Big Boy's was an iconic Wright City location. Now a mural keeps its legacy alive.

By Adam Rollins, Correspondent
Posted 4/27/23

“Just to walk in and see it, just as it had been when it was in that building, is just so emotional.”

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Big Boy's was an iconic Wright City location. Now a mural keeps its legacy alive.


Springtime visitors to Wright City’s Heiliger Building in Diekroeger Park may have noticed a refreshed look to the building’s most prominent interior feature, a mural that dominates the main room’s east wall. New framing was installed around the painting earlier this year, modernizing the city’s presentation of a 60-year-old artwork that carries special meaning for Wright City’s most long-term residents.

The history of this mural is the memory of an era that defined modern Wright City, in more ways than one. The massive painting is one of the few preserved mementos of a Wright City icon, the famous Big Boy’s restaurant, which for eight decades made Wright City a destination for anyone traveling through eastern Missouri. 

The restaurant no longer exists, but the mural and the scene it depicts are both reminders of Wright City’s most famous business, and the hometown spirit that made it what it was.

The mural depicts an image of a farm belonging to the Chaney family, who owned the Big Boy’s Restaurant from 1924-1962 and gave the eatery its name. On this farm, the Chaneys produced the chicken that was the restaurant’s most popular offering. When visitors traveling back and forth between St. Louis and Columbia stopped in to order a plate of fried chicken, they were truly enjoying the taste of Wright City.

The mural was painted in 1963, after a new family purchased Big Boy’s, as a way to honor the restaurant’s original owners. New proprietors Lola and Ed Baseel had family member Estelle Creighton paint the mural on the back wall of the newly remodeled dining room, and for over 40 years, every visitor to Big Boy’s was greeted by a scene of the Wright City agriculture that had supported the restaurant’s success.

Generations of Wright City residents grew up with Big Boy’s as a part of their town identity. It’s where many native residents worked their first job, and where they learned that being part of a community means treating each other like family.

“Eddie and Lola (Baseel) raised half of the kids in Wright City,” said Jan Lutz, who was one of those people that grew up working at the restaurant and became a close family friend of the owners. She now serves as a board member of the Warren County Historical Society

When you worked at Big Boy’s, you really were like part of the family, Lutz recalled. If an employee needed money or help with something, the Baseels would loan them money and support them any way they could. Their generosity was well known in the community, and part of what made the restaurant a beloved part of the Wright City community.

Having the mural from Big Boy’s preserved in a community building, even after the restaurant is gone, helps preserve the memory of what it meant for the hometown family restaurant to be part of Wright City.

“Just to walk in and see it, just as it had been when it was in that building, is just so emotional,” Lutz said. “It’s part of our history. So much of our historical perspective is being lost these days. … Nobody bothers to collect that information, so we’re losing it. But our kids need to know how Wright City developed, what was important about Wright City.”

The Baseel family owned Big Boy’s Restaurant until 1985, when it was sold to the King family. In 2005, the restaurant was forced to close after state regulators said the restaurant had failed to pay a large amount of sales taxes. The business was never successfully reopened, and in 2011 the city government purchased the vacant building with the intention of demolishing it.

But, not wanting to entirely lose their connection to the restaurant that had meant so much to the town, Wright City leaders organized the extraction of that mural that had greeted them every time they walked through the doors. It was relocated to the building at Diekroeger Park, where it lives on as a reminder of the people and the place that for so many years were part of the heart of Wright City.

wright city, mural, history, news, restaurant