Johnie's Broiler

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The famous neon signage of Johnie's Broiler in 2002.

Johnie's Broiler was a restaurant located in Downey, California from 1958 until 2001. From 2002-2006 it was a used car dealership. It was largely demolished in January, 2007. Johnie's Broiler has been featured in several movies and TV shows due to its "authentic" 1950s look. As of 2009, reconstruction began and is now re-opened under the Bob's Big Boy chain, while retaining the original look and design of Johnie's.


Johnie's Broiler is a Googie style coffee shop and drive-in restaurant founded and initially named after owner Harvey Ortner who was previously a partner in the famous Clock Broiler Restaurants of Alhambra, Lynwood, Bellflower, Culver City, Van Nuys, South Pasadena and Temple City. He and his wife Minnie Ortner purchased the former poultry farm property located on Firestone Boulevard and Old River School Road in 1950 and hired architect Paul B. Clayton to design the restaurant. Harvey's Broiler was completed in 1958. Its design incorporates Southern California Googie architectural elements intended to help attract customers and motorists traveling in either direction on Firestone Boulevard.

Harvey's Broiler was an overnight success and thousands of people came from all over the United States to experience the phenomenon of "The Broiler."[citation needed] The restaurant was renamed Johnie's Broiler in 1968 and additional sign-age was installed in 1969 after a sale of the restaurant to an interim owner by the name of Johnson (hence the reason for one "N" in the name Johnie's). Apparently this interim owner couldn't meet the terms of the agreement and the sign had already been changed from Harvey's to Johnie's. Drive-In service ceased in 1970. Johnie's continued to serve up its menu and up into the late 90's & played host to cruise nights with all styles/type of vintage autos,(see more on this below).

Current property owner Christos Smyrniotis leased to buy it from Harvey Ortner in 1970 according to city construction permits in Smyrniotis' name.

Christos had been employed as a 2nd chef at The Broiler. Legend has it that it was named "Johnie's Broiler" (after Christos) instead of the more commonly spelled "Johnnie" because the extra "n" would not fit on the sign.This has proven to not be true by way of interviews and city records. Johnies Broiler was a Harvey Ortner Enterprise listed on his business card as late as 1983 and according to an interview done by Burly Burlile in June of that year.

The famous "Fat Boy" mascot, is modeled after Beanie from the cartoon show Beany and Cecil, (not modeled after Bob's Big Boy) animated incandescent yellow bulbs on the roof edges and the "OPEN 24 HOURS", were added in 1969 and Downey's Broiler became a sister store to Johnie's Coffee Shop Wilshire (Originally a Simon's Drive-In site and currently employing its former 1955 Romeo's Times Square construction-(An Armet & Davis Design). This location appears to have been owned by the Johnsons who could not satisfy their agreement for the Downey location with Harvey & Minnie.

During The Broiler's heyday, hot rods and "Kustom Kars" would cruise a route of popular carhop drive-in restaurants. One of the cruise circuits began in Long Beach at Grisinger's (now George's) drive-in, continuing on to Holly's (featured in the movie "Pulp Fiction" just prior to its demolition) in Hawthorne on to the Wich Stand on Slauson and Overhill, and ending in Downey at the famous "Broiler". As many as 3,000 young people took part in the ritual on some nights.[citation needed]

In 1986, Lee McCullough requested and received financial compensation and started up Harvey's Cruise Nite based on the success of an earlier cruise originated by Street Rodder magazine contributing editor and Harvey's alumni Burlie Burlile in tribute to the Broiler's heyday of 1960s and late 50s cruising. A DJ Randy Roubal played oldies and hundreds of hot rods and vintage cars from the 30s to the early 70s attended the popular cruise nite on each Wed evening. In July 1990, because of a dispute with the owner, the McCullough Cruise Nite ended.

Cruisers returned in 91 and Car Clubs like the Auto Butchers, Sultans and others kept the Rod & Custom flame lit till 94,then it kind of lost its flavor and just was a memory. Much filming was done at the site and in Oct of 1999, Harvey's-Johnie's was lit up once again in all of its glory. Rods & Customs lined its huge parking lot and craft services cooked up "Fat Boy's" in the vein of "Chubby The Champ"-(The Broilers original Double Deck Burger)

Rod & Custom Magazine shot their Dec,93 cover there and raised public awareness.

On New Year's Eve 2001, Johnie's Broiler closed its doors and stopped operating as a restaurant. Early in 2002 it was leased and converted into a used car dealership by new operators. Smyrniotis still owned the property. In August 2006, The dealerships lease was terminated and a then new 99-year lease was signed with a new tenant Ardas Yanik who took it upon himself to illegally demolish the restaurant after the city had turned down a demolition permit in November of that year.

In Early 2002, following a local grassroots campaign (led by Adriene Biondo, John Eng and Alan Leib of the Los Angeles Conservancy's Modern Committee and Analisa Ridenour-Hungerford of the Friends of Johnie's advocacy group) to preserve the drive restaurant's exterior, the State of California's Historic Resources Commission unanimously voted to include Johnie's Broiler on the State's official Register of Historical Places. Approval of the property's owner is also required, however, Smyrniotis objected on economic grounds. Nonetheless, The Broiler's "eligible" status offers the same protections as if it were actually listed.

Following its illegal demolition that occurred on Sunday afternoon January 7, 2007, shocked supporters of the project re-grouped and the Mod-Com-(Adriene Biondo=Chair), Friends of Johnie's-(Analisa Ridenour=President) and Coalition to Save & Rebuild Harvey's Broiler -(Kevin Preciado=Lead) sprang into action and again attended hearings, city council meetings and just got the word out that Broiler needed the people's help.

In April 2008, the Broiler found a new lease on life and was committed to a rebuild in a partial (original) incarnation.[citation needed] The corporation JKBBD which owns Bob's Big Boy restaurants in Torrance,CA. and now Downey,completed a reconstruction of the property, based upon original blueprints (with a new sign unique to Bob's and modern specs) in 2009. The restaurant now maintains a Facebook page.[1]

Illegal demolition[edit]

Johnie's Broiler after its demolition on Sunday, January 7, 2007.

On Sunday, January 7, 2007, authorities halted demolition of Johnie's Broiler after much destruction had already been done. Initial reports indicate that no demolition permits had been issued for the property. Bulldozers began their work around 3 p.m. Judging by early photographs, it appeared that much of the main structure has been heavily damaged, leaving the large main sign, front facade and car canopy structures still remaining upright. The tenant at the time, Ardas Yanik, reportedly "pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor charges stemming from the demolition and had his lease forfeited." [2]

A report in the Los Angeles Times by Valerie Reitman credits Helen Burns, who had been part of the 2002 drive to designate the restaurant as a state historic landmark, with noticing the demolition around 5 p.m. on January 7.[citation needed] The original kitchen and the back of the coffee shop had been demolished by the time Burns arrived. She phoned the police and then began phoning other preservationists and car buffs, urging them to notify the police as well.

Police arrived on the scene within a half-hour and stopped the illegal demolition, according to Reitman. "People could have been injured or killed; the electrical was live," noted Downey City Councilman Mario Guerra.[citation needed] By that time, much of the structure had been demolished but Friends of Johnie's joined with fans, neighbors, classic car clubs, cruisers and preservationists to rally for Johnie's and coordinated the sale of T-shirts with events, cruises and kept attention focused on the demolished building.[3][4] By April 2008, a lease was signed between Bob's Big Boy franchise owner Jim Louder and the property owner. Plans are currently in the works to reconstruct the building and its famous neon signage.[2][5]

Restoration and renaming[edit]

After the demolition was halted on January 7, 2007, the city council of Downey supported the efforts of citizens to preserve and restore the building.[3] In April 2008, Jim Louder, owner of the Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Torrance, California, entered into a long-term lease agreement with the owner of Johnie's Broiler.[5] The restaurant was rebuilt with the help of Downey's Redevelopment Agency and the Downey Historical Society.[6] Construction was completed in October 2009. The restaurant was rebuilt as a Bob's Broiler and incorporated the surviving architectural elements of the old structure into the new restaurant.[7]

Bob's Big Boy Broiler is now open for business.[8] Since opening, the restaurant has continued to host car shows[9] and be used in TV and Films.[10]

Movies and television[edit]

Johnie's Broiler has been featured in several popular movies and TV shows because of its authentic 1950s look. Some of the films and TV shows that it was featured in are:[11]


  1. ^ "Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Downey, California - Downey, CA - Burger Restaurant, Diner". Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  2. ^ a b Perdomo, Daniela (2007-12-23). "Getting fired up over Johnie's Broiler". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2008-02-04. [dead link]
  3. ^ a b "Preservation Alley 2002 - Johnie's Broiler". Roadside Peek. Archived from the original on 2009-10-08. Retrieved 2015-02-20. 
  4. ^ "Johnie's Broiler demolished on Elvis's Birthday January 8, 2007".\accessdate=2015-05-17. 
  5. ^ a b Gonzaga, Samantha (2008-04-08). "Bob's Big Boy to Replace Johnie's". Long Beach Press Telegram. Retrieved 2008-04-08.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Long_Beach_Press_Telegram" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  6. ^ M (2010-03-29). "Johnie's Broiler in Downey Looking Healthy and Happy, Winning Awards - Preservation - Curbed LA". Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  7. ^ Gonzaga, Samantha (2008-11-08). "New Future for Johnie's". Long Beach Press-Telegram. Retrieved 2008-09-07. 
  8. ^ "Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Downey, California - Downey, CA - Burger Restaurant, Diner | Facebook". Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  9. ^ "Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Downey, California - Downey, CA - Burger Restaurant, Diner - Past Events". Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  10. ^ "Franklin Avenue: Los Angeles Cameo: "Mad Men" Finale". 2010-11-11. Retrieved 2015-05-16. 
  11. ^ "Most Popular Titles With Location Matching "Johnie's Broiler - 7447 Firestone Blvd., Downey, California, USA". Retrieved 2015-05-17. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°56′52″N 118°08′50″W / 33.9477°N 118.1472°W / 33.9477; -118.1472