Home' The River Weekly News : RWN 091115 Contents Historic Downtown Fort Myers, Then And Now:
by Gerri Reaves, PhD
Drive-in restaurants reached their peak of popularity in
the mid-20th century, and from the late 1940s and into
the 1960s, they contributed to the vibrancy of down-
town Fort Myers.
For young people, drive-ins celebrated the automobile and
the independence that came with a driver’s license. For teens
and 20-somethings, cruising the drive-ins was a social activity,
a way to see and be seen.
For others, the restaurants were convenient places to grab
lunch or take the whole family out in the car.
The Snack Drive-Inn on Heitman Street, pictured in the
undated photo, was one such hangout.
It opened around 1947 and was located just north of Main and across the street
from City Hall and the police department, which stood in what was then City Park.
It stayed in business until the mid-1960s at that location. The small restaurant
had a few outdoor seats, and carhops served the large parking lot.
Gary Bash remembers the Snack Drive-Inn well. In his memory, it’s similar to
the drive-in in the movie American Grafitti.
It had good standard drive-in food, he says. Judging by the sign posted over
the outdoor seating, the menu was classic drive-in fare – everything from chicken,
steaks and seafood to barbecue, hamburgers and home-made pies.
The Schlitz sign over the juke box (left) perhaps explains the phrase “your favor-
ite beverages” in ads from the 1950s.
According to Bash, the Snack used to be a hangout for hot-rodders and drag-
racers. Between 1957 and 1963, he says, there was a National Hot Rod Associa-
tion (NHRA)-sanctioned drag strip in Buckingham.
That strip attracted such celebrities such as racer Don “Swamp Daddy” Garletts.
When Bash came home from service in the U.S. Navy in 1964, hot-rodders and
drag-racers still went out to the drag-strip, even though it was closed by then. They
were “well-behaved,” he says, so law-enforcement never gave them any trouble.
He raced a 1959 Corvette at the strip, although it couldn’t compete with the
fastest cars in the group, the newly introduced Pontiac GTOs, he says.
There would be 40 to 60 attending on a race night, w ith fans coming from
Naples, Punta Gorda and other out-of-town locations.
After racing, all the cars would head for the Snack Drive-In in a “cavalcade.”
Today, the lively drive-ins have disappeared from downtown to be replaced with
another kind of outdoor socializing -- sidewalk and rooftop dining, not to mention
the many special events that take over the streets.
Today, the Lee County Public Works Building occupies the spot where Snack
Drive-In fans conducted their social lives on the move.
Walk to Heitman Street and imagine a convoy of race cars cruising through.
Then, learn more about the era of drive-ins in Fort Myers at the Southwest
Florida Museum of History at 2031Jackson Street.
Call 321-7430 for information, or go to museumofhistory.org. Hours are 10
a.m . to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
If you love local history, you’ll love the Southwest Florida Historical Society’s
research center at 10091 McGregor Boulevard on the campus of the Lee County
Alliance for the Arts.
The all-volunteer non-profit organization is open Wednesday and Saturday
between 9 a.m . and noon and Wednesday 4 to 7 p.m . Call 939-4044 or visit swfl-
historicalsociety.org for more information.
Sources: The Archives of the Southwest Florida Historical Society.
THE RIVER - SEPTEMBER 11, 2015
The River Weekly News will correct factual errors or matters of emphasis and interpretation that appear in news stories.
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and Ken Rasi
Gerri Reaves, Ph D
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Marion Hauser, MS, RD
Ross Hauser, MD
Capt. Matt Mitchell
Cynthia A. Williams
The Snack Drive-Inn was in business for about 20 years on Heitman Street. The people in this
undated photo are unidentified.
courtesy Southwest Florida Historical Society
Today, the Lee County Community Development and Public Works Center and parking lot
are located where young people once cruised through or stopped for a burger or shake.
The Federal Courthouse at Monroe Street is in the background (right).
photo by Gerri Reaves
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