That Golden Glow - Page 3

Seventy years ago today—fast-food king McDonald's put the 'arch' in 'architecture'
That Golden Glow

"Who first suggested the parabola [arch] is unclear," said Hess at that time. "Richard McDonald and George Dexter, the sign contractor who fabricated the first arches, recalled that Dexter came up with the idea and added them to the plans."

"Charles Fish," Hess explained, "who did the working drawings and aided Meston in the design, attributes the idea to his familiarity with the form from a school project in which he used structural parabolas for a hangar. The form was one of many advanced engineering solutions."

Today, Fish is clear about his role in the creation of the arches. "The big arch for the sign out front was designed by George Dexter, or perhaps by a designer in his company; and the arches on the building itself I had designed; and George Dexter somehow worked out how to build them," Fish explains.

"So George Dexter did not come up with the idea of the arches. I claim that for myself," Fish adds emphatically. "The architect of record for the arches is Stanley Meston...the man who made the deal with the McDonald brothers."

Hess points out that "the arches were called 'golden' from the [time of the] design stage," and that Meston gave them "the space-age spring of a bounding parabola, and made sure they glowed with multi-hued radiating neon."

That Golden Glow
Designer Charles Fish's original 1952 rendering showing how he imagined McDonald's would look sporting golden arches.

In 1954, a traveling salesman from Chicago selling milkshake machines appeared on the scene. His name was Ray Kroc. A former paper cup salesman, Kroc was now hawking soda fountain 'Multimixers,' machines capable of whipping up five milkshakes at a time.

So when the brothers ordered an unheard-of eight Multimixers, Kroc decided to pay them a personal visit. He was intrigued to find out how a tiny burger stand in rural San Bernardino could possibly need to make 40 milkshakes at once.

"This little fellow came in with a high voice," recalled Richard McDonald of Kroc's visit during a 1991 interview in the Sun Journal. "He says, 'My name is Ray Kroc.' My brother and I were impressed with him. He was a very aggressive guy. That's the type it takes to sell anything."

That Golden Glow
Showing off its bookended golden arches, this McDonald's, in Downey, California, survives today as the world's oldest restaurant in the chain.

Seeing tremendous potential in Dick and Mac's operation, Kroc made a proposition to them that he would take on the franchising of McDonald's restaurants across the country. Building on the brothers' fast-food innovations, beginning in 1955 he went on to turn McDonald's into a global phenomenon.

By 1968, Kroc retired McDonald's original 1953 bookended-arches design in favor of the 'giant M' signage we see today. What remains is a handful of original and replica double-arched survivors—including sites in San Jose, Portland, and of course Downey—and the lingering glow of what used to be.

Happy birthday, golden arches!


Photography: Chris Saulit, Tim Boyle; and courtesy McDonald's Corporation, Rico Tee Archive

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