History of the West Park

Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Ohio

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Bearden's Drive-In

4118 Rocky River Drive


by Gary Swilik

The drive-in diner is an American icon of the 1950’s and early 1960’s. With car-hops toting trays loaded with hamburgers, fries and malts out to crowded parking lots full of hungry customers dining in their cars, these were places not only to eat but to gather. The place to hook up with friends, to take your date after a movie, to show off your freshly polished jalopy, to “accidentally” run into that special boy or girl from school, or flirt with someone new in the next car. The place to see and be seen!


West Park had some great drive-in diners. There was Manner’s Big Boy, at Triskett and Berea Roads, and the legendary Diney’s on West 117th, but at Kamms Corners the place to go was Bearden’s Drive-In.

Bearden’s opened late in 1950 early 1951 at 4118 Rocky River Drive on the northwest corner of Sedalia Avenue. A classic drive-in, there was a center building with inside seating, surrounded by a parking lot equipped with a speaker system. A switchboard operator inside took the orders and sent a car-hop out with your food. Incidentally, as far as can be determined, the car-hops never wore roller-skates though they did look pretty snazzy in their uniforms and were, no doubt, yet another good reason for a young guy to visit Bearden’s.


Open until 2 or 3 in the morning on weekends, Bearden’s was the natural place to go after, say, a double-feature at the nearby Riverside Theater. The parking lot was a busy place, particularly in the summer. Joseph P. Orange, whose family pioneered the Bearden’s restaurant chain, says “to this day, we still hear stories of high school romances, first dates, and hot cars.”

The place was a social magnet for the young folks but the food attracted diners of all ages. Bearden’s steak burgers were made of the best top-round and made quite a meal, especially with a side of French fries or onion rings, and a tall chocolate malt. Yep, you got “malted milk,” not milk shakes, and most think they were a lot tastier than the generic “shakes” you get today.


Alan Toth, who grew up locally but now lives near Crestline, Ohio, recalls Bearden’s had “great food! It was a hang-out and cruising place to pick up chicks.  Not too many ate inside unless you were the older generation.  The specialty was a 'peanut-burger,' a steak burger with peanut butter on top.  They had good malts and French fries as well.”


“I have great memories of Bearden's on Rocky River,” says Barbara Burdorff, of Strongsville.  “I grew up on Westdale so that was our hangout. They had great burgers and onion rings and, yes, they did have car-hops. I remember that even when you ate inside the restaurant your burger was served wrapped in paper. Seems a little odd now! Often, we would just get fries and a coke. No money for burgers back then.”


Many will recall our local Bearden’s was one of four branches that used to make up the Bearden’s restaurant chain.


What later became the original Bearden’s began on Lake Road in 1934 as a restaurant called “Jackson Limited.” By 1948 it had become Bearden’s, a joint venture operated by Ross Bearden with the Orange brothers, Bill and James. (James Orange also founded the Orange Line Publishing Company which produced local directories for many years. And another brother, Paul, operated the Orange Hut on Lorain Avenue.) Following up on their initial success, Bearden’s expanded with three more restaurants. In addition to the one put up on Rocky River Drive in 1952, another branch was built on Pearl Road in Parma in 1954, and still another on Warren Road in Lakewood in 1956.


Ross Bearden died in 1959 but the name “Bearden’s” was retained as the well-established identity of the popular chain.


By the mid-60’s the Bearden’s on Rocky River was still doing a healthy business but modern technology brought an end to car-hops. “The demise of curb service coincided with the advent of central air conditioning,” explains Joe Orange. “Air conditioned dining rooms opened and curb service disappeared.”


Even so the local Bearden’s remained a popular local restaurant well past the car-hop era, making hungry customers happy for over 35 years. The Bearden’s on Rocky River Drive finally closed in about 1988. The building remained empty until December, 1992, when it was demolished. Today an empty lot marks the spot where so many memories were made, the perfect place for some far-seeing entrepreneur to establish a new business to serve the busy Kamms Corner area.


Bearden’s, however, is not gone! The original Bearden's restaurant, now operated by Joe Orange, son of James, is still thriving on Lake Road in Rocky River. You can get the same delicious Bearden’s steak burgers, including the famous “peanut butter burger,” and taste what a hamburger was all about before the national franchises began to mass produce them. In fact, the sole remaining Bearden’s has often been recognized as serving the best hamburger in Cleveland!


Bearden’s as it looked in 1955 a few years after it opened.

Today all that remains is a single light pole overlooking the empty lot.


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Updated 5 July 2014