Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Arizona: The Birthplace of Americana!

The McDonald brothers started the McDonald’s franchise in San Bernardino, California and popular legend is that Ray Croc became involved and the rest is history, but, not so fast. As another famous Phoenician, Paul Harvey, would say, “Now, the rest of the story.”

Neil Fox forever changed the fast food landscape right here in Central Phoenix. His franchise was built near Central and Indian School (and can be located via the public art photos at the light rail stop) and was the first to use the new McDonald’s building design featuring the now iconic golden arches. Used to support a slanted roof, the golden arches were twice as high as the roofline and lit, so they could be seen for quite a distance. When the McDonald brothers saw the completed structure they were amazed – not by the gorgeous building destined to be a classic, but because Fox had used the McDonald’s name. They thought they were just selling the speedy food concept and the building design. They had assumed that the restaurant itself would be called Fox’s because McDonald’s would mean nothing in Phoenix. Fox’s response was “Why change it? It’s great as it is.” The brothers agreed, and thus, the iconic look and branded name of McDonald’s began here.

Another Valley icon, the 76-year-old Bob’s Big Boy, also started here and then went on to fill our memories and the country with the famous fiberglass statues. The business actually began in Glendale, CA in 1936, but the 50s buzz word was franchise, so the original Bob Wian sent four staff to the growing city of Phoenix to experiment with the idea of a Big Boy franchise. It was 1954 and the location they chose was the NE corner of Thomas and Central, where the statue of the Native Code Talker is currently located. The restaurant had the first carhops in Phoenix and featured Kachina artwork on the back wall. Some people thought it was a little crazy to spend that much on a building and business in such a small town, but we all know what happened. The Phoenix location was a huge success and soon Big Boy statues began popping up across the country, but the franchise started right here. Though Bob’s Big Boy is long gone from Phoenix, it’s not gone from our memories. You can see footage of the iconic Phoenix’s Bob’s Big Boy being built.

Those first McDonald’s and Bob’s Big Boys are gone, some icons of the past have been rehabilitated and reused, such as My Florist on McDowell. While the building is undergoing major renovation, the large purple My Florist sign has been an iconic part of the Valley’s landscape since Vada Pearl Schwartz opened My Florist as a floral shop in 1947. She was a local legend who was known to wear a purple dress with a purple orchid every day. If, by chance, she was not wearing an orchid, your flower order was free. The store was purple inside and out, including all of the delivery vans, and she drove a one-of-a-kind purple car: a Besasie X-2, custom built by Raymond Besasie of Milwaukee. When Vada died in late 1966, her daughter, Norma Brooking, took over and ran it until she died and left it to her employees. The employees ran My Florist until 1996 when it closed as a floral shop and later reopened as the Willo Bakery and My Florist CafĂ©, whose doors were closed and locked in October, 2010. The site is currently under renovation and is slated to reopen with a new restaurant and the iconic sign, which has been long used by other businesses as a locator.


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  2. Thanks for sharing. What an interesting read, I never would have known AZ was such an influential state (no offense). I was asking myself "how to franchise my business" but it is definitely easier said than done!