Skip to main content

Orange Roofs, Golden Arches: The Architecture Of American Chain Restaurants

May 2024
1min read

by Philip Langdon; Knopf; 224 pages; hardcover, $30.00/paperback,

Fred Harvey was the pioneer. His chain of restaurants along Western rail lines was established to feed passengers in the early, dinerless days. He led the way by providing decent food, served by neat, wholesome Harvey Girls. The increasing industrialization of the country created more and more demand for such fast, inexpensive food away from home, and architects devised buildings to both tempt and hurry the customers: white (as in White Castle) to imply cleanliness, backless seats to keep diners from eating too slowly. With cars came carhops so the customer didn’t have to be seated at all. For more leisurely stops, the Howard Johnson chain featured a New England-church architectural motif to appeal to homey values. The final stage is the totally standardized food of the McDonald’s chain, vastly successful and much emulated. In this lively, generously illustrated book, Philip Langdon shows us the buildings as well as describing how and why their styles evolved.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.