Santa Barbara is famously the birthplace of the modern environmental movement as well as McDonald’s Egg McMuffin. These disparate game-changing developments may in fact be less jarringly discordant than they immediately seem. Santa Barbara illustrator and sculptor Bud Bottoms cofounded the group Get Oil Out! (GOO) in response to Santa Barbara’s oil spill of 1969. He also claims to have designed the original “Golden Arches” logo for McDonald’s back in 1952.
As Bottoms tells it, he was working at the time as an illustrator for the Robert Palmer public relations company, then headquartered at 812 Anacapa Street (also listed as 812 Presidio Avenue). Working out of neighboring offices were a couple of “semi-portly middle-aged men” who wore suits. They’d walk past Bottoms’s window and wave. He’d wave back. They were Richard James and Maurice James McDonald — who went by the names Dick and Mac, respectively — then owners of a fledging hamburger franchise called McDonald’s.
One day, Bottoms recalled, the two brothers invited him to their offices. “There was a huge map of the United States on the wall with all kinds of pushpins,” he said. They needed a logo, something to do with the letter M. Bottoms cranked out three sketches and gave them to the pair the next day. He can’t recall exactly how much they paid, but not much. That was the end of it. Not long after, Bottoms saw his handiwork in the flesh from the freeway while driving south with his family. When he noted this, he said, he was greeted with skepticism.
In 1951, Bottoms — a Santa Monica native who’d recently gotten out of the U.S. Navy — was finishing up his final year at UCSB, where he was studying to become a teacher. Later on, he’d help raise four sons who’d go on to find success as movie actors and artists. Bottoms, playful as he was passionate, would emerge as a major protest leader in the wake of Santa Barbara’s notorious oil spill of 1969. And later, he would become even more famous as the sculptor who designed and built The Friendship Fountain (aka Dancing Dolphins Fountain) at the base of Stearns Wharf.
Efforts to confirm Bottoms’s claims with McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Illinois were met with good-natured evasions and polite nonanswers. Bottoms’s name, it should be noted, does not show up in any of the official or unofficial histories. Bottoms stressed he’s not looking for money, only acknowledgement. Initially, when Bottoms told people he’d designed the logo, he was greeted with arched eyebrows and scornful disbelief. “I heard ‘bullshit’ more than a few times,” he said.
For years, Bottoms said, he kept his mouth shut. As the environmental movement caught on, Bottoms was less inclined to claim bragging rights. McDonald’s and the arches had become visual shorthand for corporate junk-food culture and the Mount Vesuvius of Styrofoam trash thus generated. About 10 years ago, Bottoms recounted taking his granddaughters to a local McDonald’s, and he felt compelled to tell them. About that time, he also reached out to McDonald’s and The New Yorker magazine with his story. No bites.
According to the official history, it was Dick McDonald who first came up with the idea of the golden arches as a defining architectural feature for every single McDonald’s franchise. That was in 1952. He gave a rough sketch to a series of professional architects to render this dream into physical reality. Absent from these accounts, however, is any elaboration on where that sketch came from. According to interviews with Dick McDonald, the brothers did, in fact, retire to Santa Barbara, though their names are absent from street directories for Santa Barbara from the early 1950s. But from 1959 to 1961, the city’s Polk street index lists “McDonald’s Self-Service” at the address 812-A Anacapa Street. The initials of the office tenants are “M.J.” and “R.J.,” which correspond to the names Maurice James and Richard James.
But attorney Joe Howell — who now occupies the office space where Bottoms used to work — provided information that lends some weight to Bottoms’s claim. Howell recalled meeting in his offices with three fixtures of the Santa Barbara business and political firmament — real estate syndicator Larry Crandell, former county supervisor Bob Kallman, and insurance mogul Jim Norris. At that meeting, which took place about 2000, Howell said Norris regaled him with recollections of the two McDonald brothers. “He said, ‘One of the brothers sat over there, and the other brother sat over here,’” recalled Howell. “‘There was this giant map on the wall with pushpins, each pin for a franchise.’” Howell said Norris remembered seeing Ray Kroc, who ultimately bought out the company from the McDonald brothers in a less-than-friendly takeover, show up. “This is totally independent of anything I’ve since heard from Bud,” Howell stated.
Kroc, it should be noted, owned a ranch in the Santa Ynez Valley, where he reportedly operated the industrial kitchen where the process for making McDonald’s french fries was perfected. In the 1960s, McDonald’s stopped building the iconic golden arches on its fast-food outlets. But the logo remained, resisting efforts by some within the corporation to eliminate that, as well. Louis Cheskin, a prominent architect, argued that the arches had come to symbolize mammary munificence and could not be discarded. Cheskin famously compared the arches to “mother McDonald’s breasts,” arguing they “had the Freudian applications to the subconscious mind of the consumer and were great assets in marketing McDonald’s food.”
When asked about such subliminal symbolism, Bottoms stated, “I don’t know anything about that. I just know I gave those guy three sketches, and they used one.”