Monday, November 23, 2009

Kicks on 66: The Monrovia McDonald's

Shortly after coming to live in Monrovia more than 5 years ago, my wife and I discovered that we lived less than a block off of the legendary Route 66, and close to a number of historic fixtures with interesting stories.  I can't make any promises, but I think it might be interesting to see about collecting a few of those stories from time to time.  Here's one, in any event....

Depending on which source one listens to, the first McDonald's is cited as being either in Des Plaines, IL or in San Bernadino, CA.  Both claims have some validity: The IL location is the one officially claimed by McDonald's Corporation, but it opened in 1955, whereas the CA restaurant has been there since 1940.  Why the confusion, especially with such a large difference in both time and location?  Well, the Des Plaines, IL address is the first restaurant opened by the company as run by Ray Kroc, who McDonald's considers its founder.  For some reason, the company barely gives lip service to the fact that Kroc bought the franchise rights from Dick and Mac McDonald, from whom the chain gets its name.  The San Bernadino location is the one that the actual McDonald brothers set up!  Yet, despite the fact that the San Bernadino McDonald's was also on Route 66 (maybe I'll get around to visiting the site someday, but the restaurant itself was demolished in 1976), that's not the one I want to talk about, here.

The McDonald's in Monrovia, CA (a mere block or two from where I live) doesn't really make any claims to being "the first," and yet in a real sense, has a claim to a legacy that predates both of the other two locations.  In 1937, the McDonald brothers opened up a restaurant they called "the Airdrome" at the corner of Huntington and Mayflower, which was--at the time--the northwest corner of the old Monrovia Airport (which closed in 1953.  A good thing for me, since my apartment sits on part of the grounds once occupied by that airport!).  They moved the restaurant to San Bernadino three years later, renamed it "McDonald's," and the rest is history.  This McDonald's sits on the location of the old Airdrome. 

Like I said, the Monrovia McDonald's doesn't loudly proclaim these ties.  However, there is a plaque on the wall with a picture of the Airdrome.  It's not really a "restaurant" in the sense we'd think of one today.  Basically, it was an open-air stand that sold shakes, orange juice, and yes, hamburgers.

Perhaps more important than that, the plaque also has this letter from Dick McDonald, dated in 1996 (Dick died in 1998), where he reminisces about how he and his brother got their start in Monrovia.  Honestly, even though the picture of the Airdrome says that the stand was located on Huntington Drive, it took some more digging to realize that the current McDonald's really is at the same location, rather than just being the closest McDonald's to the site (presumed by me to be somewhere down the road.  I mean, since this clearly isn't the same structure, I couldn't assume that the site was available when McDonald's Corporation finally got around to putting a restaurant there, right?  LATER NOTE: An e-mail received after this post went up suggests that this information is incorrect, and that this McDonald's isn't on the site of the Airdrome after all.  I can only say that this claim--for good or ill--is only as good as the sources which I used to write it up, and I'll fully admit that the evidence is spotty.  I invited that person to post a comment which could more positively source corrected information, but he has so far failed to do so.  I will say that I've since found indications that the airport was indeed a bit further to the east, which would indicate that the Airdrome most likely was, as well, but that information is still far from solid.).  McDonald's purists are quick to point out that the stand the McDonald brothers owned was never called "McDonald's" while in Monrovia, but even so, I think it's kind of neat that the legacy of this location has been claimed, even in this small way.

One quick note about the unusual logo on this particular McDonald's.  The arches overlap, rather than meet in the middle, and there's a line running through it.  What's up with that?  Apparently, most of the older McDonald's restaurants were distinguished by two huge arches on each end and a sloping roof.  Here's an image of the Des Plaines McDonald's.  This logo essentially captures the image of such a restaurant, when viewed from the side.  A few other McDonald's, especially ones with historic roots, share this logo, but it's definitely unusual.  It was apparently later refined to become the "golden arches" we all know today.

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  1. The Airdrome was several blocks east of the current MacDonald's where the old Monrovia Airport was. If you go to the Albertson's on East Huntington Drive they have a nice tile mural showing the old Airport.

  2. I've seen the mural many times, but have learned better than to assume that the airport was there just on that basis (indeed, the maps I've found--referred to in the "later note" within the entry--put it just a touch south of that Albertson's, but they're pretty hard to parse. Indeed, it was on the basis of these badly-marked old maps that I had wrongly assumed that the location of the Airdrome was where the current McDonald's is in the first place, after having previously believed that it wasn't.).

    Thanks for commenting.



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