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Johnny Vardeman: You could eat a lot for under a buck in 1939
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A former waitress at the old Gainesville Dixie Hunt Hotel restaurant, now in her 90s, brought a 1939 menu a while back to Juan Luna, proprietor of Luna’s Restaurant in Hunt Towers, the former hotel.

The country was about to emerge from the Great Depression, and prices were certainly depressed compared to today’s. You could get an “extra thick” U.S. T-bone steak and French-fried potatoes for $1.50. A broiled sirloin steak with Julienne potatoes was on the menu for $1. For 90 cents you had a choice of roast turkey and dressing or a broiled filet mignon.

Other entrees included liver with bacon or onions 75 cents, a prime rib 85 cents, leg of lamb 80 cents, fried chicken 75 cents, shrimp 90 cents, lamb chops 80 cents and a half broiled lobster for 90 cents.

Appetizers such as shrimp cocktail, vegetables, salad, rolls or muffins and desserts, including apple pie and strawberry shortcake were included.

Luna found later menus from the coffee shop when prices had risen to $3 for a T-bone steak, $2.25 for filet mignon, $1.35 for a fried chicken dinner and $3 for a sirloin. Betty Seaman was listed as coffee shop manager.

Luna was amazed at the low menu prices in those days. He wondered how servers, most likely called “waitresses” or “waiters” back then, could make it on nickel and dime tips.

The Dixie-Hunt in 1939 was operated by W.W. Faw, who owned a hotel chain. Dick Matthews was assistant manager.

Most civic clubs met there on the mezzanine level, and numerous other community groups met and ate at the Dixie-Hunt.

The hotel was somewhat of a complex in those days, when downtown Gainesville was thriving with two other hotels, department stores such as JCPenney and Gallant-Belk, as well as Frierson-McEver, which at the time sold women’s clothing as well as men’s.

In the hotel arcade was R.L. Courtney’s jewelers, which eventually would move across the square. Larry Kleckley was holding his grand opening of his sporting goods and hardware store in the hotel building facing Main Street.

Dixie Drug occupied the hotel corner of Main and Spring. If you were in a hurry for a quick snack, you could go to its lunch counter and get sandwiches for a dime, 10-cent milk shakes, sundaes for a nickel and hot lunches from a quarter to 35 cents.

Across the square was the competing Princeton Hotel on the corner where Dress Up is today. Its coffee shop was a popular gathering spot, too, with numerous organizations holding their meetings. You could eat breakfast for 25-35 cents, get a meat-and-two for 45 cents, which also included salad, dessert and drink. Roasts or prime ribs at dinner would cost you 60 cents.

Another hotel at that time was the Wheeler, located on Main Street where Hall County Library’s Gainesville branch is today.

This was an era when First National Bank was observing its 50th anniversary, and G.E. Pilgrim the 30th anniversary of Pilgrim-Estes Furniture Co. at the corner of Bradford and Brenau Avenue just off the square.

In 1939, Downey Hospital on what was then Sycamore Street, now E.E. Butler Parkway, was the only game in town. Longstreet Hills was the first major subdivision being developed on Gainesville’s northside. Longstreet Hills Development Co. in the Jackson Building published a map showing the various lots in the new neighborhood. Streets in the development were yet to be paved, and water lines laid.

All the homes on Green Street were occupied by residents rather than businesses as is the case today.

You could buy a new Ford V-8 coupe for $584. C.V. Nalley, Martin Motors and Sawyer-Wommack were among car dealers.

While the Depression was winding down, a new Civilian Conservation Corps camp was just coming out of the ground at the end of Rainey Street in an area called Desota Heights at the time. CCC was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s program to bring the country out of the Depression. Parks such as Ivey Terrace in Gainesville were among their projects.

Buildings at the rear of Alta Vista Cemetery were dismantled and reassembled for the camp. More than 200 CCC workers were based at the camp.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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