The Car Culture of University Avenue

The auto-oriented history of University Avenue in St. Paul is a storied tale, filled with vintage cars, drive-ins, and drag races.  The friends, food, and fanfare that characterized the avenue through the 1970s epitomized a unique era that is regarded by many as a great time in St. Paul’s history.  Starting with the invention and commercialization of the automobile, University Avenue became the hub for car dealerships, custom shops for modifying cars, and scores of other related businesses.

Save-the-PigAs the street rod culture of the 1950s flourished, so did the drive-ins that supplied these young car enthusiasts, their dates, and other spectators with food, drink, and a place to hang out. One of these popular drive-ins was Porky’s, which opened on University Avenue in 1953 and operated until 1978, when it closed for a time before reopening in 1989. Porky’s closed for good in 2011, and the building was sold and relocated, signifying the end of an era.

The narrative linked below illustrates the history of University Avenue and its automobile-oriented development, including drive-ins such as Porky’s. This project, which was made possible by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on November 4, 2008 and administered by the Minnesota Historical Society, was undertaken by PAM to document this history and the legacy of Porky’s. A new housing development on the Porky’s site, Terrace at Iris Park, includes an exterior mural that incorporates the stories and images gathered through this project, preserving in pictographic form the unique car culture of University Avenue.

University Avenue’s Car Culture: the enduring legacy of Porky’s drive-in restaurant