Published September 23, 2012
The oldest operating McDonald's restaurant is a drive-up hamburger stand at 10207 Lakewood Blvd. at Florence Ave. 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-ft (9-m) "Golden Arches" and a 60-ft (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 added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.
The McDonald brothers opened their first restaurant 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 architecture, which they had developed for their franchises. 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.
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.