|Johnie's Broiler, a combination coffee shop and drive-in restaurant, is located in the City of Downey on a two-acre
site bordered by Firestone Boulevard, Old River School Road, Pomering Avenue, and Firestone Place.
The property for Harvey's Broiler was purchased in 1950. Prior to being developed as a restaurant location, the site was occupied by "Sally's
Fryers," a chicken farm and retail store, and five small residences. Restaurateur Harvey Ortner,
a partner in the Clock Broilers in Temple City, Pasadena, Van Nuys and Alhambra, purchased the property in 1950 and worked with Downey-based
architect Paul B. Clayton to design a large, new restaurant for Downey. Mr. Clayton, who is still practicing, states that, "because the
assembled property had a unique exposure to the street from both directions due to the bend of the road, Harvey
[Ortner] requested that I consider a restaurant design that would take advantage of that position and make a 'statement' at the same time."
Mr. Clayton maintains that "Harvey's Broiler incorporated structural designs and work considered unique not only to that property and city,
but also within the state."
Completed in 1958, the business was originally named "Harvey's
Broiler" after its founder/owner. The building's plan and placement
on a large lot on a busy highway is a direct consequence of the evolution
of coffee shop/drive-in design over several decades. Harvey's Broiler
was one of the last coffee shop/drive-ins constructed in Southern
California and therefore incorporates the time-tested "Googie"
elements associated with coffee shop and drive-in architectural types.
In essence, "Googie" meant designing the entire building
to read as a sign to attract customers: strongly articulated rooflines,
glass walls, brightly lit interiors and exteriors, enormous "V"
shaped car canopies, semi-exhibition cooking, and gigantic signage.
Harvey's Broiler took full advantage of all of these characteristic
elements and experienced phenomenal commercial success, particularly
in its first decade from 1958 to 1968.
Harvey's Broiler was extraordinarily successful, and by the early
1960s employed 85 people full time. Writer Tom Wolfe specifically
chronicled a night of cruising at Harvey's Broiler in the early 1960s,
"Every Friday night at Harvey's, starting about 9:30 p.m., kids
from all over the Los Angeles teenage netherworld, from West Los Angeles,
Bell, Maywood, Hollywood, Gardena, San Pedro, white Watts, San Gabriel,
even Santa Ana, Santa Monica, Covina - they all drive to Harvey's
Drive-in in their cruising cars...The real reason they come is simply
to promenade, or, in the parlance of Harvey's Drive-in, to cruise.
They cruise around in their cars in Harvey's huge parking lot, boys
and girls, showing each other the latest in fashions in cars, hairdos
(male and female) and clothes in the Los Angeles Teenage...and Second-Generation
Teenage...modes. Rank moderne! Teenage Paris! Harvey's Drive-in!"
'Hot-rodding' magazine wrote an article about Harvey's Broiler in
1964 calling it, "The center of attraction for Southern California
auto enthusiasts since 1957, Harvey's lures an almost unbelievable
5000 cars every weekend night. Harvey Ortner, owner and operator,
has become the impressario of what is certainly the largest, richest,
and most spectacular automotive exposition in the world. It all takes
place in the extra large paved area surrounding the restaurant which
provides plenty of 'cruising' room. Many times, however, traffic is
lined up more than a city block in an effort to join the action. The
crowd is made up of young people from Long Beach, Pasadena, San Diego,
San Bernardino, and other cities within a 100 mile radius, in addition
to the local patrons."
Finally, the article concludes, "The Broiler's reputation has
grown to such a point that many of Southern California's five million
yearly visitors make a special trip to Downey, much like to Disneyland
or Marineland." As recently as 2001, long-standing car clubs
spoke of the Broiler's significance. As the decades passed and the
hot-rodders of the 50s, 60s and 70s gave way to the lowriders of the
80s and 90s in areas east and southeast of downtown Los Angeles, Johnie's
Broilier continued to play a key role.
The Broiler has been a regular commercial and movie location for films
such as "Heat", "What's Love Got to Do With It",
"Unstrung Heroes", "Reality Bites", as well as
a television episode of "X-Files". Lily Tomlin played a
waitress who worked at Johnie's in "Short Cuts". The last
film shot in "Country Bears" is at Johnie's.
Prominent Architectural Historian Richard Longstreth has written extensively
on the history of 20th century commercial architecture. He writes
of Johnie's Broiler, "I have driven many hundreds of miles over
the region's boulevards during the past twenty years and am inclined
to believe that something of this caliber that is still readily identifiable
is quite rare. From what I know, too, the large drive-in component
combined with the coffee shop is very unusual. There can be no question
that a building of this type is a very important part of the regional
landscape during the postwar era. Alan Hess's book, and Jim Heimann's
as well, made a solid case in that regard."
The current owner, Christos Smyrniotis, purchased Harvey's Broiler
in 1965. Originally the enormous roof sign read "HARVEY'S broiler."
"JOHNIE'S" was substituted for "HARVEY'S" in 1966
to reflect the change of ownership from Harvey Ortner to Christos
"Johnie" Smyrniotis. The "Fat Boy" mascot was
added in 1966 and is attached to the original roof sign.
Smyrniotis closed Johnie's Broiler as an operating restaurant in December,
2001. Since February, 2002, the property has been operated as a used
car dealership. Current tenants have made significant alterations
to the dining room without permits, although the City of Downey has
issued several stop work orders and citations.