Drive-in dynasty

U.S. Highway 80, which runs through Oak Cliff as West Davis Street, was part of the old Bankhead Highway system that ran from coast to coast.

Automotive and travel-related businesses began springing up along the highway in the 1920s — car lots, motels, gas stations and mechanic garages.

The highway also was the site of America’s first drive-in restaurant.

The first Kirby’s Pig Stand opened in West Oak Cliff, at the Fort Worth Pike and Chalk Hill Road, in 1921. The little barbecue stand with carhop service was an immediate hit because drivers were “too lazy” to get out of their cars, according to news stories from the time. J.G Kirby opened the second Pig Stand on Zang at Colorado not long after the original opened. Pig Stand was so successful that by 1924, 30 years before Ray Kroc bought McDonald’s, there were nine other stands in Dallas. That year, the company sold 50,000 of its “pig sandwiches” at those 10 stores, according to Texas Monthly. The company also expanded to San Antonio, Houston and Beaumont, and it opened Pig Stands in six other states as well.

The pig sandwich was a Tennessee-style pulled pork sandwich with sour pickle relish, according to Texas Monthly.

Pig Stand copycats started springing up all over Dallas, and the company sued several of them for copyright infringement over the use of the “Pig Stand” and “pig sandwich” names.

Another wildly successful drive-in would make its appearance nearly 20 years after Pig Stand supposedly invented onion rings. And this one would introduce a whole new concept in selling fast food — overt sex appeal.

Sivils Drive In restaurant opened at the triangle where West Davis meets Fort Worth Avenue in 1940.

J.D. and Louise Sivils had opened their original restaurant in Houston, and they discovered that hiring “pretty girls” as carhops would draw more customers. Louise Sivils modeled the Sivils carhop outfits after drill team uniforms after seeing a football halftime show.

J.D. Sivils appears in Pat Korman’s 1976 documentary “Carhops” and says the following:

“The girls had to be real pretty, the prettiest girls we could find. And we had really the pick of the field because jobs were real hard to get then, and we could really pick out the girls we wanted. They weren’t too short or not too tall and not too fat.”

The restaurant was featured on the cover of Life magazine in February 1940, and after that, Louise Sivils received letters from all over the country. Young women everywhere clamored to work there.

The Sivils Drive-In girls earned $3 a day, plus tips of nickels and dimes. There were as many as 100 carhops working every day in the restaurant’s heyday.

Sivils, open 24 hours a day, served beer, burgers, fried chicken, trout sandwiches, steaks, barbecue, salads and sandwiches, plus a “complete fountain service,” according to a full-page newspaper ad from 1940.

Located near where Fort Worth Avenue meets West Davis, Sivils closed in 1967 as fast-food chains began to dominate and after the Dallas-Fort Worth Turnpike, later part of Interstate 30, began drawing traffic away. By then, Oak Cliff had been dry for 10 years.

Pig Stand had a longer life. J.G. Kirby died of pneumonia at 39, but his wife, Shirley, and business partner, Reuben Jackson, carried on, offering franchises and continuing expansion.

Business remained steady, and former carhop Royce Hailey bought Pig Stand, then a chain of 23 Texas restaurants, in 1961. The last remaining Pig Stand in Dallas, at Northwest Highway and Abrams, closed in 1985.

There were Pig Stand restaurants in San Antonio and Beaumont as late as 2006. The owner had filed bankruptcy the previous year with hopes of saving the last remaining Pig Stands. But expenses proved too high, and they shut out the lights.