Johnie's Broiler demolished on Elvis's Birthday January 8, 2007
UPDATE FEB. 18, 2007
PRESS RELEASE PRESS RELEASE PRESS RELEASE PRESS RELEASE PRESS
Friends of Johnie's presents . . .GHOST CRUISE TO THE BROILER! Sunday, Feb. 25th, 2007
The Ghost Cruise is hosted by the Friends of Johnie’s and supporting Southland car clubs. Our goal is to focus attention on the critical status of Johnie's/Harvey’s Broiler and bring awareness to other popular car cruise destinations that may be threatened...or already lost. For details, news & photos of the illegal demolition of The Broiler that occurred on Sun., Jan. 7th, 2007 go to:
WHAT'S A 'GHOST CRUISE'?: A self-driving classic car cruise where we travel back through time to drive the old cruising circuit and visit some of the old drive-in restaurant haunts of yesteryear
WHY A ' GHOST CRUISE'? To celebrate the cool places that are still around...and help bring back the famous 1958 “Broiler” drive-in restaurant in Downey
WHEN IS IT?: Meet 8AM at Bob's Big Boy restaurant at 4211 Riverside Drive in Burbank, leave by 9:30AM
WHERE ARE WE GOING? Maps will be passed out at Bob's
DEPART: Leave Bob's 9:30AM and head out on our self-driving tour
LAST STOP: The Broiler, 7447 E. Firestone Blvd. Circle around The Broiler so news crews can cover us between 1PM – 3:30PM
PARKING/FOOD: Since there's only limited street parking at The Broiler, parking and food is available at nearby restaurants
World famous McDonalds – at Lakewood & Florence in Downey
Norm's – on Firestone at Paramount in Downey
Nordic Fox (former Foxy's) at Paramount in Downey
LOST??? Call Kevin at (626) 329-2815 or drive out to The Broiler. Join the crowd of supporters on the sidewalk and sign the petition to rebuild the world famous Broiler. A crew will be standing by throughout the day
Downey landmark unexpectedly razed By Don Jergler, Staff writer Article Launched: 01/08/2007 12:03:53 AM PST Long Beach Press Telegram
DOWNEY - Downey Police were too late on Sunday to halt the partial demolition of Johnie's Broiler, a remnant of the car-hop diner era from the 1950s. It's unclear who ordered the demolition of the former diner at 7447 Firestone Blvd., which has been used as a used car lot since 2001.
Demolition apparently began about 3 p.m., and preservationists didn't get wind of the "unauthorized demolition" until around 5 p.m., said Analisa Ridenour Hungerford, with the Friends of Johnie's. The group is composed of residents fighting for the preservation of Johnie's since it became a car lot. "To our knowledge there was no demolition permit pulled," said Hungerford, whose group refers to Johnie's as "one of the last and greatest seminal car-hop restaurants in our state." "It's virtually demolished," added Hungerford.
Most of the inside of the restaurant was gutted, with only the large Johnie's sign that beacons to motorists on busy Firestone Boulevard and the canopy remaining, she said. Johnie's was a cruising destination for vintage car clubs in the '50s and '60s. It's known for it's Googie-style architecture.
Johnie's has often been a commercial and movie location. Hungerford vowed to attend the Downey City Council meeting on Tuesday to demand justice. It's not clear who ordered the demolition. Neither city officials nor the property owners could be immediately reached for comment. "To be in the rubble it is tonight, it is just horrifying," Hungerford said.
Jan 8, 2007 12:33 am US/Pacific
Retro Diner Torn Apart In Downey (CBS) DOWNEY, Calif. A 1950s-style diner in Downey was partially knocked down Sunday before authorities stopped the destruction, claiming the demolition was illegal. A crew started tearing down Johnie's Broiler, located at 7447 Firestone Blvd., around 5 p.m. The rubble spilled onto the street. The restaurant, originally called Harvey's Diner, later became a car dealership, according to KCAL.
"This is an example of true Googie architecture from 1958 and it's something that you can't replace," Adriene Biondo of the Los Angeles Conservancy told the KCAL 9. The restaurant's owner did not speak to Channel 9. According to reports, a private security firm was watching the location overnight.
(© 2007 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report. ) Jan 8, 2007 12:33 am US/Pacific
Save Johnie's Broiler drive gets a Blaster boost Downey-spawned roots-rockers giving benefit for preservation effort
By Theo Douglas Staff Writer
Saturday, October 26, 2002 - The last hot roast beef-and-swiss on rye came off the grill 10 months ago, but a number of local architecture buffs are trying to stoke the flames under preservation efforts at landmark drive-in Johnie's Broiler.
The Downey institution literally a huge presence on Firestone Boulevard just east of Old River School Road has since left the sweet land of malteds, burgers, fries and Cokes for the rough-and-tumble world of selling cars.
During the 10 months since it closed, owner Christos John Smyrniotis has inked what preservationists describe as an "airtight" ' 10-year lease with a Downey-based used car dealer, Car Outlet Inc., to set up shop at the drive-in.
Yet, since February, in what Downey city officials describe as a series of illegal moves, the vintage 1958 drive-in has had its original interior gutted, and its terrazzo floors jackhammered to convert portions of the building into office space. (Smyrniotis describes the changes as legal, and part of the lease.)
Local fans of the kitschy, Googie-style drive-in among them the Downey-based Friends of Johnie's Broiler and the Los Angeles Conservancy are working to save what remains.
"We just seem to be losing a lot of important mid-century buildings," ' says Analisa Ridenour-Hungerford, a Long Beach City College teacher and Downey resident who helped organize the Friends of Johnie's Broiler Committee. "Ideally, we hope to see the building preserved for future generations. It just is such an important part of the city and of American culture." '
On Wednesday, the group will host a benefit for their cause. Downey-spawned roots-rockers the Blasters will play a gig for Johnie's at the Rio Hondo Country Club just down the street. Conservators of vintage country-blues and rockabilly themselves, members of the Blasters say they haven't played Downey in more than 15 years if ever, though their opinions differ.
"If there ever was a Downey band, we" re one of them. When we first started out, we used to rehearse in a basement and living room in Downey and the cops would always come,'' say Blasters founding guitarist Dave Alvin, who has rejoined the band for a tour of the East Coast that begins in November. He vividly remembers Johnie's from when he was a youngster and it was named Harvey's, for original owner Harvey Ortner and wife Minnie Ortner.
"I" m of the Harvey's school. When my brother (Blasters singer Phil Alvin) and I were little, little kids, our cousin Donna was a cruiser,'' Dave Alvin says. "And she" d sometimes get stuck having to take my brother and I along with she and her sister. So we saw that culture up close as little kids.''
Johnie's sprang from the mind of restaurateur Ortner, who'd previously owned three franchises in the Southern California Clock drive-in chain another series of pitstops for hot rodders.
Marking time at the Clock wasn't enough for Ortner, so in 1957 he and architect Paul Clayton (still a Downey resident) collaborated to build a flashy drive-in on the site of what had been Sally's Fryers a chicken and turkey farm and retail poultry store.
He named it Harvey's, kept it open 24 hours, and by the 1960s was employing 85 people full-time. Strategically situated at a bend in the road hungry man's curve, perhaps Harvey's drew cruisers from across the Southland. An article in an early '60s hot rod magazine claimed the drive-in drew 5,000 cars on a weekend night and $10 million worth of cars each weekend.
The '50s and '60s were unquestionably the drive-in's boom period. During several of those years, Miss California 1963, Shari Roark of Bellflower, was Harvey's hostess. Steaks served were choice Eastern beef, and salad dressings were whipped up on the spot for diners in the 350 cars that squeeze into Harvey's angular 2 1/2-acre lot. The line to enter the lot frequently stretched a city block on weekends.
"That building, as you come down Firestone Boulevard from the east, looks like it" s sitting in the middle of the street,'' says 93-year-old Minnie Ortner, who worked as Johnie's cashier for a total of 43 years, staying on after her husband sold it to Smyrniotis, his chef. "You can" t miss it. It's a good location.'' It always has been.
When Johnie's was Harvey's, patrons of custom car painter Larry Watson would drive in from Watson's Downey digs at Lakewood and Firestone boulevards. Their northern brethren patrons of the Gil Ayala and George Barris custom shops made the scene, too. Hot rodders and drag racers from nearby Lions Drag Strip in Long Beach would haul their quarter-mile queens up the Long Beach (710) Freeway after a night of racing.
"It appealed to the drag racers, the customizers, anybody who was into cars," ' says Utah resident Burly Burlile, a Norwalk native who'd cruise his '54 Chevy through Harvey's, tires still sticky after a night of racing. "It was an amazing place. There" s an old article from Popular Hot Rodding, 1962, and I think they said a million dollars worth of cars would come through in a night.''
A million dollars worth of memories came through too; Minnie Ortner remembers a couple who, for reasons of their own, got married at Johnie's. They took their vows clad in traditional garb, standing up in the bed of a pickup truck, then cut a mammoth wedding cake for their guests. No word on whether they washed it down with fountain drinks.
Priceless slices of life like this are precisely the reasons why officials at the Los Angeles Conservancy, the region's pre-eminent historical preservation group, say Johnie's should be saved. The Conservancy goes way back in Downey; in 1994, it spearheaded a successful battle to save what is the world's oldest McDonald's restaurant, at Lakewood Boulevard and Florence Avenue. The group may not fare so well, this time, officials fear.
"This has been our worst year for (losing historical) commercial buildings," ' says Conservancy Commercial Architecture Chairwoman Adriene Biondo.
"The Foothill Drive-In Theater in Azusa is the last drive-in movie theater between here and Oklahoma City on Route 66. And the Bob" s Big Boy in Toluca Lake is the last functioning drive-in (restaurant) in the region,'' Biondo continues. "If Johnie" s goes down, then McDonald's is really the only icon left in Downey.''
Not everyone agrees with conservationists that Johnie's should be saved for posterity. The drive-in has been captured on film and in TV commercials for years, and some local residents think the corner might be ripe for a change. Among the restaurant's notable appearances: In "What" s Love Got to Do With It,'' in "Heat," ' and just this year in "The Country Bears" ' and "One Hour Photo." '
In 1998, Smyrniotis told the Press-Telegram he made $70,000 a year renting the place to film crews. Are its 15 minutes of fame now up?
Downey resident Hugh T. Hoskins, a frequent Press-Telegram letter writer, holds that what a man Smyrniotis, in this case does on his own land is his own business. In a recent letter published on the Press-Telegram's editorial page, Hoskins defended Smyrniotis' unpopular choice to rent his restaurant to a car dealer. Harvey Ortner's widow does, too despite working more than 40 years at the drive-in her husband opened.
"We knew that place from day one, and it doesn" t bother me at all what happened. It's something that's in the past, and you could get sick worrying about things,'' says Minnie Ortner, ascribing her nonagenarian status to the fact that she doesn't let much faze her.
"(Smyrniotis) doesn" t plan to do anything with it, tear it down or anything,'' Ortner says, adding, "But I hate to see those cars in there. I would rather it stayed a restaurant, but what are you going to do?" '
Smyrniotis says preservationists should leave him alone; after all, the Downey resident says, he owns the property fair and square and the restaurant was on the market unsuccessfully before he wound up leasing it.
"Do they want to buy it? This is the irony. People like to dictate to me what to do with my property," ' says Smyrniotis, who after purchasing the drive-in, changed its name to his own middle name. "I have people coming out of the woods to tell me what to do with my drive-in. I don" t think that's fair.''
Fair it may not be but preservationists show no sign of slacking their efforts any time soon. Proceeds from the Blasters' gig will go to pay the costs Friends of Johnie's incurred filing an application with the state of California to have the restaurant considered for historic landmark status.
When he learned of the organization's application, which cost nearly $2,000, Smyrniotis wrote the state in opposition. A state representative says the fact that the drive-in's owner is against giving it historic status will not affect its chances.
The state historical preservation committee will meet to discuss the issue in Riverside Nov. 8. Should they confer historic status on Johnie's Broiler, Smyrniotis' dissent means the drive-in can't actually appear on state lists of historic spots even though it would have historic status.
Conservancy officials hope they'll triumph, Smyrniotis hopes they'll leave him alone, and representatives of Car Outlet Inc., apparently are just trying to sell some vehicles. They did not return repeated telephone requests for an interview.
According to one Downey city official, the final result of all this hoopla after some on-site beautification and possibly some restoration may look pretty much like what you see now.
"It" s interesting architecture,'' says Downey Councilman Robert Winningham, noting that Johnie's huge sign as actually a structural part of the building which inhibits tearing down the sign. "It might just be Johnie" s Used Cars one day.''
Theo Douglas can be reached at (562) 499-1276 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org