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Joe Smiley opened the Parkette Drive-In Diner in November 1951 along what would become an important bypass route around Lexington. The architecture of the Parkette is minimal, originally consisting of an open kitchen and indoor dining area (now separate), an awning long enough to cover dozens of cars, and a wedge-shaped vertical sign large enough to catch the attention of speeding motorists. The Parkette’s signature item is a double-decker hamburger called the “Poor Boy”; the Parkette’s Famous Fried Chicken (originally called Kentucky Fried Chicken) is a close second.
A continuous aluminum fascia wrapped around the curved facade of the diner proper, the brick walls of which were originally punctuated by plate glass windows and glass brick. The original U-shaped diner was subsumed into an elongated T-shaped building at an unknown date. The interior of the diner has been restored to mid-century commercial luxury with aluminum column stools at the counter and matching red vinyl booth banquettes. A second, single height awning or canopy of the extended carport service area was added next to the original zigzag one.
The original Parkette sign was a vertical rectangular pylon astride the building with capital letters spelling “PARKETTE” in neon while a boomerang arrow pointed to the diner below. This sign was replaced in 1957 by a massive brick-faced pylon rising thirty feet from the ground and supporting a signboard that is half wedge and half woggle. Topping the wedge almost like a hood ornament, a lithesome car-hop stands in a cut-out niche. Outlined in red, green, and yellow neon, she bends forward, attaching a tray to an imaginary car door. At her rear, four coupes light up red on a yellow ground; at her feet, a strip of syncopated arrows point down to the diner itself. Against the red background of the wedge, the word “Parkette” appears in stylized neon script with “DRIVE IN” spelled out in capital letters below. Against the green backdrop of the woggle are select menu items, also in neon.
The Parkette closed in 2007 but was purchased by brothers Jeff and Randy Kaplan, who undertook a sympathetic restoration before reopening the drive-in in 2009. Today, the Parkette celebrates Googie design and American car culture while continuing to lure hungry diners off the highway.
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