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Column: When Gainesville's square was round and ’round
Johnny Vardeman

The shape provided for perfect “cruising” conditions, and those lucky enough to have access to cars at the time took advantage of it.

There were no traffic lights to impede one’s circling of the square. Cars would go ‘round and ‘round until they got low on gas or found one of the rare open parking spaces along the circle. Those who were able to park would sit on the backs of their cars and watch fellow cruisers make their rounds.

The police station at the time was just a couple of blocks away in City Hall (see smaller white building, top right behind the courthouse in the accompanying photo.) Usually, a beat policeman would walk up to the square to keep his eyes on things. There rarely was any trouble, just talking or yelling back and forth among the cruisers.

L.L. Bennett was frequently the policeman who checked on the cruisers. The lanky officer resembled actor John Wayne in his ambling gait, his gun belt low on his hips. He made friends with the guys and gals who spent their evenings congregating on the square.

The cruising route usually would include a trip down South Main Street to see who was going to or coming out of the Royal Theater or the Collegiate Grill. Those who didn’t have cars might station themselves on the grill’s ice cream box, looking out the window and waiting for a ride.

Other popular pit stops might be the Avion drive-in or Nicholson’s on the west side of town. The braver could run by the Salvage House on Oak Street where they might luck into a six-pack, or, if they had enough gas, a trip to Pendergrass, where there were few barriers to buying booze.

Circling through Brenau College at least once a night was a given.

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What the Gainesville square looked like from the 1940s and 1950s. Dixie-Hut Hotel, lower right; courthouse, center top; City Hall, top right-hand corner. Image courtesy Johnny Vardeman

While the vast majority of cruisers were Hall Countians, motorists from other counties also would look in on occasion, especially on weekends.

Even though young people have more access to automobiles than they used to, cruising doesn’t seem as prevalent today, although there are occasional gatherings at parking lots or other convenient places.

Gainesville’s downtown square could be cruised today, but it’s less accommodating because of renovations over the years that “squared up” the square and posted traffic lights at intersections.

Cruisers at one point shifted to the Lakeshore Mall area, mapping out a route down Pearl Nix Parkway and what is now John Morrow Parkway, but city officials and merchants put up a few impediments to discourage them.

Gone with the movie

The movie “Gone With the Wind” was in the news recently because of calls to ban it from a streaming service because it supposedly glorified the antebellum South.

Ironically, that movie once was substituted in a Gainesville theater for another controversial movie that was banned.

In 1972, the movie “Carnal Knowledge” was controversial because of its intense sexual content. It was scheduled to be shown at the Royal Theater, located then on downtown Gainesville’s Main Street between what is now Hunt Towers and the Collegiate Grill.

Gainesville City Commission urged Thompson Theaters not to show the movie after hearing from several women and a group of Baptist ministers. The Chattahoochee Baptist Association Women’s Auxiliary and pastors group also brought petitions opposing “Carnal Knowledge.”

The movie starred Jack Nicholson, Ann Margret, Art Garfunkel, Candice Bergen and Rita Moreno.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326; email, or His column publishes weekly.

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