Bob's Big Boy To Rebuild Illegally Demolished Googie Diner


Medium-sized image unavailable for this photo.
Johnie's Broiler in Downey, Calif.

Credit: Adriene Biondo

A 1950s Googie diner in Downey, Calif., may rise from the ashes. After most of Johnie's Broiler was illegally demolished in January 2007, the city of Downey and Johnie's many fans vowed to rebuild the drive-in restaurant. Bob's Big Boy has volunteered to do just that.

According to the Los Angeles Conservancy's Modern Committee, the owner of a Bob's Big Boy in nearby Torrance, Jim Louder, has signed a long-term lease for the site and plans to reconstruct the drive-in restaurant that disappeared 15 months ago. The franchise plans to restore the Broiler's signature Z-shaped sign and salvage other parts of the partially demolished building. In a nod to the 1950s, Bob's Big Boy will offer carhop service.

"It's really exciting," says Adriene Biondo, chair of the conservancy's Modern Committee. "I really have to applaud [Jim's] vision and the city for leaving it standing long enough to find an operator that has a vision. Another city might have cleared the site."

Johnie's stopped serving burgers in 2001, when it became a car dealership. Without a demolition permit, lessee Ardas Yanik razed the restaurant after the city denied his request to tear down Johnie's, a state landmark, for a strip mall. In response, the city filed three misdemeanor charges against Yanik (he pleaded no contest) and placed an unusual moratorium on building on the site. The city has also levied a $25,000 fine against Yanik to cover the cost of salvaging elements from the pile of debris that was Johnie's Broiler.

"I've been on site many times with contractors and structural engineers, and they feel they can retain a large portion of the front and the side [of Johnie's]," Biondo says. Although Bob's Big Boy plans to restore the famous facade, the chain will likely change the signature "fat boy" sign. 

For updates, visit Johnie's Broiler online.

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Submitted by waitew at: November 21, 2009
LIHOP..let it happen on purpose. That 'illegal' demolition that has allow this new money making (tax producing) place to be built. That happened on a Sunday afternoon & was reported to Downey police immediately who didn't show up until 3 hours later in a 6 square mile city & right on the city's main thoughfare & busyest street, which due to public opposition no permits could legally be gotten to demo it was allowed allowed to happen on purpose! Downey wanted the tax money,so they 'found' a way by having the police stand down.Notice the only part NOT demo'd was the sign around which the new restaurant was convenient!

Submitted by jet at: October 17, 2008
It never ceases to amaze me how these discussions get so scholarly. Those of us out here in the trenches are cheering that an unscrupulous developer finally got his hand slapped for defying the law. If he was made to fire the brick . forge the steel, mine the aluminum and rebuld it piece by piece it would not be punishment enough. We see this and worse happen all the time. Demolition by neglect is a practice our own city government uses to justify destroying historic resorces. Quit worrying about how presevationist it looks or whether this will be a pristene restoration or just a representation of the original and worry more about the next horror story coming your way. There are lots more buildings to save from the likes of Ardas Yanik.

Submitted by merf at: August 16, 2008
thank you for having this feature that alerts us to buildings that may be able to be saved.

Submitted by MSF Productions at: August 15, 2008
Thank God, I hate it when nostalgic places get torn down for some run of the mill strip mall to be put up. There so lack luster.In the real world today. There are no arcitects. There are construction companies building big boxes and splitting them up into little stores that no bussiness wants to rent. So half the stores in these dinky strip malls reamin empty. Or they build big beautiful houses that no one but doctors and lawyers can afford. I get so sick of seeing these developments and these stupid strip malls going up everywhere. I live in York, Pa and they just don't stop building these dumb things. I really hate developers.

Submitted by ccm at: April 26, 2008
BGJ--please don't conflate architecture with preservation as they are separate disciplines. There are plenty of architects out there that do practice historic preservation, but there are also people who were trained as preservationists and received their degree in preservation. These individuals are not architects, nor have they been trained as architects. This latter group (unless they have prior architectural training) never received the "archi-babble" brainwashing that you mention. Most professionally-trained preservationists have issues with architecture design theory as it is taught in academia because it flies in the face of design that is compatible with historic contexts. Conversely, most architects won't touch preservation (or its theories) with a ten-foot pole as they are antithetical to the "architect as artist" paradigm that architecture degree programs ruthlessly promulgate on a hapless public. Let me be clear: historic preservation theory IS NOT the domain of architects. Few architects even understand what preservation theory is because it's not part of their training. In the U.S. (as well as most countries), an architect can receive a degree in architecture and become a registered architect without having taken a single course in historic preservation or being put in a position of explaining what the basic tenets of preservation are. Here's the pain in this situation: anyone and I mean ANYONE can call themselves a historic preservationist and work on old buildings without fear of persecution. No law or regulation prevents this. Yet anyone who calls him or herself an architect and practices architecture without a degree or license faces criminal prosecution. What's wrong with this picture? Personally, I have major issues with preservation theory because it has little or no empirical basis to substantiate its claims. Regardless, it represents the status quo within the discipline. Thus, the question is: should Preservation News represent accepted practice within the discipline of preservation (and promulgated by the National Park Service), or popular (and uneducated) sentiment? To be honest, there really should be a balance between what the public values and the professionals and academics value. I think we're actually on the same page in believing that the discipline of preservation is largely disconnected from how people understand and value historic places. So maybe to sum up your comment, it's not archi-babble, it's preser-babble. (Your archi-babble comment would likely offend most architects that abhor preservation.) By the way, this particular argument is one which I would be very much surprised to see in the pages of Preservation Magazine. Why? Because I bet the editors of the magazine are clueless about what I'm talking about, or if they do understand the issues perhaps they are afraid that the average person doesn't care about preservation theory, architects, and the disconnect between the professionals and the public.

Submitted by BGJ at: April 21, 2008
Thank god Preservation news doesn't wallow in "preservation theory" as ccm laments. The problem with most architectural writing is that it IS written by architects and thus is full of archi-babble and insular ivory tower spew and thus never connects beyond a tight little circle jerk.

Submitted by ccm at: April 19, 2008
While I generally applaud the reporting of Preservation News, a story like this is symptomatic of a publication that either willingly or unintentionally ignores preservation theory and professional practice. How is reconstruction of this building equivalent to preservation? It would be nice to have a little explanation of the implications of reconstruction (versus preservation/restoration) and the problems in making hypothetical reconstructions when there is little extant documentation. Was Bob's Big Boy documented before it was demolished? If not, then what relationship does this activity have to preservation of any kind? Back to the original theme: how many staff people/reporters for Preservation News actually has a degree in the field? Something is a bit wrong with this picture. Would a magazine on architecture be credible is none or very few of its staff have degrees in architecture?