Cruise Avenue was place to be
HUNTINGTON -- Tish Smith got dressed up from the waist up and headed out to -- where else? -- Huntington's Cruise Avenue.
Smith was a teenager in the early 1980s when Cruise Avenue and 4th Avenue were synonymous in meaning for area youth looking for a way to pass the evening.
"We would look really good from the waist up and then we'd have on shorts or sweatpants because nobody ever got out of the car," said Smith, who used to cruise the Cruise Avenue circuit with her girlfriends in the 'Vette -- not a Corvette, but a Chevette, but 'Vette sounded cooler,' she offered. "Of course, we threw something nicer in the car in case we got out, but mostly we just sat in traffic, turned around and got back in line. Those were the best years ever."
Cruising, popularized in the 1950s, found its way to Huntington in a big way in the early 1980s, with teenagers piling into cars riding bumper-to-bumper in four lanes of 4th Avenue on Friday and Saturday evenings. The cruising route extended from near Old Main on Marshall's campus to fast-food restaurant Rax (now Nawab) -- each end serving as a turn-around spot for drivers to begin the circuit again. It was a social outlet for teenagers who had "nothing else to do," a "party in your car," said one teenager quoted in an old story from The Herald-Dispatch.
"Cruise Avenue was great. I can remember taking water guns with us, pulling up next to cute guys and shooting them with water. And, I think we must have worn out a tape of Bon Jovi's 'Slippery When Wet,'" said Jodi Bell Zimmerman, a high school junior during Cruise Avenue's 4th Avenue days. "I don't remember ever actually getting out of the car. We would just drive up and down 4th Avenue all evening, and you'd pass people you know and yell out and talk. That's what we did all night long."
Full of the sounds of honking horns, radios blaring and idling engines, Cruise Avenue was the place to talk, see, be seen and meet members of the opposite sex, but it drew frequent criticism from downtown business owners and regular motorists with evening plans. The nuisance to motorists and businesses alike caused then-Huntington Mayor Bobby Nelson and members of City Council to seek answers to the weekly problem. A tongue-in-cheek solution proposed by one city official to non-cruising drivers was to "take the alleys" from 8th to 11th streets. A short time later, Nelson approved the use of traffic barricades to block part of the route from traffic entirely, and changed the traffic lights to flashing yellow to encourage traffic to flow more quickly, a move that resulted in a three-car accident.
Finally, in 1987, the city's administration offered an olive branch to area teens, by designating the old 2nd Avenue between 8th and 10th streets in the so-called Superblock (now the area occupied by Holiday Inn and Pullman Square) for cruisers.
"The kids were having a great time, and Huntington was just teeming with young people driving up and down 4th Avenue, but it created a safety hazard in addition to being a nuisance for business owners and people trying to shop and go out downtown," reminisced Nelson, who took the first drive on the newly minted Cruise Avenue in a police cruiser. "If there had been a fire or someone in one of the apartments through there had a heart attack, there was no way to clear the street to get to it.
"We decided if we emulated a street over on the big, empty Superblock, that maybe the kids would go over there. And, it was an immediate hit. It really took off," Nelson continued. "Even today, people come up to me and say, 'You're the one who started Cruise Avenue.' Who knows how many weddings and babies came out of it. I thought it worked out beautifully."
At least two weddings, according to Dolly Lucas and Alecia Price Grose, both of whom said they met their spouses on that short stretch of road in the Superblock.
"If it wasn't for that place, I wouldn't have met my husband," said Lucas, who has been married to her husband, Les, for 23 years. "We owe a lot to Cruise Avenue."
Lucas, a Michigan native, was in Huntington visiting a friend's family when the two found their way to Cruise Avenue in November 1988. There, she met Wayne native Les Lucas, working diligently under the hood of a truck that had quit at an inopportune time.
"I nudged him and said, 'Anybody ever tell you you've got a cute butt?' He turned red in the face. He didn't know what to think," Lucas said, laughing.
The pair were inseparable the rest of the evening. A few weeks later, Les joined Dolly in Michigan. Twenty-three years of marriage later, the two have three children and three grandchildren. They occasionally return to the Tri-State to visit family in Wayne.
"We've driven through the area where Cruise Avenue used to be. I just can't believe of all the places to go, that's where I met my husband," Lucas said. "We still laugh and tell the story about how we met."
Alecia Price Grose shared a similar story. She and her husband, both Milton High School graduates, were at Cruise Avenue with their respective friends one night in August 1990. Not only did Grose meet her husband, Kent, there, but her friend and his from that night also wed.
"We drove around all night that night, and we've been together ever since," said Grose. Her 21-year marriage has yielded two daughters.
Cruise Avenue's home on Superblock eventually went by the wayside after myriad complaints of drinking, drugs, sex and violence, and the injury of a plainclothes police officer who suffered powder burns when a gun discharged there during a scuffle. Business development of the Superblock rid Huntington of the designated Cruise Avenue entirely years later.
"On Cruise Avenue, you could just sit and relax and enjoy music," Grose said. "It's kind of sad because kids nowadays don't have anything like that. The memories I have of that time ... I have not stopped smiling thinking about them."
Follow H-D reporter Beth Hendricks on Facebook or Twitter @BethHendricksHD.
Remembering Cruise Avenue
Last month, fans of The Herald-Dispatch's Facebook page shared their memories of using Huntington's Cruise Avenue. Readers responded, and we dug further into our archives to find more about this downtown Huntington scene of the 1980s.
PHOTOS: If you have photos or stories from Cruise Avenue to share, send them to email@example.com. Be sure to identify those featured in the photos.
FACEBOOK: Visit The Herald-Dispatch's Facebook page to read more memories of Cruise Avenue.
STORY IDEAS: Do you have an idea for a story about a Tri-State tradition? Share your suggestions on Facebook or send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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