Friday, June 12, 2009
On a gray day in April 2006, I embarked on the McDonald's History Tour led by McHistorian Chris Nichols. For many, the McDonalds were thought to be fictional characters and that Ray Kroc was the actual founder of McDonald's. In actuality, Richard (Dick) and Maurice (Mac) McDonald were real people and they truly started the McDonald's legacy. This tour tells some of their story.
The day started with over 50 of us meeting at the McDonald's in Downey, which is currently the oldest working McDonald's in the world, but is actually the 4th McDonald's ever opened. To start off our tour, we had breakfast of what else but an Egg McMuffin, hash browns and a choice of OJ or coffee.
From there, we took our tour bus to Sierra Madre, the sleepy little town that first drew the McDonalds brothers from New Hampshire in 1920. In the 1920's, Sierra Madre was a land of citrus trees and farmland. In fact, to get a taste of what Sierra Madre would have looked like in those times, we stopped at E. Waldo Ward Ranch, the only working orange grove in Los Angeles County. On this 3-1/2 acres of land, you will see the original red barn, built in 1902, which also houses old equipment and utensils of days gone by as well as a small grove of orange and kumquat trees. The fruit from these trees are made into various kinds of marmalades, jellies and jams all of which can be purchased at the farm.
Tired of working 9 to 5 jobs and inspired by the lush Southern California citrus industry, the McDonald's opened up their first restaurant called the Airdrome, which sold orange juice, hot dogs, coffee and tea in 1937. This restaurant was adjacent to the Monrovia Airport, which used to be on Huntington Drive. In fact, the Albertson's store across the street depicts murals in remembrance of the airport that finally shut its doors in 1953, which we passed by on our way to San Bernardino. On our bus ride to San Bernardino, we learned even more about the McDonalds brothers.
In 1940, the McDonalds brothers moved the Airdrome to San Bernardino and converted it to a BBQ restaurant. This BBQ restaurant had a 25-item menu, 20 car hops and made the McDonalds brothers a very comfortable living.
However, eight years later, it was time for a change. While studying the menu and tracking orders, Dick McDonald discovered that hamburger sales generated 80% of their business. Looking to simplify how their business was run and to maximize profits, the McDonalds brothers came up with their "Speedee Service System".
This system was literally a diagram of how to run an assembly line kitchen efficiently and quickly and they actually worked on this system by drawing an exact chalk diagram on their tennis court in front of their home. While occasional rain bursts would wash out the check, it would just keep prompting them to redraw and refine their design until they got it perfect. It is this system that they put in place at the re-opening of their new concept restaurant.
In October 1948, McDonald's Barbecue Restaurant was no more and in December, 1948, re-opened as McDonald's Famous Hamburgers13 years later, Ray Kroc buys out the McDonalds brothers for $2.7 million dollars and through him, the McDonald's Corporation was born.
The site of the original McDonald's Hamburger restaurant is where our tour picks up again. The Airdrome, which went from, primarily a snack shop to than a barbecue restaurant and finally a hamburger restaurant was finally torn down in 1953 to make way for a building more in keeping with the McDonald's restaurant in Downey. Finally, in 1972, that building was demolished as well and the current building was constructed in its place in 1974.
After changing hands a couple more times, the original site of the first McDonald's as well as the current building was purchased in 1998 by Albert Okura, founder of Juan Pollo Restaurants. Mr. Okura converted half of the building to house his offices, but the other half is dedicated to McDonald's memorabilia. Admission is free and Mr. Okura was even on hand for our tour to answer questions. At this unofficial museum, you'll see everything from old pictures to a collection of Happy Meal toys to hats, uniforms and costumes. It was quite an eclectic collection.
Once we looked our fill, back on the bus we went. Another place of interest that we passed by was a machine shop where the McDonalds came up with a lot of the inventions that were utilized for speedier service like a hand-held pump that spurted a precise amount of ketchup and mustard on each burger or a lazy Susan allowed 24 buns to be dressed at a time at a staging area away from the grill.
Our last stop before heading back to Downey was the #7 McDonald's in Pomona. What a shadow of its former self, this #7 store was. Compared to the beautifully restored Downey McDonald's, this store, now a donut shop, was a bit run down and saw better days. At least, you could see hints of what was once there by the red and white striping of the building and if you can envision the red arch in the sign as yellow, that too, will take you back to days gone by.
To see all the photos, go to:
10207 Lakewood Blvd.
Downey, CA 90240