Johnnie’s broiler is an abandoned coffee shop / drive in located in Downey, CA. The Los Angeles Conservancy’s Modern Committee, the California Historic Resources Commission voted unanimously to include Johnie’s Broiler in the Register of Historic Places. Sadly, the current owners demolished the the landmark without a permit using illegal alien laborers from a nearby Home Depot.
Harvey Ortner purchased the property in 1950 which had been ‘Sally’s Fryers’ a chicken farm and retail store with five small houses. Ortner hired architect Paul B. Clayton to design the structure in the style currently known as ‘googie’. This style was designed to attract customers with strong articulated rooflines, glass walls, brightly lit interiors and exteriors, enormous “V” shaped car canopies, semi-exhibition cooking, and gigantic signage.
The restaurant was opened in 1958 as Harvey’s Broiler after it’s owner and became a phenomenal success. It employed 85 people and writer Tom Wolfe described the hotspot as “Rank moderne! Teenage Paris! Harvey’s Drive-in!” Traffic would lined up for more than a city block with young people from as far away as 100 miles frequenting the restaurant. Harvey’s even became a tourist attraction for visitors coming to the state from around the country.
The Broiler had been a regular location for commercials and movies including “Heat”, “What’s Love Got to Do With It”, “Unstrung Heroes”, “Reality Bites”, and the TV show the “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.
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. From February, 2002, to 2006 the property was a used car dealership.
On January 7, 2007, a couple of bulldozers suddenly appeared on site and started demolishing the carhop area and structure. By the time police responded most of the structure had been demolished.The police stopped the demolition due to lack of permit. According to the January 9, 2007 Press-Telegram, numerous possible OSHA violations occurred. “According to police reports, the gas and electricity were not switched off at the time of the razing nor was the area fenced off from the general public, creating an unsafe environment for bulldozing contractors.”