Bob's Big Boy Broiler | Los Angeles Conservancy
Photo by John Eng

Bob's Big Boy Broiler

The Friends of Johnie’s staved off threats to the landmark for years until bulldozers arrived on a Sunday afternoon in January 2007.

Originally known as Harvey’s Broiler when it opened in 1958, the drive-in restaurant was renamed Johnie’s in 1968 and operated continuously until it closed for good on New Year’s Eve 2001. The grassroots Friends of Johnie’s advocacy group formed soon after, working with the Conservancy’s volunteer Modern Committee to designate the Broiler as a state landmark.

Working without permits in 2007, the wrecking crew started bulldozing without even fencing off the property or disconnecting the utilities. Alarmed onlookers notified the police, who halted the demolition that afternoon—but not until the roadside icon lay in ruins, with only a portion of the front facade and its distinctive signage still intact. 

Two days later, outraged community members filled the council chambers of Downey City Hall. The City of Downey took immediate action, prosecuting the tenant and placing a year-long development moratorium on the site.

In 2008, Bob’s Big Boy franchise operator Jim Louder agreed to rebuild the Broiler and operate it as a Bob’s Big Boy restaurant, with the City of Downey Redevelopment Agency making a significant contribution toward the Broiler’s reconstruction. The task was extraordinary: take a historic site that had been largely destroyed and had weathered the elements for nearly two years, and reconstruct it to meet current building codes and business requirements while retaining its historic character. 

The project team worked tirelessly and collaboratively to meet these challenges, meeting with the Los Angeles Conservancy and city officials and using preservation standards and original blueprints to reconstruct the Broiler as a viable business and community asset. Bob’s Big Boy Broiler opened to great fanfare on October 19, 2009, rising from the ruins to reclaim its place as a great source of pride for Southern California. The Conservancy awarded this project a Preservation Award in 2010.