Description: Former McDonald's Restaurant Location: 520 Friend Way, Lebanon, Indiana Condition: Demolished Originally Photographed: July 2001
On January 14, 1984, Ray A. Kroc died of heart failure at age 82. Had it been anyone else, few might have noticed – but Ray was no ordinary man. Esquire magazine named him as one of 50 people who made the greatest contribution to the American way of life in the 20th century.
Back in 1954, though, Ray’s future wasn’t so bright. Working through a series of different jobs, in the mid 1920s he hired on as a sales rep at Lily Tulip, a paper cup manufacturer. Unfortunately, no one bought paper cups at the time. Ray worked hard for a decade to convince soda fountain operators they could earn more money by preparing “take out” beverages – served in Ray’s cups.
Just before the war, he went into partnership with a man who invented a machine called the “multimixer”. It produced several milkshakes at once using spinning metal spindles arrayed around a center motor. Initially Ray thought it was a great way to sell more paper cups, but after one of his major customers switched suppliers, he became the exclusive national agent for the machine.
Right after the war, he enjoyed several years of strong sales, but change was in the air. His best customers were soda fountains – which were closing at an alarming rate. One customer caught his attention, though – a hamburger stand in San Bernardino, California that kept eight Multimixers humming at once.
After taking the red-eye flight to California from Chicago, Ray saw first-hand the operation that would change his – and Americas – future. Brothers Dick and Mac McDonald had closed their popular drive in and converted it into a pure self service operation serving a simple menu of 15-cent hamburgers, french fries, milkshakes, Coca-Cola and coffee. Initially slow to start, their efficient production operation was now serving hundreds more customers each day.
Ray signed on as a franchise agent and returned home to Chicago to develop his first store in Des Plaines, Illinois. After overcoming issues with the original store design – like where to put the furnace, unnecessary in southern California – his new store was successful almost from day one.
Ray was the hardest working member of the staff, and was fanatical about cleanliness and efficiency. He could sometimes be seen cleaning and sanitizing the dirty mop heads during slow times.
He hooked up with Harry Sonneborn, a financial expert, who devised a unique scheme whereby McDonald’s would buy land for a new store, and lease it back to the operator for a fee, as well as a percentage of store sales. This let determined entrepreneurs enter the business more quickly, without having to come up with real capital in advance. The method allowed McDonald’s to grow fast, a tactic shared by their contemporary major competitor, Burger Chef . Sandwiched between an ever-expanding Chicago-based McDonald’s and the Indianapolis-based Burger Chef, Indiana quickly became a nexus of fast food.
One of the first McDonald’s locations opened along the new I-65 freeway between those two hamburger capitals was restaurant in the small town of Lebanon. At the time, Indianapolis was still too small to call Lebanon a suburb yet.
In the early 1970s, McDonald’s underwent a massive program to demolish restaurants of the old, double-arch design and replace them with the familiar mansard-roof design we usually see today. Customers were seeking “family dining”, full service restaurants, and passing the open-air drive up stores to get what they wanted. The Lebanon site has this 1970’s design, though its actual construction date is difficult to pinpoint.
However, the true jewel of the Lebanon McDonald’s was the sign. This was an original “Speedy” sign – named for the character atop the sign that would “run” at night via multiple neon tubes. The sign dates from the late 1950s, and had been fully restored and mounted in front of the otherwise normal building.
The inside of the store carried this nostalgic neon theme though displays of 1950’s icons and a large juke box.
By the late 1980s, McDonald’s had trounced most of its competition and reigned as the king of fast food. But y the late 1990s, consumer tastes were changing yet again, and fast food in general began to decline in favor of “fast casual” restaurants that combined gourmet sandwiches and broader menus with the speed of traditional fast food. In an effort to reinvent itself, McDonald’s has begun replacing older design stores with several new styles – including one that is reminiscent of the original 1950’s design.
Entrepreneurs frequently build new stores on the site of the old ones, but current owner of the Lebanon franchise elected to take advantage of better traffic flow patterns on the East side of the freeway. That left the old McDonald’s store a fast food history remnant.
A clip from a 1979 McDonald’s television commercial when the Lebanon McDonald’s was in its prime.
In late June 2002 the store opened again for a time as fireworks outlet, but then someone boarded it up again. Sometime demolished it a bit later, and the land is now for sale for redevelopment, leaving another memory for Lost Indiana.