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Back To The Future Series #3: First McDonald's Restaurant in the San Fernando Valley

[Update April 13, 2017]: I received great anecdotal information regarding this location from Amber Dusk whose father was interviewed by the Long Beach Press-Telegram (pic below) in 1982.  Amber's dad was friends with Mr. Kroc since the 1930s and started an advertising agency in 1947 specializing in restaurant franchising.  Amber shares recollections re: McDonald's from her dad below:
The story of Peaks is kind of fun.  While this strange NoHo McDonald’s was being built, there was a glitch in the process, and the golden arches came out jagged.  At the time, the McDonald brothers had about a dozen loosely organized, unsophisticated franchises in Southern California. They just decided to call it Peaks.  I remember that jagged look from the few times we drove “all the way up to Victory”— from where we lived between Riverside and Moorpark—just to sample the burgers.

This history of Peaks came to me from my dad, a wonderful man named Walter Tilds. He met Ray Kroc in the ‘30s when Ray was a Lily Paper Cup salesman in the Chicago area.  Ray went on to distribute Multimixers for milkshakes to restaurants.  When my dad moved us from Chicago to the SFV in 1947, Ray got him his first advertising account with Multimixer.  Dad got to know the McDonald brothers through this association.  In 1954, he got a call from Dick McDonald who disclosed that he and his brother had become exhausted from the hamburger franchise hassle.  They planned to sell out and retire to Santa Barbara.  They wanted to give him first crack at taking over as buyer of their franchise operation.  But his ad agency was going great guns, and the offer just wasn’t right for him.  He connected the brothers with Ray, and the rest is history.

I don’t know how long that original building stood with those peaked arches.  We only went there a couple of times as a family in those early days.  My dad told me the story many years later when McDonald’s had, of course, become international and the story of “Peaks" was much more interesting and relevant.
1982 Long Beach Press-Telegram article courtesy Amber Dusk
[Update November 22, 2014]: The following image from Marla Watson's Facebook shows the front of the Mcdonalds sometime in the mid-60s with the Kris Kristensen Swim School. The second picture is what the McDonalds might have looked originally but I dont believe is the SFV location.

[Update February 1, 2012]: The site contains historical satellite images going back to the 50's (these images are available for purchase on the site without the watermarks and at a higher resolution). For the McDonald's location, the earliest year available was from 1953 shown below (click to enlarge) with a red arrow to show the McDonalds site. Since this image is a top down satellite view, its hard to see any arches but its also possible no arches were present at the time this image was taken because McDonald's opened in October 1953.

The next available year was 1972 shown below which is difficult to determine the architecture type at that time. Also, there appears to have been something constructed on the sides of the buildings which was previously parking as shown in the 1953 image. By the late 60's, the golden arches were removed to transition to the  low profile mansard roof and brick and shingle textures which is common today so its possible that this image does not contain the golden arches. On the very left side of this image, you can see the old Victory Drive In which I discussed in another BTTF post here.

This next image is from 1978 which you can see some kind of building transformation which definitely looks like the McDonalds today. So based on the comment from "Valley Guy", it appears that there was never a demolition as McDonalds simply built around the existing site probably to avoid lengthy downtimes and increased costs. This also explains why the restrooms are always accessed on the right side of the restaurant in a majority of the existing McDonald's location. I didnt bother with the other years available because there are obviously no differences. You can also see that the Victory Drive In is no longer present and has been converted into a strip mall. This has unfortunately become a stereotype of  the Valley as this was way back in the 70's!

[Update August 31, 2011]: I received the following info in an email from "SJM" regarding the McDonalds site:
The “golden arches” on Victory Blvd, just west of Coldwater Canyon back in the 50s actually was not called McDonalds.  It was called Peak’s.  It looked exactly like McDonalds, and likely was the franchisee.  But it had a different name.  I remember the 11 cent burgers and 15 cent fries, or the other way around, and the milkshakes.  It was next door to the Victory Drive in, where we’d go as little kids in the back of the station wagon.  It was many years before it changed names. (and, as a throw away, there was a popular swim school across the street – and I could go on and on).
[Original Post]
So I received a request for what was/is the first McDonald's in the San Fernando Valley. I was unsure and had to do some major researching. So here it is as requested:

Back To The Future Series #3: First McDonald's Restaurant in the San Fernando Valley
So where is the first McDonald's restaurant in the San Fernando Valley? If you are thinking logically, it should  be closer to L.A. than say in the West Valley as the population migrated west over the years. If you were thinking North Hollywood, that is correct!

We are continuing the Back to the Future (BTTF) Series with this third installment. The first two which can be found at the tab above (Back To The Future Series) or below:

The McDonald's history is quite complicated and long so I only intend to provide relevant facts to the Valley. If you truly want to learn more about McDonald's history, I provided links at the bottom of the post which contain some really cool timelines. 

Here is a brief intro to the beginnings of McDonalds (while researching the timeline, I found conflicting information, so its based on an article published by Hess; see sources below) :
  1. 1940: Dick and Mac McDonald open McDonald's Bar-B-Que restaurant in San Bernardino.
  2. 1948: The McDonald's brothers shut down their restaurant and reopen as a self-service drive-in restaurant with $0.15 hamburgers.
  3. 1953: the McDonald's brothers begin to franchise their restaurant with the first restaurant in Phoenix, Arizona which also was the first to utilize the golden arches design.
  4. 1953: the second McDonald's restaurant opens in Downey, California. This is the oldest McDonald's restaurant which still uses  the original arches design today.
  5. 1953: the third McDonald's restaurant opens at 12919 Victory Blvd, North Hollywood, California in October. This site unfortunately was torn down and no longer has the golden arches.
  6. 1954: Ray Kroc visits the McDonalds brothers in San Bernandino and secures a nationwide franchising contract
  7. 1955: Kroc opens his first McDonald's franchise in Des Plaines, Illinois in April. A lot of people get this confused with being the first ever McDonald's, but as you can read from 1 - 6, it was not. 
So speaking of the golden arches, these were designed incorporating the googie style which was common throughout Southern California in the 50's and 60's. (Also the first two BTTF posts contained structures that utilized the googie style which was especially common in the San Fernando Valley.)  There was nothing special about these arches and they were simply designed this way in order to bring attention to the restaurant which worked out like a charm. The McDonald's sign also displayed, Speedee, who was a pudgy character in a chef's hat which can be seen in the Downey picture below (Hess).

As advertising switched to television, it was easier to bring attention to McDonald's through the boob tube  rather than build restaurants with golden arches. In 1968, McDonald's introduced its low profile mansard roof and brick and shingle textures which can be seen today (Hess). Some of the newer built McDonald's have shifted away from this design and look more boxy. But the majority of the restaurants still use the 1968 design that we all grew up with.  

Okay, back to the main topic. The San Fernando Valley's first McDonald's restaurant was at the corner of  Victory and Coldwater Canyon in Noho. I could not find any pictures of the original McDonalds except for the postcard images above. I cannot verify if these images were in fact how the Noho restaurant looked but I am sure it was close since this is how most of the restaurants with the golden arches were built. I dont know when it got demolished but I am guessing sometime in the 70's because the McDonald's today looks like the 1968 design. I was disappointed to find this out. I was planning on visiting the site to take pictures but then I realized, if the golden arch design was still standing, I would have definitely known about it. As a result, I got discouraged and didnt even bother to take pictures and merely relied on Google StreetView to show how it is today on the right (at least saved gas money) since there is nothing really unique about it. I am going to cry now!

If its any consolation, the Downey site is still standing in its original form so if you wanted to have the golden arches experience from the 1950's, you still have the opportunity today assuming you live near Downey. It also has a mini museum and shop. The address is 10207 Lakewood Boulevard, Downey, CA 90241-2741. Phone number is (562) 622-9248.  

And another totally separate but somewhat related note, the McDonalds at 6309 Lankershim has a McDonaldland Musuem which is home to a collection of vintage McDonaldland characters. Who remembers all the names? Hamburglar, Grimace, Mayor McCheese, Captain Crook, and the Big Mac in addition to Ronald McDonald.

I just want the original Happy Meal back in the corrugated box instead of a bag.

Does anyone have any memories to share of the original Noho site?

McDonald's Wikipedia
The Origins of McDonald's Golden Arches by Alan Hess, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 45, No. 1 (Mar 1986), pp. 60 - 67. Published by University of California Press.

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Marty Mcfly

Anything and everything about the San Fernando Valley. This blog will take you back in time when the valley was covered with dirt and orange groves to a leader in the space race to its current status as America's suburb. Come along and join me on this adventure, I guarantee you have been influenced/impacted by the San Fernando Valley in one form or another even if you have never visited or heard of the SFV.

14 comments to ''Back To The Future Series #3: First McDonald's Restaurant in the San Fernando Valley"

  1. That McDonald's on Victory might not have been "torn down" after all. Many of them simply had the newer achitecture and inside dining areas built around the original structure, probably as a way to minimize down-time during the process.

    I know this because my childhood McDonalds, on Resdeda Boulevard just north of Devonshire, received this treatment and still stands today (remodeled yet again in recent years).

    We moved to Northridge in 1966, and from our front yard we could see the gigantic "golden arches" lit up at night. We'd occasionally ride our bikes down there with our dad for lunch. It looked pretty similar to the Downey one, with only walk-up windows and patio dining.

    On the right side of the structure was a place where you could stand up on this little stoop and watch the guy make french fries. That inner building is still intact, and today you walk past that same french-fry-watching spot to get to the restrooms.

    I actually see this layout in many of the current McDonald's. If you walk down a long, narrow corridor on the right side to get to the restrooms, that was an "original" that was updated to the enclosed style in the late '60s or so, adding that brown-ish architecture shown in the updated image of the Victory location.

  2. Hello Valley Guy,

    Thanks for your comments on the various posts on this site. I found a site which displays historical aerial images and I believe you are right about the existing sites not being demolished and instead were remodeled around the existing site to avoid costly downtimes. I added the pics to this post.

  3. The Peaks Resturant turned into a McDonalds was owned by my family members father his name was Tony DeMoura. I have seen the photos of Tony and Ray Kroc along side of Tony's Chrysler Imperial with the Peaks sign in the background, so nostalgic. Tony remained a partial owner for quite sometime along with some other investments including Vita-Pac Orange Juice.

  4. I remember a McDonald's on Roscoe near DeSoto (where the Home Depot is now) from the last 1960s. It had the arches and red and white tile shown in the picture above. I'm not sure what year it was built, but it definitely was the "older" style.

  5. In Roscoe, I remember that ,It is worlds top most old MC Donald restaurants, I think the year was 1950,but not sure.

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  6. If you read the sandwich board at the classic Downey, CA location it states that it is the third to be franchised by the McDonald brothers. I've read other places that the second was the one in North Hollywood.

  7. JTL, thanks for the info. Sounds like there is conflicting info and I am not sure what to believe but seems like the Noho location was definitely one of the early franchises.

  8. ndeed. Every list I've seen agrees that the second franchise by the McDonald brothers was Neil Fox's in Phoenix. Then the conflicts start as to the next franchisee- the Noho location seems most likely tho some sites say Downey. One site even shows Saginaw, MI as the second! All were built in 1953, so that's probably where the confusion come from. I've used Google Maps and Historic Aerials as you have to find some past locations, and although many sites say the original locations were demolished it's obvious that most (as Valley Guy wrote above) were either remodeled or relocated leaving the original building intact. Case in point is the Phoenix location- most sites say it was demolished, but a trip via Google Maps shows the building at 4050 N. Central Ave was obviously a McDonald's, plus Historic Aerials shows the building at that spot in 1958 was the McDonald's- the shadow of the arches can be seen! Unfortunately the one I worked at in 1980 has been demolished- the new one was built right next to it (and I mean RIGHT next to it- about a foot away from it to the south, where an abandoned gas station existed) so the old one could remain open. When the new one opened the old one was demolished and the drive thru lane was built there. Why didn't I take pics? The first McD's built in my area (Milwaukee) does still exist- as a dental office, but it still has the original shape. A new, much larger McD's was put up many years ago about a block to the north. Keep up the good work, I really enjoy this and the other investigations you've done!

  9. Re the McDonald's on Victory across from the Kris Kristensen Swim School. My father took me to this swim school many times in the late 1950's. The McDonald's may have been there - I don't recall. But what I do remember is a very early Jack In The Box on the same side of Victory as we drove from Van Nuys. It even had the Jack actually popping out of the Box. My father said something to me about knowing the guy who owned, or started, the restaurant, but I have no idea who he was referring to.

  10. I remember Peak's on Victory Blvd. and I remember when it turned into McDonald's. The arches were there from when it was Peak's and the sign still had the little man from Peak's even after it changed to McDonald's. In fact I just always assumed that McDonald's incorporated the golden arches into its use from the Peak's buyout and it just evolved.

    Everyone went there after school, from Madison Jr. High to Grant High and of course after a night at the drive in next door.

    As I recall, shakes were only 15 cents then and French fries were a dine.. .and only on Fridays they served fish, because in those days Catholics could only eat fish on Fridays . .
    The link below is what the McDonalds looked like shortly after it changed hands from Peak's to McDonalds.

    1. Next door to Peaks was St. Jane Frances church and school which I attended from 1951 to 1959 then graduated from U.S.Grant H.S. Madison was open during the summer and a 2 block walk from my house.

      Peaks was the place to go, we, from my class, use to sneak out of school for lunch. To us Peaks was first but I don't know the dates Peaks began. The food was the same, when McDonald's took over they only changed the name, then later the colors from blue and white to gold and white.

      Someone mentioned the drive-in, it was Victory Drive-in. Those were the days.

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  12. Cool! I also heard that this North Hollywood location was indeed the 3rd location that the McDonald brother's franchised, making it "store #4" (after their original San Bernardino store (#1), then Phoenix, AZ (#2) and Downey, CA (#3). Phoenix and Downey both opened in 1953, and in 1954 they opened NoHo (#4) Alhambra (#5), Sacramento (#6), Azusa (#7), and Pomona (#8)

    Peak's most definitely was always a McDonalds (no indie hamburger restaurant could've sold 15 million hamburgers!) In fact, when Dick and Mac started franchising themselves in 1953 and 1954, they allowed the franchiser to use their own name. (they were even surprised when Neil Fox named the first franchise in Phoenix "McDonald's") When the Peak's franchiser (Mr. Peak?) later sold to another franchiser they dropped the "Peak's" Now, I really want to see some pics of this place in the 50's or early 60s! I might take a short drive over there and see if there are any red and white tiles hiding inside!

  13. I grew up in North Hollywood and visited "Peaks" restaurant on a regular basis. I remember on the bottom of the large Peaks sign was a tiny sign that read "Licensee of McDonald's Corporation". As a kid, I always wondered what that meant. Years later, the Peaks sign was removed and replaced with the McDonald's sign. That outdoor restaurant was not torn down. It was remodeled and enlarged to become an indoor restaurant. My wife also grew up in that area and as it turns out, her great uncle purchased that location early on and the family still owns it today. He was from Chicago, and Ray Kroc drove to his house in the Chicago area to obtain the $1500 franchise fee for his first restaurant in Wisconsin.


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