Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Krispy Kreme - Hot and Now (and then too!)

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts opened its doors on Mercury Blvd. in 1964, 27 years after the opening of the first Krispy Kreme in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  The store was designed to produce on premises all the doughnuts for the local grocery stores as well as the general public.  My research did not give me much history on this particular store sadly, but I do know that the building has gone through a number of remodels over the years, including replacement of the original sign and taking out the bar style counter that filled the interior of the store and replacing it with conventional seating.  On a recent visit, I picked up an assortment of doughnuts for my family.  As luck would have it the "Hot and Now" sign was on and I got to enjoy the sweet smell of doughnuts as I entered.  The store was clean, the service prompt, including fresh glazed doughnuts straight off the machine in the back.   I really enjoyed my visit and plan to return soon.  You can't go wrong with Krispy Kreme.

Krispy Kreme Doughuts
3400 W. Mercury Blvd.
Hampton, VA 23666

Sunday-Thursday 5:30am-10:30pm
Friday-Saturday 5:30am-11:30pm


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Midnight for the Oasis... Hampton landmark set to close

December 24, 2011 will mark the end of an era.  After nearly 60 years in business, Hampton's Oasis Restaurant plans to close its doors for the final time.  The owner, Nick Sorokos, told me that it was due to the economic recession.  He has been trying to sell the business, but recent attempts have fallen through.  Though there are still people expressing interest in buying the Oasis, no deal is currently in the works.  Located at 3506 Kecoughtan Rd, the restaurant opened it's doors on April 1st, 1952 and was this blogger's great-grandmother's favorite restaurant.  The food is traditional, but tastes delicious.  During my visit today, I had a hamburger steak, mashed potatoes, peas and an iced tea for about $11.  My mouth waters now thinking about the meal.  Everything I've ever eaten there has been delicious and it is a tragedy that this staple of Hampton cuisine may be lost forever.  It is my hope that the Oasis can find a way to survive and prosper once again.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Jack's Family Restaurant - Hit the Road to Jack's and you'll come back for more, for more, for more, for more...

Jack's Family Restaurant opened in 1965 on the corner of Pembroke Ave. and Woodland Rd. in Hampton.  It is still owned and operated by Jack Linkous, the original owner, who still comes to work everyday after 46 years.  I went there recently with my two of my family members, Dan and Jonathan, and we had a great meal.  Jack's does a customer right with huge portions, fantastic service, and it has a nice older atmosphere inside.  I got a sirloin steak, mashed potatoes, cabbage, and homemade pudding for less than $10.  We all left pleased with our meal and definitely would go back again.  The only thing I dislike about Jack's is the distinct smell of cigarettes when you come in the door.  I highly recommend Jack's if you are looking for great food at a great price, but not if you are bothered by a little smoke.


Jack's Family Restaurant
1405 E. Pembroke Ave.
Hampton, VA 23509
(757) 723-9660
Sunday through Saturday 7 AM - 8 PM

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel-- Mid-Century promise turns into 21st century traffic jam...

To fully understand the history of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel (HRBT), one has to understand how people traveled from Norfolk to the peninsula (and vice-versa) prior to its construction.

At some point in the 19th century till 1959, a ferry service took people from the end of Hampton Blvd. in Norfolk (near the Navel Base) to what is now a small boat harbor near the Monitor Merrimack Memorial Bridge-Tunnel in Downtown Newport News.  There was also a secondary service that carried less passengers that ran between Willoughby Spit to Hampton (where the HRBT is now).   You can see a couple of vintage postcards on the ferry here.  The ferry ride took half an hour each way, and by the end of the ferry's run cost $1.25 per vehicle, plus an additional $.20 for each passenger.  While this worked, there had to be a faster way. 

That faster way came with the signing of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which created the Interstate Highway System.  While a lot of people worked to create this bill, most of the credit historically goes to then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower.  In 1919, Eisenhower was a participant in the first Transcontinental Motor Convoy.  The poor condition of the country's roads became apparent at that point in time and made a big impression on young Eisenhower.  While improvements were made because of the motor convoys, there was more room for growth.  Fast forward to World War II, then-General Eisenhower, found that the idea of Germany's autobahn, an interstate like system of roads, was an effective way of traveling quick and easily through the country.  He is quoted as saying, "The old convoy had started me thinking about good, two-lane highways, but Germany had made me see the wisdom of broader ribbons across the land." The signing of this bill was the beginning of I-64 and the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel.

The HRBT was one of the first sections of the Interstate Highway System to be completed.  It opened on November 1, 1957.  The original section (now the westbound tube), like the ferry, had a $1.25 toll until June 3, 1976 when the eastbound tube opened and the toll was discontinued.  It shortened the commute from Norfolk to Hampton by as much as 25 minutes, and was a miracle of the modern age to those who had to use it on a regular basis.

The problem is that the traffic has exploded over the years.  From 5,500 vehicles a day in 1957 to over 100,000 vehicles a day in the 2011 tourist season.  This has led to congestion, and unless you are traveling at 3AM, a seemingly permanent traffic jam.  While there are plans in the works for a new span, connecting the HRBT to I-664's Monitor-Merrimack Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, we are currently at a stand still.  It is this bloggers hope that we can come to some solution that helps this congestion soon and gives the travelers of the HRBT the promise of a better tomorrow.

Roads to the Future

Friday, December 9, 2011

Pop's Drive In... HOT DOG!

Pop's Drive-In in Yorktown has been standing on the corner of Denbigh Blvd. and George Washington Memorial Highway since the 1950s (even Pop's isn't sure the exact year).  The business has gone through several owners, but is currently owned and operated by Joe and Ruth Allen who bought the restaurant in 1978.  The building is modest and a little small, but the diner style food is quite a treat. On my recent visit, I got the meal pictured below: a large tea, hot dog, and onion rings for $5.77.  I found the quality of the food to be good and enjoyed the atmosphere of the dining area.  I have been told that they have a breakfast "that is out of this world," by a good friend, but this blogger hasn't had a chance to try it himself yet.  The only drawback to Pop's is that they are a cash only business, so check your wallet before you come.

Pop's Drive-In
6555 George Washington Memorial Highway
Grafton, VA 23692
(757) 898-6870
Monday-Saturday 5am-8pm (Breakfast 5am-11am)
Closed Sundays

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Modernlux... A Mid Mod Amazing Store

As you could guess if you read my "about me" section of the site, I like Mid-Century Modern... No, I love Mid-Century Modern. I love the clean lines and simple forms. While it is making a comeback, there aren't many stores that specialize in the middle of the century in this area. Lucky for me we have Modernlux.

Modernlux opened on Queen's Way in Downtown Hampton in 2009. It is small store tucked down an alley, but very well done inside. Gary McIntyre, owner and operator of Modernlux came to Hampton to help a friend open a new restaurant in 2007.  It was then that he fell in love with the city. "I like the potential & integrity of the community," McIntyre says, "All it needs is a breath of fresh air." Gary has talked often about his love for mid-century modern growing up in Virginia Beach and he has a great eye for the style. Modernlux isn't a traditional antique store. It's Facebook page states that it's "Hamptons most unique shop. Specializing in Mid-Century artifacts, Outsider Art & Vintage fashions." It's the type of store that really doesn't have a definition. While the vintage vibe is there, the art and one of a kind objects make Modernlux a unique stoping destination. It has great atmosphere, reasonable prices and is a true treasure in Hampton. I highly recommend a visit.

47 Queen's Way
Hampton, VA 23669
(757) 434-2215
Monday & Tuesday: Closed
Wednesday-Saturday: Noon-5 PM
Sunday: Noon- 4 PM
Email: shopmodernlux@yahoo.com

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Smitty's Better Burger-- Let's go to the hop!

Smitty's Better Burger has been a Hampton landmark since it's opening on March 6, 1956 by Paul and Ethel Smith.  It is one of the two remaining independent drive-in restaurants in the 757.  For those of you who are a little new to the "retro" world, a drive-in restaurant is the predecessor to the fast food drive-thru.  They were very popular during the 1950's/1960's, but began to disappear in the 1970's, thanks to the aforementioned drive-thru.

In a drive-in, you park and the carhop (waitress) comes out to your car and takes your order.  Here is where you have a decision to make: "dine-in" or to "take out."  If you "dine-in," then the car hop leaves a little slip of paper under your windshield wiper telling all the other carhops that this car has been served.  Then after a short period of time they bring out your food out on a little red tray that hangs on your window.  Then you pay her (don't forget the tip) and eat in your car. When you are done, then turn on your headlights to get the carhops attention.  She comes to get your trash and that piece of paper she left.  Then you go on your merry way. 

If you "take out," the waitress will bring out your order in a paper bag, you pay (with tip) and the waitress takes the paper off the windshield.  Then you can either eat there in your car, on the picnic tables on the property, or take to wherever you'd like.

While I've tried several things on their menu and everything is amazing, I personally recommend the "Lunch Special."  As of December 4, 2011, it costs a $5.57 with tax for a "Better Burger" (about a 1/4 pound burger) with all the fixings, fries, and a medium soda (or a large tea).  I'll take one of these over a fast food chain burger any day.  Be sure to ask your carhop what they comes standard on the burger.  My only critique is that the burger doesn't come standard with ketchup, you have to ask for it (or put it on yourself) using the bottle that comes on the tray (or the little ketchup packets that come in your to go order).  However, that minor inconvenience is well worth a trip to Smitty's.  I've personally been going there all my life, so trust me, it's that good.  Be sure to check out their website for their entire menu.

Smitty's Better Burger
1313 N. King St.
Hampton, Va 23669
(757) 723-0611 (You can call ahead for take out orders!)
Monday-Saturday 11AM-9PM
Sunday 11AM-6PM

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Coliseum Mall- a Postmortum for the Postmodern Masterpiece of the Peninsula

The Coliseum Mall was the first mall built on the Peninsula.  It was located right by the corner of Mercury Blvd. and I-64 in Hampton.  Though the 1970s and into the 1980s, it was "THE" place to shop in the city. 

The mall was built on an empty lot that had been farm land though the early 1970s.  While looking for information on the mall's history, I found the following account of David Avery....

"The mall opened in 1973 with two anchors: Korvettes and Nachman's, which was a Peninsula-based local department store. In 1976 the mall opened a new addition, which brought JCPenney, Thalhimers, and Smith and Welton, a Norfolk-based department store.

A few years later, Nachman's merged with Rice's of Norfolk to become Rices Nachmans. The company was then sold to the Van Heusen Company. Around the same time Korvettes closed for good and the location was vacant for several years.
In 1985, Hess's Department Stores of Allentown, Pennsylvania purchased Rices Nachmans from Van Heusen. This would bring the names on the building to three, for the company was known in the area for a limited time as Hess's Rices Nachmans.
Located just down Mercury Boulevard from the mall was Montgomery Ward, in its original Hampton location at Mercury Plaza, complete with an auto outlot. The company wanted to increase the number of mall stores it had, and the former Korvettes location at Coliseum was just the ticket. Wards remodeled the store and opened at Coliseum while maintaining the Auto Center down the street at Mercury Plaza.
A short time later, Smith and Welton began having financial trouble. They closed the Coliseum store and it became a Children's Palace afterward.
By 1988, the Montgomery Ward store had undergone another renovation; Hess's still had the vintage 1973 interior of Nachmans; and Thalhimers was suffering under the bad management of its parent company, Carter Hawley Hale stores. The store had not been remodeled at the time (or now, for that matter) since its 1976 opening. Thalhimers was sold to May Company in 1990; the next year, that division was consolidated with Hecht's, May's Arlington, Virginia, division. JCPenney, at least, attempted to stay with the times.
A few years later, Hess's was in clear trouble from the massive expansion resulting in part from the company's purchase by the Crown American Corporation, which was placing a Hess's in every mall they were building. While other stores in the chain were sold to May Company and to The Bon Ton, the Hampton Roads and Peninsula area stores were sold to Proffitt's. In turn, Proffitt's realized that this was not a salable move, and sold the stores to Dillard's.
By the time Dillard's entered the mall, Children's Palace was gone and the company decided to take that store as well as the original Rices Nachmans-Hess's-Proffitt's. As Proffitt's had realized before, the move to Coliseum was not profitable, and the stores were closed as well as the Dillard acquisition at Pembroke Mall in Virginia Beach.
The Montgomery Ward closed when the company went bankrupt. This left Coliseum with one traditional department store, Hecht's, that was markedly different from the area's other stores. JCPenney was there as well, but could hardly be considered a fashion department store.

Anyone knows when a Burlington Coat Factory comes to an enclosed mall, it is almost the death knell. 
What went wrong? It's hard to say, although the mere layout of Coliseum's parking lot made it almost unreachable in traffic. I distinctly remember an ambulance trying to reach a heart attack victim in the mall in December 1988, and not being able to reach the mall due to the traffic. The changing demographics of the area certainly haven't helped. But perhaps the biggest hurdle as of late is the perpetual construction of the intersection where the mall is located: West Mercury Boulevard at Interstate 64. This intersection was already a bottleneck, and the expansion which was to improve it has only hindered it. Additionally, there are safer malls to get to with cleaner stores within a reasonable, easier driving distance."

In my opinion, the mall became very dirty and broken down.  The faucets in the bathrooms began to fall apart, there was graffiti in places, and it just didn't feel safe.  I believe this led to the loss of customers to the newer/nicer Patrick Henry Mall in Newport News and MacArthur Center in Norfolk.  The buyout of Hecht's in 2006 by Macy's did little to help matters.  In 2007, the mall (with the exception of Macy's) closed and torn down.  In 2009, the new Peninsula Town Center was opened after two years construction on the former mall site.  While the new Town Center is a wonderful addition to the city, I personally miss the postmodern style of the old Coliseum Mall.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Welcome to Retro Hampton Roads

I'm very excited to be starting this blog about the wonderful world of mid-century Hampton Roads.  Be sure to check back often for new stories and see my about me on the right side of the page.  Happy Reading!