McDonald's plans to tear down Des Plaines replica restaurant
For years, the golden arches and neon "Speedee" road sign at 400 Lee St. in Des Plaines have served as a roadside attraction and reminder of the suburban roots of what's become the world's largest hamburger chain.
But as early as next month, the 32-year-old replica of McDonald's first franchised restaurant will be demolished, company officials confirmed Monday. The original 62-year-old sign will be removed first, but its future is still unclear.
The company plans to donate the land, where founder Ray Kroc opened his first McDonald's walk-up restaurant on April 15, 1955, to the city.
With its iconic golden arches, the replica building was constructed in 1985 according to Kroc's original blueprints. It had operated for years as a museum, featuring original kitchen equipment used at the first McDonald's, including grills, a hamburger carousel where burgers were prepared, a hand-operated french-fry peeler, and a wooden barrel dispenser that contained syrup for Coke and root beer.
But the company closed the museum to the public 10 years ago, leaving tourists to snap pictures from outside.
The museum closing, "combined with the building's location and the feasibility to reopen and maintain it, led us to this decision," McDonald's spokeswoman Terri Hickey said Monday in a statement. "This property in Des Plaines will always have a special place in our company's history."
Hickey said the company plans to seek a demolition permit from the city soon.
City Manager Mike Bartholomew said that request hadn't yet been made Monday. Immediate plans call for grass to be planted before McDonald's donates the land, but city officials haven't discussed what to do with the property beyond that. At the very least, Bartholomew said, a stone or sign could be placed to commemorate the site's historical significance.
When city officials learned of the company's decision two weeks ago, Bartholomew asked if there was anything the city could do to save the building and sign. But two corporate executives told him the company wasn't willing to donate the entire site -- left intact -- to the city or another user in order to protect their brand, Bartholomew said.
Talk of McDonald's closing or moving the museum has swirled around town for years, as recently as 2013 after floods that left the building underwater. In November 2013, a company spokeswoman said a decision hadn't yet been made about the future of the site.
Though the building is not the original -- Kroc's restaurant underwent several remodels and was finally torn down in 1984 -- the site does include the original "Speedee" sign. Its neon lights are still operable, advertising 15-cent hamburgers and boasting "over 1 million" sold.
Hickey said the company plans to remove the sign from the site before any demolition work begins on the building, but she didn't say where the sign will go or if it would be on display in the future.
Same goes for some of the original items inside the replica building.
"We plan to remove and preserve anything of historical value," Hickey said.
• Daily Herald staff writer Bob Susnjara contributed to this report.