A familiar chubby face will greet visitors at the Burbank Historical Society’s Gordon R. Howard Museum.
A 6-foot-tall Bob’s Big Boy statue, decked out in his red-and-white checked overalls, was moved from a dusty garage to its new home on Wednesday.
The statue, in close to perfect condition, of the boy who inspired the double-deck hamburger was a gift to Arnold Peterson who was Bob Wian’s partner in the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant chain.
It has been in the family’s garage for about 25 years, said Peterson’s son, Ron Peterson.
Arnold Peterson died in 1997 and his wife, Margaret, died in December. So, Ron Peterson and his sister, Judy Peterson Tucker, decided to donate the statue to the museum, he said.
Arnold Peterson was building custom homes in Eagle Rock in 1939, and a salesman he was dealing with took him to Bob’s Pantry in Glendale for lunch, Ron Peterson said.
“He bit into the hamburger and said ‘I want to meet the guy who discovered this hamburger,’” Ron Peterson said.
“The salesman said, ‘He just cooked it for you.’”
Arnold Peterson then asked Bob Wian if he’d like to build a restaurant in Burbank. They made plans to get together that same day after Wian closed the restaurant. And by 11 p.m., Arnold Peterson had put a deposit down on the San Fernando Road site between Cedar and Providencia avenues, and had drawn up plans for the new restaurant, Ron Peterson said, including the sign “Home of the Thin Pancakes and Thick Malts.”
“They were trying to come up with ideas to bring in customers and hired cheerleaders as carhops thinking that would bring in the football team,” Ron Peterson said.
The first year was a good one, he added. They paid off their entire debt the first year.
“So it was a pretty good investment,” he said.
Arnold Peterson owned A.E. Peterson Mfg., in Glendale, where he manufactured the first lightweight baby stroller and safety car seat, Ron Peterson said. Arnold Peterson invented the products at his home in Burbank.
Making this donation to the museum is a way to honor his father’s legacy, Ron Peterson said.
“I think it’s important that future generations can see the important developments that were born in Burbank, like the safety car seat and folding baby stroller,” he said.
When the Marriott Corp. bought the chain in the 1980s, officials with Marriott presented the 6-foot statue to Arnold Peterson, his son said. It’s been in the Peterson garage in Burbank since.
Ron Peterson got his two buddies Herb Vincent and Ray Brown to help move the statue to the museum on Wednesday.
Wendy Hauptman of Toluca Lake was walking by the museum and asked where the statue was going.
“I think he’s an American icon that lives in Burbank,” she said. “I think it’s fabulous that it’s going into the museum. Hopefully, he will draw hamburger lovers throughout the city.”
Hauptman, who grew up in North Hollywood, said she and her friends used to go to the Bob’s on Lankershim Boulevard after football games. Now, she and her husband take their three daughters to the Toluca Lake Bob’s.
“We’re on a first-name basis with the manager,” she said.
“It’s a great restaurant, and I’ve gone there all my life. It’s more than a hamburger, it’s an experience.”
Bob will probably be placed next to the Model T Ford Speedster Arnold Peterson donated years before to the museum, said Mary Jane Strickland, museum founder.
“When you get into the museum business, Bob’s Big Boy is a big part of our past history since the second one in the whole chain was where we hung out in school,” she said.
Going to Bob’s was where people exchanged news, like who was leaving to serve during World War II and who was back, she added.
“Guys would get out of their cars and congregate,” she said. “The girls would drive in and check out the guys.”