What Happened Here

Buildings That Used To Be Something Else: KFC
December 24, 2012, 1:01 am
Filed under: Buildings that used to be something else, Commercial Architecture

At least as far back as the early 20th Century, retailers have used uniquely-shaped buildings to advertise them on sight.  Some common design pattern is repeated at every location and becomes as much a part of the brand’s identity as its name.  Countless gas stations, supermarkets, and especially restaurants use architectural branding as their calling card.

When they go out of business, they leave buildings still instantly identifiable as the former homes of the brands they were intended to evoke.


kfcflexiKFC company materials, 1970s

Former Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant buildings are all over the place.  Their signature restaurants have been repainted and reoccupied in countless ways, but the shape gives away the original occupant.

KFC’s standard little building for many years featured a red-and-white-striped, four-sided pyramid roof with a cupola tower sitting atop.  It was unmistakable with the most fleeting driving-by glance.

In a way it was a close descendant of White Tower, often called the first big fast food chain, whose own cartoonish little 1920s burger stands were distinguished by a tower shot upward on the corner of every building.  Those, too, stand out even decades after all but one closed down.

Moody's Falafel PalaceFormer White Tower, Cambridge, MA, 2006

This most recognizable version of KFC dotted the national landscape until this level of roadside gaudiness fell out of fashion.

Some of the KFCs were torn down and rebuilt as newer versions.  But a lot of them simply closed, and as happens, unmistakably-KFC building shells remain left behind with new inhabitants, their true origin not lost on anybody.



Here are a few examples I’ve come across in my travels:

Former KFC, Saugus, MA

This former KFC sits on the heavily commercialized section of Route 1 in Saugus, Mass.  The area contains a lot of historic commercial architecture, but far more of it is new, replaced, or modernized beyond discerning its origin.  There is no mistaking this vacuum cleaner store’s heritage, though.

Former KFC, Salem, NH

This KFC-turned-Chinese-restaurant in Salem, NH, not only features the building design but the old standard sign structure.  The arrow, common to KFCs of the period, seems so eager that it overshoots the sign slightly, swinging wide before turning and rocketing your attention straight in toward that roof.

The Saugus location still features this original sign as well.

Former KFC, Palmer, MA

This location is now a Thai and Japanese restaurant in the downtown of Palmer, Massachusetts.  Unlike the previous examples, both on highway commercial strips, the roof element here feels especially massive and hard to ignore next to its smaller-town surroundings.


This building in Hamden, Connecticut, is different than the rest.  The proportions are off, somehow—the pyramid does not seem symmetrical in four directions, and the rear el sticks out too much to one side—and the finish materials seem neither weatherproof nor consistent with the other examples.  But I feel pretty strongly that this is a former KFC.  The dual-plane roof pyramid, the wide wraparound fascia, and the cupola are all there, and perhaps most significantly, a much more modern KFC is open and operating right across the street.


Keep an eye out here for more looks at buildings that used to be something else in the future.

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