Big news for fans of Southern California kitsch: After a long battle, the nation's oldest surviving Bob's Big Boy restaurant was declared a local historical landmark Friday by the California Office of Historic Preservation.
In a decision sure to delight some preservationists and anger some developers, the commissioners voted 7 to 1 to grant protections to a Burbank building that epitomizes the Southern California car culture of the 1950s. The former drive-in at Riverside Drive and Rose Street is considered one of the best surviving examples of the "Coffee Shop Moderne" style of architecture, state historian Jan Wooley said Friday.
The designation makes it more difficult for the landowner to proceed with plans to tear down the building and replace it with a shopping center.
"It's probably a first, in that it is one of the more modern structures to be placed on the list," Wooley said.
"Because something is of a newer style, people don't seem to give it as much significance or importance," she said. "But this is Moderne style, and as these types of properties come into their own, and there are fewer and fewer of them, we have to realize they have an importance and significance of their own, even if they don't fit the stereotype of what is significant architecture."
The state rejects many requests from local governments to add buildings to the list of State Points of Historical Interest.
There are 54 such buildings in Los Angeles County, historians said.
The restaurant, built in 1949, is one of the six original Bob's designed by architect Wayne McAllister. The other five have been torn down, making the Burbank Bob's the nation's oldest. The first Bob's, in Glendale, was torn down in 1990.
The State Historic Resources Commission made the final decision--granting a request by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors--based on an evaluation by state historian Cynthia Howse. She described the restaurant, which is still a Bob's, as a classic example of the blocky, abstract coffee shops of the late 1940s.
One endearing aspect of the site, she wrote, is the monumental free-standing pink and white Bob's sign, which acts as "a beacon day and night on Riverside Drive."
The Bob's restaurant chain is operated by the Marriott Corp., which leases the site from Philip R. MacDonald of Newport Beach, whose father built the restaurant for longtime friend and Big Boy founder Robert C. Wian.
MacDonald fought the historic designation in a battle that lasted more than a year, saying he wanted to raze the restaurant and build a retail complex. A spokeswoman for MacDonald said he was aware of the decision and "does not wish to make a comment."