DOWNEY – Several community members gathered at Bob’s Big Boy Sunday afternoon to celebrate the history behind one of Downey’s most iconic locations.
The celebration comes near the ten year anniversary of the illegal demolition of the former Johnie’s Broiler, which closed its doors as a restaurant in 2001, then nearly met its complete demise in 2007.
One individual at the celebration, 76 year-old Helen Burns, witnessed the beginning – and end – of Johnie’s.
“I just happened to be coming by on a Sunday…and I saw someone back in the back tearing it down with a big wrecking something or another,” said Burns. “…I was actually 17, not quite 18 when this was built…it was awesome in the day…”
The fight to save Johnie’s began 16 years ago on the night that the restaurant closed, and was fought in large part by the Friend’s of Johnie’s community group.
“We really didn’t know what we were doing as a group of citizen’s,” said Analisa Ridenour-Sanders , who was one of the original members of the group Friend’s with Johnie’s. “We saw a notice that ‘to anyone concerned about the building, join us for a meeting,’ and there we were – just a bunch of concerned citizens in the community that met and thought ‘what can we do?’
We stared having rallies. We stared emailing. We talked to everyone we could.
"We were pounding the pavement, knocking on doors, making phone calls, and working with the conservancy…”
The building was eventually rebuilt and turned into a Bob’s Big Boy Broiler in 2009.
Community members gathered around tables with milkshakes and hamburgers in hand Sunday, while being attentive to several speakers and slideshows depicting the location’s historic past.
“This is a really important place,” said Richard Schave, who runs Esotouric Bus Adventures alongside his wife. “This place brings together all the stuff about Southern California in the 60’s…this is a great success story for a lot of ideas and people and things that people care about and are threatened. So this is a great peg to hang a lot of hats on and say ‘yay!’
…there are a lot of people that are coming here today that are just going to celebrate that this place is back after many years of struggle. This is a great preservation story.”
Downey Councilman Rick Rodriguez was on hand to join in the celebration.
“This is a great piece of our Downey rich history,” said Rodriguez. “The idea of hotrods, the finest hamburgers in the world, and a place to gather is part of our history. It’s not only a landmark, but it’s a family restaurant.”
Jim Louder, owner of Downey’s Bob’s Big Boy, described the “birth of a culture” that began at Johnie’s.
“The hot rod culture – a lot of it started here with clothing styles and haircuts and cars,” said Louder. “I can’t tell you how many people have told me stories – some with tears in their eyes – about what happened here and the things that they did. So it’s really a thrill to be a part of that and to have that history here.”