Drive-Ins have long been debated in Petaluma

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It was 1959 when A.J. Hansen opened the city’s first A&W Root Beer Drive-In franchise at the corner of Wilson and Washington streets. It was a big deal at the time, only a limited number of franchises were available in the state, and the Hansen family had to agree to relocate from Stockton to secure the Petaluma location. The parent company insisted that owners also be residents of the town.

Less than a year later, the family sold the business to Philip Joerger, who held onto it for another year before selling to the O’Brien brothers, Dan and Jim.

In 1969, the brothers lobbied the city to change its existing drive-in policy to make room for their new location at the corner of Washington and Edith, a block away from the original site. They hoped to capitalize on the newfound popularity of “cruising” by offering a proper drive-in location with room for plenty of cars. Much like drive-thrus of today, it was a hotly debated proposal.

“The (planning) commission action on allowing drive-ins in neighborhood commercial zones came despite a staff recommendation that such businesses be disallowed in such zones,” a 1969 Argus-Courier article reported. “Andy Anderson, assistant city planning director, in delivering the staff reporter, said drive-ins would be ‘completely undesirable’ in many neighborhood commercial zones because of traffic, noise and general congestion. The reporter added that if drive-ins were allowed in such zones, they ‘should be harmonious’ with their surroundings and would ‘not be appropriate’ unless specific restrictions were defined in advance of allowing operation of such businesses.”

Ultimately, the city signed off on the plan and the A&W relocated from 501 E. Washington to 600 E. Washington, where Plaza Tequila sits today. The restaurant would later move one more block, opening at 701 E. Washington, where it sits today.

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