A&W Drive-In Memories
by Michael R Dougherty
Anchorage's first A&W
Do you remember Anchorage's first A&W Drive-In?
Take a look at the pictures above. Click on the small pictures to see a larger version of each one.
Back in 1951, my dad, Ray Dougherty, cleared some land off Mountain View Drive, not far from Merrill Field. The area he cleared became a significant place in Anchorage history.
In 1951, Leon and Lois Brown and Burt Johnson built Anchorage's first A&W Drive-In.
As you can see by the picture above, it featured two drive-in windows where you could order your choice of burgers, a barbecue sandwich, fries and that delicious A&W Root Beer.
But there was something else at the A&W Drive-In that became an Anchorage legend.
Their names were Timbo and Princess, and they were lions. What were lions doing in Anchorage, Alaska? Well, visitors to the A&W Drive-In could order their tasty treats, then park their car in front of the viewing trailer that housed the big cats. You could just sit there and marvel at these remarkable wonders of nature as you nibbled on your french fries.
Mary of Anchorage Memories recounts her A&W Drive-In memories -
“We all bolted for the classroom door. Lunchtime had finally come. I was a sophomore at East Anchorage High School in 1968. My older brother Norman, who was a senior, was waiting for me in the school parking lot in a 1968 Camaro.
Our lunchtime destination was A&W Drive-In where we always ordered the same thing. A bold tasting barbecue sandwich, warm french fries and a cold, smooth tasting A&W Root Beer.
A&W was always a family favorite for lunch or dinner. Our family would meet with friends at the drive-in where we would hop from car-to-car, listen to music on the radio, and watch the lions as we ate.
Later, my future husband Mike and I would go to A&W on dates. After we were married and had our children, Nikki and Chris, we would take them to A&W for lunch. They especially loved the Root Beer and watching the lions.”
As you have just read, like many who either have or still call Anchorage home, the first A&W Drive-In restaurant in Anchorage, holds countless fond memories.
Leon Brown and his partner Burt Johnson also built B&J Surplus, which was next door to the drive-in.
Then in the late 1950s, Brown and Johnson decided to split up. And with the toss of a coin, Burt Johnson took B&J Surplus and Leon Brown took the A&W Drive-In.
!n 1959, Leon Brown started a salvage business that became Brown's Electric.
After many years of being a part of the A&W Drive-In experience, the two lions, Timbo and Princes, passed away. They were then mounted and put on display in Brown's Electric. Later, they were put on display at the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature. As of this writing, the lions are no longer on display.
Yes, way back in the early 1950s, when my dad was clearing the land just off of Mountain View Drive, he had no idea that he was preparing the site for a business that would become a fondly remembered piece of Anchorage history.
What are your A&W Drive-In memories?
By the way, Leon Brown's brother, George Brown, owned another Anchorage icon, the one and only Lucky Wishbone.