The Mammoth Orange, artifact of an era, to get new life at a fossil museum

The old Mammoth Orange stand sits on the grounds of the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County in California.
The old Mammoth Orange stand sits on the grounds of the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County in California. Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County

A large, round and still-orange reminder of America’s fabled love of the open road sits outside a fossil museum in central California where the community is making plans to restore it.

The Mammoth Orange hamburger stand – shaped like a giant orange – was a fixture on Highway 99 near Highway 152 at a place called Fairmead. It closed about 10 years ago.

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Customers gather at the Mammoth Orange food stand along highway 99 north of Madera on March 31, 2005. DARRELL WONG Fresno Bee File Photo

The city of Chowchilla bought the old stand with the idea of restoring what was a local landmark, but that never happened.

The San Joaquin Valley Paleontology Foundation stepped in six years ago and moved it to the Fossil Discovery Center of Madera County.

Now the time is ripe to restore the Mammoth Orange, said Michele Pecina, center director.

“We had an interest in the Mammoth Orange because of the play on words,” she said.

The first tusk of a mammoth was found at the Fairmead landfill in 1993 and since then, 15,000 fossils have been found. The museum was built seven years ago to house and display the collection.

“To have the Mammoth Orange complement our facility will be a good thing,” Pecina said.

As reported by The Bee’s Paula Lloyd, the Mammoth Orange was once described as a “Valencia orange on steroids.”

The 10-foot-tall structure was built about 1952 of aluminum, stucco and wood and painted bright orange. In addition to hamburgers, the stand sold signature orange milkshakes.

The first orange-shaped stand opened in Tracy in the 1920s when air conditioning in automobiles did not exist and people would stop for a cool drink. By the 1950s, dozens of the stands dotted the highways of California, especially along Highway 99.

But freeways and air conditioning technology emerged and by the 1990s, the Mammoth Orange near Chowchilla was thought to be the last one still in business.

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The old Mammoth Orange in Fairmead had already been removed from under the awning when this photo was taken in 2010. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Until now, a lack of funds have hampered restoration hopes, but the foundation is teaming up with the Rotary clubs of Madera and Chowchilla to restore it, Pecina said.

The goal is to put it on a cement pad to serve as an exhibit. That could be done by the end of the year, she said.

“In time, we’ll make it a food venue,” she said. “We hope to make it a historical landmark. It is definitely a piece of Americana.”

Lewis Griswold: 559-441-6104, @fb_LewGriswold