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Owners’ children recall working at Fresno’s popular Mader’s Drive In

Memories of Mader's Drive In

Sisters share stories of their father's hamburger restaurant in Fresno.
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Sisters share stories of their father's hamburger restaurant in Fresno.

Q: Do you have any information on a hamburger place called, I believe, Mader’s? They made the best burger in town.

Gerald Young, Fresno

A: Harold Christopher Mader opened Mader’s Drive In at 4944 Ventura St. (later Kings Canyon Road) in 1948, according to his son, Harold C. Mader Jr. of Oregon.

One of Mader’s daughters, Katy Helm of Madera, said the story goes that when their father decided to move the family from New Orleans, he spread out a California map, closed his eyes and put his finger on the map. It landed first on Los Angeles, which was rejected. His finger landed on Fresno on the second try, she said.

Harold Mader said his father came to Fresno ahead of the family in 1947 and bought the restaurant property and a two-story house on Kerckhoff Avenue. His wife, Ann, and their four children followed later on the train.

The couple opened the café in 1948, Mader said. He and Helm recall working there as teenagers.

“I worked there from high school to my first year of college. I did just about everything,” Mader said. “Every Saturday my older sister Jackie (Folsom of Fresno) and I peeled 100 pounds of potatoes.”

The drive-in was a popular meeting place with ranchers and race car drivers, including Fresno racing legend Billy Vukovich, Mader said.

Mader’s Drive In was a gathering spot for families, ranchers and race car drivers.

Mader said his father painted the inside of the restaurant every year and the children helped. Helm recalls that she and her twin sister, Sharon Shaw of Fresno, painted a fence around the back parking lot. “We bused tables and washed windows, too,” she said.

In the early years the restaurant employed carhops, Helm and Mader recalled. Their mother started working at the restaurant when the youngest children reached their teens, Helm said.

Their parents retired after 30 years, Mader said. According to Fresno city directories, the restaurant closed in 1977.

Ann Mary Mader died in April 1990, and Harold C. Mader died about one month later.

Q: Decades ago we would travel by Cosmos Playground on the way to visit our grandparents. Can you tell us more about this playground?

Phil Tavlian, Fresno

A: Cosmos Playground was one of the playgrounds purchased by the Fresno Playground Department following the passage in 1910 of a $60,000 bond measure, according to “Fresno County in the 20th Century.” The bonds also funded Dickey and Holmes playgrounds and other city improvements.

Cosmos Playground opened in 1913 at G Street and California Avenue. A 1926 Fresno Bee story about the expansion of the city’s parks program said Cosmos Playground was one of the city’s most popular spots: “After supper crowds of boys and girls, as well as men and women, mingle in large numbers on certain grounds, many using apparatus, others preferring volley ball. For this particular group, Cosmos Playground has had the banner attendance year in and year out.”

In 1935, Cosmos Playground was relocated to a 4-acre parcel at 2317 S. Cherry Ave. near Florence Avenue.

In 1994, the Fresno City Council approved the sale of the playground site to White’s Moving and Storage Inc. for $40,000.

Q: I hope you can find more information about the Home Bakery in downtown Fresno owned by Frank E. Wells, my late husband’s grandfather.

Jo Ann Wells, Fresno

A: The Home Bakery at 1235 Van Ness Ave. was owned by Frank E. Wells and George E. Burwell. The earliest Fresno city directory listing for the bakery is in 1927, but the business began years before then. A July 1897 story in The Fresno Weekly Republican about a parade noted, “The Home Bakery bread wagon, nicely decorated, came next.”

“Davis’ Commercial Encyclopedia of the Pacific Southwest,” published in 1911, said Burwell was born in New Haven, Conn., in 1857. He came to Fresno in 1890 and started making doughnuts and selling them around town.

“He considered making good doughnuts an art worthy of study, and soon his wares were in constant demand among an ever-growing number of patrons,” the book said. Burwell gained a reputation for being “one of the most astute businessmen” in Fresno.

Burwell bought a two-story brick building on K Street, later Van Ness, in 1900. Due to illness, the book says, Burwell took on Wells as a partner in 1908. Wells was “active manager” and co-owner of the bakery by 1915.

According to The Bee, Burwell sold the two-story bakery building to H.C. Offutt in 1934, and in 1935 the building was demolished to make room for “a modern bowling and billiards parlor.”

Wells, a native of Illinois, left Fresno for Burlingame in 1935. He died in 1942 after a long illness at age 65. His obituary in The Bee described the Home Bakery as “a landmark in Fresno.”

Ask Me publishes on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Paula Lloyd is a freelance writer. Send questions to askpaulalloyd@yahoo.com or by mail to Paula Lloyd, c/o The Fresno Bee Newsroom, 1626 E St., Fresno CA 93786. Please include your name, city of residence and a phone number.

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