There was a time in America, when the drive-in theater was your average family’s Friday night outing. It was a great deal. Watch two features, take the entire neighborhood along, bring your own snacks – it is the type of thing those of us born in the 60s and 70s remember as our childhoods.
Growing up on the far east side of Indianapolis, I had what some might call and idyllic childhood. Looking back on those happy days, I realize just how very blessed and lucky I was to have wonderful parents, a happy home and to be surrounded by icons of the area. At the time, it was just my daily life and while I was happy, I didn’t realize how special some things were.
One of those things had to do with an old drive-in theater, no longer functioning, called Al Green’s. Al still made these ginormous tenderloin sandwiches and the biggest hamburgers you’ve ever seen. My parents would sometimes take me down there, we’d chat with Al, who was also a neighbor, and get a sandwich to take home.
Who Was Al Green?
Al Green was a veteran of World War II. It was when he returned home from the war that he was determined to bring his dream to life and open a drive-in theater.
He and his sister Belle both worked there. The service was unbelievably slow. You always had a long wait even for a simple sandwich, but the wait was worth it. I have never seen another sandwich of this size and I’ve eaten in nearly every state in this union.
Al Green was definitely the glue that held the place together. If you ask anyone who grew up on the east side of Indy in the 50s, 60s or 70s, they could tell you exactly who Al Green was.
Why Al Green’s Was So Unique
Al Green’s was an icon of the 50s for many people on the east side of Indy. It was a look back toward a simpler time in history. As a young child in the 70s, I can still pictured the faded green sign that sat right on Washington Street (US 40) and read “Al Green’s Famous Food.”
The best way I can describe the place is like a sonic, with more glass and a 50s looking awning. You could tell when it was new that the place had been glorious, because even in disrepair it had a sort of interesting look to it that seemed to say anything fun might happen in the next few minutes.
Then, farther back in the lot was where the outdoor screen had been located. I can’t remember exactly when the screen came down, but there was a point when it did, already damaged beyond repair by that point, but still sad as it had just always been there and been a part of the east side’s landscape.
The entrance to Al Green’s was off Shortridge road and if you drove just a short jog down, Al Green’s house was on the right side of the road and the entrance to our little lane very close to that on the opposite side of the road. My dad had lived with his Grandmother during high school to attend a better school and grew up in the area. He knew everyone and Al Green was someone everyone knew.
Some would tell you they just felt comfortable going there. While searching for photos or YouTube videos to enhance this post, I came across an article on AlGreensDriveIn.com that explains the scale of the restaurant and why teens felt comfortable there. It makes for a pretty interesting read, but I actually think it was the warmth of the people running Al Green’s rather than the building itself that drew us all in.
Today, Al Green’s is a car lot located across the street from other businesses. Driving past there, you wouldn’t notice anything special. Yet, for me, when I drive past that location, I can still picture the run down old drive-in and the friendly man who worked there. I prefer to just close my eyes and imagine the sign is still there and I can walk inside and order a sandwich from Al Green himself.
Photo Credit: Image is a still shot from the video at Al Green’s Drive-In website.