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Bob’s celebrates with solar panels

From the Burbank Leader, writer Michael J. Arvizu: “Bob’s celebrates with solar panels. As a California Point of Historical Interest, the restaurant with the Big Boy had to get approval for its green project.”burbank_bobs_adjacent_building_installation_opt

1949.

It was the year the first Emmy Awards were given in Los Angeles.

It was the year the first Volkswagen Beetle arrived in the United States.

It was the year the People’s Republic of China was founded.

It was the year Bob’s Big Boy began flipping hamburgers, in what 60 years later is one of the most popular burger joints and oldest remaining Bob’s Big Boy restaurants in the country.

Bob’s Big Boy, at 4111 Riverside Drive in Burbank, began operations that year in a building designed by the late Wayne McAllister, a Los Angeles-based architect responsible for resorts and hotels from Las Vegas to California and Tijuana.

The Burbank restaurant is known for its signature Big Boy out front, where diners and tourists alike pose with the life-size, checkered-overalls- wearing, giant hamburger-carrying statue.

Bob’s Big Boy is touted as the home of the original double-deck hamburger, or Big Boy, made of two all-beef patties, grilled sesame seed bun, crisp lettuce and so on.

Aside from the burgers, one of the things that makes Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank unique is its ties with the community, said Bob’s co-owner Phil MacDonald. The restaurant maintains a hometown feel by sponsoring local teams and schools, and its walls are filled with plaques denoting the restaurant’s charitable efforts.

For its 50th anniversary celebrations in 1999, Bob’s Big Boy celebrated with three seasons’ worth of events. In March, the restaurant rolled back prices to 1949 levels, where diners could get a Big Boy, fries and Coke for 50 cents.

In July, the restaurant trucked in about 200 tons of sand and created a virtual beach in its parking lot, complete with sandcastle workshops, Frisbee contests and bathing suit, surfboard and surfing car exhibits.

In the fall, the restaurant held a Hollywood ’50s party.

It seemed fitting that to celebrate its 60th anniversary, MacDonald said, Bob’s should do something as memorable. In an effort to benefit the environment, 132 solar panels were installed on the roof of its carhop canopy and on the roof of the adjacent Starbucks — a building MacDonald also owns — in a campaign the restaurant calls “Sixty and Solar.”

The solar panels, which were activated in May after four weeks’ construction, are made by Canadian Solar, a Canada-based company founded in 2001 that manufactures wafers, cells and solar modules. The whole system was designed and installed by HelioPower, a solar power engineering and construction company. The system cost about $179,000, said HelioPower energy consultant Bret Pursuit. But with a $68,000 rebate from Burbank Water and Power and a $33,000 federal grant, the cost of the system would be around $78,000, Pursuit said.

It will take about six to eight years for the system to pay for itself in terms of energy costs to the restaurant, MacDonald said.

“We should have done this a long time ago,” said Mike Lopez, Bob’s Big Boy’s general manager. “I would love to see all of the businesses changed so that everybody benefits, even communities, houses, hospitals. The whole country needs to be changed, needs to go green. That’s the reality.”

The system is designed to provide about 25 kilowatt hours of electricity, which offsets about 10% of the restaurant’s electricity usage over the course of one year. About 90% still comes from the grid.

Bob’s Big Boy will have an official “flip the switch” ceremony Sept. 24, even though the panels have been active and providing electricity to the restaurant for two months.

“We’ve invited dignitaries,” MacDonald said. “We’ll see who comes. We just realized, oh my God, it’s 2009, it’s 10 years since then, we got to do something for the 60th [anniversary],” MacDonald said.

The MacDonald family has owned the Burbank location since it opened. It took over day-to-day operations of the eatery in 1993, the same year it was declared a California Point of Historical Interest, according to its website.

Because of the restaurant’s historical status, a review had to be conducted by the Burbank Heritage Commission to determine whether adding the solar panels would significantly alter the restaurant’s appearance.

They eventually got approval for the panels, but only after what Pursuit called a “flaming hoop we had to jump through via several meetings, business hours and evenings with the city planners and Heritage Commission.”

For more information on the “Sixty and Solar Project,” visit www.sixtyandsolar.com.