Remembering Raleigh: Popular pastimes and icons from each decade
Posted January 23, 2020 6:00 a.m. EST
Updated January 23, 2020 10:23 a.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — My grandmother lived in Raleigh for 92 years. My mom lived here for 58 years. And I've lived here for 37 years. Three generations of Raleighites; three very different versions of Raleigh.
My grandma rode a horse and wagon down the roads by her house near Western Boulevard. She saw the Raleigh Capitals play minor league baseball games at Devereux Meadow and NASCAR at the Raleigh Speedway – both of which were long gone before I came around.
My parents told me stories of memorable nights at Darryl's on Hillsborough Street and about seeing old punk bands in The Village Subway.
Raleigh is changing quickly. In an effort to remember the iconic people and places from our collective past, I asked people to submit their memories of popular pastimes from each decade between the 1940s and 1990s. Let's take a quick glimpse at these iconic pastimes and keep their stories alive.
1940s: Devereux Meadow baseball stadium (opened circa: 1938)
The remains of Devereux Meadow's baseball stadium, which once stood near Peace and West streets, are barely visible beneath the overgrowth, but an old cobblestone wall, a piece of a walkway and some plumbing remain. The stadium opened in 1938, gaining popularity throughout the 1940s and 1950s as it drew baseball legends like Carl "Yaz" Yastrzemski, Harold Clem and Rich Mergler. Over 7,000 people could squeeze into the bleachers and watch the Raleigh Capitals, and later, the Raleigh Pirates, play championship games against teams like the Durham Bulls, Winston-Salem Cardinals, Fayetteville Highlanders and Burlington Bees.
"Me and my best girlfriend would go to every home game," Frances Beverly, 83, said. "We were about 11 or 12, and we walked from Glascock Street to Devereux Meadow. We had crushes on the ball players and would anxiously wait to get their autographs after the game!"
She added, "We were absolutely their biggest fans! What fond memories of our fleeting youth! My girlfriend, Mary Anna Trubnick, passed away in her 40s, and I miss her to this day. How I wish she was here with me to reminisce about those days!"
Local schools also used the field to practice. Gary Miller recalled playing football and baseball there while attending Hugh Morson Jr. High in the 1960s.
Joe Alexander, born and raised in Raleigh, remembers getting tickets from his dad's co-worker and watching games at the park. "Sometimes they would ask the kids to come out on the field, and they'd have us chase down a greased pig," he said. He said kids who caught the pig could win big prizes like TV sets or even a pony.
1950s: The Forest drive-in theater (opened 1949)
Built in 1949, The Forest Drive-in theater is fondly remembered by many Raleighites. Aside from playing movies, it also featured a merry-go-round and even occasional pig races.
Brenda Frison remembered bygone days at The Forest. She said, "Mom would make our popcorn and put it in bags. Usually, we weren't interested in the movies, so we all went and played. They always had the thing that you ran around, making it go faster and faster. Everyone would get very dizzy!"
Robin Casey recalled piling in the back of a truck with a bunch of other kids, taking blankets and pillows and laying in the space next to the truck to watch the movies.
Edith Sharlene Schaff said, "I remember Friday night Elvis movies being a staple. Mom would put me on a blanket on the hood of the car with popcorn and Pepsi split between two. It was definitely at The Forest Drive-In that I fell in love – for the first time ever – with Elvis!"
Plenty of people fell in love at The Forest Drive-In. Barbara Jean Creech recalled going on dates at The Forest at age 16 with the man she eventually married. "We would make out instead of watch the movie," she said.
1960s: Peanut Man (started in 1963)
In the 1960s the smell of peanuts and flocks of pigeons surrounded Capitol Square, where local icon Jesse Broyles first became known as the "Peanut Man."
Raleighites like Kris Workman remember being out on Fayetteville Street with their parents and looking forward to visiting Broyles each time they passed the Capitol.
Kids and kids-at-heart could purchase a bag of peanuts to eat or to feed the pigeons.
"When my son was a little boy and he would ask to go feed the pidgies," said Joyce Smith. "We loved watching the pigeons surround the Peanut Man. One of my best memories."
"That is a great memory," said Michael Rose. "I mean, how many towns had a peanut man with a pigeon show in the town square? Those pigeons trusted him and would land all over him."
Broyles is remembered as having a special connection with the pigeons that circled Capitol Square, even going so far as to give them names – like Speck.
Deborah Lynn Murphy recalled going downtown for the day to go to the dentist and shop at Belk, then feeding the pigeons on the Capitol grounds. She said, "The peanuts were fresh and warm. I always ate a few myself!"
Some Raleighites recalled playing games like putting peanuts between their toes to make the pigeons chase them; others recalled trying to catch pigeons.
1970s: Darryl's (opened 1970)
Ever since Darryl's opened on Hillsborough Street, with its whimsical circus room – complete with trapeze –and eclectic collection of artifacts, it became an iconic part of Raleigh culture. It opened during a unique era in Raleigh history, before the legal drinking age was raised to 21, which impacted the culture on Hillsborough Street and surrounding bars and clubs.
"Swinging on the trapeze bar would ensure your exit, but it was hard to resist after a few cold ones," said Mac Sealey.
"Fridays were nuts in the early 80s on Hillsborough Street," said Kim Andersen. "I used to go with sorority sisters to the bar at Darryl's on a lot of Friday nights for discount drinks after being at Crazy Zack's all Friday afternoon shagging and drinking 'buckets' of beer. Then after Darryl's, I'd meet work colleagues over at the Rathskeller before staggering home. I don't know where I got the energy to go out that much week in and week out."
Many Raleighites, like Phillip Lasater, who was over 18 during the time, recalled things like 40 cent drafts, thin crust pizza and a dark atmosphere.
Kids, however, remembered begging for plastic blue whale toys when their parents bought mixed cocktails.
Theresa Brittain recalled having her first date with her future husband at Darryl's. "It feels like yesterday," she said. "But since we've been married 26 years and have four kids, I guess it wasn't!"
She joked, "Mike wasn't there for me. He was there for Darryl's famous crackers and ranch dressing."
In fact, even decades later, many people still remembered the crackers nearly as often as they recalled it being a great spot for date-night.
"The crackers were phenomenal," said Jennifer Caviness Mustian. "Great place for dates!"
Tammy Williams said she worked there for more than five years while a student at N.C. State. She is still friends with her co-workers more than 20 years later.
1980s: Village Subway (opened in 1971)
The Village Subway holds a deeply special place in the hearts of many Raleighites who remember attending shows there in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the most popular music venues between D.C. and Atlanta, the Subway was responsible for bringing many nationally famous acts to the otherwise fairly small city of Raleigh. Some musicians, like R.E.M. and Bette Midler, performed in the Subway's music venues during their formative years, in some cases before they were even famous.
"I remember being in Raleigh for a weekend away with my husband and checking out entertainment," recalled Coble Staley. "Bette Miller was playing at the Frog and Nightgown. We were like, 'Never heard of her,' and passed on the opportunity. That has been over 40 years ago, and I am still mad with myself!"
The Subway also allowed local bands like Arrogance, The Fabulous Knobs, Th'Cigaretz, Glass Moon and many others the opportunity to play alongside punk and rock legends like Iggy Pop, Pat Benatar and The Ramones.
Treva Brackett said her band, The Graphic, opened for the BusBoys at The Pier. "It was one of the most attended shows there, we were told," she said. "We also opened for 999, with their oxygen tanks on the stage and all."
According to J. Daniels, when Iggy Pop came to the Subway, nothing was served in a glass that night. The crowds were likely too wild.
Steve Boyle, who documented much of the music from the Comboland Era in North Carolina, which included many of the bands who played in the Village Subway, said, "I came in early one afternoon to talk to Gayle, the owner of The Pier. The club was empty, and she was sitting at a lone table and having lunch with Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. Roger was to play the club that evening. Gayle introduced me to Roger and invited me to sit and have lunch with them."
He was amazed by his unexpected lunch with a Rock n' Roll Hall of Famer.
Debby Jean recalled working at The Pier, serving legends like Muddy Waters. She said, "The benefits were great. You got in free at all the clubs, 25 cent beer and food discounts!"
According to Jean, who runs a Facebook group for sharing memories of The Pier, patrons of the Village Subway were spoiled with great local and national acts. "You could go to the Subway every night and hear live music in three clubs," she said. "Nothing has ever compared to the Village Subway."
1990s: Battlezone (opened around 1995)
The 1990s brought the laser tag trend to Raleigh. According to the most recent owner, Ultrazone opened in the mid-90s, establishing itself as one of the largest arenas on the East Coast. With a massive map, several ramps, three bases, secret doors and a sentinel, it drew crowds of kids and high schoolers for around a decade.
In 2002 it changed ownership, and the name switched to Battlezone.
"The place was huge compared to other local options," said regular Zack Thomas. "Multiple levels and intense blacklights. There was a corner that was virtually invisible where kids would remove their vests and 'snipe' other players."
Battlezone offered 'lock-ins' that allowed players to spend the night, playing laser tag from midnight until 6 a.m. They also expanded their offerings to include a Dance Dance Revolution machine, which drew an entirely new crowd.
Michael Taylor recalled playing "so much DDR, Halo, Initial D and laser tag. It was a big hangout for high school youth on Friday nights."
"It was my favorite place to work and play!" said Bethany Gallagher, who was an employee back in Battlezone's heyday.
There was a special bond of friendship between the staff and regulars, known as "role-players." Several employees who worked there as teenagers met romantic partners who would eventually become their spouse.
The owner of Battlezone, Ryan Timmermans, said, "My favorite memory was playing laser tag with my employees during our staff meetings and watching them grow into amazing people."
"If I could do it all over again, I would," he said.
Which iconic pastime or hangout did we miss?
Of course many of these icons overlap multiple decades, and each of these decades had far more than one popular pastime. There is no way to encompass every culturally significant piece of Raleigh's past – at least, not alone.
Instead, let this article be a lens through which we take a moment to remember the Raleigh that was. If you have a memory worth sharing, let us know, so we can keep remembering Raleigh.