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McDonalds Moderne

The restaurant spanning the interstate near Vinita, OKSome people know this as the Glass House, others know it as the world's largest McDonald's. I remember it from childhood as a symbol of transcontinental travel.

It was built spanning I-44, aka the Will Roger's Turnpike, in 1958 as a Conoco gas station and the Glass House restaurant. Located near Vinita, Oklahoma, it marked the halfway point between Tulsa and Joplin, Missouri. It was the first restaurant in the U.S. built over a public highway. In addition to the distinctive steel arches, the windows were covered by large aluminum shutters that slowly turned throughout the day to shade the interior. The mechanism can still be seen today, but the shutters have long since been static.

Interior showing the metal shutters that used to follow the sun.The Glass House was an instant hit with tourists and well-to-do locals. Area high schools even had their proms inside the futuristic hall. It was not uncommon for confused visitors to exit on the opposite end and think their car had been stolen. Today exits are designated as "westbound" or "eastbound."

In the mid Seventies it became a Howard Johnson. It was later bought by McDonald's, and for a time held the dubious distinction of being the world's largest. This was a bit misleading because the actual restaurant (does that term apply to a McDonald's?) was no bigger than the average food court version you'll find in any suburban shopping mall. The title was based on the 20,236 square feet of the building- which includes a souvenir shop, ice cream vendor, etc. Today the largest is in Orlando.

Another view of the 1957 structure, originally named the Glass House.Oklahoma once had another turnpike span, also on I-44, located near Stroud. It was called Midway Plaza in reference to the halfway point between Oklahoma City and Tulsa. While aesthetically modern, it was merely an enclosed pedestrian bridge for motorists to cross over the highway. Midway was later torn down and a McDonald's was built between the highway lanes. No bridge needed.

Midway Plaza near Stroud.
Postacard showing the bridge and HoJo on the Turner Turnpike near Stroud.


Anonymous said…
Glass House was an HTB design
Chris said…
i didn't realize that the midway plaza was gone -- it's been a while since i took the turnpike to tulsa.

i always looked forward to seeing it, since it meant the longest part of my trip was behind me.

JRB said…
I'm happy to report the Glass House will be getting some sorely needed renovation in the coming months. The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority has approved funds to fix up the facility, which has been looking pretty bad for quite some time.

Details on the project are published here: Renovations for Turnpike Eateries.

It appears they have recognized the building's significance as a gateway to our state. Hopefully they also realize the unique architecture is a tourist sraw also. So hopefully this doesn't mean they plan to "modernize" it with Tuscan stucco or rustic wrought iron!

We'll do a little digging and see what we can find out about the planned renovations. Maybe we'll see those louvers in motion again someday?
Anonymous said…
When was the I-44 Midway Plaza (midpoint between OKC and Tulsa) torn down? I remember walking across that bridge back in the mid-70s as a small child. When I returned to the same area 30 years later, I was saddened to see the pedestrian bridge gone and all the roadside restaurants gone!!!
JRB said…
"When was the I-44 Midway Plaza.. torn down?"

I'm not sure about the specific dates- but as I recall the crossover came down in the mid or late Eighties. It sat on the side of the highway for a while.

The Plaza building lasted a few years longer, but was eventually bulldozed n the Nineties. Most of the building debris was scooped into the basement/storm shelter that was below the building.

The Recent Past

The Bruce Goff House in Vinita

We were recently surprised to learn about a Goff-designed home just an hour away from Tulsa in Vinita, Oklahoma. Vinita is probably best known to OK Mod readers as the home of the Glass House on I-44, also known as (shudder) the World's Largest Largest McDonalds . Anywho, turned out the Goff house was on the market, and the owner was more than happy to let us have a look around. We took a short drive up the turnpike one Sunday afternoon to meet the realtor, snap some pictures, ask some questions and enjoy another one of Bruce Goff's unique creations. The home is known as the Adams House and was built in 1961. The 3,700 square foot home is arranged in a circular floor plan with a large sunken "conversation pit" at the center. Rising up from this pit is a large metal fireplace, its chimney surrounded by skylights, which dominates the entire house. Rooms surround the perimeter with folding accordion doors acting as walls. To maintain some semblance of privacy an inner

The World Museum

The widening of I-44 through Tulsa will soon claim another mid-century building (see Modern Homes Make Way for I-44 ). This unusual landmark near Peoria, once known as the World Museum, is being emptied in preparation for demolition. The concrete complex was built in 1963 by the Osborn Ministries as a museum and "Interstate Temple." Self-proclaimed minister, T. L. Osborn, and his wife, Daisy, traveled the world as Christian missionaries and collected art and artifacts on their journeys. The unusual La Concha-esque building housed their partial collection and distracted motorists touring along the new Skelly Bypass (aka I-44). The exterior of the building is adorned with maps of the world's continents. In its heyday there was a good deal more- a giant outline of Jesus was on one wall. The inscription below it, "REX," provided one of my earliest Latin lessons when I asked Dad why that building had my name on it. There was also a large globe that once stood out fr

Oklahoma State Capitol Bank

On the Trail of Julius Shulman: Stop 2 "This is a bank," the sign outside the futuristic building read. According to legend a prankster added a strategic question mark and echoed the sentiment of many passers-by: "This is a bank?" That was back in 1964 when it opened. Today the Arvest on Lincoln Boulevard looks a bit less Jetsonian, mostly due to replacement of structural glass below the "saucers," but it's still an unusual bank. Designed by Robert Roloff of the architectural firm Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson & Roloff, the State Capitol Bank caused quite a stir in Oklahoma City when it opened. Heck, it's still pretty shocking today! Originally the flying saucers appeared to hover above the building (as seen in this vintage postcard). All the glass that made that effect possible also made heating and cooling an expensive proposition. Security concerns also mandated replacement of those windows with solid materials and small square portholes