Johnie's Broiler

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Johnie's Broiler
JB Neon Sign Nite 2002.jpg
The neon signage of Johnie's Broiler in 2002
Former namesHarvey's Broiler (1958–1968)
Johnie's Broiler (1969–2001)
General information
Architectural styleGoogie
Current tenantsBob's Big Boy Broiler
Renovated2009 (reconstruction after illegal demolition)
LandlordChristos Smyrniotis
Technical details
Floor area75,000 sq ft (7,000 m2)
Design and construction
ArchitectPaul B. Clayton
Restaurant information
Established1958; 61 years ago (1958) as Harvey's Broiler
October 19, 2009; 10 years ago (2009-10-19) as Bob's Big Boy Broiler[1]
Owner(s)Jim Louder
Food typeDiner, double-decker cheeseburger
Street address7447 Firestone Boulevard
Postal/ZIP Code90241
Seating capacity185
Building partially destroyed in 2007

Johnie's Broiler, renamed in 2009 as Bob's Big Boy Broiler, is a restaurant located in Downey, California, that opened in 1958. From 2002 to 2006, the building and parking lot was used as a used car dealership. The building was largely demolished in January 2007. However, the restaurant was reconstructed in 2009 and has re-opened as part of the Bob's Big Boy chain, while retaining the original look and design of Johnie's. Due to the building's 1950s style, the restaurant has been featured in several movies and TV shows.


Early history[edit]

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

While writing about the Southern California culture, writer Tom Wolfe wrote in the early 1960's that "They cruise around in their cars in Harvey’s huge parking lot, boys and girls, showing each other the latest in fashions, in cars, hairdos (male and female) and clothes in the Los Angeles Teenage... and Second-Generation Teenage... modes, Teenage Paris! Harvey’s Drive-in!".[4][5]

Harvey's was featured in the nationally distributed magazine Sports Illustrated. In its 1961 issue, the author wrote "A favorite in the Los Angeles area is Harvey's Broiler, a drive-in in the suburb of Downey. Here high school hot rodders gather to partake of the glorified "chubby," a double hamburger, gape at one another's cars and check on the latest fads. On weekend nights hundreds of cars jam the parking lot, and eager drivers waiting for a berth circle the block. Occasionally an impatient driver races his engine twice in rapid succession, sending a throaty whoom-whoom into the soft night air. Instantly other drivers respond in automatic litany. In the old days this ritual, called "rapping the engine," was a challenge to a street race."[6]

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 signage was installed in 1969 after the sale of the restaurant to an interim owner by the name of Johnson (hence the reason for the single "n" in "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.[citation needed] Drive-In curb service ceased in 1970.

Ortner executed a lease-to-own agreement with Christos Smyrniotis in 1970. The future owner had been employed as an assistant chef at the Broiler.

Johnie's 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.[citation needed]

The "Fat Boy" mascot, modeled after Beanie from the cartoon show Beany and Cecil (not the Bob's Big Boy character), animated incandescent yellow bulbs on the roof edges and the "OPEN 24 HOURS" lettering, 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[7]). This location appears to have been owned by the Johnsons who could not satisfy their agreement for the Downey location with the Ortners.[citation needed]


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 in Hawthorne on to the Wich Stand on Slauson and Overhill, and ending in Downey at the 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 funding 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 late 1950s and 1960s cruising. DJ Randy Roubal played oldies and hundreds of hot rods and vintage cars from the 1930s to the early 1970s attended the cruise nite on Wednesday evenings. The McCullough Cruise Nite continued until a July 1990 dispute with the property owner.

Cruisers returned in 1991 and car clubs like the Auto Butchers and Sultans continued the tradition until 1994, when enthusiasm waned. Much filming was done at the site and in October 1999, Harvey's-Johnie's was lit up once again. Rods & Customs lined its parking lot and craft services cooked up "Fat Boys" in the vein of "Chubby the Champ" – the Broiler's original double-deck hamburger.

Johnie's was featured on the December 1993 cover of Rod & Custom magazine.

Preservation attempts[edit]

On New Year's Eve 2001, Johnie's Broiler ended operation and early in 2002 new tenants gutted part of the interior and converted the restaurant and parking area into a used car dealership.[8]

A local grassroots campaign to preserve the drive-in's exterior ensued, 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. In early 2002, the State of California's Historic Resources Commission unanimously voted to add Johnie's Broiler to the State's Register of Historical Places. Approval of the property's owner was also required for inclusion in the registry but Smyrniotis objected on economic grounds. Nonetheless, the Broiler's "eligible" status offered the same protections as if it were actually listed.

In August 2006, Smyrniotis signed a 99-year lease with a new tenant, Ardas Yanik.[citation needed] Although the City of Downey rejected a demolition permit in November of that year, Yanik began to remove the structure the following year.

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 a large amount of 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 had been heavily damaged, leaving the large main sign, front facade and car canopy structures still remaining upright. The lease-holder, Ardas Yanik, reportedly "pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor charges stemming from the demolition and had his lease forfeited."[9]

In an article in the Los Angeles Times, reporter Valerie Reitman credited 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.[10] 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.[10] 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.[11][12]

Following its illegal demolition on January 7, 2007, preservationists and other supporters regrouped. These included the Mod-Com (Adriene Biondo, Chairperson), Friends of Johnie's (Analisa Ridenour, President) and the Coalition to Save and Rebuild Harvey's Broiler (Kevin Preciado, Leader).

Reconstruction as Bob's Big Boy[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.[11] In April 2008, Jim Louder, owner of the Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Torrance, California, entered into a long-term lease agreement with Smyrniotis, the land owner.[13] The restaurant was rebuilt with the help of Downey's Redevelopment Agency and the Downey Historical Society.[14] Construction was completed and the restaurant opened as Bob's Big Boy Broiler in October 2009.[15] The restaurant was rebuilt as a Bob's Big Boy Broiler which incorporated the surviving architectural elements of the old structure into the new restaurant that is based upon original blueprints.[16]

Since opening under the new name, the restaurant has continued to host car shows[17] and be used in TV and Films.[18][failed verification]

Movies and television[edit]

Bob's Big Boy 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:[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bob's Big Boy Broiler". Los Angeles Conservancy. August 12, 2015.
  2. ^ Pierce, Eric (September 18, 2009). "From fat boy to big boy". Downey Patriot. 8 (22).
  3. ^ Dominguez, Alex (January 10, 2017). "10 years later, remembering the destruction of Johnie's Broiler". Downey Patriot.
  4. ^ McLellan, Dennis (October 5, 2007). "Minnie Ortner, 97; co-founded landmark Harvey's Broiler". The Los Angeles Times.
  5. ^ Bloom, Harold (2009). Tom Wolfe. Infobase Publishing. p. 7. ISBN 9781438113517 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Boyle, Robert H. (April 24, 1961). "The Car Cult From Rumpsville". Sports Illustrated.
  7. ^ Daniels, Cynthia (July 15, 2004). "Googie fans have goo-goo eyes for L.A. architecture". Los Angeles Times. p. B2. Retrieved December 10, 2017 – via Built in 1955 by Louis Armet and Eldon Davis, Johnie's [Coffee Shop] began as Romeo's Times Square. Alternate link via official Los Angeles Times website.
  8. ^ Douglas, Theo (October 27, 2002). "Save Johnie's Broiler Drive Gets A Blaster Boost – Downey-Spawned Roots-Rockers Giving Benefit for Preservation Effort". Long Beach Press-Telegram. p. U15. The last hot roast beef-and-swiss on rye came off the grill 10 months ago, but a number of local architecture buffs are trying to stoke the flames under preservation efforts at landmark drive-in Johnie's Broiler... During the 10 months since it closed, owner Christos John Smyrniotis has inked what preservationists describe as an 'airtight' 10-year lease with a Downey-based used car dealer, Car Outlet Inc., to set up shop at the drive-in. Yet, since February, in what Downey city officials describe as a series of illegal moves, the vintage 1958 drive-in has had its original interior gutted, and its terrazzo floors jackhammered to convert portions of the building into office space... Marking time at the Clock wasn't enough for Ortner, so in 1957 he and architect Paul Clayton (still a Downey resident) collaborated to build a flashy drive-in on the site of what had been Sally's Fryers – a chicken and turkey farm and retail poultry store. Alternate Link via NewsBank.
  9. ^ Perdomo, Daniela (December 23, 2007). "Getting fired up over Johnie's Broiler". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved February 4, 2008.
  10. ^ a b Reitman, Valerie (January 9, 2007). "Johnie's Broiler is cooked, to longtime fans' dismay: In Downey, the former drive-in restaurant, one of the few remaining examples of Googie architecture, falls victim to an illegal demolition". Los Angeles Times.
  11. ^ a b "Preservation Alley 2002 – Johnie's Broiler". Roadside Peek. Archived from the original on October 8, 2009. Retrieved February 20, 2015.
  12. ^ Davis, Billy (February 18, 2007). "Johnie's Broiler demolished on Elvis's Birthday January 8, 2007". Blasters Newsletter. Retrieved May 17, 2015.
  13. ^ Gonzaga, Samantha (April 8, 2008). "Bob's Big Boy to Replace Johnie's". Long Beach Press-Telegram. Archived from the original on February 22, 2009. Retrieved September 7, 2008.
  14. ^ Kudler, Adrian Glick (March 29, 2010). "Johnie's Broiler in Downey Looking Healthy and Happy, Winning Awards". Curbed LA. Retrieved May 16, 2015.
  15. ^ "Bob's Big Boy opens in historic Johnie's Broiler spot". Long Beach Press-Telegram. October 19, 2009.
  16. ^ Gonzaga, Samantha (November 8, 2008). "New Future for Johnie's". Long Beach Press-Telegram. Archived from the original on February 22, 2009. Retrieved September 7, 2008.
  17. ^ "Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Downey, California – Downey, CA – Burger Restaurant, Diner – Past Events". Retrieved May 16, 2015.
  18. ^ "Franklin Avenue: Los Angeles Cameo: "Mad Men" Finale". Franklin Avenue (blog). November 11, 2010. Retrieved May 16, 2015.
  19. ^ "Most Popular Titles With Location Matching 'Johnie's Broiler – 7447 Firestone Blvd., Downey, California, USA'". IMDb. Retrieved May 17, 2015.

External links[edit]

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