McDonald’s: our love/hate relationship

At first blush, renovation plans for a well-known Winslow building sounded like they might bring a sophisticated, cosmopolitan edge to the island skyline. The tantalizing description of form – “a little more modern, a little retro” – called to mind the calculatingly contradictory locutions that connoisseurs use to describe favorite wines: “Simple...yet complex. Delicate...yet robust.”

Turns out they were talking about the High School

Road McDonald’s; the analogy went out the window, as did most hope for a tasteful structure. The owners planned to revamp the island’s only drive-thru eatery, and designs on file with the city planning department showed a glowing, poly-hued facade and giant golden semi-arch sweeping over the building like a vintage automobile’s tail fin – taken together, an architectural statement that might best be described as intergalactic.

As chroniciled in last Saturday’s edition, the proposal brought out veterans of the long-ago fight to keep chain fast-food off the island altogether, a day when even the town mayor unapologetically described McDonald’s trademark golden arches sign as “probably the most hated institution in America.” Taking up the battle anew, critics last week said the plans would, at best, violate design conditions imposed when the restaurant first went up in 1989.

Then, late Friday afternoon, a new and decidedly toned-down set of designs showed up by email, without explanation. Had the architects had a change of aesthetic sensibilities, some renaissance of form if not function? Or had they just sent out the wrong drawings by mistake, plans for some other McDonald’s franchise in Tukwila or Tennessee or Tunisia or Timbuktu?

You have to feel a bit sorry for McDonald’s these days, truly the Wal-Mart of fast food and a perennial target for everyone from anti-corporatists to pro-nutritionists. (Can you even imagine the film “Supersize Me” being done about, say, Wendy’s? A 99-cent Super Value Menu meal says the answer is no.) The Bainbridge McDonald’s and its famously fried fare do, nevertheless, enjoy quite a following that you can easily experience (assuming you don’t have kids and have no taste for the menu yourself) by motoring down High School Road any noon hour and observing the drive-thru queue. Now, you’d think that if a McDonald’s was going to fail anywhere in America, it would be on Bainbridge Island, where the chain received a chilly welcome and “We Like To Think We’re Different” might as well be the community motto. But not so; the restaurant thrives.

Admit it, Bainbridge Island: You’re lovin’ McDonald’s.

That said, we’re not surprised to see the owners rethink their plans to offer a building a tad less, um, McDonald’s-like. We are, after all, still the community that a few years ago brought a telecommunications giant to its knees, giving the company such a flogging in the Review’s letters columns that it cut islanders’ basic cable rate in half. Perhaps word gets around; the McDonald’s redesign now has gone through so many iterations – yet another set of drawings showed up Monday – we’re not sure what it’s going to end up looking like. One thing it seems you won’t see: the golden arches. Bainbridge wins again.

Seems like the owners could have saved some grief by simply hiring a local architect in the first place, someone who knows the lay of the land. But then, when you think of McDonald’s, the first word that comes to mind may never be “local.”

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