley pioneer family. She is a recipient of a 2014 Clallam County Heritage Awards. She can be reached at [email protected].

Alice’s Clallam history column appears the first Sunday of every month, alternating with Linnea Patrick’s Jefferson County history column on the third Sunday of the month.

June picture from the past
                                Here is another famous eating place. Can you tell where it is? Do you know who the gentleman is? Send your comments to bretches1942@gmail.com or to Alice Alexander, 204 W. Fourth St., Apt. 14, Port Angeles, WA 98362 and she will use them in her column July 1. Comments need to be in by June 20.

June picture from the past Here is another famous eating place. Can you tell where it is? Do you know who the gentleman is? Send your comments to [email protected] or to Alice Alexander, 204 W. Fourth St., Apt. 14, Port Angeles, WA 98362 and she will use them in her column July 1. Comments need to be in by June 20.

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