Googie architecture; pasts better left behind


An irrelevant dinosaur gate keeps a rich past Photo credit: Lucas Peterson

Lukas Luna-Arellano, Managing Editor

The armchair architects of Downey’s citizenry no doubt take special note of the city’s seeming affection for classic, Googie-style design.

Named for the now defunct Googie’s coffee shop that used to take up residence in Hollywood, the design is known for its retro-future influences and bright pops of color.

A hallmark of days gone by, the form of architecture has been relegated to the realms of throwback for years, with few, authentic monuments to the promise of a long-passed future remaining.

That’s where the city of Downey comes in. Ever the friend to the Los Angeles Conservation Board, the city is home to three landmark receptacles of such design.

Most Downey residents are likely familiar with the oldest standing McDonald’s on Lakewood, as well as the historic Bob’s Big Boy and Norm’s both housed on Firestone.

In a time when historical appreciation seems doomed more than ever, taking steps to ensure that history is not lost under the treads of a bulldozer is no small feat.

However, these restaurants all share another factor, unrelated to their landmark status; None of them are very good.

Bob’s is in the business of disguising bland takes on American standards with 50s style swank, Norm’s could easily be confused with any dozens of unremarkable diners and there’s likely not a person on the face of this Earth who would ever consider McDonald’s to be anything close to fine dining.

In the quest to respect what came before, is there a way forward?

Ironically enough, that answer lies within the annals of history.

Consider the previously mentioned Bob’s Big Boy. The restaurant serves as a beautiful testament to our community’s efforts to keep the past alive.

Once Johnie’s Broiler (originally Harvey’s), the site was home to the monument of mid-century cruising culture since its opening in 1958.

Nothing lasts forever, however, and the diner would close its doors on New Year’s Eve in 2001.

The location trudged along behind closed doors for much of the new millennium before a case of criminal negligence changed everything.

A fateful day in 2007 saw the arrival of a demolition crew, lacking in any permits, who got to work on demolishing the structure.

Though frantic calls to the city were able to ultimately save the building, serious damage had been done.

But salvation did not yet elude the location.

Big Boy franchise owner Jim Louder took upon his chain the task of resurrecting the waylaid site and operating it as an addition to the Bob’s Big Boy family.

Despite all hurdles, October 2009 saw the arrival of Bob’s Big Boy Broiler to Downey.

Did this herald the arrival of a new kind of delicious food to Downey? No, not in the slightest.

But it did showcase the community’s unique mind for preservation when the time called for it. It is time for that ingenuity of preservation to return.

Downey is home to dozens of beloved family-owned restaurants that have persisted for decades and it seems like the city can’t go six months without inviting a new franchise into town.

Downey should employ its previous approach to Johnie’s onto some of these restaurants.

Granted, the story of Johnie’s is a unique one and such horrible criminal negligence should never be replicated, but is a crime against history, really, to get the city thinking outside the box?