Iconic New Castle Dairy Palace Lands on National Historic Registry

Parker’s Dairy Palace at dusk with its neon sign blazing

For generations, Parker’s Dairy Palace has been a go-to place for cool summer treats and a familiar eye-catching sight for passers by on 141 near New Castle. 

Now the iconic 1950’s ice cream stand can officially claim to have made history: the cone-covered drive-up has been included on the National Register of Historic Places, the U.S. government’s list of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects deemed worthy of preservation.

Situated just across from the Wilmington Airport, the Dairy Palace started life in 1954 as a Dairy Queen franchise licensed to Ernest Overby. In 1956, it was acquired by Vince and Joyce Parker and has remained a family enterprise ever since.

After learning that Dairy Queen corporate officials wanted to modernize their existing buildings, the Parkers chose to purchase their franchised property in 1970 with an eye toward preserving its original appearance.

Dairy Palace - 1956

Joyce Parker standing in front of Parker’s Dairy Palace, circa 1956

Today’s Dairy Palace retains the Dairy Queen’s original characteristics with a façade characterized by a large plate-glass window wall, a flat roof featuring overhanging eaves, an iconic neon sign featuring a tilted ice cream cone with a swirl on top, a parking lot and walk-up customer service windows.

The Delaware Office of Historical and Cultural Affairs said the Dairy Palace’s heritage tracked the story of suburban development in America as well as with increased interest in transportation during the post-World War II era and the emerging popularity of roadside food stands.

Traveling motorists and residents moving into suburban developments desired additional dining options. That inspired an explosion of family-style and dine-in restaurants as well as drive-ins emerged across the American landscape.

Parker’s Dairy Palace is the best-known surviving example of a 1950s drive-in/walk-up soft serve ice cream stand remaining in the area.

Parker’s Dairy Palace National Register nomination, listed on Oct. 15, 2019, was prepared by the University of Delaware’s Center for Historic Architecture and Design. Funding for this preservation project was provided by the National Park Service through a Historic Preservation Fund sub-grant awarded to a Certified Local Government (New Castle County) and managed by the Delaware State Historic Preservation Office.

The nomination was recommended for listing in the National Register by the New Castle County Historic Review Board and Delaware’s State Review Board for Historic Preservation, and then forwarded to National Park Service which approved the listing.

 

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