Update: Johnie’s Broiler Lives!

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Downey, CA

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Downey, CA ~ Resurrected!

From Harvey’s to Johnie’s to Bob’s Big Boy

DOWNEY, CA. Harvey’s Broiler was founded in 1958 by Harvey Ortner. He and his wife Minnie 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. It was a superb example of Googie style architecture, also known as populuxe or Doo-Wop. This was a form of modern and/or futurist architecture, influenced by car culture and the Atomic Age. Googie originated in Southern California during the late 1940s and continued into the mid-1960s. The style lent itself well to motels, coffee houses and bowling alleys.

Harvey’s epitomized the movement with a drive-in canopy in the shape of a boomerang and recessed lighting that beamed down like a UFO. The drive-in was somewhat of a fashion show as it could easily accommodate as many as 100 of the sexiest cars of its time. The flamboyant and famous signage was a landmark for the City of Downey, as it was strikingly visible to drivers and onlookers on the main drag of Firestone Boulevard.

Harvey’s was renamed to Johnie’s Broiler in 1968. Johnie’s had one “n” instead of two because it was named after an interim owner with the last name Johnson. Johnson’s ownership was short lived. He did not meet the terms of the purchase agreement, and the restaurant reverted back to Harvey’s, but it was too late. The sign had already been changed from Harvey’s to Johnie’s. Christos Smyrniotis leased it from Harvey Ortner in 1970 according to city construction permits, eventually purchased it, and owned it through 2006.

Johnie’s is considered one of the birthplaces of car culture in Southern California. It has been featured in magazines, commercials and movies. A scene from the biopic “What’s Love Got to Do with it” (1993) where Ike (Laurence Fishburne) and Tina (Angela Bassett) have a massive fight was filmed at Johnie’s.

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Downey, CA

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Downey, CA - Before (inset) and After

On New Year’s Eve 2001, Johnie’s closed its doors. In early 2002, the property was leased to a used car dealership, but the sign, structure, and drive-in canopy remained. Where cars were once displayed for pride, they were now displayed for cash. Fortunately, the dealer’s lease ended in August 2006. Unfortunately, a 99 year lease was signed with a new tenant, Ardas Yanik.

Sunday, Jan. 7, 2007 was a tragic day. Horrified onlookers watched as bulldozers illegally chopped into and demolished the cherished landmark. Yanik reportedly did not get permits for the demolition, so there was no advance warning to save Johnie’s. The locals dialed 9-1-1, and the cops showed up in force. The demolition was stopped, but the damage was done. The main structure was heavily damaged, but the drive-in canopy remained, as well as the large neon sign, which became a symbol of hope and inspiration for a rebirth.

Ardas Yanik reportedly “pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor charges stemming from the demolition and had his lease forfeited.”

Shocked supporters 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. They attended hearings, city council meetings and got the word out that Johnie’s needed Downey’s help. Because of their devotion to preserve Downey’s history, complete demolition was held off until Bob’s Big Boy came to the rescue. Downey came together as a family to rebuild Johnie’s in all its former glory.

Today, it is a work of art. Take a look at the before and after photos. You will see that the renovation was true to its historic roots. Please visit their website at http://www.bobsbigboybroiler.com/.

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Interior. Downey, CA

Bob's Big Boy Broiler, Interior. Downey, CA

The best thing you can do to support its continued operation is to stop in for a burger or a shake really soon!

For more on the history, see Johnie’s Broiler on Wikipedia.

To see our prior blog post on The Broiler, click here.

More on Johnie’s as a filming location:

In Robert Altman’s 1994 film, “SHORT CUTS,” Lily Tomlin played a waitress who worked at the same Johnie’s Broiler. This Downey café was also the scene of the 1995 Diane Keaton film, “UNSTRUNG HEROES,” starring Michael (“Kramer”) RichardsAndie MacDowell, as well as for 1994’s “REALITY BITES” (starring Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke). In 1999, the diner posed as a bus station for an episode of TV’s “The X-Files.”

Johnie’s Broiler rises from the ashes

sign only

Johnie’s at night

About the Broiler

[From LA Conservancy and Roadside Peek]

Designed by Paul B. Clayton, Johnie’s Broiler opened in 1958 as Harvey’s Broiler. It was a superb example of Googie style architecture, with a lighted boomerang-shaped drive-in canopy that could accommodate 100 cars, and flamboyant signage visible to drivers traveling along Firestone Boulevard.

In 2001, the coffee shop/car hop closed down and proceeded to become a used car lot a year later. When the changeover occurred, much of the interior of Johnie’s was destroyed. But the building, carhop area, and signage remained.

After tremendous support from the Friends of Johnie’s and the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Modern Committee, the California Historic Resources Commission voted unanimously to include Johnie’s Broiler in the Register of Historic Places. Placement is contingent on the property owner’s support and agreement, which was not received from Smyrniotis.

Johnie's waitress on rollerskates

Johnie’s waitress on rollerskates

According to the January 8, 2007 issue of the Long Beach Press-Telegram, Smyrniotis’ lessee filed a request in October 2006 to tear down the building with plans for a small retail strip center. The request was denied due to deficiencies, including the lack of an environmental impact report.

2007 began on a sour note. On January 7, 2007, a couple of bulldozers suddenly appeared on site and started razing the carhop area and structure. By the time concerned citizens contacted the authorities, it was too late. The carhop and a good portion of the restaurant area had already been demolished.

The police stopped the demolition due to lack of permit.

For those who stood by the remains of Johnie’s the evening of January 7, 2007, the smell of the demo was undeniable and unforgettable. The sign still stood, strong as ever as it faced Firestone Boulevard defiantly. But the aura of sadness permeated the air, as residents, fans of Johnie’s, and onlookers stared at the what was left, trying to understand and determine whether this was now farewell.


Interior shot

Interior shot

Many current and former residents remember both Harvey’s and Johnie’s Broiler fondly. One patron remembers cruising Harvey’s in 1960-1963 after graduating from Lynwood High in ’63 and tasting the hot chocolate on a cold night and even the gravy fries. She remembers doing “the cruise” which was a roundabout from Long Beach Blvd and Compton Blvd, taking them from Jerry’s BBQ north to South Gate “where we would end up at the donut shop on Tweedy Blvd.”  They would then make their way to A&W at Tweedy and Atlantic. Then everybody headed for Harvey’s.


04.10.2008 – The news is official that Johnie’s Broiler in Downey will now be replaced by Bob’s Big Boy.  A long term lease has been agreed upon between Bob’s Big Boy and Johnie’s owner Smyrniotis, 15 months after Johnie’s was partially demolished illegally by a lessee. A historic preservation consultant has been hired to determine what pieces of Johnie’s are still salvageable, including the fat boy sign.

Coalition members (l-r) Kevin Preciado, George Redfox and son Jake, Analisa Ridenour and son Holden, John Biondo, Adriene Biondo, and Marcello Vavala. Photo by John Eng.

Coalition members (l-r) Kevin Preciado, George Redfox and son Jake, Analisa Ridenour and son Holden, John Biondo, Adriene Biondo, and Marcello Vavala. Photo by John Eng.

Good news and many thanks from all Harvey’s and Johnie’s Broiler fans to those who helped make this happen and keep the spirit of Johnie’s alive, including the Friends of Johnie’s, the Coalition to Rebuild Harvey’s, and the Modern Committee of the Los Angeles Conservancy.

Many thanks to Adriene Biondo for the alert to this update as well as her tireless efforts working with the local preservation groups, city officials, and the public towards this successful outcome.

Work progresses on the new Bob’s Big Boy Broiler in Downey

06.25.09: Downey, CA: Bob has arrived! The 12 foot vintage Bob is hoisted up on the roof of the Broiler as the 3rd generation takes shape.

05.05.08: Torrance, CA – Congratulations to Adriene Biondo, Analisa, and Kevin Preciado for winning the California Preservation Foundation President’s Award at the foundation’s conference in Napa in late April for their tireless work on Johnie’s Broiler. Well deserved!

Even the Grand Dames have fallen on hard times

The Redman House, in happier times

The Redman House, in happier times

[From “The Redman House“]

WATSONVILLE, CALIFORNIA: The Redman-Hirahara House is a prime example of a West Coast Victorian farm estate home situated on almost 14 acres of farmland clearly visible from Scenic Highway 1 in the Pajaro Valley on California’s Central Coast.

She greets passersby like a grand lady who has fallen on hard times, just a faint relic of the noble and gracious beauty that commanded the views of the river and valley from her perch on West Beach Road.

Driving through the Pajaro Valley, travelers cannot miss the stately Queen Anne Victorian which stands in the middle of a farm field as a symbol of history.

The house was built for James Redman in 1897; designed by renowned architect William H. Weeks. The building contract was let to the local firm of Lamborn and Uren, at a negotiated cost of $3,368. The interior of the home was finished in eastern oak, birds eye maple and natural hardwoods. It was outfitted with all the conveniences for modern housekeeping.

The Redman House waits patiently to be restored

The Redman House waits patiently to be restored

When the James Redman family died out in the 1930s, the house and property were sold to the Hirahara family, one of the first Japanese-American families to own farmland in the nation. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Hirahara family, along with the other Japanese families across the state, were removed and delivered to internment camps. The Hirahara family managed to maintain ownership of the house and land, with the often-anonymous assistance from the Watsonville community. After the war they returned home and made the house and converted barn into an interim home for several other Japanese families while they reestablished themselves in the community.

After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, the house and land was sold to Green Farm, a partnership of investors. The land was leased for commercial strawberry farming and the house left to deteriorate. There were “profitable development plans” at that time, much to the dismay of locals.

In 1998, a group of Pajaro Valley residents formed The Redman House Committee to determine what could be done to save the neglected and vacant 100-year old Victorian house. The Committee added the house to the National Registry of Historic Places to prohibit demolition, leased the now pallid land and abandoned farmstead, and designed a conceptual master plan to transform the site into a landmark Visitor and Cultural Education center.

In February of 2005, the property was purchased by The Redman-Hirahara Foundation with borrowed funds for $1.9 million. The surrounding 10 acres of farmland now produces colorful organic crops year-round.

To help restore this beloved jewel, go to: Save the Redman House.

America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places 2008

[From the National Trust website]

Every year, the National Trust for Historic Preservation releases a list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. Since 1988 the list has drawn attention to such landmarks as Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C., and the TWA Terminal at New York City’s JFK International Airport. The following highlights this year’s “11 Most”—the beloved and significant sites across the country in serious jeopardy.

Vizcaya and Bonnet House, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, FL

Bonnet House Museum & Gardens is fighting construction of an 18-story hotel that would forever mar views from the estate.

Bonnet House Museum & Gardens is fighting construction of an 18-story hotel that would forever mar views from the estate.

Though separated by just 30 miles, Miami’s Vizcaya and Fort Lauderdale’s Bonnet House are both threatened by encroaching development.

A proposed high-rise condominium project would mar Vizcaya’s view, spoil the estate gardens, and adversely affect the single-family neighborhoods nearby. At Bonnet House, massive buildings already intrude upon view corridors. Now a developer has received permission to build an 18-story hotel less than 200 feet away.

Both homes are historic treasures. Industrialist James Deering built Vizcaya between 1914 and 1916 as a winter residence. His Renaissance villa is a National Historic Landmark, celebrated for its palatial Italianate main house, 10 acres of formal gardens, and native hardwood forest. The property includes a bamboo bar, a shell museum, and an aviary, as well as gardens that are home to monkeys, swans, and the occasional manatee.

Michigan Avenue Streetwall, Chicago, IL

The west side of central Michigan Avenue is home to  structures so visible and iconic that residents call the stretch Chicago’s front door. The “streetwall’s” historic character is now threatened by the inappropriate addition of large towers that would retain only small portions of the original buildings or their facades.

Ristorante Puglia, Lower East Side. Photo by Jennifer Emmer.

Ristorante Puglia, 1919. Lower East Side. Photo credit: Jennifer Emmer.

The Lower East Side, New York City

This storied enclave below Delancey Street, once home to thousands of immigrant families, retains a remarkable collection of historic buildings and landmarks. In recent years, an influx of high-rises has threatened the district’s distinctive streetscapes, known for their unusual mix of Federal row houses, tenements, and bodegas. New York City officials will have to designate the Lower East Side a city landmark to prevent further losses and destruction.

Charity Hospital and the adjacent neighborhood, New Orleans, LA

A 1939 art deco landmark, Charity Hospital has been shuttered since Hurricane Katrina, when levees failed and floodwaters inundated New Orleans. The Louisiana State University medical system deemed the hospital unsafe and endorsed the construction of a new facility alongside a proposed VA hospital. (That would require the demolition of countless historic houses in the neighborhood.) But preservationists argue that Charity can be repaired and reopened to provide services for the poor.

The Statler Hilton, Dallas, TX

The interior of the Statler Hilton Hotel in Dallas, Texas, is falling into disrepair.

The interior of the Statler Hilton Hotel in Dallas, Texas, is falling into disrepair.

A midcentury modern landmark, the 1956 Statler was the first glass-and-metal hotel in the nation. The building has been vacant since 2001, and no buyers have come forward—in part because of a $20 million price tag and extensive asbestos contamination. Barring an innovative proposal for reuse, the hotel will likely be demolished.

Sumner Elementary School, Topeka, KS

In 1950, Oliver Brown walked the seven blocks from his home to Sumner Elementary School and attempted to enroll his eight-year-old daughter, Linda. Because Topeka’s schools were segregated, Brown was turned away; he then became lead plaintiff in the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education. Today, the vacant school building, a National Historic Landmark, has fallen into serious disrepair despite the city’s pledge to protect it. Topeka’s city council has already authorized its demolition.

Great Falls Portage, Great Falls, MT

The site of Lewis and Clark’s portage at Great Falls—one of the most difficult ordeals on their westward journey—has remained largely unchanged since 1805. Now the construction of an enormous coal-fired power plant threatens this National Historic Landmark. (See the story in Preservation’s July/August 2007 issue.) The new generating facility, which will likely include a 400-foot smokestack and several 26-story wind turbines, would alter one of the best-preserved landscapes on the Lewis and Clark Trail.

Boyd Theatre, Philadelphia, PA

The last real movie theater was built the year before the great stock market crash of 1929

The last "real" movie theater was built the year before the great stock market crash of 1929

The 1928 art deco theater, built with a towering vertical sign and dramatic mirrored lobby, is the last surviving motion picture palace in downtown Philadelphia. Once host to premieres with Grace Kelly and Tom Hanks, the Boyd has remained vacant since 2002. Unless a sympathetic buyer renovates this landmark, it will remain vulnerable to demolition. To help save it, go to Friends of the Boyd.

California State Parks, CA

California’s state park system is one of the country’s largest and most successful. Unfortunately, the system remains drastically underfunded and at risk of deterioration—a result of more than $1 billion in deferred maintenance. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s  proposal to increase user fees for park visitors would do little to remedy this dire situation.

Peace Bridge Neighborhood, Buffalo, NY

Peace Bridge Neighborhood, Buffalo, NY

Peace Bridge Neighborhood, Buffalo, NY

More than 100 houses in a community with parks designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and buildings dating to the 1850’s — may be razed to expand the Peace Bridge complex. (The span connects Buffalo to Canada.) Preservationists argue that existing bridges could accommodate traffic, and a truck plaza, without destroying historic neighborhoods.

Hangar One, Moffett Field, Santa Clara County, CA

Built by the U.S. Navy in 1932 to house dirigibles, Hangar One remains one of the largest aircraft hangars in the world. However, Hangar One’s outdated siding and other materials are leaking toxic PCBs, rendering the dome-shaped structure unusable unless current owner NASA undertakes a rehab effort to remove the environmental pollutants.

Know of a place that needs saving? Nominate it!

Mystery Victorian of the week!

Mystery Victorian, Monte Sereno, CA

Building Hugger T-shirt

Building Hugger T-shirt

Ok gang. Here you go! See if you can identify this spectacular Victorian, located in Monte Sereno, CA. That’s the only clue! Meanwhile, I am writing an article about it, and by the time we have a winner, I should be ready to publish!

The winner receives this fabulous “BUILDING HUGGER” T-shirt (take a look at your selection here).