Bob's Big Boy, Garden Grove

Bob’s Big Boy restaurant (12032 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove) is a significant example of Googie Modern architecture, the ultra-modern car-oriented architecture developed in Southern California after 1945. Its bold curving roof, wraparound glass walls, new materials like “shadow block” concrete walls, and its distinctive sculptural sign distinguish it as an excellent intact example of Googie architecture. A new owner is currently proposing to remodel the building, which would compromise its significant features.

Built in 1965, this Bob’s Big Boy uses the 1959 prototype by Armet and Davis, master architects noted for this style responding to the suburbanization of American cities (and, notably, Orange County) after 1945. Most Googie architecture was located along commercial strips like Harbor Blvd., and was intended to be accessible by automobile. As a result, their form was designed to be noticeable and appealing to potential customers driving by at 30 or 40 mph.

Only three of these Bob's Big Boy prototype buildings remain in Los Angeles County, and no others in Orange County. Of these, the Garden Grove building appears to be in the most original condition. Another example on Winchester Blvd. in San Jose is currently threatened with demolition.

Bob's Big Boy was a notable Southern California business and cultural phenomenon which helped to redefine the restaurant industry and eating habits. Bob Wian (a Newport Beach resident) founded the chain in Glendale in 1936. The chain expanded rapidly into a series of restaurants and drive-ins from the 1930s into the late 1960s, when Wian sold the company to the Marriott Corporation. The 1949 Bob’s Big Boy in Toluca Lake (Wayne McAllister, architect) has been designated as a Los Angeles County landmark. Bob’s Big Boys were also key parts of the suburban, hot rod, and youth cultures which grew in the same period. Its drive-ins became public gathering places, especially for teenagers, whose growing economic power in the 1950s created new industries in fashion, autos, food, music, and movies. 

The building has been occupied until recently by a Coco’s restaurant. Currently In-n-Out Burger, an Orange County-based chain, is proposing to remodel the building. The current dining area behind the columns facing Harbor Blvd. would become a drive-through lane, and a rear addition would house a new dining and kitchen area. The curving roof, columns, and sign would remain, painted in the chain’s signature white, red and yellow colors.

1959 prototype design for Bob's Big Boy, Armet and Davis Architects. From Armet, Davis and Newlove archives 

1959 prototype design for Bob's Big Boy, Armet and Davis Architects. From Armet, Davis and Newlove archives 

Garden GroveJessica Rousseau