That Golden Glow

Seventy years ago today—fast-food king McDonald's put the 'arch' in 'architecture'
That Golden Glow
2023 marks the 70th anniversary of McDonald's original golden arches (as above), designed by architect Stanley Meston with Charles Fish.

'Look for the golden arches!'—one of the most famous catchphrases in fast-food history.

Tourists today, perhaps still seduced by that slogan, travel to California from around the world to cozy up to the world's oldest surviving McDonald's restaurant and gaze upon its fabled pair of bookended golden arches.

"Paris has the Eiffel Tower, New York has the Empire State Building, and Downey has the oldest McDonald's in the world!" proclaimed 'Ambassador of Americana' Charles Phoenix of the Southern California survivor, today a fixture on the National Register of Historic Places.

"The building looks like it could take off for outer space—and it's got giant golden arches on it!"

The year 2023 will kick off celebration for McDonald's aficionados, marking the 70th anniversary of the company's signature golden arches, which made their debut in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1953. That same year the McDonald's on Downey's Lakewood Avenue became the third in the chain ever built, and the second crowned with a pair of arches.

That Golden Glow
This classic-looking scene is actually a recreation of a McDonald's restaurant from 1955, when Ray Kroc took over ownership. Located in Des Plaines, Illinois, the original restaurant was demolished in 1984, replaced a year later by this replica, which housed a McDonald's museum for the next three decades. In 2018, after closing, it also was demolished.

McDonald's original owners, Richard ('Dick') and Maurice ('Mac') McDonald, two brothers from New Hampshire, opened their first restaurant together in 1937, in Monrovia (near Pasadena), 16 years before the golden arches arrived. Their small, octagon-shaped building, next to the Monrovia Airport, operated as The Airdrome.

In 1940, the building was moved 45 miles east, to San Bernardino, where the brothers turned their operation into a carhop-style drive-in restaurant they re-named McDonald's Bar-B-Q.

In 1948, Dick and Mac closed their doors for three months, re-opening as a walk-up hamburger stand, and inviting postwar families to buy McDonald's 15-cent hamburgers "by the bagful."

"We had the most popular drive-in in town...people thought we had lost our minds," Richard McDonald recalled in a 1997 interview. "Wait times went from 20 minutes to 30 seconds!" By 1952, Dick and Mac's self-service business model, branded the 'McDonald's Speedee System,' had become so successful, the company made the cover of American Restaurant magazine.

  That Golden Glow
McDonald's founders Richard (left) and Maurice McDonald.

Enter the golden arches. Continuing from their single location in San Bernardino, the brothers began developing a modern prototype restaurant that would serve their franchising needs.

After considering a number of architects to design their building model, they chose local architect Stanley Meston of Fontana in 1952. Meston was an ideal choice, as he had worked previously with Wayne McAllister, a Los Angeles-based architect who pioneered the car-friendly designs of Streamline Moderne drive-in restaurants of the era.

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