(In)famous in its day: the Nixon’s chain

nixonsDriveIn338Since the 35th anniversary of Richard M. Nixon’s 1974 resignation from the presidency was commemorated this past weekend, it’s as good a time as any to focus on his brother Donald’s brief career as a restaurateur in Southern California. In the short span of five years in the 1950s, Don managed to go out of business while doing some serious damage to brother Richard’s political fortunes.

He got into several pickles but the biggest issue concerned a 1956 loan of $205,000 he received from Howard Hughes’s tool company to rescue his failing restaurants. Richard Nixon was VP in the Eisenhower administration at the time. Although Don denied that his brother had any involvement in soliciting the loan, critics were not convinced and persisted in raising questions about several decisions the government made that were beneficial to defense contractor Hughes. The toxic issue dogged Nixon in his unsuccessful 1960 presidential campaign against John Kennedy and again in his failed 1962 California gubernatorial run.

nixonburgerREVThe chain of five Nixon’s restaurants began modestly in 1943 when the Nixon family’s grocery store, established in 1922 by father Francis Nixon in Whittier, added a coffee shop. Although Don was involved in running the coffee shop, his first real business venture took place in 1952 when he opened a drive-in on East Whittier Blvd. (shown above). Two years later he opened Nixon’s Family Restaurant, also on East Whittier, home of the “Nixon Burger” whose unfortunate, opportunistic name would be used to taunt Richard Nixon during his two terms as President. Next Don opened a drive-in near Disneyland, in Anaheim, and a restaurant and bakery in Fullerton. In 1957, despite the Hughes loan and proceeds from the sale of Nixon’s Market to a supermarket chain, Don Nixon put all five restaurants up for sale to settle the chain’s debts.

The Nixon’s at 822 E. Whittier became a Whirly’s Drive-in, which itself went out of business in 1962 or early 1963. The Anaheim Nixon’s, at Harbor Blvd. and Katella Ave., was taken over by the Harris chain of Portland OR in 1958 after it was remodeled to include a cocktail lounge. Cocktails had been prohibited in the Nixon’s restaurants judging from a 1954 ad which proclaimed, “Since children are most welcome at Nixon’s – liquor is never served.”

In subsequent years as President, from 1969 to 1974, Richard Nixon kept close tabs on Don. At one point he had the Secret Service wiretap his phone. Richard also found Don a job that he hoped would keep him out of trouble. In 1970 staunch Republican J. Willard Marriott, founder of the Hot Shoppes and CEO of the Marriott Corporation, agreed to do the President a favor. Marriott appointed Don vice president in charge of franchises and acquisitions on the West Coast. Marriott officials denied that Don had any influence in helping the company win government contracts.

© Jan Whitaker, 2009


Filed under chain restaurants, drive-ins

53 responses to “(In)famous in its day: the Nixon’s chain

  1. Ric W.

    I remember Nixon’s on Whittier Blvd next to the Chrysler dealer had turned into a Chinese food restaurant. The waiter was amazing. Five 17 yr old boys would sit down and he would take our order without writing it down. The meal was always delivered perfectly as ordered. The place closed and the last vestiges of Nixon’s was torn down and became the western end of the Chrysler dealership. The Chrysler dealer is part of history now, and a large gym is now filling the property. Sadly Bob’s is gone too, along with all the places that would hang a metal tray on your car window and bring food to you so you could sit in the car and listen to KRLA, KHJ, and KFWB on the radio with your friends.

  2. Anonymous

    I lived on Grayling Avenue and went to Macy elementary school before moving to Friendly Hills. My dad built the American Savings building on Whittier Blvd. —- Lots of great memories !

  3. Laura Reeves

    I used to live in Whittier and my sister and I talk about Nixon’s occasionally. Can someone clear my memory because I remember in the back there was interesting little “cutout” cove parking spaces that had little laminated picnic tables for each space. I remember some tables being aqua, some were orange. Does anyone remember this? Thanks!!

    • dusty akers

      I remember those table colors…i lived in whittier as a kid..52 to 64. my dad was a family doctor there…whittier is a sweet memory for me too. be in touch if ya like sometime my best joe akers jr.

  4. Max Harding

    While working on my latest hotrod I started to daydream about my younger days growing up in Whittier. Of course hanging out at Nixon’s was the in thing to do so I looked up this site. I attended Cal-Hi and lived near Mulberry and Laural. It seems like only yesterday my friends and I would drive our cars to the restaurant with the same question to other guys, “What have you got that goes.” If challenged, we would then head out over the hills to Puente and race on a lonely street called 5th Ave. at that time, in the middle of nowhere with no cross streets. I continued to drag race for must of my adult life but cruising Whittier Bld. looking for good friends and a possible street race were the best of times. It seems so sad all my car racing idols are either dead or dying while I keep building cars trying to recapture those wonderful times knowing I may be next to go.

    • Roberta Alfaro

      I attended Cal-Hi … lived off Colima in the 50’s. We all loved Nixon’s and naturally we went to check out the guys and their cars. Do you remember, on Saturday nights guys would come from all over and cruise Whittier Blvd. to show off their cars? Lowered or on a rake with tuck-n-roll upholstery. Those were the days!!!! Fish Stick and Fries served in a box …

  5. Teri Wilkinson

    My mother -in-law, Betty Force Wilkinson, worked at Nixon’s Restaurant for a short time, then left and went to work for Nixon’s cousins, Bill and Dorothy Milhouse, when they opened the Seafare Inn on Whittier Blvd, almost to the Orange County line. I met Donald Nixon (the elder) one time when I was working as a candystriper at Whittier Hospital; I took him the Sunday paper and he tried to give me a tip. I explained we could not take tips, and started to leave. He threw the quarter on the floor!
    Teri Young Wilkinson

  6. Pingback: Episode 103: Money For Nothing – Benevolent Billionaires – Just A Story

  7. Paulette Hodges

    My dad worked for Don Nixson around 1950 at a produce market in the Whittier area. I want to say it was Yorba Linda. We lived next to Don Nixson in a trailer park and I’m not sure of the city. I was around 4. Does anyone recall Nixson Produce Market in Whittier or Yorba Linda around 1950? Thanks.

    • Jane Alexander

      Yes, I was at boarding school in Whittier in ’56-’57, and an earlier time ’49-’51. On Sundays we walked through the orange groves to EWF Church and afterwards we went shopping at the old Nixon ‘s market and restaurant on the other side of the street — not the new place pictured above. If parents showed up to visit, we would go to the restaurant. The school property on Scott Road by the RR tracks is now preserved as Parnell Park.


        Ah yes. The best reason for going to Sunday school at EWF was to wait for the pretty girls from Parnell’s to show up, Circa 1954. Lived about l block from the church on Russell Street/Whittier Blvd. Fond memories.

      • Jane

        Years later I was back at Parnell and mom and I had lunch at the counter by the call window at the counter of the new Nixon’s. A waitress called ‘Steak medium rare and burgers a pair” and Mom, ever the clown, said, “See, that’s how waitresses do, they call everything in rhyme”. Years went by until as an overtired waitress I couldn’t sleep and those words came back to me. I called my sis and hillarity ensued as we rhymed everything on the menu where I worked, including ‘two bloody Marys for a couple of fairies’….

    • Anonymous

      It was on Whittier Blvd and Santa Gertrude in Whittiet

    • Chuck England

      My dad worked at the market for many years. If I remember correctly the market was bought out by Thriftimart and moved across to the north side of Whittier Blvd.

      • Jane Alexander

        I was a little kid, buying lemon drops at the old Nixon s in 1950.

      • Anonymous

        I spent many hours there supposedly helping my dad. Lots of Delaware punch. My mom worked at the restaurant. Her nickname was Little Dynamite. After closing in the evening I would help refilling the sugar bowls and catsup. She would also fill in at the drive in.

      • Chuck England

        Jane, did my last post go thru about my dad and mom and their work at the restaurant, store and the drive in?

  8. Truett Neathery

    I saw a website that had lots of pictutes of Whittier oil production on it, as well as other places around the turn of the century. I can’t find it now, does anyone know where to access it? truett_neathery@yahoo.com

  9. James Pack

    My father bought the property that contained the Whirly’s restaurant in 1960 from Mr. Nixon, if I’m not mistaken. Not 1963. It then became a Chrysler Plymouth Imperial Dealership. The one on Whittier Blvd. However, if my memory is off, maybe the property was next door and was eventually acquired by my father at a later date.

  10. martin

    I was 8 in 1961, and Donald Nixon was on my little league team (Donald Nixon’s son, of course). Don was a very generous and gracious man, treating our team to batting practice. I do not recall much about Don Jr., what position he played or anything but a vague recollection of his 8 y.o. face. The restaurant business, like so many labor intensive businesses are very very challenging, requiring total dedication. If only gubberman workers had any clue.

  11. Don Kirk

    The rumors were already abounding, when the Anaheim restaurant opened. I only ate there once (I was a kid) as dad wanted to try it; as Tricky Dick’s brother owned it. Later after it was a night club, a wax museum opened on the site; and then a hotel occupied the site of the Anaheim Nixon’s. I remember “Open 24 1/2 hr. a day” was on their sign. I moved from there in 1980; and don’t know what’s there now. Remember that whole area as orange groves and strawberry fields.

  12. I have a scarce image of the Fullerton Restaurant and Bakery on a postcard for sale on Ebay. If you have seen this too late to bid on the card, I would gladly send you the image.


    • David, are you still getting messages? I saw your comment from 2012 about a post card you sold that had an image of the Fullerton Restaurant and Bakery owned by Don Nixon. You said you still had the image. If this reaches you … and if you still have that image, could you send it to me? I’m the Docent Librarian at the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda – I’m researching the Nixons’ restaurant history for our Guild. Hope to hear from you. Dan Lookabill

  13. Ron Haro

    Good and informative article. I didn’t know about the Hughes and Marriott involvement. That was especially interesting. Many great memories from the mid 60’s on Whittier Blvd. I grew up in Whittier and whenever in town to visit family, I go to JACK’S SALAD BOWL for breakfast, another longtime restaurant in Whittier.

    • Linda Barreda

      I also grew up in Whittier. Jack’s Salad Bowl is no longer there. Cruising Whittier Blvd. was the fun thing to do.

  14. Wow, remember Nixson drive inn. My sister worked there when she was in high school in Whittier. We always stopped there with my mom for ice cream cones, 1954. Fell in love in the 8th grade with my future husband. We trampolined next door and he was a cruiser at Whirly’s drive inn. Wow, was he cool — he didn’t know I was alive, lol. And for Bob’s Big Boy we cruised and cruised and cruised Bob’s and Whittier blvd 1960, 1964. Fun times.

  15. Nancy Hughes

    I grew up in Whittier. I remember eating at the drive-in and the restaurant. This was a treat for my family. But, what I remember best were the great bran muffins from the bakery at the Nixon market. Oh, to find those, again. Great article. Thank you

    • Brad Arrington

      So did I Nancy (as you well know!)! I wish I could find some photographs of the old Bobs on Whittier Blvd…….I’m sure there must be some SOMEPLACE….!

  16. Lawrene Nixon Anfinson

    Before my uncle was ever in politics my father’s original coffee shop, located in the same old building as the grocery store, was serving “Nixonburgers.” I sure wish people would keep their stories straight!

    • Thank you for that clarification. I do want to keep the story straight.

    • Jane Alexander

      1949-1951 I was at school in Whittier. A walk through the orange groves to E W Friend Church, and then to Nixon ‘s for treats. I was about 5 the time Mom’ s then boyfriend grabbed the cherry I’d been saving off the top of my soda. I wonder if it was the future president himself who gave me the replacement?
      The restaurant pictured at top looks like the second one, across the street from the original, right?

    • Dennis Walker

      Indeed Lawrene. I lived on Russell street, just down the street from East Whittier Friends Church. Used to ride my bike to the market and “coffee shop”, on the corner of what is now Santa Gertrudes and Whittier Blvd. Nixon Burgers were great.

  17. Richard Barnes

    It was the Summer of 1960, and “Whirley’s” in Whittier, had become “THE” Teenage Hangout for many southland high schools,…including my own high school, Montebello High. There were 4 of us guys that used to hang around together at the time. And on a number of warm summer nights during the months of July and August of that year, we’d all pile into one car, each chip in a quarter for gas, and head out for Whirley’s in Whittier.

    First we’d cruise the Boulevard looking for others we knew. Then we’d pull into Whirley’s, go through the Drive-Thru Window, and order a Cheeseburger, Fries and a Coke. Or, if we weren’t that hungry, we’d just order a large Chocolate Malt. They were huge, and only cost 25 cents. Afterward, we’d cruise around and around the Restaurant looking for chicks, and checking out the other customized cars parked around the back. They were just early to mid-50s model cars. My 50 Chevy only cost me $200. My friend’s 55 Ford, only cost him $600. We didn’t know they would later be known as “Classics.” And like in the movie “American Graffiti”, we’d all have our car radios tuned to the same Radio Station, which amplified the Rock n’ Roll music being played, many times over. We also didn’t know the music would become “Classic”, either. We’d continue to cruise around Whirley’s until a parking spot opened up, then we’d join the others parked in the back, and watch the new arrivals cruise past us. If we were lucky, we’d catch the eye of a car full of girls, and it wasn’t long before we were all sitting and talking with one another, either next to, or in front of, our cars. God, What Sweet Memories! For us High School Seniors, I think we knew somewhere in our hearts and minds, that this would be for all of us, our “The Last Best Summer.”

    • Thanks for sharing your memories.

    • Eric Baker

      When Whirly’s closed, Bob’s Big Boy on the other side of the boulevard fulfilled the same role. I graduated from Montebello High in 1965 and Whittier Blvd. and Bob’s were the place to cruise and hang out. I do remember Whirly’s, though. Drive-ins were great!

    • Linda Poole

      I went to La Habra High and we all went to Whirley’s. We girls would all get in the car and hit the hot spot. Chip in for gas and have a cherry coke and check out the guys.

    • Anonymous

      You just took me back in time….Whirley’s was the place to be on a Friday or Saturday night. And you didn’t always have to “cruise” through the place as there was plenty of parking. I knew several guys from Montebello in a car club…The Chipmunks…I know, I know….LOL I graduated from Whittier High in 1960 and it was a sad day when Whirley’s closed!!!

      • Margaret Magee

        I married a Chipmunk!!!! Remember the names of some of their cars…yakety yak, fire fly, copper kettle!!!!

  18. Doll, where was the restaurant in Fullerton located, do you know? Great story! Greater website find!

  19. Thanks for sharing such interesting info on this chain of restaurants. The images are very cool as well.
    Once again, Thanks, and I’ll definitely be back for more.

  20. Monica

    Are any of these chains still open?

  21. Absolutely fascinating, Jan. You are such a wealth of information.

    BTW, I just got back from camping by Watkins Glen. I was there for the Nascar race. The area around Seneca Lake was so busy and time was too short to check out the eateries however, I’m going back ASAP!!!

  22. Aimee S.

    Thanks Jan! Another gem of a story…at least to this youngster. LOL

    • Marty Burch

      Thank you for E-mailing this to me. Growing up in La Habra, I share in the nostalgia of each of your respondents. I, too, spent way too much time cruising Whittier Blvd. than was appropriate. I experience ” no shame ” in the admission. It was, after all, A TOTAL BLAST. My friends and I would head toward the Boulevard full of Fantasy and in high expectation of the events to come. Thank GOD for fantasy because none of our dreams ever materialized. As unsuccessful as our adventures were, I’d do it all over again cause all good things are more fun in the attempt than in the realization.

      The Burch Family and the Nixon Family share a long association. While I don’t pretend to have any real knowledge of the events that transpired, during those years, I can say that I had several dealings with Don and never found anything untoward in the way he presented himself. I can, however, say that I have been a friend of his son, Richard, for many years. I know that the Nixon Family have paid a large price for their association with the Presidency. ……My Grandfather used to state, laughingly, that there were several Horsethieves in our background. Boy, am I glad they weren’t famous.

      It’s good to reminisce. I hope that we do it well. What if tomorrow puts you in a situation that leaves you with decisions that, at every turn, must destroy your dreams and leave you broken ? Is it really that important to punish the family too?

      • Truett Neathery

        I bought a car from Burch once — a 1959 Chevy Biscayne with a 3335 H.P. engine, 4-speed trans, Positraction diff! three carburators — who cared — gas was only 25 Cents a gallon!

      • Jane Alexander

        Marty Burch, I went to Parnell School in Whittier in ’56-’67 and enjoyed the friendship of Mr. Clarence Burch who took care of the horses there.
        He had a daughter named Corrine who would be approaching about 70 now. He was a great help to me at a rough time in my life and I hope he knows that I still think of him fondly. Do you know them?
        Paulette Hodges, Can Marty Burch have my email address if he wants to respond? Please, Thanks, Jane

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