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!