Firsts, lasts, and cheeseburgers

CAPA alums lost an old friend when the McDonald’s at Broad and Car­pen­ter closed

4 minute read
This Broad Street McDonald's was the perfect dinner spot for the CAPA students pouring past the pillars across the street. (Photo by Alaina Johns.)
This Broad Street McDonald's was the perfect dinner spot for the CAPA students pouring past the pillars across the street. (Photo by Alaina Johns.)

Last month, the McDonald’s on the northwest corner of South Broad Street and Carpenter Avenue closed for good, after being open for nearly 50 years. For Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts alums like me, the news hit especially hard.

Although the restaurant that closed in late February was not the original structure (the current building was reconstructed on the lot in 2000), a McDonald’s has been in that location for almost half a century.

A cultural icon?

The comments on a February 2021 PhillyVoice article about the closing reflect the public’s attitude.

“The destruction of our cultural icons continues,” one reader said.

“We watched the Eagles parade from right across the street. Damn near a historical landmark,” another wrote.

When I shared the article on my own Facebook page, it drew sad reactions and comments about how gentrification was winning.

PhillyVoice touched on this as well. The area surrounding that McDonald’s has been built up quite a bit in recent years: a shopping center was added down the street featuring a Starbucks and a Sprouts Farmers Market. Lincoln Square, one of the many large-scale apartment buildings that have been built in the city, was also completed in 2018.

We don’t know what will replace the McDonald’s in that empty lot, which PhillyVoice notes is about 17,000 square feet. It will no doubt catch the eye of a new big-thinking real estate developer soon.

Bacon and band practice

There’s a reason my classmates and I reacted to the closure with sadness. For those of us who attended CAPA, the McDonald’s right across the street was a staple. You were late for band first period because you had to get a bacon, egg, and cheese on a biscuit. You ran across the street during school hours (totally allowed, by the way) to get an iced coffee.

For me and other vocal music majors, the McDonald’s was where we got dinner before our annual winter and spring concerts.

School let out at 3pm every day. Our concerts usually started at 6pm, and call time was 5:30pm. This meant we vocal music students had about two and a half hours to get dressed in our black suits and ballgowns, do our makeup, and eat dinner.

One more McChicken

We were in high school. We did not have a lot of money. My parents would give me a $20 bill for dinner after school if I asked, or I would use the money I earned babysitting kids in my neighborhood. The McDonald’s was the top choice for dinner, for many of us.

You could get a full meal for under $10, usually. But what really made that McDonald’s special was the community that formed over these midday “dinners.”

It was not unusual for people from CAPA to treat each other to dinner. People at that school came from all over the city and from all different socioeconomic backgrounds. Some of us were more fortunate than others, but none of us had much on any given day. Nobody ever went hungry, however. My friends and I would always figure out a way to afford one more McChicken, or two more orders of fries. We would split burgers in half if necessary.

We would do all this in time to get ready for our shows, and somehow look classy after stuffing our faces with fast food.

Nothing special

That McDonald’s was the site of many milestones for CAPA students. I know people who had their first date there, who sang for agents after being approached in the parking lot. Breakups, first kisses, fights, and more.

What made that McDonald’s special was that it was nothing special. It was kind of gross, in all honesty. The bathroom was to be avoided at all costs. The seats were sticky with soda and there were always fries on the floor, but it was a landmark. A gritty, smelly landmark that was the sight of more firsts and lasts than many places in this city.

Although I have not been there in years, I was saddened to hear about the closing. Sometimes insignificant places foster the most significant moments, and sometimes things are not meant to be torn down. The memory of that McDonald’s lives on, and CAPA kids are not alone in feeling like they have lost an old friend.

Image description: A photo taken from the parking lot of the now-closed McDonald's, which is built in a mid-century style. The big classical-style pillars and steps of the gray CAPA façade are visible right across the street, beyond the McDonald's.

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