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  The Denton House: A Historical McDonald’s  


            Inarguably, McDonald’s is one of the biggest fast food franchises in the United States and for some time now, in the world. McDonald’s is known for its Big Macs, Chicken McNuggets, and of course those always right, delicious French fries that Luther Burbank is partially responsible for; but, in New Hyde Park, Long Island, it’s known as the entity that almost destroyed what is now a historical landmark. The Denton House in New Hyde Park, Long Island is quite the interesting McDonald’s because it’s a McDonald’s in a mansion! It’s also interesting because the history of the property is rich, and because of the controversy it caused among locals when McDonald’s purchased the property.

            Long ago a gentleman by the name of Luther Burbank developed foods that would forever change the diet of many. Burbank was born the 13th of 18 children on March 7, 1849, in Lancaster, Massachusetts. Brought up on a farm, as a boy he enjoyed his mom’s garden. Although he only received an elementary school education, he became a botanist, a horticulturist, and eventually a pioneer in agricultural science. When he was 21 years old his father died leaving him a small inheritance, which Burbank used to purchase a 17 acre plot near Lunenburg, Massachusetts. His Darwin inspired career began in Massachusetts, but he spent most of his life in Santa Rosa, California, where he died. Through plant breeding Burbank created the Russet Burbank Potato; one of his earliest creations. He sold the rights to this potato for $150, and it’s this money he used to move to California. In Santa Rosa, California he started a nursery and experimental farm where he practiced plant breeding. Burbank suffered a heart attack which led to his death on March of 1926; he was 77 years old. He is buried at the Luther Burbank Home and Garden, which is today a Historical Landmark. Burbank developed over 800 strains of vegetables, fruit, flowers and grasses, which had a great impact on the revolution of agriculture and food production in the 20th century. He helped make plant breeding a modern science. One can argue that today Luther Burbank continues to influence the revolution of agriculture and food production since scientists continue to find ways to change our foods through plant breeding. Many of his developments became very useful, like the Russet Burbank Potato, also known as the Idaho potato.

            The Idaho potato is a development that was pivotal in the lives of many when Burbank developed it, but today it simply makes for delicious fries and great potato dishes. In 1872 Burbank developed this disease resistant, hybrid potato as a result of an attempt to improve the Irish potato. He introduced it to Ireland, and it helped fight the blight epidemic. In the early 1900s the Russet Burbank potato began to appear in Idaho. In the United States it’s the most cultivated potato. In 2008, the International Year of the Potato, this potato was named The Classic American Potato by the United Nations. It is so popular a potato that years after its creation, McDonald’s would insist that this be the potato they use to make their fries. Although all of their fries are not made from the Russet Burbank potato, McDonald’s states that among two others they use Russet Burbank potatoes, “for their great size, shape and high quality”. Sources suggest that the Russet Burbank is the potato the McDonald brothers originally used. 

            McDonald’s is an international restaurant which started in the United States.  In 1955 Ray Kroc founded McDonald’s Corporation, turning McDonald’s into the franchise style, chain of fast food restaurants that we know today. Three years later he purchased the rights to the name from brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald. McDonald’s spread through the United States and the world; some even opening up at impressive locations.

            By far, one of the most historical McDonald’s in the United States is located at 2045 Jericho Turnpike in the village of New Hyde Park, in the town of North Hempstead, in Long Island, New York. McDonald’s purchased the property for $1 million in September of 1986. McDonald’s Corporation and franchise owner Larry Anderer didn’t know they would be forced to restore the property. This is because they had no idea of what the property meant to the village’s people. This property is one of the oldest of its kind in the village and it’s known as the Denton House or Mansion. The original plan was to demolish the property and put up a traditional McDonald’s. When the LaPorta[s] became aware of McDonald’s plans, along with other neighbors they formed The Committee to Save the Denton Estate. Together they turned to the North Hempstead Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission to stop this from happening. On August of 1987 the newly formed Historic Landmarks Preservation Commission held their first hearing to hear the application put in by Pat LaPorta, in which a request was made to make the Denton House a historic landmark. After McDonald’s learned of the property’s significance, they offered to rezone it. The committee turned them down. The house was designated a landmark on December of 1987. The designation kept the property from being razed and came with restrictions as to what could be done to the property; hence, this particular McDonald’s has no arches. A restoration budget for $2.5 million was put together, but restoration added up to $4 million. McDonald’s gutted the interior, and restored the outside to look like a 1926 picture of the house, before the house turned into restaurants. The battle between the town’s people and McDonald’s, as well as its restoration took long, and it did not open its doors until March of 1991. 

            The Denton House is said to have been built in 1795. It had an attic, servant staircases, and it’s believed the Denton family made some changes as time passed. Historians gather the house looked like a regular farmhouse at first, but that later the family changed its façade in order to make it look like a mansion. It has a basement, but historians are not sure when it was added to the house. This house was once part of thousands of acres of farmland, and was built by Joseph Denton. Joseph Denton was a descendent Reverend Richard Denton, who found Hempstead in 1664. The Reverend came to America in search of religious freedom and settled in Long Island. Among other children, Joseph Denton had a son named Charles. Charles Denton was born on the farm and was a farmer. Augustus Denton, son of Charles, was born in the Denton House in 1843 and died in the house in 1900. He too did some farming, but leased his land to tend to business affairs. He became Supervisor of the town of North Hempstead, and was the first chairman of the Nassau Supervisors’ board. In 1875 Eugene Denton, son of Augustus, was also born in the Denton House. Eugene graduated from Columbia Law School of New York. He became one of the pioneer school directors of North Hempstead, and was a founder of the Queens County Bar Association. The Nassau Daily Review states that Eugene was “one of a long line of Masons.” The Denton family is very important to the history of the town of North Hempstead, and it’s understandable that locals became scandalized when McDonald’s attempted to destroy the house.

            When Eugene sold his childhood home is unclear, but by then there were a mere 300 acres of the property left, which were divided and became the Denton Estates. Records show that in 1944 Nassau County attained a large portion of the property from the Department of Treasury. In 1946, Eugene was able to get the property back, but it was not all of the original farmland. The deed clarifies that Eugene lost the property due to unpaid taxes in 1940 and 1941. In July of 1948, Harry W. Moore turned over his portion of the land to Louis Timmerman. How the property ended up in the hands of Harry W. Moore is a bit of a mystery.

            Before the Denton House became a McDonald’s and after it was sold for commercial use, it was a funeral home in the 1930s and three restaurants later on. By December of 1948, the Denton House was in the hands of Michael F. Montaruli, and remained in the Montaruli family at least until 1954. During this time it was Luigi’s Restaurant on the first floor and living quarters on the second. From 1955 to 1986, Harold Ginseng was officer under the ownership of Jack & Harold Inc.; period in which the house was two restaurants: first Charred Oak Manor and then Dallas Ribs. It’s after the latter that the house became a McDonald’s. Through all these ownerships the house experienced many changes.

Different restaurant owners made changes and additions to the Denton House over the years: restrooms, an extension of one story, a kitchen, and a cellar were added among other things. It definitely was not in its original state when McDonald’s got a hold of it, but it did have some original features. It is believed to have had a screened porch on the front, west wing, which was closed up when it became a commercial space. The portico on the other end was probably added around the same time. The house was dilapidated, potentially infested, and its rear yard full of debris. In its condition and with all the changes and extensions, citizens believed that the Denton House ought to be made a historic landmark because people who were descendents of a historical figure, some historical figures themselves, were important to their community. They wanted to preserve what was left of them, in essence. They fought long and hard against McDonald’s and won the battle, and that’s the story of the Denton House. 


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