McDonald's Corp., bowing to Hispanic tradition and community revulsion, announced today that it will not reopen the restaurant where 22 persons were shot to death last week.
Workmen arrived before dawn at the fast-food outlet in San Ysidro, near the Mexican border, and took down the restaurant's distinctive golden arches insignia. A McDonald's spokesman said the chain would try to open a new restaurant elsewhere in the predominantly Hispanic community.
Since Saturday, neighbors and relatives of the massacre victims had held candlelight demonstrations calling for a memorial on the restaurant site. Community leaders noted that in Mexico and other Latin countries bereaved relatives often mark the scene of a fatal traffic accident with a cross or wreath.
"In our culture, the grieving stage of death is much more ritualized," said Andrea Skorepa, a San Ysidro community leader who applauded McDonald's decision. "In our kind of extended-family culture . . . it becomes a family feeling of what's been done has been done to all of us."
Irma Castro, executive director of the San Diego-based Chicano Federation, said, "We do not need a place where people can come and gawk."
She said the strong reaction to earlier indications that McDonald's would reopen the restaurant occurred because "people do not want to have that reminder of what happened at McDonald's."
James O. Huberty, 41, a San Ysidro resident and unemployed security guard apparently distressed about losing several jobs in his former Ohio home town, walked into the McDonald's alongside Interstate 5 at 4 p.m. July 18 and began firing with a pistol, a shotgun and a semi-automatic rifle, witnesses reported.
By the time a police sharpshooter killed him with a single shot 77 minutes later, Huberty had slain or fatally wounded 21 persons ranging in age from 8 months to 74 years and almost all of Hispanic descent.
McDonald's executives quickly sent crews to replace bullet-shattered windows and clean the blood-spattered interior. They initially indicated that the restaurant might reopen after funerals for three slain employes.
But McDonald's Vice President Dick Starmann, in a telephone interview from the corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., said executives were influenced by talks with community leaders at funeral services last weekend.
"We considered the sentiments of the community," he said, recounting conversations that McDonald's President Mike Quinlan had in California. "Some people wanted us to reopen, some opposed it."
After discussions with a local businessman who owns the San Ysidro franchise, including its interior equipment, Starmann said it was decided that the tragic memories and notoriety of the site precluded reopening.
He said no decision is expected soon on what to do with the restaurant, attached playground and parking lot, all owned by the corporation. Some neighbors have suggested that the land be turned into a memorial park, but the idea has not met with universal approval.
"I don't think that is the best place for a memorial park," said Skorepa, executive director of the Casa Familiar/Amanecer community service organization in San Ysidro. The restaurant is among a string of businesses along well-traveled San Ysidro Boulevard.
"I can't imagine parents letting their children go across that busy street to play over there," she said. Among the massacre victims were two 11-year-old boys who had gone unaccompanied to the restaurant.
Starmann said McDonald's has offered jobs at other San Diego-area franchises to the approximately 75 employes of the San Ysidro restaurant. "McDonald's has a really good reputation in the community" for hiring young Hispanic-Americans, he said.
Closing one franchise and reopening another will cost "hundreds of thousands of dollars," Starmann said, adding that he did not know if insurance will cover the cost.
The company has noted no significant drop in business in other McDonald's outlets since the massacre, he said.
"In fact, we've had more than 200 calls to our headquarters from people saying, 'We're sorry that it happened to you,' " he said.