Dine Like It's '59 - Page 2

12 California restaurants that savor dishing up the mid-century experience
Retro Dine
Retro Dine

1 I Bob's Big Boy

Toluca Lake

It's got a swooping roof and swooping counter seating and a 75-foot-tall neon sign built around a chubby little lad in a checkerboard suit holding a hamburger aloft. The Bob's Big Boy in Toluca Lake, near Burbank, the oldest extant eatery in the chain, is also about as historic a building as you can find.

For one thing, this little Big Boy won against all odds when its owner sought to demolish it more than 20 years ago. Backers of this burger joint won by arguing it was "one of the few surviving examples of its style: California coffee shop modern," in the words of preservationist Peter Moruzzi.

Built in 1949 as the sixth in the chain founded by Richard Wian in 1936, Toluca Lake's Big Boy was named a California Point of Historical Interest. Its architect was Wayne McAllister, a master of the Googie style.

Bob's Big Boy also played a role in culinary history. Wian pioneered the open kitchen. "In those days," he told a reporter, "people were skeptical of hamburger meat. So we ground it ourselves" in plain sight.

The Big Boy chain once numbered about 650, but then passed through a succession of corporate hands. Today there are about 100 in the United States and more in Japan.

Also worth visiting is the Bob's Big Boy in Downey, though it is a recreation that followed another preservation battle. After the owner illegally demolished the classic, 1958 Johnie's Broiler restaurant, the building was rebuilt—and became a Bob's Big Boy.

• 4211 W Riverside Dr. bobs.net
• Downey location: 7447 Firestone Blvd.