The defenders of Old Town Alexandria's traditions were sizzling yesterday over the latest Big Mac attack on their turf.
"It's a menace to public health and welfare," fumed Peter Schumaier, a member of their city's influential Old Town Civic Association, referring to a proposed 200-seat McDonald's Restaurant at 615 King St. The issue goes before the Alexandria City Council today.
McDonald's "Golden Arches" have no place in the area, he said. "It's a mass-produced sort of thing that's out of character with what one is looking for in Old Town. There were no McDonald's in George's day," he said.
The George he referred to is George Washington, whose name has been invoked in almost every fight over changes in the Old Town district. Yesterday both sides in the hamburger fight were mentioning him.
"Well, we're not going to have any George Washington burgers," said McDonald's lawyer Bernard M. Fagelson, who argued that the proposed restaurant would be "simple and tasteful and in keeping with the era."
The issue before the council he said, is whether the city wants to allow a restaurant that won't "cost an arm and leg" inside the Old Town area, frequented by thousands of Washington area tourists.
In recent years Old Town residents have fought successfully to preserve the area's historic buildings, and to ensure that new construction and business maintain the genteel character they say existed when the city was founded in 1749. McDonald's doesn't cut the mustard, Schumaier and others say.
"Old Town is a community of individuals who live and work here who are trying to preserve something that by definition will not fit in with the modern, 20th Century mold," said attorney Yvonne Weight.
Similar arguments last September defeated a bid by McDonald's to get an outlet in Annapolis's historic district. Old Town defenders are hoping for a similar victory today.
"Big Macs and special sauce are not compatible with the old and historic area," said lawyer Weight yesterday.
City officials said they have no doubt why McDonalds, whose 5,643 restaurants have sold more than 30 billion hamburgers since its first patty was lifted from a grill in 1955, wants the old Town location.
More than 6,000 people work in offices and shops there, and thousands more shop in the boutiques and stores that line the streets, according to city planning director Engin Artemel.
Under a compromise plan developed by the City Planning Commission earlier this month, the Golden Arches, the yellow symbols of the chain, would be banned from the Old Town location. The name McDonald's would instead be placed against the beige brick building, now occupied by a Pier 1 imports store.
Although the council isn't likely to vote on the proposal today, McDonalds already has the support of at least one council member.
"I would like to see it open," said Councilman Nelson E. Greene, Jr. yesterday. "We've got a lot of fine restaurants in the area, but the average person can't afford them."
Greene said he is satisfied that the restaurant will not disrupt the area's architecture.If the exterior matches the area, that's all that matters, he said. "Who's going to go inside a building to see if it's historic or not?" Greene asked.
After the hearing the council could vote at its next meeting in early January on the proposed restaurant permit.