News that McDonald's plans to tear down the replica of its first franchised restaurant in Des Plaines garnered quick reaction Tuesday from locals and historic preservationists, questioning whether the local landmark could be spared from the wrecking ball.
"I think it's a shame that McDonald's Corp. doesn't think it's very important, because the people of Des Plaines sure do," said Brian Wolf, a Des Plaines resident and history buff 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 (McDonald's) franchise in town, on a way to show the history still around. Obviously, it's up to them."
The company confirmed Monday that it planned to demolish its 32-year-old replica building of founder Ray Kroc's first walk-up restaurant at 400 Lee St., citing its location in an oft-flooded area and the feasibility of maintaining it. The company said it plans to remove the original 62-year-old neon "Speedee" road sign, though officials wouldn't say where it would go or if it would be on display in the future.
McDonald's said it planned to donate the land -- where only grass would remain -- to the city.
Officials at the Des Plaines History Center expressed disappointment Tuesday at the likely loss of the roadside attraction, which had served as a McDonald's history museum until the company shut down tours of the inside after floods in 2008.
Shari Caine, the History Center's executive director, said she planned to contact the corporation about the possibility of forming a partnership to manage and maintain the site. It's an idea that's been floated in the past but perhaps that has more urgency now that the company confirmed plans to seek a demolition permit from the city soon.
"I think a proposal such as that would require careful consideration and assessment on all sides," Caine said. "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."
Caine said the History Center has received calls, emails and Facebook comments from people expressing dismay. On Tuesday, the Center put a statement on its website that read in part, "Des Plaines is proud of the site as a place that changed the world, and we are deeply disappointed in this development."
"Disappointment" was also the word City Manager Mike Bartholomew used to describe the reaction of the city's elected officials when he broke the news to them two weeks ago, after a meeting with two corporate executives at city hall.
Bartholomew asked if there was anything the city could do to keep the site preserved, but company officials told him they weren't willing to donate the site -- as is -- to another user because of the need to protect their brand.
On Tuesday, McDonald's spokeswoman Lauren Altmin echoed comments from a day earlier, saying the company planned to "remove and preserve anything of historical value, such as the sign."
The replica building, constructed in 1985 according to Kroc's original blueprints, also contains original kitchen equipment used at the first McDonald's.