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The Hamburglar casts his shifty eyes toward some priceless McD's mementoes.
The Hamburglar casts his shifty eyes toward some priceless McD's mementoes.

First Original McDonald's Museum

Field review by the editors.

San Bernardino, California

The plot of land where the First Original McDonald's Museum stands has a history.

McDonald's relics from its bun-faced Speedee days.
McDonald's relics from its bun-faced Speedee days.

In 1940 it was where the McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac, opened McDonald's Famous Barbecue, a car hop drive-in that also sold chili, tamales, and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches.

In 1948 the brothers ditched the car hops (and most of the menu) and refitted the old drive-in into the first counter-service burger-focused McDonald's.

In 1953 they had the building bulldozed and, in its place, erected the first archetypal "Golden Arches" McDonald's restaurant.

And in 1972 that building was demolished and replaced with the non-McDonald's structure that stands there today. All that remained of its momentous fast-food past was the lower half of the old Golden Arches sign.

Albert Okura (1951-2023), who owned the Juan Pollo rotisserie chicken chain, bought the property in 1998. A local newspaper mistakenly reported that Albert wanted to open a McDonald's museum on the site. Albert, who admired McDonald's, read the story and liked the idea. So he did.

Officer Big Mac guards the truncated 15-cent hamburger sign.
Officer Big Mac guards the truncated 15-cent hamburger sign.

It wasn't easy. For years McDonald's lawyers warned Albert that he couldn't call his unofficial shrine a "McDonald's Museum," leaving him to refer to it as the long-winded "historic site of the original McDonald's restaurant."

McDonald's, unlike some other fast food franchises, does not revere its past. The corporation in recent years has continually gutted and remodeled itself in an effort to retain its iron grip on the market. In 2018 it even bulldozed its replica first Ray-Kroc-era franchise restaurant (it had been built in 1985) -- perhaps because it wanted no historical reminders for the chain's 70th anniversary.

Assistant curator Marvin Hernandez and the museum's towering Grimace.
Assistant curator Marvin Hernandez and the museum's towering Grimace.

The loss was not mourned by the fans of Albert Okura's museum, who had always scorned Kroc's first franchise restaurant (opened in 1955) as the "Vichy First McDonald's" because it drew attention away from the one in San Bernardino -- where the 70th anniversary was celebrated with glee.

The first Happy Meal was test-marketed in Kansas City.
The first Happy Meal was test-marketed in Kansas City.

Also, with the self-destruction of the only corporate competitor, Albert finally felt free to call his museum what it was.

Marvin Hernandez, one of the assistant curators, showed us around. "Everything here is donated by the public," he said. "Our relationship to the McDonald's Corporation is pretty much nonexistent."

Outside, in addition to the weathered sign, are various pieces of salvaged McDonald's PlayPlace equipment such as a Grimace see-saw, a Fry Kid spring rocker, and an Officer Big Mac jail. Wrapping around the building is "The World's Most Detailed Mural of San Bernardino History," painted by Phil Yeh, which features tributes to Route 66 and local celebrities including, most prominently, Dick and Mac McDonald.

Inside, the museum is packed with thousands of artifacts, many of them -- such as original grill scrapers and uniforms -- preserved by former McDonald's employees. Showcases display McDonald's souvenir glasses and Happy Meal toys, and there are rare relics of the bun-headed Speedee -- McDonald's official mascot until 1967. One treasured memento is an original McDonald's straw wrapper, 75 years old.

Sesame seed bun flip flops.
Sesame seed bun flip flops.

Props from the 2016 McDonald's movie "The Founder" vie for space with a selection of terrifying disco-era Ronald McDonald dolls, rusty fry baskets from the first Golden Arches McDonald's, a "McMetrics Rule" from 1970, samples of McDonald's packaging of local fast food from around the globe (Marvin told us that the museum is extremely popular with visiting Brazilians), a plush purple Grimace costume, and a chunk of the building's original floor.

Photos of the first Ronald McDonald from the early 1960s reveal that he had a cardboard take-out tray for a hat and a shake cup for a nose.

Out back, behind the museum, is the building that served as McDonald's original headquarters. Marvin pointed reverently to the door of Dick and Mac's office, where the McDonald brothers perfected the French fry machine.

Albert Okura credited McDonald's with inspiring his choice of a career in the fast-food business, and he always liked the food. Although he died at the relatively early age of 71, Albert claimed to have eaten tens of thousands of McDonald's hamburgers with no ill effects.

First Original McDonald's Museum

Address:
1398 N. E St., San Bernardino, CA
Directions:
From Route 66/Mt. Vernon Ave. turn east at the stoplight onto Baseline St. Drive one mile, crossing over the I-215 freeway. Turn left (north) at the stoplight onto E St. Drive a quarter-mile. The museum will be on the left, at the corner of W. 14th St.
Hours:
Daily 10-5. Gated after hours. (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Phone:
909-885-6324
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights
Roadside Videos
Exploring the McDonald's Museum

Original McDonald's Site and Museum.

A Happy Meal of McD trivia and memorabilia at the original fast food phenom site, opened in 1940 by Dick and Mac McDonald, now a museum.Go to video


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In the region:
Historic Fire Lookout Tower, Running Springs, CA - 15 mi.

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