BLUE TOP DRIVE-IN ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Copyright 2012
Back in 1936, Indianapolis Blvd.
was not much more than a single
lane highway which stretched
all the way to Miami Florida. The
drivers of those Model T's drove
through the farmlands and
prairies of Highland, Indiana.
They stopped at the Shell gas
station just South of the intersection
of Indianapolis Boulavard and Ridge road ( Now US 41 and Rt 6 ) to fill up their tanks and check the oil. The Owner of the filling station was William Louis Johnsen an immigrant from Copenhagen Denmark. He operated the station and was a maintenence man at the Gary National Bank. William ran the station with the help of his wife Julia and 2 sons. Bernard and Edward. In 1936 Bernard and Edward were 16 and 17 years old and were given the responsibilities of an adult. Times were tough and every one had to work from sunrise to 9 pm every day. Looking to cash in on the tourist trade "as mentioned the road went all the way to Florida" and vacationing travelers went right by the station or visited Wicker Memorial Park to Golf just a block away. It was decided to put up a small food stand to serve the motorists. William decided to take a vacation and leave the boys in charge.of the filling station He asked them "To fix up the stand", "keep busy."
In 1936 Highland was starting to grow and one of the businesses was a Lumber Company owned by Mr.George Fishtorn. He often saw the boys as he came buy to fill up his lumber trucks with gasoline. He gave the boys an idea of expanding their little stand to a larger building to the size of a garage. Bernard thought it a good idea but had no money. George had an idea "How about We trade lumber, materials and workers for gas for my trucks," Bernard agreed and in a few weeks the building was built. You can imagine the look on his Fathers face when he came back 8 weeks later and saw a finished 500 sq. ft. building. The building cost about $500. The shingled roof was Blue and so they named it "The Blue Top." Bernard worked the restaurant and Gas Station with his Brother. They went to school at Hammond High. The boys left school for a year as their father was injured in a car crash. They went back and graduated in 1940 afterword they enlisted in the Navy. Ben becoming the chief food inspector and a cook on the Island of Guam. When Ben returned He Married Wendy in 1946, they had 3 Children . As the children grew older they also worked at the Blue Top.
By Kent Johnsen
WILLIAM - JULIA - AND SON BERNARD - late 1930's
Wendy & Big Ben Johnsen
Children from Left
Bernie - Kent - Sharon 1965
Wendy & Ben
From the 50's, to the early 80's Drive-IN's were the "In Thing" not just Drive-In
Restaurants but also Drive-In Movies.Teens were discovering that Drive-In's were a good place to meet members of the opposite sex and a place to take a date. People spent alot of time driving and site seeing across America, this was made possible by the building of America's Freeway system in the late 50's. Ben expected that Indianapolis Boulavard - US 41- was going to get more traffic. He decided to purchase the land 100 feet South and build a brand new Drive-In restaurant. The new Blue Top opened November 11, 1963. Much of the land just South along US 41 was still farm land. Until the early 80's riders on horse back would cut across the fields and eat lunch.
The New Blue Top Sign was constructed of ceramic coated steel and has 100's of feet of Neon tubing. It is 28 feet high and 16 feet wide
As the Blue Top was being built folks around town thought it was going to be a church because of the unusual roof. In 1966 only a few restaurants were in the area, business was booming, often the Blue Top was open till 3 AM and opened at 7 AM. The local police would get angry because traffic was backed up to the next light from people trying to get a parking spot. Ben would "time" the customers and make them order every 30 minutes. Another 75 feet of land was bought to expand the parking.
Far Left Bernie Johnsen, Sister Sharon
Wendy Johnsen- Carhops - Far Right Bernard Johnsen- 1956 or 57
Until the NEW Blue Top Drive-in was built. The Drive-In was closed during the winter months.
Since Blue Top was near Wicker Memorial Park some famous people came to eat. The Boxer Joe Louis was one, also the Chicago Bears going to Summer training in Southern Indiana used to visit. Another "Celeb" was Katherine Hepburn on her way to Florida. In the late 60's Drag racers on their way to US 30 Dragstrip would park and grab a bite before the races.
Starting in the 50's teens started to build "Muscle cars" The past time of "Hot rodding" became popular. The best place to show off their " rides" was a Drive-In restaurant. They would race at US 30 Dragstrip " now only a memory." Teens would drive to the "Top" and to another Drive-In North in Hammond Indiana, They called it "Cruising" hence Blue Top was Called "The Home of the Cruiser" "The Cruiser" is also the name of our most popular 1/3 lb+ Cheeseburger.
The Blue Top has remained the same since 1963
Below right is the
inside and it hasn't changed. to the right is a Carhop providing curb service 1965
Business in the 90's to the present has been challenging, in the late 90's the highway was widened that added 3 lanes of traffic and eliminating 14 parking spots. Ben Johnsen passed away in December of 93'. He left the restaurant in the care of his wife Wendy and son Kent. Corporate Franchises continued to move into the area with their "cookie cutter" restaurants. Many of those "fast food operations" were like toy stores, piggy backing the newest craze or movie and some did not survive.
Since 1936 - Blue Top kept true to their standards and still offered the best value in town. Surviving the changing economy, unique in many ways and one of the last independently owned true "Drive-In" restaurants left in America.
In the late 70's & 80's a Media blitz was on the way. It looked like "Cruising" was making a come back. Blue Top was featured in many "Car Magazines" WTTW did a special on their "Wild Chicago" Program. WBBM TV did a news special. PBS stations were taking an interest too. Local papers were doing full color stories. An advertising agency from Chicago was renting out the restaurant to film commercials. A small film company rented the property for a short film. However, sadly the regional economy began to slip in part from the reduction of industrial jobs. In the late 90's the local economy was hurt do to choking road projects. Energy prices began to rise once more.
This Video shows 75 Years
of Blue Top Drive IN
History in Highland Indina.
Includes a Interview with Ben
and Wendy Johnsen. It starts off
with Ben running track at Hammond
High School in 1936 to 39'. This
is when the Blue Top was built but probably
wasn't named till 38' Many previous
employees are shown and old cars.
The music is royalty free
The Video is about 20 min long.