Posts From The Road: Oldest McDonald’s In America

Single Arch: A single arch stands 60-feet high on the corner of Florence and Lakewood in Downey, Calif. This early signage also features the first McDonald’s mascot Chef Speedee. Photo by Gary Warren/

Exterior: The exterior of this McDonald’s features mid-century architecture with windows in front for customers to walk up and place orders. A second building sits next to the original, which provides indoor dining and a small McDonald’s museum. Photo by Gary Warren/

Price Comparisons: A sign hangs above the ordering window, which compares prices and value of several items from 1953 to current prices. Photo by Gary Warren/

Formerly of Los Alamos

As we wander about our wonderful country, we try to research the areas we travel in hopes of enjoying and appreciating the place and the people more deeply. Being a photographer, I continually see and hear of “things” that we want to see or check out as we travel.

Any time I hear about the “world’s largest” or the “world’s oldest” or any number of titles that may set a place apart from others, my ears perk up, especially if it falls under the broad heading of “Americana”. I enjoy seeing and reading about the places and things that make this country what it is today.

On our recent trip to California, one of the sites falling under the ‘oldest’ category caught my attention. The oldest McDonald’s Restaurant is in California. That’s all it took, I had to go! Located on the corner of Florence Avenue and Lakewood Boulevard in Downey, Calif., stands the oldest operating McDonald’s. This location opened in 1953. It has operated continuously except when it was closed following the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. This was the third McDonald’s location when it opened in 1953. The earlier locations no longer exist.

Everything about the appearance of this McDonald’s is unique compared to the restaurants we see today. Instead of two arches, this location boasts a single arch standing 60-feet high. Near the top of the arch, a large section of signage protrudes horizontally with a white background and large red letters reading HAMBURGERS. Seen walking across the horizontal portion is the original McDonald’s mascot Chef Speedee. The McDonald’s name appears much lower on the arch a few feet off of the ground.

The building is mid-century style architecture with windows across the front for customers to walk up and place orders.

In the 1990s a second structure was built next to the existing building to provide indoor dining. A small museum also was included, which showed many very early McDonald’s historical items. It wasn’t until 1916 that a drive-thru was added to this location. The restaurant was open for food sales the day we visited but the indoor dining was still closed. I guess I will have to make another visit!

About McDonald’s

In 1917, 15-year-old Ray Kroc lied about his age to join the Red Cross as an ambulance driver, but the war ended before he completed his training, according to the McDonald’s website. He then worked as a piano player, a paper cup salesman and a multimixer salesman.

In 1954, he visited a restaurant in San Bernardino, Calif. that had purchased several multimixers. There he found a small but successful restaurant run by brothers Dick and Mac McDonald, and was stunned by the effectiveness of their operation. The McDonald’s brothers produced a limited menu, concentrating on just a few items – burgers, fries and beverages – which allowed them to focus on quality and quick service.

They were looking for a new franchising agent and Kroc saw an opportunity. In 1955, he founded McDonald’s System, Inc., a predecessor of the McDonald’s Corporation, and six years later bought the exclusive rights to the McDonald’s name and operating system. By 1958, McDonald’s had sold its 100 millionth hamburger.

Editor’s note: Longtime Los Alamos photographer Gary Warren and his wife Marilyn are traveling around the country and he shares his photographs, which appear in the ‘Posts from the Road’ series published in the Sunday edition of the Los Alamos Daily Post.

Customers: Another view of the exterior of the nation’s oldest McDonald’s shows a window for placing orders as well as the red and white striped exterior siding and bright yellow arches of the old McDonald’s restaurants. Photo by Gary Warren/

Indoor Dining: A second building was constructed in the 1990s to provide indoor dining. The area in the center of the room is a small museum featuring historical McDonald’s items. Photo by Gary Warren/

Speedee Drive-thru: The drive-through was not added to the restaurant until 2016 but the sign entering the drive-thru features the old mascot and the original McDonald’s logo font. Photo by Gary Warren/

LOS ALAMOS website support locally by OviNuppi Systems