The Parkmoor was founded by William L. McGinley in 1931. In the early 1920s, McGinley invented an aluminum tray that attach to car doors. The viability of McKinley’s TraCo tray was dependent on the viability of the fledgling curb service business. So McKinley and his wife Ellen, with a few belongings and a trunk full of dreams, set out from their Texas home and traveled the country by car, determined to sell his trays and the idea of drive-in restaurants.
McGinley was a charming and successful salesperson, and enthusiasm for his TraCo trays began to build. His cross-country trek eventually led him to St. Louis. While drive-in restaurants and curb service were embraced in many states, Missouri had yet to catch on. When the restaurants of St. Louis resisted curb service, McGinley decided to open a curb service restaurant of his own.
McGinley’s drive-in concept proved to be an instant hit. The original Parkmoor on Clayton Road at Big Bend, with its distinctive Tudor-style architecture, opened on July 15, 1931, and Clayton police had to be summoned to direct the carloads of customers who turned out. Carhops in bright orange jackets and white hats weaved in and out, serving 16-cent sandwiches and 5-cent Cokes on McGinley’s aluminum trays.
Parkmoor’s business took off, as McGinley opened drive-ins throughout the metropolitan area. A second location was opened on North Kingshighway at Cote Brilliante in 1932, across the street from McBride High School. It had a larger lot that stretched a full city block. The parking ran from Warwick to Cote Brilliante, and was the largest of the Parkmoor lots — or any St. Louis drive-in.
A third Parkmoor was opened in 1932 on South Kingshighway at Chippewa. While this location was smaller than the other Parkmoors, its profits were anything but small.
Employees from the first three Parkmoors gathered in 1934 for a group photo to celebrate the company’s third anniversary. Many Parkmoor employees were from small towns in Missouri and Illinois. When they’d go home for holiday visits, they often brought back friends and family to work at the Parkmoor. This worked out well, with the restaurants seldom needing to advertise for help.
n 1936 a Parkmoor was opened on DeBaliviere between Waterman and Pershing. It was built in a former nightclub (The Car Lane). There was a party room upstairs which could be rented for $10, if $10 in food was purchased.
The Parkmoor on South Kingshighway drew the teenage crowd from Southwest High School, while the one on DeBaliviere attracted the kids from Soldan High. The North Kingshighway Parkmoor got the boys from McBride together with the girls from Rosati-Kain.
The Parkmoor in Clayton was considered far out since the Forest Park streetcar only went as far as St. Mary’s Hospital. It attracted a wealthy clientele from Clayton and University City. The greatest portion of the business came from students at Washington University.
As Parkmoors popped up around town, food logistics became a problem. There was a need for quantity while still maintaining quality. McGinley solved this in 1938 with a commissary — a two-story building to the right of The Parkmoor in Clayton, preparing food for all of the restaurants from a central location.
Parkmoor menu favorites included the double-decker King Burger, the spicy barbecue Chickburger, crispy fried chicken, Louie’s Chili, barbecue pig sandwiches and the Premium Frank, a hotdog on a toasted bun, topped with melted cheese, mustard, relish and bacon. French fries and golden onion rings were popular sides, and the Concrete All-Cream Ice Cream Shake and root beer float were favorite drinks. A favorite dessert was angel food cake topped with vanilla ice cream and mounds of J. Hungerford Smith hot fudge.
In 1950, McGinley opened a Parkmoor on Chippewa, near Watson. It was a small restaurant, offering only counter seating. A high-tech first, speakers were located besides the cars for customers to place their orders.
The Parkmoor at Lindbergh and Manchester opened in 1956; it was the last Parkmoor location. It was large and very busy, with 80 drive-in ordering speakers, an indoor dining room for more than 100, counter service and take-out service.
By the late 1960s, the heyday of restaurant drive-in was over. The Parkmoor on South Kingshighway had closed in 1956. The North Kingshighway location closed in 1967, the DeBaliviere and Chippewa locations in 1969, and the Lindbergh and Manchester location in 1970. In 1969, curb service was eliminated altogether when the Tudor-style brick building at Clayton and Big Bend was razed to build a glass-and-stone Parkmoor that seated 165 people.
The new Parkmoor opened in the summer of 1969. It was designed as a California style coffee shop, with the color orange dominating the décor and a classic diner counter with swivel stools the standout fixture. Other notable design touches included Polynesian-style handles on the doors and yards of imitation wood-grain tabletops.
William McGinley moved back to Dallas in 1945 with his wife and 10 year old daughter Lou Ellen to tend to his TraCo tray business. With strategic trips to St. Louis, McGinley successfully managed The Parkmoor from his Texas home.
In 1977, McGinley suffered a crippling stroke. He died on January 30, 1980 at the age of 81 in a Dallas nursing home.
Lou Ellen took over the business from her ailing father in 1977. Juggling duties as a mother of two and wrangler of a large cattle ranch, she traveled from Texas to St. Louis once a month for 23 years to help operate the Parkmoor.
As time went on, the Parkmoor found it difficult to compete with the big chains. The restaurant continued to draw crowds, especially for breakfast on weekends, but only broke even. On Sunday, October 31, 1999 the Parkmoor closed its doors for the final time.
In 2004, the Parkmoor building was demolished to make way for a new Walgreen’s. Spirtas Wrecking Company began tearing down the landmark restaurant at 8 am on March 31. By the next afternoon, it was rubble.
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