Oldest McDonald’s

I live in Downey, California. Although the city has very few noteworthy features, one interesting fact is that it houses the oldest operational McDonald’s restaurant in the world. I drive past it every day on my way to school, and have even eaten there on a few occasions, but never truly understood its history.

The location first opened for business in 1953, as the third McDonald’s franchise to be opened. The brand was still relatively small at the time, with the locations confined to California and Arizona. Since then, of course, the chain has become a world-wide phenomenon, with the golden arches becoming one of the most recognizable symbols in the entire world.

An interesting fact about this particular location is that it was actually independent from the McDonald’s corporation for much of its existence. Because it was franchised out by the original McDonald’s brothers, the sale of the company effectively severed its ties with the other locations. This caused some issues with its menu and sales, eventually leading to the location being purchased by the company in 1990.

Despite the many changes that the company has undergone, the Downey location has remained virtually the same over the past sixty years. In fact, much of the restaurant’s signage and architecture is still original, which has led to the location becoming something of a tourist attraction. In recent years, a small museum has been attached to the building, providing a place for visitors to learn more about the history of the restaurant.



  1. Sean Smith

    As a tourist trap or even as an iconic restaurant, what purpose does it serve in cultural memory? What public history does the museum offer? what story of the past does the site tell? Let’s dig a little deeper/think a bit more critically in all of our posts.

  2. Kirsten Miller

    While McDonald’s is now an international chain and has even become the brunt of jokes, when it first opened, it was a perfect representation of that “safe” public private controlled environment we discussed in class. It sold the happy fantasy that appealed to the white, middle class citizen. What is more American than a hamburger, french fries, and a milkshake? All of which was served in a “Happy Meal” by an employee with a fresh new hair cut and a smile on his face. Eating out was a luxury that could only be enjoyed by those who made a comfortable living and therefore those who went to enjoy a meal at a McDonald’s restaurant would only be confronted by those living in the same rose colored bubble that they were. It further promoted this concept of an American fantasy, an ideal.

  3. Anaid Gonzalez

    I pass that McDonald’s everyday on my way to school or work and I have never been to it until this year. The fact that it is independent of the franchise is evident when you go up to it, one major difference is that the menu is not identical to the other McDonald’s. The museum is decaying and sad looking, it showcased some of the old items on the McDonald’s menu, almost trying to hold on to the past that it had when McDonald’s was not seen as a cheap fast-food place but instead was a happy and cheery place to eat. But I thought it was very interesting to know that many of my coworkers who live in Downey have always remembered seeing this location while growing up, but have never actually eaten there.

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