Bob's Big Boy
Bob's Big Boy is a restaurant chain that Bob Wian founded in Southern California in 1936, originally named Bob's Pantry. It is now part of Big Boy Restaurants International, the current primary trademark owner and franchisor of the Big Boy system.
Oldest remaining restaurant
The Bob's Big Boy Restaurant located at 4211 Riverside Drive in Burbank, California, is the oldest remaining Bob's Big Boy in the United States. Built in 1949 by local residents Scott MacDonald and Ward Albert, it was designed by noted Los Angeles architect Wayne McAllister, "incorporating the 1940s transitional design of streamline moderne style, while anticipating the freeform 1950s coffee shop architecture. The towering Bob's sign is an integral part of the building design and its most prominent feature." The building is said to have "made McAllister's reputation," and he is credited with creating the restaurant's circular drive-through design.
The restaurant was designated a California Point of Historical Interest in 1993. McAllister worked to preserve the structure as a historic landmark. McAllister was the architect for the original Lawry's restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills, and the original Sands Hotel casino and Desert Inn casino in Las Vegas. He designed some 40 coffee shops in the Los Angeles area in the late 1940s, and each with a distinctive look.
The Bob's Big Boy building represents a distinct period in the region's architectural history, often referred to as Googie architecture. Creative coffee shop designs started in Los Angeles because of the popularity of automobiles, and then spread across the nation. The building features curving windows and oversized roof overhangs with 1950s "free-form" style of cantilevered roofs and tall display signs.
The Riverside Drive Bob's Big Boy was designed as a drive-in, in which carhops brought food to the cars, and now has a drive-thru window.
The MacDonald family acquired the restaurant in 1993, rehabilitating the tower sign, adding a patio and remodeling the dining room. Carhop service was reintroduced on weekends and a weekly classic car show is hosted in the parking lot.
Bob Hope and other movie personalities such as Mickey Rooney, Debbie Reynolds, Jonathan Winters, Dana Andrews, Martha Raye, Alexis Smith and Craig Stevens, were once regulars at the restaurant. Hope frequented the Burbank drive-in because it afforded him privacy.
Famed British musical group The Beatles dined at the Burbank location during their 1965 U.S. Tour. The table is the last booth on the right as one walks in, where the end of the windows facing out towards Riverside Drive's stop. For many years a plaque described the event (the plaque has been stolen many times by fans, and has been replaced each time. Many regulars to the restaurant call this table and booth "The Beatle Booth".
Other notable locations
- The original Bob's Big Boy (called Bob's Pantry) was a 10-stool hamburger stand in Glendale, CA, which founder Bob Wian purchased in 1936 for $350.00 he received from the sale of a used car. The Glendale Bob's originally located on the northwest corner of East Broadway and Maryland Street, was a popular hangout for teenagers in the 1950s. It eventually outgrew itself and a larger Bob's restaurant similar in style to the Toluca Lake location with car hop service was built further east on Colorado. The restaurant was razed in the 1980s to build a strip mall.
- The first Phoenix, Arizona, Bob's Big Boy (established in 1954), was a notable exception to the California-based architecture. It was located at Central Avenue and Thomas Road. It quickly put two other nearby drive-in restaurants out of business. The building was modern, with horizontal overhanging roof lines and native stone at the entrance. Above was a large mural that resembled a Hopi sand painting of kachinas, and a covered area to the east of the building for car hop service.
- Several Bob's Big Boy locations were designed by Armet & Davis, an architectural firm noted for its contributions to Googie architecture.
- Bob's Big Boy Broiler in Downey, California is a Historical Landmark and good example of Googie architecture. Once Johnie's Broiler, this restaurant features original floor plans, car hops, a drive-thru and the neon sign from its early days.
- In 1980, West Los Angeles' location on La Cienega Blvd. was the scene of one of Los Angeles' worst crimes. On December 14, 1980, 11 people were forced into the walk-in freezer, robbed of approx. $1700.00 and shot, leaving three dead on the scene, one of whom died five months later, four others wounded and one in mental incoherency. Carletha Stewart, a former employee, and her companions, Franklin Freeman and Ricky Sanders were arrested in 1981, convicted in 1982 and sentenced ranging from death to 25 years to life. The 1986 TV film The Right of the People was allegedly based on this crime and raised issues about the Second Amendment right to bear arms and self-defense.
- Big Boy website, History page
- Bob's Big Boy of Burbank menu, January 2007
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