burger joints and neon signs have been going steady since
the '50s. And in Vancouver, the perfect match was at Wally's
Burgers at 2703 Kingsway.
motorists have passed by Wally's classic sign, a kitschy red
and green neon jumble that soared three storeys. Countless
burger aficionados have chowed down on Wally's Deluxe Wagon,
a double patty monster on which you're encouraged to pile
on most anything you could ever dream of (including a hot
you'd better get your Wally's fix quick, because it's closing
at the end of March.
from the fast food chains has cut into business, the neighbourhood
is being redeveloped, and the rent and taxes are $6,500 a
month. So owner Connor Kim has decided not to renew the lease,
and is trying to sell the business.
cheap," says Kim, a Korean immigrant with a thick accent.
higher than hamburger price -- $22,000."
landmark neon sign goes along with the business. Unfortunately,
it's not in the best shape. Paint is peeling off, and parts
of the neon letters are burned out on both sides. Kim says
there's no point in fixing it, given the restaurant is about
am leaving," he says.
whom do I fix? For Vancouverites? For city hall?"
has owned the business for five years.
used to sell around 200 burgers every day," he says.
it's dropped, people go for cheaper burgers. Our burger is
not junk [food], it's a home-style burger. We prepare every
morning, very fresh."
rock singer Billy Hopeless thinks Wally's still does the best
burger in town.
Deluxe Wagon is a superior hamburger, and Wally's is a superior
burger joint," says Hopeless, the leader of cult heroes the
got two patties, cheese and lettuce in a hoagie bun, what
they call a wagon bun. You can get it with a hot dog if you
want, bacon. You can get a fried egg on it. But the main ingredient
is Wally's Top Secret Relish, which is not for sale. Even
though there's a bucket right behind it that says 'Sun Spun
relish' on it, which I think is a no-name brand you buy at
I love the fact that they call it Wally's Top Secret Relish.
And I love the fact that you can get pogos at Wally's, the
Canadian corn dog."
burgers have been Wally's forte since an Austrian immigrant
named Wally Stritzel started the restaurant in 1962, taking
over from another burger joint called Harvey's.
used to be the best in town," says Wally's brother Hermann.
everything was fresh, nothing was frozen. If he didn't like
the way the hamburger patties looked he'd send it back. The
fries, the same way. He advertised his stuff as quality food,
that's why he built up his business real good. It was a gold
mine at one time. Friday, Saturday night, that place was so
was hopping in the '60s, when teenagers would cruise up and
down the strip, stop in for a burger and shake, then cruise
used to have a special, two cheeseburgers for 19 cents," recalls
Eric Harvey, whose family has owned Harvey's furniture and
appliance store down the street since 1927.
used to make their chuck wagon burgers with Canadian back
bacon. When Wally Stritzel took it over, his mom used to go
in there and clean out the whole kitchen. And it was the cleanest
kitchen, 'cause she was Italian, of course."
she was Austrian.
Italian, whatever, when she cleaned that place it was it spotless,
it was fantastic," says Harvey.
spite of its popularity, Stritzel sold Wally's in the '70s.
sold out as soon as McDonald's started building up," Hermann
built a McDonald's at Kingsway and Victoria, he had a hunch
[it would hurt business]. So he sold it."
Stritzel suffered from diabetes, and passed away 10 years
ago at the age of 63. But the restaurant bearing his name
soldiered on. A family named Ahn ran it for many years, then
Kim took over.
has changed dramatically since Wally's heyday. At one time,
Kingsway was the main entrance into Vancouver, which spawned
a thriving drive-in culture. It also used to be the place
where guys in hot cars would go to race.
the summertime we'd just wait outside the store here, waiting
for them to wind 'em up," Harvey recalls.
we'd leave here at nine o'clock, go home, get changed and
go to the drive-in and drive around."
is sort of the last of the roadside architecture that Kingsway
was known for, because it was the entrance to Vancouver,"
says heritage expert John Atkin.
had a number of really interesting drive-ins and restaurants
and motels and that kind of stuff. With the city's pending
wrecking of the 2400 Motel [down the street], Wally's represents
the last little piece of the old Kingsway."
city owns the 2400 Motel, which also has a remarkable neon
sign. But both the 2400 and Wally's are likely to fall prey
to a higher-density redevelopment of Kingsway the city calls
might be some token heritage there, they might save the 
sign in situ," Atkin says.
Wally's site is owned by a company called West 75th Holdings,
a family concern that has owned the site for five decades.
Spokesman Al Gjernes says there are no plans for the site
yet, but notes that "the city doesn't want any fast food restaurants
there or anything automotive oriented."
says the company owns about 300 feet of Kingsway street frontage
[Wally's] building is tired, it needs to be redone," he says.
just wasn't generating the economics, the return. The lands
in that area are fairly valuable now."
will become of the sign? Gjernes says the pylon it sits on
is in bad shape and it would have to be replaced (on close
inspection, the pylon is slightly leaning). Kim would like
to donate it to a museum. Atkin thinks a creative solution
would be fix it up and leave it on Kingsway, which is what
Burnaby recently did with the Helen's children's clothing
sign on Hastings.
think it should be collected [by the Vancouver Museum], or
the museum should talk to the city about it being an in situ
artifact," Atkin says.
would be in the museum collection, but it's on the streets
of Vancouver. Take a lead from Burnaby, which is doing some