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Exploring Ray Kroc’s Chicago

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McDonald’s is soon to be in the news for reasons other than the company’s much-ballyhooed impending move from Oak Brook to the bustling West Loop neighborhood in downtown Chicago. A Hollywood film starring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, due out in January, chronicles how this Chicago native wrested control of the hamburger stand first hatched in California. Here’s a guide to Kroc’s Chicago from the author of a new book about the hamburger king and his third wife, Joan.

Lisa Napoli is the author of the new book, Ray & Joan: The Man Who Made the McDonald’s Fortune and the Woman Who Gave it All Away, published in November by Dutton.

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Oak Park Arms Hotel

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Pioneering radio station WTAY (Wireless Tunes Await You) launched in the ballroom of this elegant hotel in 1923 and later became WGES. Newlywed to his sweetheart Ethel, Ray would work all day as a salesman for Lily Paper Cup, and by night play piano live on the air until the station went dark for the night.

515 E. Fairview

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When Ray and wife Ethel bought their first home, it was in suburban Arlington Heights, just a stone’s throw from the Rolling Hills Country Club. Ray convinced a number of his golfing buddies to become the first McDonald’s franchisees.
Google Street View

LaSalle-Wacker Building

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The limestone and granite art deco LaSalle-Wacker Building facing the Chicago River is where Ray first set up shop as franchise agent for Prince Castle Sales, selling five-spindled milkshake machines called Multi-Mixers. Later, he operated McDonald’s and Franchise Realty Corporation out of this location. The elevator operator announced to visitors that they had reached “Hamburger Heaven” when they arrived on the floor.
Wikimedia Commons

McDonald’s #1 Store Museum

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Often erroneously referred to as the first McDonald’s, this site was the location of the first franchise location built by Ray Kroc in 1955. The true first McDonald's location was built in San Bernardino, California in 1940 by the brothers McDonald. The structure that stands in Des Plaines today is a replacement of the original, which McDonald’s Corporation tore down in 1984.
AJ LaTrace

Hottinger’s Swiss Garden Chalet

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Before Ray opened Raymond’s, the upscale hamburger place in Chicago and Beverly Hills, he and business associates Harry Sonneborn and June Martino pooled money to buy this old beer garden in suburban Glenwood. There were no hamburgers on the menu here—the Chicago Tribune called the brisket and country fried chicken “hearty and reasonably priced.”

First Hamburger University location

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Built in the basement of the Elk Grove McDonald’s in 1961, and later expanded in 1968, this trade school still exists today to train employees in all things Mickey D’s, from operating the fryer to proper milkshake viscosity.

Whitehall Hotel

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After he divorced Ethel in 1961 and was spurned by Joan, Ray found himself spending time at this Magnificent Mile gem. It was in the dining room where he met Chef Rene Arendt, the Luxembourger whom he later lured to McDonald’s, where he created Chicken McNuggets.
Whitehall Hotel

1242 N. Lake Shore Drive

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When Ray finally convinced Joan Smith to marry him, they purchased the top two floors of this elegant Gold Coast building for $140,000—ten times the cost of an average house at the time. Designer Raymond Jacque Dayan was hired to remodel the 5,300-square-foot residence, including the installation of an organ in the wall, as well as a freestanding piano, and a state-of-the-art air filtration system (the better to vent the cigarette smoke of these prolific smokers.)
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices KoenigRubloff

Children's Memorial Hospital

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After McDonald’s IPO in 1965 made him a multi-millionaire, Ray Kroc began making strategic philanthropic gifts as criticism of McDonald’s impact on the environment and consumer’s nutrition began to mount. Donations included a theater at the Adler Planetarium, an environmental exhibition at the Field Museum, an ape house and animal hospital at the Lincoln Park Zoo (the Krocs were allowed to name a gorilla as part of their gift), and a three-story wing at Children’s Memorial Hospital dubbed the Joan and Ray A. Kroc Diagnostic Treatment Center.
Children's Memorial Hospital

American Pet Motel

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When the idea for a chain of pet motels on the scale of McDonald’s crossed Ray’s desk, he bit, if only to give his animal-loving wife Joan busy. The prototype was built replete with brass beds for dogs and custom snacks but when the business deal went sour, the chain never took off.

Continental Plaza

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700 of Ray’s friends and associates gathered here to mark his 75th birthday in 1977, including a school chum from Oak Park Elementary and spurned associates Harry Sonneborn and June Martino.
Courtesy of Lisa Napoli

Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center

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Ray died in 1984, leaving Joan his fortune. When she passed away in 2003, her largest single donation was close to $2 billion, for the creation of recreation centers around the nation. The 160,000-square-foot Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center erected on a 33-acre campus on the South Side opened in the Pullman District in June of 2012.
Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center

Oak Park Arms Hotel

Pioneering radio station WTAY (Wireless Tunes Await You) launched in the ballroom of this elegant hotel in 1923 and later became WGES. Newlywed to his sweetheart Ethel, Ray would work all day as a salesman for Lily Paper Cup, and by night play piano live on the air until the station went dark for the night.

515 E. Fairview

Google Street View
When Ray and wife Ethel bought their first home, it was in suburban Arlington Heights, just a stone’s throw from the Rolling Hills Country Club. Ray convinced a number of his golfing buddies to become the first McDonald’s franchisees.
Google Street View

LaSalle-Wacker Building

Wikimedia Commons
The limestone and granite art deco LaSalle-Wacker Building facing the Chicago River is where Ray first set up shop as franchise agent for Prince Castle Sales, selling five-spindled milkshake machines called Multi-Mixers. Later, he operated McDonald’s and Franchise Realty Corporation out of this location. The elevator operator announced to visitors that they had reached “Hamburger Heaven” when they arrived on the floor.
Wikimedia Commons

McDonald’s #1 Store Museum

AJ LaTrace
Often erroneously referred to as the first McDonald’s, this site was the location of the first franchise location built by Ray Kroc in 1955. The true first McDonald's location was built in San Bernardino, California in 1940 by the brothers McDonald. The structure that stands in Des Plaines today is a replacement of the original, which McDonald’s Corporation tore down in 1984.
AJ LaTrace

Hottinger’s Swiss Garden Chalet

Before Ray opened Raymond’s, the upscale hamburger place in Chicago and Beverly Hills, he and business associates Harry Sonneborn and June Martino pooled money to buy this old beer garden in suburban Glenwood. There were no hamburgers on the menu here—the Chicago Tribune called the brisket and country fried chicken “hearty and reasonably priced.”

First Hamburger University location

Built in the basement of the Elk Grove McDonald’s in 1961, and later expanded in 1968, this trade school still exists today to train employees in all things Mickey D’s, from operating the fryer to proper milkshake viscosity.

Whitehall Hotel

Whitehall Hotel
After he divorced Ethel in 1961 and was spurned by Joan, Ray found himself spending time at this Magnificent Mile gem. It was in the dining room where he met Chef Rene Arendt, the Luxembourger whom he later lured to McDonald’s, where he created Chicken McNuggets.
Whitehall Hotel

1242 N. Lake Shore Drive

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices KoenigRubloff
When Ray finally convinced Joan Smith to marry him, they purchased the top two floors of this elegant Gold Coast building for $140,000—ten times the cost of an average house at the time. Designer Raymond Jacque Dayan was hired to remodel the 5,300-square-foot residence, including the installation of an organ in the wall, as well as a freestanding piano, and a state-of-the-art air filtration system (the better to vent the cigarette smoke of these prolific smokers.)
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices KoenigRubloff

Children's Memorial Hospital

Children's Memorial Hospital
After McDonald’s IPO in 1965 made him a multi-millionaire, Ray Kroc began making strategic philanthropic gifts as criticism of McDonald’s impact on the environment and consumer’s nutrition began to mount. Donations included a theater at the Adler Planetarium, an environmental exhibition at the Field Museum, an ape house and animal hospital at the Lincoln Park Zoo (the Krocs were allowed to name a gorilla as part of their gift), and a three-story wing at Children’s Memorial Hospital dubbed the Joan and Ray A. Kroc Diagnostic Treatment Center.
Children's Memorial Hospital

American Pet Motel

When the idea for a chain of pet motels on the scale of McDonald’s crossed Ray’s desk, he bit, if only to give his animal-loving wife Joan busy. The prototype was built replete with brass beds for dogs and custom snacks but when the business deal went sour, the chain never took off.

Continental Plaza

Courtesy of Lisa Napoli
700 of Ray’s friends and associates gathered here to mark his 75th birthday in 1977, including a school chum from Oak Park Elementary and spurned associates Harry Sonneborn and June Martino.
Courtesy of Lisa Napoli

Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center

Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center
Ray died in 1984, leaving Joan his fortune. When she passed away in 2003, her largest single donation was close to $2 billion, for the creation of recreation centers around the nation. The 160,000-square-foot Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center erected on a 33-acre campus on the South Side opened in the Pullman District in June of 2012.
Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center