Thursday, July 30, 2009

Chenault's Drive-In - THE Whitehaven Hangout

Posted By on Thu, Jul 30, 2009 at 3:36 PM

9b5e/1248986610-chenaultsdrive-inpc.jpg Mention Whitehaven High School to most people, and within a few minutes anybody who attended that school will bring up fond memories of Chenault's, an extraordinarily popular drive-in on South Bellevue, just down the street from the school.

The Lauderdale Library contains a pair of postcards, showing this establishment from the inside and the outside. I can't tell you, exactly, when the place opened, because I just don't remember. And it's confusing because there were actually two different Chenault's, an old one and a new one. Most people seem to remember the new one (shown here).

I know this because I turned up a 1955 Press-Scimitar clipping announcing that Reginald “Rex” Chenault was planning to build a brand-new restaurant at 1400 South Bellevue, to replace his older and smaller establishment right next door. Calling it “an interesting modern building,” the newspaper observed that the new Chenault’s Drive-In “would include a public dining room of exposed brick and wood paneling, a private dining room, a tap room, and an upper level to be rented for private parties.”

As you can see from the postcard, the interior was indeed pretty snazzy, with gleaming white countertops and tables, and rows of bright pink booths and seats. In the back, the massive kitchen included “an enormous barbecue pit of unique design worked out by Mr. Chenault and the architects.”

The outside (below) was rather bizarre, if you ask me, an architectural style I might describe as "Roadside Eclectic" with a pitched roof over the two-story portion, rows of boomerang-shaped columns holding up the breezeway outside the main dining room, and boy oh boy one of the greatest neon signs in Memphis.

I don't know when it closed. According to the old city directories, Chenault's was still dishing out hamburgers and milkshakes as late as the early 1980s. The unusual building is still standing today. Drive down South Bellevue and you can't miss it.

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