Remember This? McDonald’s arrives big in Auburn

First McDonald’s was huge news in A-Town in 1976
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Reach “Remember This?” and Gus Thomson at

or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.


Auburn’s Foresthill exit McDonald’s — the growing burger corporation’s first in the community — was a big deal when it opened in 1976.

Still at the same 13370 Lincoln Way location today, the 42-year-old Bowman eatery is undergoing an extreme change — with the building torn down this past week and a new one due to open in its stead early in the new year.

The Journal archives has a file from the mid-1970s, with yellowed clippings from the newspaper and original photos by photographer Merv Doolittle and reporter-photographer Jean Davis that reflect the anticipation and excitement of a foothills community poised to experience what all the fast-food hoopla surrounding the Golden Arches was all about.

Doolittle, who started as a lensman with the Journal in the late 1940s, was on the scene in early June 1976, when franchise owner and Newcastle resident Matt Steffen met him at the vacant McDonald’s construction site for a low-key, shovel-wielding groundbreaking. It signaled a start on work to build what the photo’s cutline described as “a restaurant that would be … one of the most modern and beautiful of the chain.”

And with the new restaurant would come innovation.

“It will be one of the first in the nation to feature a drive-through window,” the Journal noted.

The McDonald’s was poised to open in mid-August and the booming corporation wasn’t shy in boasting about its impending presence.

“The store will feature an enlarged menu of quality food in addition to the efficient service and cleanliness that have long been fixtures of McDonald’s operations,” a new release from Sacramento’s Craig, Hancock, Thompson Inc. ad agency said. “Highlighted by a new mansard roof architectural design, the restaurant will harmonize with the local setting.”

By mid-October 1976, Steffen and the new McDonald’s would be ready to welcome Auburn in — and a contemporary Journal report said several hundred locals attended the pre-opening celebration. There were Happy Hats and McDonaldland cookies for children and a chance to sample McDonald’s staples like Big Macs and Filet-O-Fish sandwiches during the open house. Steffen and his wife, Ellen, were on hand with a guest book to sign.

More than four decades later, McDonald’s remains a presence in Auburn. There are two locations now — one on Bell Road that remains open and a second on Lincoln Way. The Lincoln Way building was demolished this past week but will reopen with a new structure in 2019.

Reach “Remember This?” and Gus Thomson at or 530-852-0232. Thomson is a state and national award-winning reporter who writes for the Auburn Journal.