Bob's Big Boy, Garden Grove

12032 Harbor Boulevard, Garden Grove, California

Bob’s Big Boy restaurant is a significant example of Googie 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 Boulevard 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 Boulevard in San Jose is currently threatened with demolition.

Bob's Big Boy was a notable Southern California business and cultural phenomenon that 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 during 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 is currently occupied by a Coco’s restaurant. In-N-Out Burger proposed to lease and remodel the building, but in January 2018 withdrew their application with the city of Garden Grove. The owners of the building expect proposals for leasehold improvements from future tenants to be aligned with the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Rehabilitation. The building is eligible for the California Register of Historical Resources. 

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