Burger King Exterior, Circa 1978

Exhibit / March 9, 2017

watm-bk-1978Object Name: Burger King restaurant exterior, New York, NY, circa 1978
Maker and Year: Unknown, circa 1978
Object Type: Photograph
Photo Source: Reddit
Description: (Michael Grasso)

Burger King, founded in 1953 in Jacksonville, Florida, emerged in the 1980s as one of the main nationwide competitors to McDonald’s in the United States. In 1978, the probable year of this photo, former McDonald’s executive Donald N. Smith began revamping Burger King’s image, which included taking power away from franchisees, refreshing and standardizing the restaurant chain’s look, and most importantly adding new items to the menu, including “specialty sandwiches” and a breakfast menu, a promotional image for which can be seen in the restaurant window. The visual reboot of Burger King involved a color scheme that prominently utilized red, orange, brown, and yellow, which followed the prevailing color trends of the 1970s, as seen, for example, in the 1970s uniforms of the Houston Astros and the San Diego Padres baseball teams. The light-bulb studded marquee (with bulbs positioned to illuminate the transparent elements of the front window) and diagonal stripes are a striking, almost garish contrast to the “traditional” shingle facade seen behind the Burger King letters.

The New York City yellow cab, most likely a Dodge Coronet, shows off the taxi rates at the time (75 cents for the first 1/7th of a mile, 10 cents for each 1/7th of a mile thereafter), as well as some after-market additions like the off/on-duty lights. On the light pole in the extreme left of the photo is a small sign which says, “littering is filthy & selfish so don’t do it” [sic], part of a municipal public service campaign to encourage citizens and visitors to keep the streets of New York City clean. The older pedestrians show off a variety of fashions that straddle the line between an earlier mid-century aesthetic and the up-to-date fashions of the day, while the faux-pebbled surface of both the adjoining building and the Burger King trash barrel also evoke the design imperative of the 1970s: a carefully-engineered mimicry of organic-ness.

13 thoughts on “Burger King Exterior, Circa 1978

  1. Yep, I remember that Brown/Orange/Yellow color scheme. And that faux pebble concrete– that was everywhere in the 70’s.

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  3. You’re making me feel really old! I first visited the USA (New York and Washington DC) in 1977; first visited L.A. in 1981; and moved to live in L.A. in 1982. The photographs of the US as it was back then make me feel both nostalgia and shock — shock that it really was so long ago!

  4. My town has a Burger King that’s under construction right now. (This is something I’ve wished aloud for years ago, but now that it’s happening I’m in a different place. Which isn’t to say I won’t gladly eat their bacon double lovelies.) What’s interesting to me is that it, along with the new-ish Wendy’s in town, is designed in the International Style which goes back to the thirties, but still feels futuristic to me. I think this is a great move even though the 70s and 80s fast food rooflines are now comforting to me.

    • I would love to see a fast food restaurant done in International Style! That’s kind of blowing my mind.

      Unrelated to this, but thinking about 1970s and ’80s attempts at “authenticity” and “historical reproduction”… So there was that trend that started in the early ’80s, probably pioneered by the fern bar/T.G.I. Friday’s Tiffany-inspired look, to put vintage ads and newspaper repros on the walls of your fast food restaurant. I know a ton of Subways still have them, but in my town growing up, the new game in town, Wendy’s, had them as well. As a kid, I used to love reading every column inch of those old newspaper articles from the 1890s. I think now they look tired and post-kitsch (as I said, Subway still has these in a ton of locations) but as a little kid/aspiring student of history in the ’80s, I loved them.

      • I know exactly the stuff you’re talking about. It’s another thing that I find comforting. I think Pushpin Studios in the late 60s had a big hand in bringing back Victorian print advertising, only they subverted it with psychedelic, and irreverant imagery. (It even made it to the Brady Bunch boys’ wallpaper in ’73.)
        When I was a kid there were two pizza places that were designed in the late 70s but inspired by the 1920s. So it’s so weird that now I’m nostalgic for someone else’s nostalgia for a time they didn’t even live in.

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