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Dairy Queen

2620 Wilkinson Blvd.

1947


By Joseph Schuchman
 

The traffic on Wilkinson Boulevard is virtually non-stop. As travelers pass the 2600 block of Wilkinson, few realize that they are riding by a slice of cultural, and culinary Americana. Built in 1947, the Wilkinson Boulevard Dairy Queen is the oldest franchise of the ice cream chain in North Carolina and the third oldest in the southeast. With the end of the Second World War, Americans found themselves in the midst of the post war economic boom. This prosperity coupled with the nation's love affair with the automobile encouraged the local and national population to take to the road; Dairy Queen joined with a number of automobile-related facilities, including drive-in theaters, curb station restaurants and gas stations, to meet the needs of the local and long distance traveler.

The Wilkinson Boulevard Dairy Queen is a fine albeit late example of the Art Deco style; the building's curved elements are typical features of this popular decorative movement. In site planning, the emphasis is clearly on vehicular traffic. The isolated one-story structure is literally surrounded by a parking lot. The store was constructed in 1947 by franchise operator Preston Aaron; plans were obtained from Harry Catz, operator of a Dairy Queen franchise in Miami, Florida who had previously utilized the design for his own store.

The cement block building is covered and ornamented with a variety of materials including tile, aluminum and neon. Rounded front corners ornament the rectangular-shaped main block. Plate glass windows dominate the front and side elevations; each window is set within a metal frame. Openings are set between wood piers with molded edges. A plain wood frieze and molded cornice runs across each elevation. Tiled wainscoting encircles the base. Square blocks of blue and white tile are set in the space between the serving windows on the front elevation. Similar-sized white tile is set on the remainder of the front and along each side. The blue and white scheme is also present in the aluminum awning which carries the main block. A plain frieze and cornice, also of aluminum, appears to rise from awning and continues in a northerly direction to enclose the rectangular-shaped rear ell. Neon lighting highlights the main block frieze. The words "Dairy Queen" are set in red colored neon and centrally placed on the main elevation; paired horizontal blue bands visually carry the eye to the east and west sides, where the words "Milk Shake" and "Sundaes Sodas" respectively are also lit in red neon. A newly repainted original display sign rises from the flat roof; paired figures of an Eskimo holding an oversized ice cream cone attractively proclaims the business housed beneath.

The rectangular-shaped ell, originally weatherboarded, has been vinyl sided. Both side elevations are recessed from the main block. Openings are minimal and consist of randomly placed single door entrances on the east and rear (north) sides. A white aluminum awning shelters the rear entrance. The structure was clearly designed for maximum business efficiency. Customers remain forever outside, even in the most inclement weather and the employees forever inside. In the post-war age of America on the move, no dining or seating facilities are provided, save for a lone exterior wood bench. The main block houses ice cream production and freezer facilities; the original ceiling height has been lowered. The rear ell contains storage and restroom facilities.

A 1947 Dairy Queen might seem an unusual site to be considered for historic designation. Yet, Art Deco ice cream stands and diners, English Tudor gas stations, and the functional drive-in movie theater are an important slice of a fading American culture. A New York Times article, which identified these structures as a kind of museum, perhaps best explains the ethic behind the preservation of such cultural monuments.

 

"No one said White Castles are great architecture but they are a facet of American culture. Golden Arches aren't great sculpture either but they deserve a place in the museum. So does a HoJo's orange roof and a string of Burma Shave signs. Too bad it's too late for the man blowing smoke rings in Times Square." 1

But it is not too late for Dairy Queen, which remains both an architectural and gastronomic delight.

 


Notes

1 "Museum America". New York Times. Mar. 18, 1984, "Week in Review", p. 20.