McDonald's Hamburgers | Los Angeles Conservancy
McDonald's Hamburgers
Photo from Conservancy archives

McDonald's Hamburgers

The McDonald brothers had been in the restaurant business for several years when they invented the “Speedee Service System” to automate and optimize food production at their San Bernardino drive-in restaurant. They commissioned Stanley Clark Meston, a commercial architect from Fontana who specialized in auto showrooms and had once worked for architect Wayne McAllister, to design a new building in Downey that could be replicated by franchisees.

Completed in 1953, the Googie-style building features two thirty-foot-high parabolic arches made of sheet metal that pierce the stucco wedge of the shed roof and were originally outlined in flashing pink neon. Since the brothers were so proud of their food preparation techniques, they revealed their operations with canted plate glass surrounding the kitchen, allowing inspection from all sides. In 1959, the original stock neon sign was replaced with a custom model featuring the original mascot Speedee running atop a 60-foot golden arch.

Most other historic McDonald’s franchises were demolished or significantly altered over time to comply with the company’s overarching design requirements, but the Downey location survived intact because it was franchised not by the McDonald's Corporation, but by the McDonald brothers themselves. As a result, it is the oldest surviving McDonald’s restaurant in operation. An adjacent building is a replica of the McDonald brothers’ original stand in San Bernardino and houses a small museum.