Oldest McDonald's restaurant
McDonald's Restaurant #3
The McDonald's in Downey, California is almost unchanged in appearance since it opened in 1953.
|Location||10207 Lakewood Blvd., Downey, California|
|Architectural style||Modern Architecture|
|NRHP Reference #||84003893 |
The oldest operating McDonald's restaurant is a drive-up hamburger stand at 10207 Lakewood Boulevard at Florence Avenue in Downey, California. It was the third McDonald's restaurant, and opened on August 18, 1953. It was the second restaurant franchised by Richard and Maurice McDonald, prior to the involvement of Ray Kroc in the company, and it still has the two original 30-foot (9.1 m) "Golden Arches" and a 60-foot (18 m) animated neon "Speedee" sign that was added in 1959. The restaurant is now the oldest in the chain still in existence and is one of Downey's main tourist attractions. Along with its sign, it was deemed eligible for addition to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, although it was not added because the owner objected.
The McDonald brothers opened their first restaurant adjacent to the Monrovia Airport in 1937. It was a tiny octagonal building informally called The Airdrome. That octagonal building was later moved to the San Bernardino location at 1398 North E Street in San Bernardino, California, in 1940. Originally a barbecue drive-in, the brothers discovered that most of their profits came from hamburgers. In 1948, they closed their restaurant for three months, reopening it in December as a walk-up hamburger stand that sold hamburgers, potato chips, and orange juice; the following year, french fries and Coca-Cola were added to the menu. This simplified menu, and food preparation using assembly line principles, allowed them to sell hamburgers for 15 cents, or about half as much as at a sit-down restaurant. The restaurant was very successful, and the brothers started to franchise the concept in 1953.
The first franchisee was Occidental Petroleum executive Neil Fox, who opened a restaurant at 4050 North Central Avenue in Phoenix, Arizona, in May, for a flat fee of $1,000. His restaurant was the first to employ the McDonald brothers' Golden Arches standardized design, created by Southern California architect Stanley Clark Meston and his assistant Charles Fish. Fox's use of the "McDonald's" name evidently came as a surprise to the brothers, but all subsequent franchises used the "McDonald's" brand.
Fox's brothers-in-law and business partners, Roger Williams and Bud Landon, were the franchisees for the third McDonald's, and used their expertise in siting gasoline stations in choosing the Downey location. Like the McDonald brothers' other franchisees, they were required to use Meston's design.
The purchase of the chain from the McDonald brothers by Ray Kroc did not affect the Downey restaurant, as it was franchised under an agreement with the McDonald brothers, not with Kroc's company McDonald's Systems, Inc., which later became McDonald's Corporation. As a result, the restaurant was not subject to the modernization requirements that McDonald's Corporation placed on its franchisees. Its menu came to differ from that of other McDonald's restaurants, and lacked items such as the Big Mac that were developed in the corporation. In part due to these differences, the restaurant came to suffer poor sales, and was finally acquired by McDonald's Corporation in 1990, when it was the only remaining McDonald's that was independent of the chain.
With low sales, damage from the 1994 Northridge earthquake, and the lack of a drive-up window and indoor seating, the restaurant was closed, and McDonald's planned to demolish it and incorporate some of its features in a modern "retro" restaurant nearby. However, it was listed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation's 1994 list of the 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. With both the public and preservationists demanding the restaurant be saved, McDonald's spent two years restoring the restaurant and reopened it. Customers today can visit the original restaurant and an adjoining gift shop and museum.
Other early McDonald's restaurants
Very few early McDonald's restaurants remain, largely because McDonald's Corporation required its franchisees to update their buildings. The original hexagonal McDonald's hamburger stand in San Bernardino was demolished in 1957 to be replaced by a building in the Golden Arches style; in an oversight, the McDonald brothers failed to retain rights to the McDonald's name when they sold the chain to Kroc, and were forced to rename it "The Big M". It went out of business and was demolished in the 1970s, although part of the sign remains; an independent McDonald's museum was subsequently opened on the site.
Other early buildings still standing include the seventh McDonald's, at 1057 East Mission Street in Pomona, California, which is now a doughnut shop (currently the second-oldest existing McDonalds building), and the 11th at 1900 South Central Avenue in Los Angeles, which now sells tacos. Ray Kroc's 1955 McDonald's franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois, the ninth in the chain, was demolished in 1984, but a replica was built on the original foundation and is now described as the McDonald's USA No. 1 Store Museum.
A restaurant built around 1960 at 2434 Almaden Road in San Jose, California, is the only other remaining early McDonald's still in operation in the state, although a modern restaurant is now attached to it. It is listed as one of the city's historic resources.
An early McDonald's stands at 9100 SE Powell Boulevard in Portland, Oregon. It is not attached to the adjacent McDonald's but is available for party rentals.
A restaurant on the corner of E. Sahara Avenue and Paradise Road in Las Vegas, Nevada was built in the old Golden Arches style, but this is a reproduction built in the late 1990s. A similar 'retro' styled restaurant was built around the same time a few miles away at the corner of Flamingo Road and Eastern Avenue, but was demolished in 2012 in favor of a standard modern McDonald's.
On the corner of Blackstone and Shields in Fresno, California, stands the first McDonald's franchised by Ray Kroc. Although rebuilt, the current building is a modern interpretation of the original "Golden Arches" style.
The site of the original McDonald’s on 1398 North E Street in San Bernadino was purchased in 1998 by Albert Okura, owner of the Juan Pollo chicken restaurant chain, for $135,000 in a foreclosure sale. 
Okura turned the property into the headquarters for his chain of restaurants and opened an unofficial McDonald’s museum on the site, which, due to communications with McDonald’s, Okura refers to as the "historic site of the original McDonald's". Okura said though he did not intend to open the museum, an erroneous news story that mentioned he was planning on opening a museum gave him the idea; former employees and customers sent the museum many of the items on display.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
- "World's Oldest McDonald's". City of Downey, California. Retrieved November 7, 2011.
- Hess, Alan. "The Oldest McDonald's as Architecture". Retrieved March 2, 2014.[self-published source]
- "Historic Resources Inventory". City of San Jose, California. Retrieved November 7, 2011.
- "Entrepreneur channels San Bernardino's history". Marketplace.org. Retrieved August 24, 2014.
- "San Bernardino: McDonald's museum pays homage to the hamburger". The Press-Enterprise. Retrieved August 24, 2014.
- "A Loving Shrine to McDonald's That McDonald's Shuns". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved August 24, 2014.