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Paul B. Clayton, 91; Designed Downey Drive-In Coffee Shop That Was a Car Culture Hot Spot

February 19, 2005|Claudia Luther | Times Staff Writer

Paul B. Clayton, the architect who designed Johnie's Broiler, the landmark coffee shop and drive-in in Downey, a popular center of Southern California car culture in the 1950s and '60s, has died. He was 91.

Clayton died Monday of leukemia in Draper, Utah, according to his family.

Johnie's Broiler, which started out as Harvey's Broiler in 1958, is one of the last remaining examples of postwar Modern coffee shop/drive-in architecture, said Peter C. Moruzzi, a Los Angeles historic resources consultant who argued on behalf of listing it on the California Register of Historic Resources.

In 2002 the structure was declared eligible for the register, but it was not listed because the current owner objected. The building at 7447 Firestone Blvd. is now a car dealership. Much of its interior has been altered.

During the 1960s, Johnie's was hugely popular, sometimes drawing up to 5,000 customers a weekend to Downey, which was a major center of California's car culture. Teens especially gathered there to check out their cars and one another over hamburgers and sodas.

Johnie's was seen often in movies ("What's Love Got to Do With It," "Heat," "Unstrung Heroes," "Reality Bites" and "Short Cuts"), magazines and music videos. It was the subject of "The Hair Boys," a Tom Wolfe account of teenage car cruising and fashion contained in his 1965 book "The Pump House Gang."

Wolfe wrote that the real reason "kids from all over the Los Angeles teenage netherworld" went to Johnie's was to show off their cars, hairdos and clothes. The drive-in, he said, was "the Dior, the Balenciaga, the Chanel of the new wave: men's clothes created not for jobs but for life roles, the role of the High Liver, of Winger, Artist, Hippie, Tiger Man, Hell's Angels."

Clayton, who designed about 280 buildings in the southeast Los Angeles area, considered Johnie's the most important commercial building of his long career, Moruzzi said.

The drive-in is typical of Southern California's Googie design, in which typically the entire building was essentially a sign to attract customers. Googie-style restaurants often included dramatic rooflines, glass walls, V-shaped car canopies and open cooking stations, all of which combined to give them a Space Age look.

Johnie's was the biggest of that type of coffee shop or drive-in in Southern California, Moruzzi said. Bob's Big Boy on Riverside Drive in Toluca Lake is the last of its kind.

Clayton was born Jan. 17, 1914, in Salt Lake City and moved with his family to Los Angeles as a teenager. He served as a Mormon missionary in Holland from 1936 to 1939 and studied architecture at a trade school and at UCLA.

He was actively designing until last fall, when he became ill, his family said.

His wife of 47 years, June, died in 1989. He is survived by three daughters, Pam, Paula and Kim; a son, Craig; 16 grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; two brothers; and a sister.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 10511 S. Paramount Blvd., Downey.

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