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Katrina Takes Last Original McDonald's Sign

Company to Rebuild Stores Lost from Katrina

by Keith Burton - GCN    Filed 9/9/06 Updated
GCN Special Report

Hurricane Katrina took more than people's homes and lives on the Mississippi Coast. It also took an original icon of one of the largest corporations in the world. Just this past week, the McDonald's corporation replaced the historic McDonald's sign outside of their store on Pass Road in Biloxi.

Work crews replaced the sign with the new generic sign you see everywhere. The loss of the old sign takes another piece of Biloxi's history that carries with it memories of what was once The Coast.

The McDonald's store on Pass Road in Biloxi is currently owned by the corporation. Biloxi businessman Steve Dietz owned the store until a few months prior to Katrina having sold his franchise back to McDonald's to retire. Dietz had the first franchise for McDonald's on the Coast. The Pass Road Biloxi store was first opened in May of 1963. Dietz eventually owned as many as eight McDonald's  located in Biloxi, D'Iberville and St. Martin.

The sign at the Biloxi Pass Road store was a favorite for visitors to Biloxi and Keesler Air Force Base, which is just down the street. It wasn't Katrina's notorious storm surge that had twisted the sign, but Katrina's winds. The argument by some insurance companies that suggest Katrina's winds were not severe obviously a misconception. The sign had survived numerous hurricanes, including Hurricane Camille in 1969. Katrina also took the Dietz family home in North Biloxi, located well away from the beach.

"People would come to the store and take pictures of themselves in front of the sign," Dietz told GCN. "I had that sign for 44 years and it was unique, and now it's gone."

McDonald's has  replaced their old signs at their older stores around the country. Dietz held out when the company wanted to replace it years ago when the store was remodeled with a 1950's era theme.

Officials with McDonald's tell GCN that the sign was made of steel, covered with porcelain, and there was no way that the sign could be rebuilt, the cost was too prohibitive. A similar sign exists in an exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.

Angele Anson, the regional marketing manager for McDonald's tells GCN that the company has plans to replace the stores destroyed by Katrina along the Coast. Three beachfront stores were completely lost; two in Biloxi, and one in Pass Christian. The store in Waveland  on U.S. 90 has been torn down, but a McDonald's in Waveland's Wal-Mart has opened.

(Biloxi Pass Road McDonald's, photo left, as it was before Katrina. Photo credit: Steve Dietz during installation of the street sign marking McStreet adjacent to the store)

McDonald's restaurants throughout the region, including many in the New Orleans area were heavily damaged.

Anson said the company hopes to reopen the replacement stores along the Coast within a year, nearly two years after the hurricane.

"We are planning to return as it becomes viable," Anson said. "We are working with communities over building height requirements and new building codes and plan to have four or five stores under construction during the next 12 months."

There are problems though. Rebuilding some of the stores in their previous locations may be impossible due to the new building height requirements. The sites will have to have fill dirt placed to raise their elevations and that would make the existing locations too small.

(The photo, right, is of the McDonald's at U.S. 90 and Edgewater Mall  in Biloxi shortly after the hurricane. The site is now only a slab. - GCN photo)

Anson said that the fill dirt needed to raise the elevation would increase the need for more driveway and parking space, and some of their existing sites, such as the site on U.S. 90 near downtown Biloxi, will require additional land.

The new building heights that FEMA is requiring for all Coast cities will have a huge impact on how the Coast redevelops. In many cases, the new regulations will mean pre-Katrina businesses will not be able to rebuild.

In almost everyway, the legacy of Katrina has been to take what the Coast once had away, even from major corporations such as McDonald's.

Biloxi's Pass Road McDonald's with new sign. (GCN photo: Sept. 7, 2006, Note wind damaged leaning telephone pole.)

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