Saturday, July 06, 2013

A Drive-In Once Across from Union Station? It's True!

Matchbook Cover from the Red Circle Food Shop

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that an Art Deco styled drive in once sat right across from Union Station.  Who would have though that land values and urban density would allow that to exist?  Well, construction began on the Red Circle Food Shop on February 25, 1937 - it was located on the northwest corner of Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol Street, NW.  The unique round design provided both counter service inside, and curbside service for automobiles on a large rear parking lot.  It was designed by architect E. Burton Corning and built at a total cost of $24,450.   

Photographs and plans appeared in the March 1938 edition of Building News, seen here.  Its unique design of duel service meant that one kitchen was located on the ground floor, and a smaller one in a basement.  "The circular plan, says the architect, is the result of an attempt to 'get something different from the ordinary run of drive-in restaurants and at the same time keep the cost comparable" (Building News).  The angular size of the lot also played an important role in the circular design, and in fact, the building located there today follows this same curvature - the National Guard memorial Building (built 1990). 

The plan allowed for a small serving area, and a cashier that was able to handle transactions from both interior counter patrons, and those seated in their car.  Waiters entered one side, pick up their orders, pass
the cashier, and exit ont he other wide in a continual loop.  The exterior was clad in enameled red panels, lending a visual to the name Red Circle Food Shop.  A neon sign sat on top the roof, whose soffit concealed spot lights illuminating the chrome and enamel walls.  It was noted that the entire structure had year-round air conditioning.

It certainly is more interestigng than the bland food court now located on the lower level of Union Station, and would have been a fun place to catch a meal, waiting for a delayed train.    

Table service was handled from the swinging door at the right; windows were covered with flesh colored mirrors.
Dining room looking toward the cashier booth and entrance doorway. 
         Copyright Paul K. Williams

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