091509- Officials were on hand during a ceremony inveigling Bob's Big Boy at the former heavily damaged Johnie's Broiler in Downey. The famous restaurant is now a Bob's Big Boy and is slated to open in mid October. Stephen Carr/ Press-Telegram
DOWNEY - The illegal demolition of Johnie's Broiler on the first days of 2007 drew a record number of protesters to City Hall.
"We like our burgers in Downey," City Manager Gerald Caton said of a city that can back up that claim as home of the world's oldest McDonald's.
Constituents' enthusiasm for ground patties served with a side of mid-century nostalgia, brought the City Council and city management to a Tuesday walk-through of what will soon reopen as a Bob's Big Boy on Firestone Boulevard near Old River School Road.
This is no Johnie's-come-lately. Built from the original 1958 plans of Harvey's Broiler, the predecessor to Johnie's, the 185-seat Big Boy will closely resemble the Googie restaurant Downey residents loved, albeit it serving a new menu.
Jim Louder, who holds the diner's franchise, hopes to open the restaurant in mid-October. He has hired 185 employees to cover 6,500 square feet inside, as well as the parking lot carhop.
City Hall committed about $900,000 in redevelopment money, which came from a federal grant, to help cover some of the costs over a number of years, said Gilbert Livas, deputy city manager.
The new owner used as much of the old materials as could be salvaged from Johnie's, including decorative rock walls, red support beams and some original signage.
Other touches resurrected from the poodle skirt era, but not the demolition site, include "popcorn" ceilings, linoleum floors and red-and-white checkerboard wall tiles.
The red cursive "Broiler" sign remains visible. It will advertise Bob's Big Boy instead of Johnie's.
Big Boy's familiar logo - a chubby chef in suspenders hoisting a burger on a plate - was unveiled Tuesday by Louder and the council.
Though steeped in nostalgia, there are plenty of modern touches, including a stainless steel kitchen, where a worker's dust-covered radio blared "The Logical Song" by Supertramp.
It is unlikely future diners will hear the 1979 hit when the greasy spoon reopens.
"I've got a jukebox coming, a 1958 jukebox," said Louder, who also owns a Big Boy in Torrance. "It plays records."
Louder has a tall order in restoring a beloved fixture that dates to Downey's Space Age heyday, making it an authentic setting in "Pulp Fiction" and other films.
The restaurant, which had tall windows allowing diners a great view of Firestone, closed in 2002 and later became a used car lot.
Then, in 2007, Ardas Yanik, who leased the 2-acre property from owner Christos Smyrniotis - a cook at the original Harvey's - demolished most of the building before the city stepped in and forced the workers to stop.
Lucky thing. The demolition crew failed to turn off the power, said Mario Guerra, the current mayor.
Yanik pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor charges.
Louder signed a lease agreement with Smyrniotis to rebuild Johnie's as a Bob's Big Boy, incorporating Johnie's surviving architectural elements.
Preservationists, as well as classic car buffs who loved gathering at the diner, lauded the decision.
Fans are going to have to idle a bit longer. Still a work in progress, there is plenty to do before next month's opening.
For one thing, the tables haven't been installed. Even so, Guerra has already picked a corner spot by the door.
"This is going to be the City Council booth, right here," he said.