Friday, January 25, 2008

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.


5 comments:

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.

--cz

Rex Brown 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!!!

Rex Brown 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.