Melvin Andrew “Rusty” McDonnell was, along with Harry and Charles Carpenter, a pioneer of what would become a multi-million dollar eat-in-your-car cuisine industry in Los Angeles.
Born in North Carolina in 1875, McDonnell joined the Army while still in his teens. He served in the Philippines during the Spanish American War.
After leaving the military, he worked in and operated restaurants in Kansas City, Missouri for several years in the early 1910s before relocating to Los Angeles in 1916, where he managed a restaurant, Crawford’d Famous Chicken Fry Steaks, at 311 W. Sixth Street.
After the US entry into World War I, he became proprietor of the restaurant at Camp Kearney in San Diego.
By 1921, he had returned to Los Angeles and opened an eatery at 440 W. Pico known as “McDonnell’s Ever-Eat.” By 1922, he had five outlets.
By 1930, McDonnell was expanding to drive-in cafes, featuring chickens raised on his own ranch. The idea was a success. Despite the Depression, McDonnell continued to expand his chain of restaurants, both sit-down eateries and drive-in cafes, throughout the 1930s.
McDonnell got a permit for the drive-in at 7701 Sunset Boulevard, at the northwest corner of Sunset and La Brea, in July 1936. The architect of record was H.S. Johnson.
In 1948, another restaurateur, W. W. “Tiny” Naylor, took over about a dozen of McDonnell’s then-17 locations, including the 7101 Sunset drive-in.
William Warren Naylor was born in Keswick, Iowa in 1898. He continued to live in Iowa, working on the family farm, into the 1920s. By 1927, he was living in Merced, California, where in November he bought an existing cafe, Mack’s Coffee Cup, only to turn around and sell it a week later. As of January 1929, he was operating the Monte Carlo poolroom in Fresno. A year later, January 1930, he leased space at 1034 Broadway, Fresno, for a waffle and coffee shop. It opened February 15, 1930. The whole wheat waffles sold like hotcakes.
At a time when many businesses were going under, Tiny’s thrived. Before the year was out, he’d opened a second Tony’s Waffle Shop in Reno. In addition to running his own shops, Tiny and his partner, Bruce Breckenridge, also sold franchises. Soon there were Tiny’s Waffle Shops in Sacramento, Modesto, Stockton, Marysville, Merced, Los Banos, Salinas, Bakersfield, San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland. A second Fresno outlet opened on Mariposa Street in 1936, as well as a motel on Highway 99. Cocktail lounges were added after Repeal.
Having relocated from the Central Valley to the Bay Area by 1940, after World War II, Naylor turned his focus to Southern California, where he was a familiar figure in horse racing circles.
In August 1948, Nayor opened the first of his namesake southern California restaurants at 1715 Cahuenga Boulevard.
In February 1950, Naylor got a permit to rebuild the former McDonnell’s at Sunset and La Brea. Architect Douglas Honnold would design the new, modern edifice.
Melvin McDonnell died in December 1958 at age 83. Tiny Naylor died in August 1959. His namesake restaurant chain continued, however. The 7101 Sunset Boulevard location closed in early 1984 and the fixtures were sold at auction that March. The building was demolished in June 1984.
Top image: LAPL photo.
McDonnell’s name was often spelled with one “l”, except on the restaurants.
The first McDonnell’s restaurant at 440 W. Pico continued to operate as McDonnell’s until 1962 when the McDonnell Corp was declared bankrupt.