Sunday, April 20, 2008
sunday drive: harvey's broiler, downey ca
It's not a secret that I am simply mad about mid century architecture- a total post and beam devotee. The soaring rooflines, the use of lava rock and wild color and amazing lighting- I guess Jeff is just a fool for Googie. And Googie translates well into coffee shops- roadside, iconic, building as sign structures designed to both attract the automobile and compliment it as well. Somewhat like a patio garage with curb service.
Today's drive is a story that almost ended in tragedy. Downey, California, suburban Southern California home to the Carpenters, the second-oldest surviving Mc Donald's and the much loved and tragically maligned Harvey's Broiler.
Harvey Ortner and his wife Minnie hired local architect Paul B. Clayton to design a distinctive coffee shop. Opened in 1958, Harvey's Broiler was an instant hit and became a local landmark on Firestone Boulevard where it operated for over forty three years. The locals loved the broiler, as did the movies who used it for many, many locations including "What's Love Got to Do With It" and "Short Cuts".
I must interject here that I simply LOVED the Broiler. I would stand out front and look up at the massive neon and incandescent sign and listen to the mechanical switches that flashed the white bulbs on and off- click, click, click. It was such a wonderful place.
Time passed and Harvey and Minnie sold the diner to Johnnie Symantis who changed the name to Johnie's Broiler. It continued to operate until New Year's Eve, 2001 when it suddenly closed. It reopened in 2002 as a used car lot, but the building was intact. It received a unanimous endorsement from the Downey City Council in 2002 as a California Historic Landmark. It should have been safe.
Fast forward to January 7, 2007. The tenant, without permits, without even turning off the gas and electric, hired bulldozers and began to demolish the property at 3pm. One of the local preservationists saw and called police. The illegal demolition was halted and this began a year of waiting. A local preservation group, Save Harvey's Broiler, pressured the city to force the owner to restore the property. The tenant pled no contest to three criminal charges. The property owner was suddenly very cooperative with the city.
And then a miracle happened. Just two weeks ago, the property owner signed a long term lease with Big Boy restaurant operator Jim Louder. The Broiler will be restored as a Big Boy restaurant, in as authentic of a fashion as is possible.
Harvey and Minnie's pride and joy will rise again. It's almost beyond belief. Many thanks to the Los Angeles Conservancy and the tireless Adrienne Biondo, and the Save Harvey's Broiler Foundation.
I took these photos myself at the site the following day, January 8, 2007. I spoke to many locals that day who were in shock. A bus driver stopped to talk to me, weeping openly. The locals love this building as much as I do.
Harvey's Broiler, on the eve of resurrection. Notice how the dining room and the iconic signage are still intact, as are the carports: