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Begalka: Reminiscing of farms, an old McDonald’s

A replica of Ray Kroc's first McDonald's franchise, which opened April 15, 1955, is now a museum in Des Plaines. McDonald's Corp. has announced it will demolish the museum. Kroc built his first restaurant in 1955 in Des Plaines, after franchising the brand from the original owners, Richard and Maurice McDonald.
A replica of Ray Kroc's first McDonald's franchise, which opened April 15, 1955, is now a museum in Des Plaines. McDonald's Corp. has announced it will demolish the museum. Kroc built his first restaurant in 1955 in Des Plaines, after franchising the brand from the original owners, Richard and Maurice McDonald.

The Volo Auto Museum and the Des Plaines History Center are working to keep the McDonald’s Corp. from tearing down its replica of Ray Kroc’s first franchise, which began in 1955.

The building, which opened in 1985, served as a popular museum – with its golden arches, red and white tile and mannequin crew – until flooding ended pubic access in 2008.

Overtures by McDonald’s that it intended to demolish the building and donate the land to Des Plaines drew the attention of Brian Grams, director of the Volo Auto Museum.

“I logged into our business Facebook account, and people had sent all these messages about the [McDonald’s] museum, urging us to save it and move it over here,” Grams said. “It fits us. It’s nostalgia.”

Grams said several movers even reached out to him, offering to move the replica restaurant to Volo at a cost.

A poll set up on the auto museum’s Facebook page has generated more than 10,000 preservation supporters, but Grams has had difficulty connecting with the right company official to talk about saving the McDonald’s Store No. 1 Museum.

The chain now boasts more than 36,000 restaurants around the world.

Shari Caine, executive director of the Des Plaines History Center, said she had a “casual” meeting and “information gathering” session with a McDonald’s representative Tuesday in an effort to preserve the building and leave it at 400 Lee St. She said the city is working to reduce flooding on the site.

The Des Plaines building department confirmed Friday that McDonald’s requested a demolition permit for the structure, but permission has not yet been granted.

• • •

It is with deep regret that I bid adieu to another historical structure. The Harvard City Council flip-phoned its position on the William H. Coventry House and Barn that occupies a corner of the vacant Motorola property.

Harvard dissolved its intergovernmental agreement with the county Tuesday night, effectively stripping the 1855 structure of the meager protection it received under the county’s historic preservation ordinance.

Rest in pieces.

Whether Edward Harvard Holdings will succeed in rebooting the mothballed former cellular phone building on the property is a moot point.

For the McHenry County Historical Society and its Historic Sites Committee, which did the legwork that resulted in the farm’s inclusion on the state’s most endangered list and its eventual landmarking by the county in 2016, it always was about saving a rare piece of history.

Unfortunately, politics and the allure of Harvard recapturing its past economic vitality doomed the effort. The prospect of having to make even the simplest repairs to the dilapidated house, or the option of donating the property to the Harvard Historical Society to restore and reuse the buildings as its headquarters, gained little traction.

The repair estimate of $300,000, bandied about in the media and at public meetings as though it was a foregone conclusion, didn’t help.

Much easier to let this little farmhouse and barn succumb to the elements and fall down. Unfortunately, its demise will do nothing to advance the transformation of this hulking, 1.4-million-square-foot plant.

• • •

The federal 100 Cities/100 Memorials program is seeking applications from community groups and others for grant money that could be put toward repairs, landscaping or other uses.

The organizers awarded 50 grants in September and will award 50 more April 6. That means there is time for additional Illinois groups to get involved and work to preserve local monuments.

For an application or information, visit worldwar1centennial.org.

Landmarks Illinois also is doing a separate World War I monument survey and grant program, also funded by the Pritzker Military Foundation. It is awarding grants of between $500 and $5,000 during two more rounds of applications, awarded May 15 and Aug. 15. The size of the matching grants is determined by need. They might be a direct dollar amount or, using volunteer labor or services, equal the value of the grant.

Eligible projects include those that involve stabilization; legal services; surveys and National Register nominations; preservation ordinance support; or engineering, architectural and feasibility studies. It need not be a statue. For example, an Aurora bridge dedicated to those who served in World War I qualified.

If you know of a monument or memorial in the county, email Suzanne Germann, Landmarks Illinois director of grants and easements, at sgermann@landmarks.org or visit www.Landmarks.org/ww1-monument-survey for information.

• • •

The McHenry County Historical Society holiday display and quilt show continues through Jan. 5 at the museum, 6422 Main St., Union. Hours are from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, with the exception of Dec. 6, 22 and 29; and Jan. 1. For details, visit www.gothistory.org.

• Kurt Begalka is the administrator of the McHenry County Historical Society & Museum. He can be reached at kurt@mchenrycountyhistory.org.

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