Lessons in preservation from...McDonald's?

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, Non Residential Buildings, House Styles, Historic Preservation

Mention of fast-food giant McDonald’s doesn’t usually conjure up anything remotely akin to historic preservation. In fact, the bright yellow and red colors that seem to grace at least one corner in even the smallest of towns can often bring to mind the question of what was once on that corner — the historic house that was torn down, the old church that met the wrecking ball, or the field that once invited children to play. Now that corner is a fast food restaurant, complete with a parking lot, generic landscaping and nothing historical in sight.

A surprise from the Golden Arches

The folks at Scouting NY discovered a surprise in the middle of Long Island — a magnificent Georgian mansion, beautifully restored, that just happens to be a McDonald’s restaurant.

The home was originally constructed as a farmhouse in 1795 by Joseph Denton, who was a descendant of the founder of Hempstead, New York. It got an overhaul in 1860, complete with a Georgian facade. Throughout the 1900’s it was used for various purposes, including upscale restaurants and a funeral home. But by the 1980’s, the mansion had been abandoned and was about to meet the wrecking ball.

McDonald’s bought the property with the intention of tearing it down to build one of their new, shiny, red-and-yellow buildings. But when preservationists stepped in and had the building declared a National Landmark, all plans for tearing it down screeched to a halt. Now what?

McDonald’s now had to adhere to certain rules in order to have their restaurant in the old building. Rather than sell the property, the company decided to restore it to the 1926 appearance. Starting with an old photograph, the company set about creating an absolutely lovely restaurant.

Of course, the inside of the house has been gutted to make way for the requirements of running a restaurant, but the look stays as true to the facade as possible. The vinyl siding might be new, but the fireplace chimneys are definitely restored. The replacement windows look very much like originals from that time period, as do the shutters, but it’s safe to say that they are likely all new. The floors are hardwood instead of the typical McDonald’s tile, and the majestic staircase that leads to an upper dining level keeps the charm of the old house alive. A nice touch is the open ceiling, which gives a glimpse of original wood and handsome beams.

But there is even better news: This isn’t the first McDonald’s that launched in a historic building. This lovely place in Freeport, Maine is complete with fireplaces, real tables (not booths!) and a cozy feel. Other restaurants that want to move into historical areas have seen it fit to make the most out of the buildings that are already there.

The Long Island McDonald’s restaurant apparently does great business without the gaudy exterior. In fact, the only spot of the classic yellow and red is on a small, discreet sign in front of the mansion. It definitely gives the phrase “I’m lovin’ it” a whole new meaning for preservationists.