Irv's Burgers

The historical story behind Irv's Burgers is a fascinating weave of colorful stories. According to Mollie Zucker, who owned the original stand Queensburger (1950) (photo at left), from 1958-1973, the stand served as a ‘local’ for many Los Angeles actors, both known and unknown; its devoted regulars included John Cassavettes, Gena Rowlands, Sally Marr (mother of comedian Lenny Bruce), and Shelly Winters. Tucker Smith, the actor/dancer best known for his role as “Ice” in West Side Story, lived in the apartment building next door and often brought the ‘Sharks’ and the ‘Jets’ over between filming on the sound stage. As Los Angeles rapidly developed into the center of the 60s and early 70s burgeoning music scene, one could often spot Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin among the regulars. Linda Ronstadt used the roadside stand as a backdrop for the album art for one of her best-selling recordings ("Living in the USA", photo below). Even then, what’s now known as Irv’s Burgers had a reputation for great food; Mollie's husband went to Fairfax Avenue’s legendary Diamond Bakery every morning at 5 a.m. to get fresh breads and purchased the prime meat for the hamburgers at the now defunct Arrow Market, the last of the independent neighborhood family grocery stores.

[click image to enlarge]

Today, Irv’s Burgers is struggling to stay open and remain at its original location. The stand is owned by the Hongs, a Korean-American family who invested their entire life's savings in buying Irv’s business from a former tenant of long-time owner Irving Gendis. The Hongs are beloved by scores of West Hollywood residents and businesses, many of whom eat there daily. Sadly, the Hong’s five year lease has expired and they are currently operating on a month to month agreement with their new landlord. Currently, the building’s land lease is held by Seltzer Commercial Real Estate who plans to develop the corner lot and lease the space to other operators. Peet's Coffee, a major, albeit socially conscious, corporation, has been in leasing negotiations with the Seltzers for several months, but has not finalized their deal due to local concerns that Irv’s Burgers could be destroyed and the Hongs displaced.

The loss of Irv’s in West Hollywood would be another blow to our fragile Los Angeles culture. Destruction of this landmark would erase:

1) Another integral link to the Route 66 heritage
2) A classic post-World War II roadside stand
3) A genuine neighborhood eatery
4) The livelihood and future of a hardworking family


In just a few visits to Irv’s Burgers, one realizes the value of this small business. The Hongs know all of their customers by name and many people stop by daily just to check in with them and get the local news. Every customer is recognized; each order out of the kitchen window has a personalized, handwritten caricature on a paper plate with a 'Just for You' caption in Sonia's handwriting.

Thousands of neighbors and adjacent businesses have written letters, made phone calls and signed petitions to save this iconic burger stand. But the future of Irv’s Burgers is still unknown. We urgently need your help and support. We’ve taken up the cause as great lovers of burgers, Los Angeles street food and the American Dream. Besides all of this, Irv’s Burgers remains the BEST burger and fries found in Los Angeles today and it holds a place of honor among the aficionados of Burger History.

For information on how you can help, click here.



by Vickie Burns-Sikora
November 19, 2004

Irv's Burgers is a prime example of the post-World War II roadside stand that rose to prominence along the nation's highways with the increase in automobile travel. As was more often than not the case, Irv's was originally paired with a service station on the same lot, providing the automotive tourist with food and gas in one easily accessible location. The service station is no longer in operation, but Irv's Burgers has remained a roadside eatery since its inception in 1948. As part of the late-40s/early 50s boom Irv's Burgers was designed serve the motoring tourist that shaped Los Angeles. Carey McWilliams notes, "Not only did the tourists stimulate the later mass migrations, but they left an imprint on the land." (McWilliams, 1973, p. 147) Fronting as it does the "Mother Road," Route 66, Irv's Burgers prominently participated in and reflected the road culture of the period. "The highway, which ran from Chicago to Santa Monica, came to represent the romance of the open road. Today, it still rekindles fond memories of '57 Chevys and family summer vacations." (Pierson, 2004, p. B1) Basically intact structurally, it is one of the few remaining roadside stands that once flourished along the California stretch of the historic highway. "Ramshackle hot dog and hamburger stands that popped up in the years after World War II evolved into the fast-food industry. A couple of sheets of plywood, a stove and a natural affinity for people were all someone needed to get started. Year-round warm weather and a demand for cheap food fast did the rest. Business boomed." (Edds, 2004) As Route 66 lost its prominence as a national artery, the focus of Irv's Burgers changed. Throughout its seven-owner history, it became a haunt for actors and film crews. Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison sampled its burgers. Martin Sheen and John Cassavetes sat at its stools. Linda Ronstadt featured Irv's Burgers on the cover of her "Living in the USA" album. Neighbors, looking for a bit of nostalgia and good, low-priced food have subsequently made Irv's home, but the tourist was not lost. It was featured by Elliott Koretz and Michael Nankin in their book Fantastic Dives for its "combination of ... good food and street life at your elbow-having a meal in the thick of the action-that makes it so much fun." (Koretz, 1982, p. 65) Culturally, Irv's has become a vital center for community life in a city where many residents are single. An indication of its value to the present inhabitants can be seen from the thousands of signatures on petitions protesting its probable destruction. Ironically the Pierson quote cited early comes from an article about the rush to preserve anything related to Route 66 by cities lying to the east. Gerald Panter, who has photographed nearly 200 of the freestanding roadside stands over the past six years, notes that a third of them have disappeared. Preservationists predict the remainder will vanish within the next five to ten years. (Edds, 2004) In a GIS/GPS survey conducted under a grant from the National Park Service, Design Aid Architects found only three West Hollywood sites deserving of recognition: the Formosa Café, Barney's Beanery, and Irv's Burgers. It is imperative that we protect and preserve the few remaining sites we have from Los Angeles's formative years. Nearly alone among the thousands that once dotted the L.A. landscape, Irv's is historically and archivally significant as an example of the pre-fast food hamburger stand.

REFERENCES: Edds, Kimberly, Washington Post, "LA Burger Stand Fights for Its 2004 Life," November 22. Koretz, Elliott and Michael Nankin, Fantastic Dives: A Guide to LA's Best 1982 Hole-in-the-Wall Dining. Los Angeles: J.P. Tarcher McWilliams, Carey, Southern California: An Island on the Land. Salt 1973 Lake City: Gibbs Smith. Pierson, David, Los Angeles Times, "Get Your Kitsch on Route 66."



"Save Irv's Burgers" on Route 66

Route 66 Facts and Trivia Current maps do not include old Route 66. Route 66 is 2448 miles long. (about 4000 km) Route 66 was commissioned in 1926, picking up as many as possible bits and pieces of existing road. Route 66 crosses 8 states and 3 time zones. Route 66 starts in Chicago, and ends in L.A. (Santa Monica). Some people think driving it in the opposite direction is historically wrong, but it's mainly a lot harder as all available documentation goes the "right" way. In 1926 only 800 miles of Route 66 were paved. Only in 1937 Route 66 got paved end-to-end. You can only drive parts of Route 66 these days... it has been replaced by the interstate highways I-55, I-44, I-40, I-15 and I-10, but still a surprisingly high amount of old road is waiting to be found by the more adventurous traveler. Route 66 is also know as "The Mother Road", "The Main Street of America" and "The Will Rogers Highway". During all of its life, Route 66 continued to evolve, leaving many abandoned stretches of concrete, still waiting to be found by the more adventurous traveler. Route 66 was also the title of a TV series playing from 1960 till 1964 Cyrus Stevens Avery from Tulsa Oklahoma can be called the father of Route 66 In 1985 Route 66 was officially decommissioned, but for daily use it was replaced far earlier by the Interstates.



California Historic Route 66 Association Preservation, Promotion and Enjoyment of Route 66 The stretch of Route 66 that passes through California extends from the Colorado River (Topock), near Needles, to the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica Some 320 miles of Route 66 pass through California's deserts, mountains, metropolitan areas and beach communities. California's Route 66 is hard to beat as a travel theme for your next vacation. A pathway to California's history, cultural diversity, geology, geography and architecture, Route 66 in California reflects a significant part of our National Heritage.

Route 66 in California traverses 320 miles from Needles to Santa Monica. For 214 of those miles, from Needles to Cajon Summit, you are traveling through the Mojave Desert. The wonder and beauty of this region cannot be fully appreciated without getting off the road and into the wilds. For those of you who are truly adventurous, try exploring the Mojave Desert on your next Route 66 road trip.

Santa Monica is the western terminus of Route 66. In 1926 when Route 66 was officially designated, the road was identified from Chicago to Los Angeles. In 1935 the road was extended from Sunset Blvd (Cesar Chavez Av.) to Santa Monica Blvd. to Lincoln and ended at... but that's another story, told by Dan Harlow (see below). When the Pasadena Freeway was completed a realignment of Route 66 took place and later when the 10 Freeway was completed another alignment was recognized. For a while Route 66 followed the Pasadena Freeway to the Hollywood Freeway to Santa Monica Blvd., to Lincoln.

Evidence that Route 66 extends from Lincoln to Ocean Avenue along Santa Monica Boulevard lies firmly in the ground at Palisades Park. Here, in 1952, a plaque was placed stating simply, "Will Rogers Highway, dedicated 1952 to Will Rogers, Humorist, World Traveler, Good Neighbor. This Main Street of America, Highway 66 was the first road he traveled in a career that led him straight to the hearts of his countrymen." The plaque was placed that summer as a caravan of vehicles completed a tour of Route 66 sponsored by Warner Brothers, Ford and the Main Street of America Assoc. The tour began in Chicago and was carried out as an honor to Will Rogers, promotion of the soon to be released motion picture of his life story, and recognition of Route 66. However unofficial this landmark may be, it clearly represents the spirit of Route 66 and its many contributions to American culture. For those who have stood before it and gazed into the blue horizon of the Pacific Ocean, this marks the western terminus of Route 66. Transportation officials and map makers will tell you otherwise. The official end of Route 66 is where it junctured with 101 highway some ten blocks east and south of Ocean Avenue. Had we rested with views of officialdom there might be little reason to now raise the question. When there were no other signs on Route 66, the plaque at Palisades Park told of a very special highway. If you want to see where Route 66 made its last juncture with another major road, follow the maps and turn south on Lincoln. If you want to experience the spirit of 66, follow your heart and keep driving west.

James M. Conkle
Executive Director & Chairman of the Board
California Route 66 Preservation Foundation
P O Box 290066 | Phelan, CA 92329-0066
760.617.3991 | Cell: 760.868.3320
Fax: 760.868.8614
email | website | website links

Scott Piotrowski
Director, 66 Productions
email | website


 

IRV'S BURGERS Since 1950
7998 Santa Monica Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90046
323.650.2456

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