A month ago, when news that a 79 year-old classic burger restaurant in Toledo – the last in town of a defunct chain called White Tower – was being sold for $1 (on condition the buyer moves it off the property where it sits), a reader of A Hamburger Today seized the opportunity to play matchmaker with a NY restaurateur. “Danny Meyer? Paging Danny Meyer?!” wrote the commenter.
Indeed. Controversial logo design aside, Meyer's venerable Shake Shack carries a few strands of mitochondrial restaurant DNA derived from many ancestral hamburger chains, which all seemed to have originated in the Midwest and flourished, for the most part, between World Wars. For every chain that still exists, like stalwart T. rex White Castle, there are a dozen Depression-era patty melt joints that faded into obscurity.
Like White Tower: New York was once filled with them, and hints of their locations still exist. In the beginning, waitresses wore nurses’ outfits to project a food-safety thing, burgers were served on butcher paper, and everything cost 5¢. The first White Tower opened in New York in 1930, a location documented in this book.
A few months ago, a reader contacted us with a tip: At the corner of Northern Blvd. and Broadway in Queens, the “Orange Hut,” used to be a White Tower. We checked, and here it is above in a comparison shot. This location opened in the late 1930s, and the above
right left picture was snapped in 1957. The interior of Orange Hut in Woodside still has a lot of original details, such as the tiled backsplash, counter stools, and curved facade. Perhaps there’s some original signage beneath that vinyl orange up there on top and under the wraparound awning; a piece of hamburger history hidden in the architecture.