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Historic In-N-Out Burger stand is Down-N-Out

Former customers weep and share warm memories as the Baldwin Park stand, the oldest In-N-Out drive-thru, is razed.

April 16, 2011|By Bob Pool and Victoria Kim, Los Angeles Times
  • Only debris and memories remain after the oldest In-N-Out stand was torn down in Baldwin Park. It was built in 1954.
Only debris and memories remain after the oldest In-N-Out stand was torn… (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)

Cathy Martinez and Alejandra Ruiz were served up a double-double dose of frustration Friday when they visited an old In-N-Out Burger stand in Baldwin Park.

First they discovered that the historic outlet just a stone's throw from the chain's first drive-thru was being demolished.

Then an employee told them they couldn't take a souvenir brick from the pile of rubble.

"My husband cried when he heard this was being torn down," said Martinez, of Pomona.

"I cried when I found out," said Ruiz, of Baldwin Park.

The popular hamburger chain was created in 1948 a few steps from the heap of concrete and bricks next to Francisquito Avenue, just north of the 10 Freeway.

Harry and Esther Snyder first ran the drive-thru from a tiny house. When construction of the freeway over the restaurant site forced them to move, the pair built a new drive-thru in 1954 about 75 yards away.

That tiny burger stand with its dual serving windows and outdoor eating area served as a model for future In-N-Outs as the Snyders slowly expanded their chain.

In November 2004, the firm opened a larger restaurant with indoor seating just south of the freeway and closed the smaller stand north of it. The structure had remained fenced off since then.

Although In-N-Out executives had talked of turning the abandoned burger stand into a museum, the company obtained a demolition permit this week from Baldwin Park building officials. Carl Van Fleet, In-N-Out's vice president for planning and development, said the company may build a replica of the Snyders' original house-turned-burger stand on the site of the demolished eatery. The company's oldest functioning drive-thru is in Pasadena, he said.

Still, the tear-down saddened longtime fans, including Martinez and Ruiz.

"You don't know how much this place means to me," Martinez said. "This is a huge deal. My husband grew up in Baldwin Park, and we came here to eat when we dated. This is where everybody came."

As a youngster, she said, husband Frank worked for a nearby company, Luna's Produce, which provided the tomatoes, lettuce and onions for In-N-Out's burgers.

Ruiz said her father took her family to the Baldwin Park In-N-Out every weekend to eat. "There are a lot of memories here," she said.

Although the In-N-Out employee had given the pair certificates for free burgers in lieu of the bricks, Martinez and Ruiz lingered until demolition workers took a lunch break. Shouting through the fence, the duo convinced one of the workers to retrieve bricks for them both. They said they would display them in their homes.

As they lugged away their souvenirs, Robert Alt pulled up on a motorcycle. He'd read about the demolition in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune and had ridden from Covina to see what was left.

"Historic things fall by the wayside out here," said Alt, a mechanic. "Everyone's in such a hurry."

Across the freeway at the new In-N-Out, diners also mourned the loss of what many consider a Baldwin Park landmark.

"I remember it from the time I was a kid. I'm 22 and most of my life that other place has been closed," said Matthew Duran of La Puente. Said his friend Andrew Catalan of Pomona: "It's too bad they couldn't have saved it and used it for car club meets or something."

Some Baldwin Park officials shared that frustration.

City Councilwoman Susan Rubio said she found out about the demolition only after it was underway. Rubio said she wished the company had sought the city's input before forging ahead.

"When you think of Baldwin Park, you think of In-N-Out burgers," said Rubio, a third-grade teacher who said she often runs into people who have heard of her city only because the chain started there. "This is part of our history.... My preference would've been preserving a bit of the old."

Many in the city knew of the location as the original In-N-Out, she said. Rubio always made a point of stopping there when visitors flew in from Baldwin Park's sister city, Taxco, Mexico.

But at least one city councilman won't be missing the old location. Ricardo Pacheco said Friday that he felt the change was necessary for the area.

"It's blighted area, and any change is welcome there," the councilman said. "To me, it was an eyesore."

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victoria.kim@latimes.com

bob.pool@latimes.com

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