What Made Orange Great: Casablanca had Rick’s, Orange had Zack’s
By Mike Louviere
Casablanca had Rick’s Cafe as the place to be. My hometown, Orange, Texas had Zack’s. Zack’s was a drive in on MacArthur Drive, the main way into Orange from the west. MacArthur Drive turned into Green Avenue going through downtown Orange. Green Avenue ended at Simmons Drive where you turned left on to Simmons to go to the highway, Interstate 10, to Louisiana across the Sabine River. All this becomes important to the story later so feel free to take notes.
Zack’s was owned by Zack Jacobs and was his second location. His first was a walk-up hamburger stand in town. Zack wanted something his competitors did not have so he made a bigger hamburger patty, worked out the baking of a bigger bun with a local bakery, and named his creation the “Whop-A-Burger. Over the years he added items, the most famous of those was the Pickle Coke, a mix of Coca-Cola and dill pickle juice.
Zack’s on MacArthur was THE place for teens to go in the 1960’s. It was located on the corner of Donnell Street on its’ east side and MacArthur on the north. On each side of the building was head in covered parking with the drive completely around the building. You could circle the parked cars. In front of the building was enough room for two rows of cars to park facing the building. It was the place to go on the weekends and during the week if you could get the car and get out.
I suppose that every teenager in Orange in those days went to Zack’s. Some went often, some only occasionally. The teens from the smaller towns surrounding Orange came into town and went to Zack’s. There were even some from Port Arthur, the larger town to the west that came to Zack’s.
The routine was basically the same for everyone so I will use myself as an example. I had a steady girlfriend in high school. I would drive to her house for our date and then we would go to Zack’s to see who else was there. She went to school in Orange, I went to school in West Orange, so we always knew someone from either school or both schools when we made the circle. If it was a night when we went to a movie at the Strand theater in Orange, I would pick her up early enough to at least circle Zack’s or if we had time, drink a Coke.
After the movie we would go back to Zack’s and see who was to be seen and drink a Coke. When we had been there a while we would drive out of Zack’s and head east into town. We would go through Orange, turn onto Simmons Drive and go to the U-turn at Elmer’s Drive In. Elmer’s would only get a glance; we never went there.
We would retrace our route through town and go past Zack’s heading west. There was a traffic circle at the end of MacArthur where three routes merged. A loop around the circle would put us back on MacArthur heading east again.
Drake’s Drive in was on this end of the route. We would drive around Drake’s. It was similar to Zack’s, just not as big and only one row of cars on each side. If we saw anyone there, we wanted to visit with we may stay a while, if not it was back on the road to Zack’s.
Next to Zack’s was Jim’s Drive In. Jim’s only got a looksee because it did not have a drive around only a row of cars on either side, you had to head in to park and back out to go out the way you came in.
Some kids would drive around Zack’s for a long time. I never knew what the record was, but it had to be a lot. The premium spots to park were those facing the drive around on the front side on the front row. Parked there you could see everyone going around and be facing them. On the sides you might have to twist around a little to talk to someone going around. It was a beehive of social activity.
In August after my graduation from high school my girlfriend’s dad got transferred to Kansas City, Kansas. I still went to Zack’s but obviously it was not as much fun. I went to college in September to Nacogdoches, Texas. When I came home on weekends, I would go to Zack’s on Friday night to see who was out and about. Same routine, drive through Orange to see who else was driving, turn around at Elmer’s, back to the circle, loop the circle drive around Drake’s and go back to Zack’s.
Those of us who were so inclined were able to go “across the river.” On the Louisiana side of the Sabine River was a strip of nightclubs. The legal age to drink in Louisiana was 18, Texas was 21. Most of the clubs turned a blind eye if you looked old enough.
A club called the Big Oak was the most popular and the biggest of the clubs in those days. I would go over there alone or with a friend if I found someone at Zack’s that wanted to go. After I got my fill across the river I would go back to Zack’s and maybe have a coffee this time and go home. One weekend I was home from college and met a girl at Zack’s that I knew from my high school days. She was in her dad’s car, a black Pontiac Grand Prix, a fine set of wheels. I parked across the side street and came back and sat in her car and we talked a while. Then with her driving, we went through the routine and came back to Zack’s, I asked her out the next night and she accepted. I picked her up the next night and we went to Zack’s first and you know the rest.
After I took her home, I went back to Zack’s to see who was still around and went home. We dated whenever we were both home at the same time, and we had a good time being together. But somehow, we drifted apart.
I ended up marrying someone who did not share my affection for Zack’s. We moved to Marshall in East Texas and when we came home to visit family we did not go to Zack’s. My days were over. Sometime in the early 1970’s Mr. Jacobs decided that the business was no longer profitable, and he closed the drive in. Someone once remarked to Zack that with all the cars at his drive in business must be good. He answered that only 20 percent ordered anything and 90 percent of those only ordered ten cent Cokes.
Society had changed and the kids were no longer coming as they had been for years. The drive in sat vacant for a while and then it was torn down. A Payless shoe store operated on the site of Zack’s, the shoe store closed and a new business Title Max Loans, is operating there now.
Zack was well liked and respected by a generation of teenagers. On the rare occasions that tempers flared, and it looked like trouble was starting, all he had to do was walk up to the crowd and say, “All right boys, we’re not going to have any trouble tonight” and the crowd would break up. There may be a fight later, but it would not be at Zack’s.
Zack Jacobs retired and moved to Houston to be near his daughter. He died in 1991 at the age of 82 and was buried in Emmanuel Cemetery in Houston.