When Ray Kroc Came to Hollywood Park

Hollywood Park McDonald's

Hollywood Park McDonald's, June 1968. (c) Morrie Farbman

Back when I did a survey of Hollywood Park neighborhood landmarks, someone mentioned our McDonald’s probably was one of the earliest.

Exactly how early? I asked.

Maybe the second, replied my source.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know milestones of this magnitude are few and far between in the history of Hollywood Park. For nearly a year I’ve been asking former Hollywood Park residents old enough to remember, what year did the McDonald’s open? (People from Hollywood Park of course understand which is the McDonald’s. For those of you from other parts, it’s located on Peterson and Jersey.) Here’s the best answer I got:

“Regarding McDonald’s, I’m guessing it was opened in ’58 0r ’59. I remember we were there at the Park every day on our bikes and would ask them every day when they were opening.”

After learning the 100th restaurant opened in 1959, however, I gave up all hope. If we were Ray Kroc’s 61st or 89th or even the 100th McDonald’s, that story wasn’t worth a french fry.

Then I talked to Howard Gelber. He was one of the first teenagers, maybe the first teenager, to get a part-time job at the Hollywood Park McDonald’s. And, yes, he confirmed we were #2. Well, maybe #3–but, definitely, not more than #3.

As Gelber recalls, he started working at the Hollywood Park McDonald’s in 1956 or ’57 and there was a McDonald’s on Montrose that opened just before or after the Hollywood Park McDonald’s. Kroc’s first McDonald’s restaurant opened on April 15, 1955, on Lee Street in Des Plaines.

That means our McDonald’s isn’t just a Hollywood Park landmark; it’s one or two McDonald’s away from being a national monument. And get this: Ray Kroc himself would pick up Gelber at Von Steuben High School and drive him to work.

The Hollywood Park McDonald’s was Kroc’s showplace to sell the concept to franchisees, and he wanted a bright and personable young man taking orders. The full-time employees didn’t fit the bill, so whenever Kroc had an appointment to show the restaurant to a prospect, he drove over to Von, picked up Gelber and drove him back to McDonald’s to work the window.

Millions and millions and millions

My first visit to the Hollywood Park McDonald’s probably was in 1964, ’65 at the latest. It was a special treat, once or twice a summer. We ate in the car and all I talked about was the sign. That sign introduced me to the numerical concept of millions, and more than anything, I wanted to witness the exact moment when the number of burgers sold rose another million.

 About the photo

Morrie Farbman clearly remembers the date he took the photograph of the McDonald’s sign shown above because it was right after the assassination of RFK and the flag was flying at half-mast. I’m surprised to see the original sign lasted so long. The only change  is “Coast to Coast” replaced 15 cents.

Farbman attended Hibbard and Von Steuben, but graduated from Niles North. He recalls spending nearly every summer day from 1962 to 1969 at Hollywood Park.

Those were the days. Hanging at the park playing line ball, baseball and basketball, then lunch at McDonald’s.

He started taking photographs in 1964, mostly street photography. He worked part-time for Phil Malodinoff, a well-known Jewish photographer who had a studio on Devon. He had the Mather High School yearbook job, and Farbman recalls using a 4×5 camera to photograph the exterior of the school, first with the lens cap on and then getting it right the second time. Farbman’s first full-time commercial photography job was with Buffalo Photo near Clark and Superior. After getting married and having children, he became a Skokie garbage man by day and wedding/bar mitzvah photographer by night.

Over time Farbman worked his way up the ranks to firefighter, paramedic, lieutenant, fire investigator and fire chief, but along the way he lost his passion for photography. Then in 1993, the bug bit again and he’s been taking fine art still life and landscape photographs and  now plans to get back into his first interest, street photography. Check his recent work as well as some classic early ’70s images–including a young Eric Clapton in photo #6–on his website. You can contact Morrie via his website if you’re interested in purchasing prints, or you can view his work at Galleria Classico, in Cave Creek, just north of Phoenix/Scottsdale.

Credits: Photo courtesy of Morrie Farbman.  Thanks to Morrie Farbman and Howard Gelber for sharing their stories.

Sources:  McDonald’s website; Wikipedia entry on McDonald’s.


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16 Responses to When Ray Kroc Came to Hollywood Park

  1. Jerry Pritikin August 21, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

    I heard it was the second. I used to work for Patio Furnature Store at 2934 W. Peterson (later an Arbey Beef)across from Roger’s Car Wash and kitty corner from the Tennis courts and a block away from Weinsteins Funeral Home in 1959-1960. It was already there at that time just past Lincoln across the bridge over the North branch of the Chicago River. I believe the Town & Country Swiming Pool was located just before going over the bridge. One of the best Hamburger places was Omar Khayyams was on Lincoln Avenue. Mather had Opened in ’59.

  2. Frances Archer August 21, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    Thanks for stopping by, Jerry. You remember so much!

  3. Shari Cohen Forsythe August 22, 2011 at 10:51 pm #

    I have so many memories of waiting for my hamburger, fries and a shake in a soggy swimsuit after spending the day at Tower Cabana pool. My father and I loved Mickey D’s, my mother, not so much. It was our guilty pleasure. I still recall the time I was a young girl with a bad cold, getting stir crazy in the house because I wasn’t allowed outside. My dad drove from our house in Lincolnwood after dinner to the very same McDonald’s to bring home an order of fries to cheer me up. If that is not love, what is?

  4. Frances Archer August 23, 2011 at 7:45 am #

    Shari, that is such a nice story about your Dad. It’s funny as I was writing this, I felt like it was an ad for McDonald’s, which wasn’t my intention at all. But it’s true that McDonald’s meant a lot to us as kids.Another thing that strikes me is how many similar landmarks of our childhood we share. As a child I thought of LIncolnwood as an entirely different universe, but of course it was just across the street and we all went to the same places.

  5. Brian E September 14, 2011 at 12:02 am #

    This is a great post, thanks for sharing. I grew up in the 80s, on Central Park. My father went to Von (class of ’66) and my brother and I did as well. Love the fact that Kroc drove there to pic up an employee. We grew up going to that McDonalds, and my pops always told us it was one of the earliest ones, I had no idea it was maybe the second or third though!

    So many memories of going there after school to chow down on some burgers and fries, we’d skip lunch and save our money just to be able to do so. As the years went by, I’d seen it get remodeled time and time again, but it was and always will be my childhood Mickey D’s. Proud to say it’s also one of the first.

  6. Frances Archer September 14, 2011 at 9:22 pm #

    Hi, Brian, thanks for writing. what block of Central Park? McD was the same for a long time, and then it did keep getting remodeled and expanding. But it’s cool that it’s still there, across from the park.

  7. Brian E October 6, 2011 at 2:37 am #

    Frances, I grew up on Central Park and Peterson. Howie Glantz is actually my uncle! I’m so glad to see that post about Ned Singer, made me smile.

    That McDonald’s was all part of the walks that we’d take as kids, always east down Peterson (as there was nothing really west on Peterson for us to do.) Some early memories are of going to the 31 Flavors on hot summer nights with my father to grab a cone, which was run by the sweetest old French married couple. They had the whole place decked out in a Parisian theme, complete with Perrier bottles on every table stuffed with a fresh flower! You don’t see that anymore, at all.

    Then of course there was the Shell on Kimball, where we’d get all of our candy. And the Chinese restaurant on the opposite corner, “Golden Palace,” where we’d order fried rice. Then a short walk down was the McDonalds. Everything we needed, oh including Martino’s, was within walking distance. Food (both fast food and restaurant food) ice cream, candy, we had it all. Then throw in Peterson Park for exploring, games, basketball, etc, it was a kids paradise within a few blocks walk. Then years later A-Beeper opened, in the lot which used to house “I Am A Print Shoppe.” He sold us all pagers back in about ’91, ’92 or so. An old school Chicago guy, his name was Bert Spellman, and he gave me lots of advice and I always looked up to him. I was blessed to grow up right there.

    And that McDonald’s, so many memories. It was where my father would take us after baseball games (and before sometimes too, for their awesome breakfasts) at River Park. We never went to the one on Foster, we always went to our neighborhood one. Sometimes we’d eat out next to the river.

    This day, that corner of Kimball and Peterson is all but completely different, and the old 31 flavors is actually a dance studio, with the owner being a professional friend, coincidentally, (I’m a professional dancer and own a dance company) whom I’ve know for years, even before he started renting it. Funny how life works out like that. He now occupies two store fronts where my old childhood Baskin Robins was. And I’ve even taught there a few times. Crazy. Who’d have ever thought. But that McDonalds, I’m happy and proud to say, remains a beacon of the neighborhood, one of the originals, that I don’t think will be going anytime soon.

    As Ray Krock famously used to ask students he’d lecture at various engagements….

    “What business do you think McDonald’s is in?”

    – Student – “Hamburgers!”


    “French Fries?”




    “We are in the business of real estate.”

    Well God bless ya Ray, and I hope that Mickey D’s holds down that real estate for all of eternity.

  8. Frances Archer October 6, 2011 at 9:14 pm #

    Brian, thanks for writing and bringing back some memories I didn’t realize I’d forgotten. I think I had my first resume after college printed at “I Am A Print Shoppe.” The “old” French couple that owned 31 Flavors was younger as I remember them — I am a few years older than you. There’s even more of a coincidence regarding the dance studio than you may realize. When we moved to the neighborhood, Miss Carol’s Dance Arts Studio was located on Peterson, same block as 31 Flavors but I can’t remember which address. (I can look it up, eventually). Anyhow, I started my dance classes there. She later moved to Bryn Mawr and for a long time a lot of girls from Peterson attended classes there, and we had the annual recital at Mather. And lastly, your being Howard’s nephew confirms one of the reasons these neighborhoods from Albany Park to Peterson Park were so closeknit–everyone seems to have had family living nearby.

  9. Richard Jacobson November 1, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    Forgive me if I have mentioned this somewhere else already, but here’s my personal recollection from living in North Park from 1953 to 1962.

    I remember the McDonald’s opening on Peterson. Before it did, there was another fast-food type hamburger place located right next door that my family always went to. We were very loyal to this place. The burgers were GOOD, as were the fries and milkshakes. We always thought McDonald’s couldn’t compare in quality. In the end, McD’s won out, and the older place closed. I wonder if anyone remembers the name of that place.

    I must have been younger than four years old when this was happening. One of my most vivid memories is watching the new McDs building going up, and when they put up the sign that said “Over ten million hamburgers sold” (yes, the number was much lower in those early years) my dad laughed and said, “How could they have already sold ten million hamburgers when they haven’t even finished building it yet?”

  10. Frances Archer November 1, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    NIce to hear from you, Richard. Was the restaurant Green Gables? I don’t remember it, but others have told me it was on the corner of Peterson and Kimball (where Kentucky Fried Chicken is now). The general consensus is McDonald’s opened in 1958 on Peterson, but it could have been late 1957.

  11. Richard Jacobson December 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

    It wasn’t a restaurant, really, it was more of a hamburger stand, not unlike the original McDonalds. I even remember that you could drive up to a window to pick up your hamburgers, but I wouldn’t swear that memory is accurate. I was probably 4 or 5 years old when this happened, so 1957 or 1958 would be right on.

  12. Frances Archer December 6, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    Hi, Richard. Nice to hear from you again. You’re right, McDonald’s would not have been considered a restaurant in those days. I recall thinking it was great eating in the car. I also recall being very picky about getting a plain burger, and in those days it would take forever for a special order.

  13. Andy Romanoff February 13, 2012 at 1:07 pm #

    I’m going to vote for earlier, maybe 57. I remember it being built and the swarms of kids who started hanging out there that summer. There were so many of us the police started to chase us out.

    Peterson Park across the street was the park I played in when I was growing up. It had long curving sidewalks perfect for racing your bicycle on and “The Hill”, a raised area with a waterfall that dropped over slate stones into a little pool. There were trees and bushes all around. We were outraged when they leveled The Hill and flattened the park. I think part of the rationale was it was too easy for kids to hang out there at night unseen. Later, maybe sixteen, I remember spring nights hanging in the park and the unbelievably sweet smell of spring air perfumed with all that was growing there.

  14. Frances Archer February 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    Andy, seems like every few years the cops were chasing the kids out of Hollywood Park. There was still a slight hill during the ’70s, which seem big to us, not having the earlier one to compare. Now it’s either been flattened again or it has settled. It sounds like the park must have been much more attractive before they leveled it. Having come from Budlong Woods and River Park, I always felt cheated with Hollywood Park, much as I loved it. I’m glad you say earlier on McDonald’s. It makes sense, it’s what Howard Gelber remembers and he worked there, and it makes it more likely we were the second one to open.

  15. howard Korengold October 20, 2014 at 4:30 pm #

    I too remember Mc Donalds. As I remember the place had no eat in tables. We would go there with our son David who was born in 1958 and either eat in the car or, if the weather was nice sit on a park bench across the street and quickly eat while David was still asleep in his stroller.

  16. Frances Archer October 24, 2014 at 6:41 pm #

    I think we starting going there around 1965 or so. Maybe earlier. Always ate in the car. Steamed up the windows in winter.

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