White Tower

For the better part of 50 years, the first thing any one saw of Camden when coming over the Ben Franklin Bridge was the White Tower hamburger stand that stood on Broadway at the Bridge Plaza. Likewise those traveling west on the Admiral Wilson Boulevard would pass Marbett's restaurant as soon as they passed Baird Boulevard, two more White Towers were at the city's "eastern gates", one at Federal Street and Crescent Boulevard (Route 130), the other at Haddon Avenue and Crescent Boulevard. Another White Tower was located on Crescent Boulevard at Route 130, just outside the city limits. 

The success of the White Castle chain, established in Wichita, Kansas, in 1921, prompted immediate imitation.  The White Tower restaurant chain was launched in Milwaukee in 1926.  Like White Castle, the firm adopted a small, white, castle-like building.  The design was intended to symbolize stability, strength, and permanence, while the white exterior symbolized purity and cleanliness.  The early buildings designed by the White Tower chain kept surface ornamentation to a minimum and used a tower and pseudo-buttresses along the sides of each building to suggest the medieval castle.  Later porcelain-enameled buildings were bold and fully streamlined, a sharp contrast to the aging buildings located adjacent to the restaurant, especially when lit at night.  Like the White Castle designs, the White Tower buildings functioned as billboards; they were readily identifiable and symbolized their distinctive food.  The interior of the White Tower restaurant was polished chrome and white tile.  The menu included hamburgers, coffee, ham sandwiches, pie, donuts, and soda. 

From Milwaukee, the successful White Tower chain spread to Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, and Boston, among other cities.  The chain survived the depression by offering inexpensive food-burgers sold for a nickel, the simplicity of design, and the medieval fantasy that offered a brief escape.  By the mid-1950s, the chain had grown to 230 stores.   During the late 1950s and 1960s, the chain experimented with the Tower-O-Matic concept.  The idea of a fully automated eatery was unsuccessful and the chain continued with the traditional fast food service.

Marbett's was a part of the White Tower chain, and was their attempt at a larger sit-down restaurant. The Marbett's in Camden was originally a White Tower building, and was converted into a Marbett's. When this was done a second White Tower was built on the opposite side of Admiral Wilson Boulevard. This building was hit by a truck in the early 1960s. Dorothy Kopakowski, an employee, was seriously injured. The building was later razed and a gas station was built on the site. 

White Tower survived in the Camden area until at least 1981, when the restaurant on Route 130 and Haddon Avenue was sold.

Camden People Talk About White Tower and Marbett's

A long time ago, my mother and father (and me) took the bus to NYC, and you boarded it at a stop outside the White Tower.  I remember a white bag of hamburgers were purchased at 5 (five) cents each that were placed inside a small bun.  The burgers were the size of a silver dollar.  Not, too, good in taste and quality (but, at that time,  around 1935, who cared about "quality"?).

Joseph Cooper
December 2004

I worked for a restaurant which I believe was Marbett's during the summer of 1940 as a dishwasher on the 12-8AM shift. It was located on the SW side of the Airport circle. As I recall the owners or managers of the Camden area White Tower were two brothers, I don't remember their names, but I recall that they were as tight as they come; they had rinky-dinky offices in Camden. One time I had to go to that office to get something for the Marbett's manager. They were so tight they wouldn't even reimburse my bus fare.

The early 40's, before Pearl Harbor, were swinging times, more than just the big bands. The depression was over, people had money to spend, and war business was booming. The NY shipyard was working 24/7. RCA had their lights on all night. The restaurant at the circle was swinging all night long, the people flow rarely slowed down, even during the wee hours. They had curb service and the juke box never stopped blaring. The dimly lit parking lot was a very popular spot and lots of history was written there at night.

Did you know that you can buy White Tower Hamburgers frozen? My wife came home with a package recently. They are very authentic. Square buns, same taste, but no pickle or catsup. I didn't know they were still in business.

Joe Clawges
December 2004

That [White Tower] was the only luxury we could afford. The kids (seven of them) looked forward to the times we could get the White Tower hamburgers. I still think they were the best hamburgers I have ever eaten. We usually went to the 2100 Admiral Wilson boulevard Tower where Doris was the waitress. Also, we went to the one on the bridge plaza where Elanor was the waitress. How about the one on Market street down from city hall?

Peter McHugh
December 2004

When I was at Great Lakes, guys there knew about White Tower. They were from the Midwest. Anyway, the location at 130 & Federal was hit so many times by vehicles coming down 130 & that little curve & hill there that it's a wonder it didn't collapse. White Tower also had a location at 5th & Market. It had booths and a counter. It was a little down-scale from Marbett's. I think there still is a seafood place  there now.

Another location was where the Black Horse Pike and Mt. Ephraim Avenue come together. It's an extermination place now. It was tiny, only 5-7 stools. A manager for White Tower, a Mr. Roney brought the locations he thought were the best and he operated until his death 10-12 yrs ago. His family still has the Haddon Avenue and 130 building. 

Their menu also included eggs, pancakes, etcetera. They got lunch as well as dinner traffic. If we had a dime for everybody that went in there after a night out and had eggs we would be bigger than Microsoft. 

When I was a kid, when it snowed we would start at York Street and work our way down to the Bridge Plaza shoveling sidewalks. When we got to the bridge we would always go into White Tower have coffee (which was decent coffee), and a hamburger. I'm old enough to say that the White Tower at the Bridge was there before 1950.

Another change White Tower tried was a place at 7th & Federal Streets. It was called the Creamery. It was on the lines of the old Calico Kitchen. All the Bell Telephone and Lit Brothers' workers used it. I think it was gone by the late 60's. It was a breakfast, lunch, and dinner place. 

It always surprised me how many of the waitresses worked there for ever. One still works at 130 & Haddon Avenue. She' got I guess 40-45-plus years in. A lot of the girls were Camden natives. A few I can remember came from North 7th Street, Segal Street, and Cramer Street. 

I think the White Tower at Haddon was on The History Channel a few years ago. 

John Ciafrani
December 2004

As a young boy I used to love going to Marbett's with my uncle and cousin. Loved those cheeseburgers. That would have been in the late 1950s.

Lee Ryan
December 2004

As a kid growing up in Fairview, my Mother would take me to the White Tower where 130 hits Mt. Ephraim Avenue. It was across from the liquor store (Great Scott's), near the car dealership. They always served coffee in white porcelain mugs.

Mike Wilson
December 2004

The white tower at Admiral Wilson and Baird Boulevard was hit be a truck in the early sixties.

Tom Probst
December 2004

Marbett’s was our McDonald’s until the McDonald’s opened on Route 38 in Cherry Hill. I can remember being there with my father and my sister when Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby. I had an appendectomy a few weeks before this, but I remember running up the stairs to my Aunt’s house on Raritan Street after we left Marbett’s to see if she and her family knew and to watch the TV coverage. For some reason I especially remember the pickles that came on the hamburgers. 

Molly Lou Conrad
December 2004

I used to go to one near or on Penn Street, when I worked at a little restaurant there in 1977. They had butter-fried eggs and shoestring potatoes that can't be beat! I'm afraid I can't say much for their burgers.

Vince Summers
December 2004

I remember the White Towers in Camden. I ate there many, many times, at all of them. There was also one on the corner of Broadway and Federal Street next to Woolworth's. I also  remember eating at the Horn & Hardart automated cafeteria, next to the Midway Theatre. You had a choice to get served from a buffet type serving line or from the automated bins where you put money in little boxes -that resembled post office boxes with little glass windows to view the food-it was a fun place to eat. I was just a child then, I don't really have any stories on the White Tower except to say it was a good place to eat if you were downtown.

Floyd Miller
December 2004

Guess you will have to contact cops all around Camden. I know there are just a few [stories] you won't be able to print.

December 2004

I loved the taste of those burgers,there was something about the combination of the grilled hamburger meat, chopped unions and the pickle. I consider myself an aficionado after sitting in the Bridge Plaza White Tower and having a couple  burgers and coffee every night for most of Feb. and March 1948 as I was waiting for the bus to take me home while courting my lovely wife to be.

Jim Bessing
December 2005

A Typical 1930's White Tower
Click on Image to Enlarge

A Typical Marbett's
Click on Image to Enlarge

Intersection of
Admiral Wilson Boulevard
Baird Boulevard

August 19, 1948

The overpass and cloverleaf are under construction in this photograph. Visible, clockwise from upper left. Marbetts, rear of homes on Randolph street, Merlin Motors, White Tower, and the YMCA (later known as the Oasis Motel).

Admiral Wilson Boulevard
August 19, 1948

1940s - 1960s
White Tower

Merlin Motors Lincoln-Mercury is visible on far side of the Boulevard.

The Former
White Tower
Route 130
Haddon Avenue


"Here are a couple of photos of the interior of the White Tower which since 1981 has been known as Roney's.  It looks pretty much like it did years ago, same tile floor and so on." 

John Ciafrani
December 2004

Former White Tower at Route 130 & Federal Street - 2003

This former White Tower had been known as Cafe 130 prior
to going out of business long before the 2003 photo was taken

Camden Courier-Post - December 12, 2005

Overturned Tanker Shuts Down Rt. 130

A tanker overturned here Sunday afternoon, spilling home heating oil across Route 130 and destroying a former hamburger stand, police said.

The tanker, which holds about 7,500 gallons of oil, overturned sometime around 3:45 p.m. in the southbound lane of Route 130 near Federal Street.

Other cars were involved, police said, but no injuries were reported.

Police said the tanker smashed into a former Roney's and White Castle hamburger stand that has long been closed.

Both lanes of Route 130 would be closed into this morning, police said Sunday night.

Camden Courier-Post - February 23, 2007

Transplant craves old diner



The Harwan Theater is coming down, but the adjacent DiNic's Roast Beef, a former White Tower restaurant, is moving on.

To West Virginia.

A self-described "dinerholic" who grew up in Collingswood is paying to have the.

 landmark little eatery picked up and trucked about 300 miles from the Black Horse Pike to his home in Morgantown, W.Va. The Mount Ephraim site is being cleared for construction of a Walgreens.

"I always wanted a diner," John Shoaf, a 64-year-old retired teacher and respected preservationist, said Thursday. "Most people pretty much think it's crazy. My better half thinks I'm out of my mind."

A 1960 Collingswood High School graduate, Shoaf is hardly unique in his love of diners, which have inspired numerous scholarly and pop-culture books, as well as fan sites on the Web. The Mount Ephraim White Tower meets the definition of a diner despite its minuscule size because it's a manufactured structure and was shipped to its site (in 1946 or thereabouts, Shoaf believes).

Accommodating the removal rather than the demolition of a building "is a little unusual, in our experience, unless the building is historic," said Jake Todd, senior project manager for the Bannett Group, the Cherry Hill firm constructing the Walgreens.

"It could be the only one left in existence," said Shoaf, adding the Mount Ephraim White Tower was one of 15 manufactured by the Arthur Valentine company of Wichita, Kan.

Paul M. Hirshorn, who co-authored White Tower -- the definitive (and only) book on the subject -- said the Valentine buildings were designed to the specifications of White Tower's in-house architect, Charles Johnson.

With its gleaming porcelain exterior, big windows and brightly lit tower, Johnson's iconic design "was able to communicate its message . . . in a sophisticated and successful way" to passing motorists, said Hirshorn.

Nostalgia is clearly a part of the affection for these buildings, said John S. Flack, a Marlton resident who maintains a Web site devoted to the defunct Burger Chef chain.

"People like to go back to their childhoods," he observed.

Indeed, as Shoaf shared via e-mail, "when I was younger, my parents told me I could go anywhere for my birthday, and I always (went to) White Tower (on) Admiral Wilson Boulevard . . . for a sack of hamburgers." So Shoaf is willing to spend his hard-earned money -- Shoaf won't say how much -- to bring the one-time home of that taste to West Virginia.

He'll place the old White Tower on land he owns overlooking I-79.

And someday, Shoaf said, he'd like to fire up that grill again.

Thanks to EVERYONE who contributed their memories of White Tower and Marbett's. Thanks also to John Ciafrani for going out and photographing the White Tower on Route 130 and Haddon Avenue.