Bob’s Big Boy

Some time ago, while I was having dinner at the bar of the Three Seasons restaurant in Palo Alto, a conversation involving customers and the staff somehow focused on the Bob’s Big Boy restaurant on S. Winchester Blvd. in San Jose. One diner and the bartender were locals and remembered the place with great affection. I was interested in it architecturally, as an example of demotic design for the world of California car culture.

The architect’s rendering (1966) of the restaurant:

From the Flickr source of this photo:

Location: 449 South Winchester Blvd., San Jose, CA 
Positioned in front of the Century dome theaters and down the street from the Winchester Mystery House, Bob’s Big Boy served up burgers and shakes from the mid-1960s to the late 1980s. The Bob’s building, with its rock pillars and convex roofline, was designed by the Los Angeles based architectural firm, Armet and Davis, and is a prime example of “Coffee Shop Modern.” Fortunately, when the folks at Flames took over from Bob, they did little to alter the building’s exterior. Today, Flames Coffee Shop on Winchester Blvd. looks much like its predecessor, although one thing you’ll notice is that the original sign’s characteristic spike has been shortened.
 Image appears courtesy Armet Davis & Newlove AIA Architects – AKA “the Godfathers of Googie.” For more classic buildings by Armet & Davis, see

Googie has come up on this blog twice before. First, in connection with a Zippy cartoon, here. (Bill Griffith’s fascination with demotic architecture, especially in diners, shows up in his cartoons every week.) There I wrote:

Googie … is … the name of an architectural style of the 1950s and 60s, named after the L.A. coffee shop Googie’s (now demolished). There’s a Wikipedia entry, with pictures.

Second, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of The Jetsons tv show:

One aspect of the show’s futurism is the architectural style in it — the pop Googie style of the ’50s and ’60s. The show was in many ways very much of its time. (link)

So much for the original. From hmdavid on Flickr, “And, for comparison, here’s a current view…”:

Lots more greenery, which softens the lines of the building, but also makes a fire hazard.

On the chain, from Wikipedia:

Bob’s Big Boy is a restaurant chain that Bob Wian founded in Southern California in 1936, originally named Bob’s Pantry. It is now part of the Big Boy Corporation, which also owns several other chain restaurants.

The Bob’s Big Boy Restaurant located at 4211 Riverside Drive in Burbank, California, is the oldest remaining Bob’s Big Boy in the United States. Built in 1949 by local residents Scott MacDonald and Ward Albert, it was designed by noted Los Angeles architect Wayne McAllister, “incorporating the 1940s transitional design of streamline moderne style, while anticipating the freeform 1950s coffee shop architecture. The towering Bob’s sign is an integral part of the building design and its most prominent feature.” The building is said to have “made McAllister’s reputation,” and he is credited with creating the restaurant’s circular drive-through design.

The restaurant was designated a California Point of Historical Interest in 1993. McAllister worked to preserve the structure as a historic landmark. McAllister was the architect for the original Lawry’s restaurant on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills, and the original Sands Hotel casino and Desert Inn casino in Las Vegas. He designed some 40 coffee shops in the Los Angeles area in the late 1940s, and each with a distinctive look.

The Bob’s Big Boy building represents a distinct period in the region’s architectural history, often referred to as Googie architecture. Creative coffee shop designs started in Los Angeles because of the popularity of automobiles, and then spread across the nation. The building features curving windows and oversized roof overhangs with 1950s “free-form” style of cantilevered roofs and tall display signs.

Elsewhere on Wikipedia:

The chain is best known for its trademark chubby boy in red-and-white checkered overalls holding a Big Boy sandwich (double-decker cheeseburger). The inspiration for Big Boy’s name, as well as the model for its mascot, was Richard Woodruff (1932–1986), of Glendale, California. When he was six years old, Woodruff walked into the diner Bob’s Pantry as Bob Wian was attempting to name his new hamburger. Wian said, “Hello, Big Boy” to Woodruff, and the name stuck. Warner Bros. animation artist Ben Washam sketched Richard’s caricature, which became the character seen on the company trademark. The character was revised in 1956 for use as the large fiberglass statues placed outside the restaurants and featured in The Adventures of Big Boy comic book, produced as a promotional giveaway for children visiting the restaurant.

The iconic Big Boy:

Still to be seen at franchised Big Boy restaurants, under a number of names.


2 Responses to “Bob’s Big Boy”

  1. the ridger Says:

    We used to have Big Boys in Tennessee, when I was growing up, but at some point the franchisee jumped ship and they’re just Shoney’ses (I think I’d say that, but maybe “they’re just Shoney’s Restaurants” in formal writing) now.

  2. Bruce Hendrick Says:

    Great to see the 1966 image. While in college in late 1960s I worked at an identical Bob’s on Bellflower Blvd in Long Beach. It had a twin in nearby Lakewood. They opened in Sept 1963 and the only apparent difference between these two and the San Jose location is the sign. Both 1963 locations had a complex animated circular/ low slung roof sign of the type nearly identical to #7382 offered in HO scale by Miller Engineering (aka Microstuctures)
    (As noted this was roof mounted not free standing as w the model)
    The San Jose type double sign was used in Southern California Bob’s opened in late 60s, including a second Long Beach location on Long Beach Blvd near the 405 freeway.

    I would love to see photos of the Bellflower Blvd Long Beach Bob’s if any exist.


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