The University District may potentially receive a makeover in the next couple of months as the McDonald’s on the Highland strip makes plans to renovate its restaurant and move to the Southeast corner of Highland and Southern, where the head shop Whatever is located.
History buffs and University District residents are concerned that the iconic sign, which is the last original McDonald's sign in Memphis, in front of the building will be destroyed in the process of this renovation.
Jimmy Ogle, a Memphis tour guide who regularly gives historically dense tours around the city, would be highly disappointed if the sign was not preserved during the destruction of McDonald’s.
“I believe that the McDonald’s sign is the only original one left in the city of Memphis. I hope to see it preserved. I remember going there as a kid,” Ogle said. “Maybe they can put in a McDonald’s museum somewhere.”
TK Buchanan, the community safety liaison to the University District and also longtime resident of the district’s Sherwood-Forrest neighborhood, does not see a bright future for the sign if the plan to reconstruct the McDonald’s passes through city council on Oct. 15.
“Moving a sign that old is going to very problematic, if one of the parts break, there will no parts to replace them since it is from the '50s,” she said.
The sign is one of the oldest in the city, according to Ogle.
The McDonald’s reconstruction is not only agitating history buffs nostalgic for old fashioned architecture, but it is also an annoyance to the University Neighborhoods Development Corporation because McDonalds' proposed plan does not correspond with the requirements of the neighborhoods overlay. The drive-thru’s new location will also create mayhem in terms of traffic congestion near the University.
“Basically, McDonald’s want to put a stamp size building in a football stadium size lot,” Buchanan said. “This new drive-thru is going to bring a lot of commercial traffic into a residential neighborhood, which will cause a lot of traffic jams, and factor in the train that comes by every 15 minutes or so and it is recipe for disaster.”
Buchanan went on to state the emphasis that the UNDC is trying to place on making the University District more pedestrian friendly, and the renovation of McDonald’s will only sabotage this process.
This prospect disappointed Brad Hancock, CEO of Modern Services and a former resident of the University District, who expressed that if McDonald’s becomes so contemporary, it would ruin one of the trademarks of the neighborhood’s “old Memphis” atmosphere.
“With a little forethought that area could be turned into something great, but based on the blueprint it looks like a McDonald’s you would see in Collierville,” he said. This is terrible way to get rid of that shopping center.”
Pastor Peter Mickelonis of Universal Ministries is a regular Sunday customer of McDonald’s and used to manage nine McDonald's stores in the early ’60s.
“I think the McDonald’s should stay right where it is. It is the first one I remember going to as a teenager,” he said. “They can always turn the sign sideways.”
A petition to prevent the Memphis City Council from approving the design for McDonald’s can be signed on the University District’s website.