Editorial: The quest to save McDonald's restaurant museum

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 11/27/2017 5:43 PM
  • A view inside the McDonald's Museum in Des Plaines, location of the first McDonald's restaurant Ray Kroc opened in 1955.

    A view inside the McDonald's Museum in Des Plaines, location of the first McDonald's restaurant Ray Kroc opened in 1955. Daily Herald File Photo

Just in time for the holidays came news last week that McDonald's plans to demolish the replica building of its first franchised restaurant in Des Plaines.

From the company's perspective, the decision makes some business sense. The location has flooding issues and how much value does the corporation really get out of it for its costs of upkeep and its not-insignificant liability?

But from the community perspective, there is much to lose.

The building was re-created 32 years ago on the spot where legendary founder Ray Kroc opened his first walk-up restaurant in 1955. The original 62-year-old sign stands outside.

"It's a shame that McDonald's Corp. doesn't think it's very important because the people of Des Plaines sure do," said local history buff Brian Wolf, who's been involved in preservation efforts at the nearby Des Plaines Theatre. "I'd hope they'd find a way to work with organizations in the community, or at least the existing franchise in town, on a way to show the history's still around."

Indeed, the Des Plaines History Center appears to have some interest in exploring whether a partnership could be formed to manage and maintain the property.

"A proposal such as that would require careful consideration and assessment on all sides," says Shari Caine, the center's executive director. "Currently there appears to be an interest from our board of trustees in communicating with McDonald's to open a dialogue, to gather more information and to explore possibilities."

Word came late in the week that the Volo Auto Museum would like to preserve and display the building and artifacts, an interesting idea, although not the same as keeping this piece of suburban history on its original site. Like many other children of the suburbs, we're keeping our fingers crossed that something can be worked out.

The suburbs get a bad rap with unfair stereotypes and one of them is the mistaken notion that we have no history or that if we do, it's not important.

We have a heritage like any other place on the planet -- younger than some spots perhaps, but still a past that is important to understanding and celebrating who we are.

Look around, and the suburbs are dotted with many more iconic gifts than you might think -- the Volkening Heritage Farm in Schaumburg, the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, the Elgin Tower Building, Cantigny Park in Wheaton, Goebbert's Pumpkin Farm in South Barrington, the Maple Street Chapel in Lombard, Hotel Baker in St. Charles, to name only a few.

The McDonald's replica is just one small piece of our heritage. But all of the pieces are worth sustaining. Our history is worth saving.

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