Well, it’s that time of year where I mark the anniversary of taking my first 35mm photo of a diner. As regular readers of this blog know, that first Diner photo was the following photo…
By-Pass Diner of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
November 29, 1980 photo by Larry Cultrera
In looking back on these last decades there was an unofficial pattern of going on road trips over Thanksgiving weekend. So I did some digging and found some images of diners I had photographed on the Thanksgiving weekends in the years from 1980 until now. It seems there were actually only 10 of those weekends between 1980 and 2022. Now granted, on some of those weekends in the early 1980s that I photographed more than a handful of places, so I will only choose one diner from each of those trips to be representative from the year.
Olympia Diner, Newington, Connecticut
November 27, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera
Ed’s Diner, Brattleboro, Vermont
November 26, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera
Market Diner, New York, New York
November 25, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera
Libby’s Diner, Manchester Center, Vermont (never opened here)
November 27, 1987 photo by Larry Cultrera
Andros Diner, Belmont Massachusetts
November 27, 1993 photo by Larry Cultrera
Old Lunch Wagon /derelict cabin, Brookfield, Massachusetts
November 24, 2006 photo by Larry Cultrera
Roundabout Diner, Portsmouth, New Hampshire (former Howard Johnson’s Restaurant)
After three years I am finally doing a “live” Power Point Presentation on Diners. Titled “From Lunch Carts to Mega-Restaurants, the Evolution of Diners”. The host for this presentation is The Marlborough Historical Society and the event will be held in conjunction with the Historical Society’s monthly meeting on Tuesday evening, November 15th at The Main Street Cafe , 182 Main Street in downtown Marlborough. The society’s business meeting starts at 6:00 pm and my presentation will start directly after the meeting’s conclusion.The event is open to the public and there will be parking available in the area.
The Main Street Cafe, 182 Main Street in Marlborough, Massachusetts
I almost cannot believe 15 years have gone by since I started this weblog !!!!
I know I have been writing this blog for a while and sometimes the posts are not too regular, but we just passed October 31st and I suddenly realized that day marked 15 years of this weblog! I would have posted something yesterday but my schedule was filled with various appointments. Also I have been getting a revised Diner Presentation together for The Marlborough (Massachusetts) Historical Society that I will be doing in exactly 2 weeks. The presentation is actually 99 percent together but as these things go, I keep on adding to it when something occurs to me that should be in the show. This will be the first “LIVE” presentation since before COVID happened and the first one for an Historical Society in quite some time.
Anyway, as I do every year at this time, I like to acknowledge the day I started writing the blog as it still is my one semi-steady outlet to impart info on diners and other roadside stuff, as well as show off my photos in a place other than Facebook. As I look toward finishing my seventh decade coming up in just over a half a year, I sometimes cannot believe that this little interest (all right, it is an obsession) with diners has gone on so long. As most people who follow this blog know, that interest in diners goes back to my childhood and really took hold when I started getting into 35mm photography and took photos of some of the diners I was visiting in 1980. All I can say is, thanks for following along and maybe we can sit down at a local diner somewhere and enjoy a meal and some camaraderie in the future!
P.S. the presentation on Diners will be on November 15, 2022 at The Main Street Cafe, 182 Main Street in Marlborough, Mass.. The Marlborough Historical Society will hold a business meeting at 6:00 pm and I will be going on right after…. there will be another post here with all the details and some photos within the next week or so.
It had been reported within the last year or so that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced the I-83 Capital Beltway interchange project and the possibility of displacing businesses in the process. One of the redesigned interchanges includes some land taking along the area where the highway intersects with Cameron Street exactly where the East Shore Diner, a vintage Jerry O’Mahony diner has operated since the early 1950s.
The current owner Bill Katsifis, who bought the former Ray’s Diner in the early 1980s after it had been closed for a time, co-owns the business with his wife, Dorothy Katsifis, said they want to move the diner to another location in Harrisburg. In an article reported by Sue Gleiter of Pennlive.com on November 01, 2021, according to Katsifis, negotiations had stalled over the amount of financial compensation PennDOT is willing to pay and whether the agency will cover upfront expenses to relocate the diner.
He said he has no intention of blocking PennDOT’s acquisition of the diner’s 3/4-acre property and just wants to be fairly compensated and not be left with debt, especially when the diner’s mortgage is already paid off. “It’s so sad. I’m 61 years old and I have a diner. I have a business. I have it all. I told them I’m begging you to let me keep what I have,” Katsifis said.
PennDOT District 8 spokesman David Thompson said the diner is considered a dislocated business and the owner entitled to compensation for the value of the real estate, as well as business relocation assistance and benefits. PennDOT’s multi-year, multi-contract project is intended to widen an eight-mile stretch of I-83 from four to eight lanes. Recently, the rebuild of a northbound portion of I-83 between I-81 and just south of the Union Deposit Road interchange reopened with final improvements scheduled to be completed by next spring.
I was contacted right after re-posting the news on my personal Facebook page by my old friend Ed Womer who lives in the area. He offered to go over and take some current photos of the diner for me….
Earlier this spring, the diner was offering a new t-shirt announcing their Farewell Tour. My friend Wendy Van Hove was gracious enough to send me one of which I wear proudly…
On August 17, 2022, the diner posted this announcement on their Facebook page to officially announce the following statement…
Change is never easy and as many of you may know, our family business – our East Shore Diner is being forced to relocate by PennDOT’s I-83 Expansion Project. Therefor we are making adjustments to our family business and have some news to share.Given the tough circumstances, we have stayed open as long as possible. So it is with a heavy heart that we must first announce the closing of the East Shore Diner. Our last day will be September 1, 2022.
We have been a part of the community for 38 years and we are saddened to have to close our current operations. Bill Katsifis started this business with his Dad in the fall of 1984 and worked tirelessly and passionately to make this Diner the best it could be for his family, his employees and his customers. Throughout the many years, everyone who walked in for their shift or a bite to eat, has become friends and in many ways, turned into an extension of our family! Together we have been through quite the journey of both Covid and tough times as the East Shore Diner family. We want to deeply thank all of the employees and customers we’ve had throughout the years. We wouldn’t be where we are today without each and every one of you!
We will be moving our historic O’Mahony diner building to a new location. While due to our changes, we will no longer be called the “East Shore Diner”, the heart and soul we all created will remain. We are excited for our new journey to officially begin and sincerely hope to continue to see familiar faces visit us in our new venture. We cannot thank our wonderful staff enough and all our East Shore Diner family for your support and love and friendship. We are forever grateful, keep checking our Facebook page for more updates on the exciting future of our family business!
Shortly after this, I contacted Bill Katsifis and our conversation went like this… (LAC)Hi Bill, I understand that the diner is closing on September 1st. I heard you will be moving it to Mechanicsburg…. (BK)Hi Larry, how are you? Yes, September 1st is our last work day. We’re moving the diner sometime in October to Mechanicsburg, I’m happy that we get to keep it in the family. We purchased the property and had the foundation permit approved so everything looks good I’ll message you when we’re getting closer to the move thanks again. We have to save as many of these diners as we can.
This is great news when another vintage diner will get to live and operate again in a new location! When this diner was installed in the early 1950s, it operated as Seybold’s Diner…. It has a somewhat unique set-up as it was built as an “L” shaped unit with two sections. These sections comprised of a large front section that faced Cameron Street and a smaller section that was attached to the right rear of the front section. Both of these pieces wrapped around the front and right side of an on-site constructed cinder block building that housed the kitchen and rest rooms. This configuration fooled me as there was a similar diner in the Harrisburg area, the Decoven Diner, that was approximately the same age and had an “L” shaped dining area. The difference between the Decoven and Seybold’s was the rear section of the Decoven was the same length as the front section. So that diner had a factory kitchen and rest rooms instead of an on-site addition.
My own personal history with this diner goes back to early in 1981 when I was visiting my friends, Steve Repucci and Ed Womer in the Harrisburg area. It was called Ray’s Diner at that point but was closed. It had “Sheriff’s Sale posters in a few of the windows but was completely intact on the interior, (FYI, a Sheriff’s sale is basically an auction to sell equipment and other property to help get money from a mortgage foreclosure). Later on, probably when I first photographed it on November 27, 1981, Ed Womer (who took the recent photos last December, see above) drove me over from his place so I could take my first two photos of Ray’s Diner, months after the Sheriff’s sale. I took a look inside and saw the interior of the diner was completely stripped! No counter, stools, booths or back-bar equipment, the place was completely bare.
Seeing the interior completely bare, I thought this diner would never survive. Luckily, I was wrong – as stated above, the Katsifis family eventually purchased the empty diner in 1984 and spent some time, effort and money into replacing the gutted interior with new counters, stools, etc and re-opened the diner in 1985.
I wish the Katsifis family well on the up-coming transition and will be following up with the progress. I am also curious as to what the new operating name will be once it opens in Mechanicsburg.
When I first started documenting Diners with my photographs, I was influenced by the purchase of a book that was published in the Fall of 1980, entitled Diners Of The Northeast by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink. Now granted, I had been a fan of Diners all my life and after I graduated high school, I actually used to hang out with a group of friends at Carroll’s Colonial DIning Car, a 1961 vintage Swingle Diner in my hometown of Medford, Massachusetts. But after I purchased a brand-new Chevy Van in April of 1979, I started increasing the range of my travels and also commenced Sunday morning road trips by the end of that year with my pal, Steve Repucci. These road trips usually started with a stop at a local diner. In the Summer of 1980 I had purchased a used 35mm camera and started shooting photos, primarily scenic shots, etc. But in the back of my mind I was already thinking of also taking photos of the diners I went to. Buying that book by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink finally pushed me over the edge and I took my first tentative photo of the By-Pass Diner in Harrisburg, PA on November 29, 1980.
Sonny Monroe stepped away from the day to day operation of the Blue Benn Diner a number of years ago due to health problems, while Mary Lou continued to operate the diner along with their daughter, Lisa LaFlamme as well as the seasoned wait-staff and cooks. Franklin E. “Sonny” Monroe was 78 when he passed away on Monday December 30, 2019 at his residence following a long illness. Within three months The Blue Benn Diner closed due to the Covid pandemic and was never re-opened by the Monroe family. By July of 2020, Mary Lou put the diner up for sale and was eventually purchased by John Getchell, a former customer and graduate of Bennington College. The diner re-opened by March, 2021.
Back in April, 2021, I was contacted by Peter Crabtree of North Bennington, Vermont. Peter and his business partner Caitlin Randall together operate The Story Project. The Story Project creates commissioned books of all kinds for individuals, families and institutions. Peter had seen some photos I shot of Sonny’s Blue Benn Diner of Bennington, VT back in 1982 (probably the blog post from 2011) and asked if he could use one of them for a tribute book he and Caitlin were putting together. We spoke about the project and I told him I had no problem with him using the photo, which by the way is my favorite from that visit which was the one and only time I ate at the diner. To explain a little about the book, I have included the copy they included on the inside dust jacket….
Sonny Monroe was a short-order chef with big ambitions. A born culinary talent, he dreamed of a restaurant where he could create recipes that sparked his imagination. In 1974, Sonny and his wife (Marylou) acquired a scrappy diner in southwestern Vermont. It wasn’t very long before Sonny’s Blue Benn was a Bennington landmark, as much for free-flowing conversation as the mouth-watering food. This is a book about a legendary diner and the family that created it. It’s also a celebration of a community hangout, a place that gave townspeople a chance to forge connections with their neighbors no matter what side of the political or economic divide they found themselves. In the tradition of Studs Terkel’s Working, the story is told by the people that made the Blue Benn a renowned Vermont institution: the regulars who ate there and the staff that served them. Sonny’s Blue Benn: Feeding the Soul of a Vermont Town celebrates the importance of small-town life and the value of local gathering places. These are stories of a Vermont community and an iconic diner that magically brought it together.
Within the last two weeks, I had received a text from Peter Crabtree saying the book had been completed and published and he asked for my mailing address so he could send me a copy. The book came in the mail this past Saturday, August 13th and I was surprised to see my photo big as life on the front of the dust jacket! I truly felt honored to see it used that way!
I immediately started reading the book and was completely moved by the feelings it elicited within me. The way the diner had played a part in bringing people together, acting as a community gathering place and the way that the patrons as well as the diner staff became an extended family through the decades since the Monroe family took over the operation of the diner. It also evoked a slight feeling of sadness to me as I now kick myself because I only ate there on that first visit in 1982. Now granted, I did photograph it two more times – once in 1983 and again in 1986, but I was probably within close proximity to Bennington, more than likely coming from someplace else on the way home.
Finishing the reading of this tribute book spurred me to contact Mary Lou Monroe. I actually had a great 25 minute or so conversation with her this week. I told her how much this book moved me and that I felt honored to have my photo of the diner featured on the front of the dust sleeve!
Peter Crabtree mentioned that Sonny’s Blue Benn – Feeding The Soul Of A Vermont Town can be purchased thru the Bennington Bookshop located at 109 South Street Bennington, VT 05201 and you can find them online at https://www.benningtonbookshop.com/about-us, purchase price is $40.00. Because their website does not link to the book, you can email them to inquire about it at firstname.lastname@example.org …
I have not done a “Notes from the Hotline” in quite some time and while starting to write this, I decided this format would be right for this particular post. First up on the agenda is news from my friend Roger Elkus, owner of Roger’s Redliner Diner in Portsmouth, New Hampshire…
Roger’s Redliner Diner of Portsmouth, New Hampshire closes due to end of lease…
Roger Elkus posted an announcement on his diner’s Facebook page that as of April 4, 2022 the diner was officially closed due to the end of the lease where the diner has operated since February of 2014. Roger told me it was a good run for the diner and even though it was a labor of love for him, he decided to concentrate on operating his other business – Me & Oliie’s Bakery Cafe in Exeter, New Hampshire, the remaining outlet for his original chain of bakery cafes.
Roger’s Redliner Diner has been the subject of a previous post or two and was featured in my New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries book (The History Press, 2014)… I will re-tell the story here about the history of this classic 1950 vintage diner….
Roger’s Redliner was originally named the Monarch Diner and was part of a “chain” started by the Decola brothers based in Waltham, Mass. The chain consisted of quite a few diners that traded under the “Monarch” name including several Massachusetts locations… the flagship Monarch was on Main Street in Waltham, Mass. (it is currently the Tilt’n Diner in Tilton, NH). There were other Monarch Diners located in Saugus, Mass. (now Martha’s Coventry Diner, Coventry, VT), Arlington, Billerica, Littleton and Woburn (all gone). The other Monarch Diners were located in Dover, NH (more recently Roger’s Redliner Diner), as well as Milford, NH (now gone). Other diners in this chain had traded under names such as the Bedford Diner of Bedford, Mass., as well as one (or both) of the Paradise Diners of Lowell, Mass. I first became aware of the Monarch Diners collecting diner postcards in the early 1980s. I obtained one for the Monarch Diner of Waltham and the image depicted that diner but also mentioned the Dover, NH location. As far as I knew, the Dover location was defunct by the time I obtained the postcard and I figured it did not exist anymore. I later learned that both diners were built in 1950 by the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Company and were very similar, pretty much the same size though the configuration on the interior was slightly different. The Monarch in Dover was serial number 2163-50 while the Monarch in Waltham was serial number 2179-50. Serial numbers for Jerry O’Mahony diners (when found) will always be 4 digits then a “dash” with the last 2 digits representing the production year. It seems the Decola’s leased or eventually sold their places to other people to run. The known operators that were associated with the Monarch in Dover were Fred & Irene Jewell.
By the time I started documenting diners, the only diner left in Dover to my knowledge was Stoney’s Diner (more recently the Sunny Day Diner, now operating as Arnold’s Wayside Diner in Lincoln, NH). It was not until March 12, 1989, on a surprise visit to an old friend Rick Clauson, who was living in Acton, Maine, that I found out the fate of the Monarch Diner from Dover. When my friend Steve Repucci and I showed up early on that Sunday afternoon, we talked for a while with Rick and his wife Dawn. After a period of time, Rick said “c’mon let’s take a ride, I have something to show you”. So we proceeded to drive heading east away from his house on a side road that was used by locals as a short cut into nearby Sanford. As we rounded a curve on Twombley Road, this large stainless steel diner sitting up on timbers came into view. We stopped to check the place out and I snapped a few photos.
The owner, Phyllis Neal, who lived in the house on the property where the diner was being stored was there and I approached her to ask about the diner. She proceeded to tell me that the diner had originally been located in Dover. I asked, was this the Monarch Diner? She answered in the affirmative and she invited us to take a look at the interior, which was accessed by a set of temporary stairs. We discovered that aside from it being used for storage in conjunction with her greenhouse business, the diner was surprisingly intact. Mrs. Neal told us that her husband had purchased the diner in 1968 after it had closed in Dover and moved it to downtown North Berwick, Maine. I have since found out through information gathered by the late Will Anderson for his 1995 self-published book “More Good Old Maine” that although they had originally thought about using the diner to sell flowers out of, the Neal’s changed their mind and decided to set it up and lease the diner to a lady named Lois Griffin who operated it as Lois’ Diner until late 1973.
The diner remained closed and vacant at the North Berwick location until the Neal family relocated it to their property in Sanford at 604 Twombley Rd. in 1986, where they began using it for storage. Even though I had been documenting diners with my photographs since 1980 and made quite a few friends who had been doing the same thing even longer, I found the fact interesting that none of us who followed diners were aware of this diner being in North Berwick. The only reason it may have been under the “diner radar” is the fact that it had been closed there since 1973.
A number of years later, Dave Pritchard of Salisbury, Mass. convinced Mrs. Neal to sell the diner to him. Pritchard already had the former Fasano’s Diner (aka, the Olympian Diner) from South Braintree, Mass. along with the Miss Newport Diner from Newport, VT and the Englewood Diner of Dorchester, Mass. being stored at his Aran Trading Co. Ltd., a Container, Truck and Trailer sales yard, in Salisbury. This would have been around the summer of 2004. In fact I was traveling back from seeing the newly installed Blast From The Past Diner in Waterboro, Maine on August 20, 2004 along Maine Route 4 if I remember correctly, when I was surprised to see the diner again, this time at a different location. I did not stop to photograph it, or even take note as to the location (still kicking myself to this day). But by my best guess, it was sitting on a trailer at the side of the road near the intersection of Morrills Mill Rd. and Rte. 4. Obviously it was being moved somewhere, as it turned out, to Salisbury and Dave Pritchard’s yard. Probably within a year or so of that sighting I again ran across it at Aran Trading Co. and photographed it there.
Roger Elkus ended up buying the former Monarch/Lois’ Diner from Dave Pritchard circa December of 2012. Around that time I was introduced to Roger by my friend Beth Lennon when we met him at Aran Trading to view the diner.
Within a few months Elkus secured a new home for the diner and had it moved in June 2013 to Southgate Shopping Plaza right next door to Water Country Water Park. The diner anchored a new wing of the reconfigured plaza just behind the branch of the First Colebrook Bank, which has frontage on U.S. Route 1. After months of setting it up and performing a fantastic restoration, as well as bringing the electrical and other amenities up to code, the diner was opened in February of 2014. There was a brief break in service a few years ago and the diner became the bakery for Elkus’ chain of Me & Ollie’s Cafes for a while before again operating with as the Redliner with a reduced menu.
After closing the diner this past April, Roger started trying to find someone who wanted to purchase it and move it from Portsmouth. We spoke early on and I recommended he try to contact Alex Ray of the Common Man Restaurants. Ray already had the Tilt’n Diner, the Route 104 Diner and the Airport Diner in his family of restaurants, as well as the two Hi-Way Diners at the Hooksett Welcome Centers on the Northbound and Southbound sides of Interstate 93. Coincidentally as mentioned above, the Tilt’n Diner was the second version of the original Monarch Diner (from Waltham, Mass.) and the sister to Roger’s Redliner. Roger attempted to leave messages via phone and email for Alex Ray but never got a response.
I received a message from a friend, Cliff Hodgdon on July 11th that he saw that the diner was being prepped for moving. He asked me if I knew anything about what was happening and I told him I would contact Roger Elkus to get the lowdown. I spoke with Roger and he told me how initially, he had been unsuccessful in trying to contact Alex Ray. But ironically, a friend of Ray’s who lived in the Portsmouth area had seen that the diner was for sale and was able to contact him. He sent photos and info about how to get in touch with Roger Elkus and shortly after, Roger received a message from Ray. They made arrangements for Ray to come and inspect the diner a few days later and Ray was impressed with the condition of the diner and decided to buy it.
The diner was moved from Portsmouth on July 14th to a storage location in Bow, NH. As I understand it, the diner will eventually be located adjacent to Alex Ray’s Common Man Restaurant in Lincoln, NH. As I mentioned previously, this diner was originally located in Dover, NH coincidentally diagonally across the street from Stoney’s Diner. If in fact the former Redliner does get relocated to Lincoln, it will be right around the corner from Arnold’s Wayside Diner, the former Stoney’s Diner! I hope to be following up on how this continuing saga will end up and report on this in the near future!
Bishop’s 4th Street Diner of Newport, Rhode Island forced to close due to a proposed redevelopment of its site…
Dan Lederer of the Newport Daily News reported late in 2021 that Bishop’s 4th Street Diner was slated to close because that although Steve & Vicki Bishop own the diner itself, a modular 1950 vintage Jerry O’Mahony dining car with attached kitchen and additional dining space, they do not own the land it sits on. That belongs to Colbea Enterprises, which also owns the Shell Gas Station next door to the diner. Colbea Enterprises, doing business as East Side Enterprises, LLC has its own vision for the land. It includes a proposed expansion of the gas station, along with the Seasons convenience store and a car wash.
Here is a short history of this diner, It was originally delivered and installed along U.S. Route 6 in Swansea, Massachusetts. It operated from circa 1950 or so as The Princeton Diner here before it was moved to Newport by 1967. When I found it on an early Diner Hunting trip on June 19, 1982, it was still operating as the Princeton Diner.
When I visited the diner on another trip in May of 1986, it was operating as the Galley Diner. According to a quote by Steve Bishop, It continued operating as The Galley Diner until Tish Warner bought the restaurant in 1989 and ran it with her daughters, she called it The 4th Street Diner. Newport’s Third Street is just around the corner, but in actuality, there is no Fourth Street.
Warner owned the diner until 1998, when Bishop and his then wife, Nancy, bought it and modified the name to Bishop’s 4th Street Diner. They operated it together until about 2008. After a divorce, Nancy Bishop ran the diner alone until 2018, when Steve Bishop and his current wife, Vicki, bought the business and took over its operation. I last visited the diner to eat breakfast on a long weekend on October 9, 2004 and got my first digital photos of it as Bishop’s 4th Street Diner. As I recall I had Rhode Island Johnny Cakes for breakfast!
As to the current situation of this diner, Colbea purchased the property in the beginning of 2020, with the intention of expanding the gas station, only giving the Bishops a four-month lease, and then renting the space month-to-month after March 2020. Then this past November, Colbea alerted the Bishops that they would have to be off the property by the end of January 2022. The Bishops had previously rented the lot from Paul Miller before Colbea, and had a similar tenant agreement. A few months ago, a judge ruled that the Bishops could keep the diner open until August when they then would need to vacate the premises.
I have been following the news blurbs since the end of last year and been in contact with co-owner Vicki Bishop. In fact Ms. Bishop got in contact with me to ask if I knew how much the diner weighed. Vicki and her husband Steve were planning on trying to save the diner by putting the building up for sale and prospective buyers would need to know how much the building weighed for moving purposes. I actually contacted Roger Elkus of Roger’s Redliner as his diner was virtually the same age and size as Bishop’s and he already had paid to transport his diner from Salisbury, Mass. to Portsmouth, NH a few years earlier. Roger told me the estimated weight came to approximately 60,00 pounds, which I relayed to Vicki Bishop.
Now here we are in August and the closing date for the diner was announced to be August 14th. This past Sunday, the 7th, Denise and I decided to take a small road trip down to Newport so we could have one last meal at the diner. I shot a couple of interior photos as well as four exterior ones to commemorate this last visit.
As I finish writing this blog, the diner is closing today and we wish Steve & Vicki Bishop all the best in their future endeavors. Also, there is news of a highly good possibility some people from New Hampshire are extremely interested in purchasing the diner. We hope that this comes to pass and that the diner will be moved to a new location in the Granite State. If this happens, there will be three 1950 vintage Jerry O’Mahony diners of similar style and size eventually operating in the state. That would be the Tilt’n Diner, the former Roger’s Redliner Diner (at its new location in Lincoln) and Bishop’s 4th Street wherever that gets relocated.
Larry Cultrera From Lunch Carts to Mega-Restaurants: The Evolution of the American Diner
Starting with the shooting of one fateful photograph of a diner on November 29, 1980, Larry Cultrera has logged thousands of miles and shot thousands of diner photographs in the last 41 plus years. He considers himself an archivist/photographer of the American Roadside, specializing in documenting the American Diner through his photographs. In October of 2007, he started writing the Diner Hotline Weblog which is a continuation of a column he penned for the SCA’s Journal Magazine for over 18 years previously.
Join Larry, who has photographed and kept a running log of just under 900 of these truly unique American restaurants, as he covers the various styles and designs that diners have had through history.
As I am wont to do, I initiated a Google search on my name one day this past April and found it associated with an interesting research document. This document titled Post World War II Automobile Era Roadside Architecture in NH was prepared by Lisa Mausolf, a Preservation Consultant, under contract for Cumberland Farms (a New England Convenience store and gas station chain) as mitigation for the removal of Earl’s (Martin’s) Drive-In at 2 Flat Rock Bridge Road in Rochester, New Hampshire.
Being curious as to why my name would come up in association with this document (although I had my suspicions), I started reading and found out that my New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries book was used as a reference on diners located in New Hampshire! Fair enough! I actually read the whole piece and was impressed with Lisa Mausolf’s research. In fact I believe this would actually make a decent “Coffee Table” book. As I read through, I found some interesting facts as well as corroboration of one or two things I had come across in years past, checking out roadside stuff in the Granite State.
One of the pieces of corroboration I discovered was about a former Drive-In Restaurant I learned about circa 1995 in Keene, New Hampshire. At that time it was operated as Gary’s Remember Then Drive-In. Located on Marlboro Street a few blocks off of Main Street, Gary’s was certainly a throw back with Car-Hop service. Denise & I went there at least three times after hearing about it. I spoke with the owner Gary once and told him how much I liked the place. He informed me that it was a former Dog N’ Suds Root Beer Drive-In. I was kind of puzzled about this surprising information as I had thought the Dog N’ Suds chain never made it this far east from its Mid-West roots. I did not contradict him but remained skeptical.
Well, in reading Lisa Mausolf’s research I noticed she included a newspaper ad from the mid-1960s for the Dog N’Suds in Keene, New Hampshire! Corroboration big time !!!!
Unfortunately, Gary’s only lasted a relatively short time as on a subsequent visit to Keene, possibly within 10 years after I first heard about it, I drove down Marlboro Street and found the building almost unrecognizable and operating as a Suzuki Auto Dealership. A more recent Google search has confirmed even the Suzuki dealership is long-gone and there is a Kickboxing School now in the building.
The second piece of info I found of interest was the fact that the place I knew as Poor Pierre’s Restaurant in Nashua was originally opened circa 1967 as Mr. Hot Dog. The building itself looks to have been of on-site construction but may have been built as possibly either part of a chain of restaurants or at the very least marketed as a commercial structure for various uses.
There is another building of the same design in Concord, New Hampshire that has housed other businesses in the past including restaurants, now currently operating as a Men’s Wearhouse store. As Ms. Mausolf states in her research, although the two buildings were built using a similar design, it is not actually known if they were related business -wise, or like I mentioned above, just offered to entrepreneurs as a viable commercial building.
Monday, November 29, 2021 marks the anniversary of me shooting the first of thousands of “Diner” photographs. Most regular readers probably know I always acknowledge this date every year on the Diner Hotline blog. A couple of things have come together in recent months that sort of underline the importance to my life that this seemingly innocuous event that happened forty one years ago has loomed large in the scheme of things, at least to me.
Number one: I have completed the digitizing of all my 35mm prints and slides of “Diners”. This task in itself took all told at least 4 years to complete. I have also updated my database (digital Diner Log) to reflect the location of the original slides and negatives of those images as well as included two photos of each diner entry into the log. I am currently revamping the 35mm slide archive of “Diner” images to be housed in new archival boxes. This task is being done to get all images into a semblance of order to possibly facilitate the eventual donation of these slides to an institution that might want them as part of an historical record. Doing something like this to the 35mm prints (and negatives) might actually be a little more daunting. Not so much for the prints more than the negatives as other non-diner images are mixed in with the diner images. That is a problem to be attacked at another time.
Number two: the future of diners in general is still precarious and to place a spotlight on this fact, that first diner I documented with my photos, the By-Pass Diner of Harrisburg, PA is currently in limbo. The diner had changed hands in the 1990s and been operated as the American Dream Diner right up until the last year or so. It changed hands again earlier this year to become Harry’s Bistro. If you check it out online, it has gotten some great reviews and it gives the impression that it is still in operation. But someone I know recently stopped by and found it closed with an ominous notice taped to the window that says there were problems that have shut down the business. For how long, I do not know but the person who reported this fact said it looked like it had been closed for some time.
It turns out there are other diners I have documented over the last four decades that are also in jeopardy, including another Harrisburg diner, the East Shore Diner. The East Shore Diner is being threatened with possible demolition or at least in the best scenario moved to a new location because of a planned construction project to revamp highway on/off ramps adjacent to the property where the diner has been since the early 1950s when it was first installed as Seybold’s Diner.
Another diner threatened with demolition is Bishop’s Fourth Street Diner of Newport, Rhode Island as the property owner wants it gone to expand an adjacent business.
Back at the end of July, 2021, it was reported that the Daddypop’s Tumble Inn Diner of Claremont, New Hampshire had suffered a suspected arson fire. They were reported to start repairs on the damage which affected the basement and electrical equipment. Unfortunately this may be complicated by the fact that Deborah Ann Kirby, the owner of the Tumble Inn passed away suddenly towards the end of October, putting the fate of this diner in limbo.
Another diner is also in limbo and slated for demolition is the former Ann’s Diner, operated more recently as Pat’s Diner of Salisbury, Massachusetts. Pat Archambault the owner for many years has had the diner up for sale for quite some time. She finally sold it at the end of July and unfortunately the owner of the gas station next door to the diner bought the property and has no intention of utilizing the diner. Ironically as I write this I just found out that Pat Archambault just passed away herself.
Two other Massachusetts diners future are questionable, the first is the Salem Diner which is currently owned by Salem State University. The university stopped using it as a food option within the last two years and is trying to get someone to buy and move the diner. As far as I know, no one has come forward with a likely proposal to move and reuse this very rare Sterling Streamliner.
The second Massachusetts diner is a late model Worcester Lunch Car currently operating as the Breakfast Club in Allston, Mass. The diner sits on leased property which is slated to be redeveloped. The future of this diner is not looking good at this point.
Within the last week or so we have heard that the 29 Diner in Fairfax, Virginia has had a very bad kitchen fire that miraculously has spared the diner in front but closed the business for at least 6 months.
It’s not all bad news as the Edgemere Diner of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts which has been closed fairly recently was sold at auction within the last two weeks. The diner had been owned since 1995 by the town of Shrewsbury when the diner and property was taken for back taxes owed by the owner of the business. Since then the town has leased the diner out to numerous operators until now. The town finally decided that they did not want to be landlords anymore. The good news is that Michael Cioffi bought the diner and said he plans to move it from its location on U.S. Route 20 – which was a stipulation of the sale – to New York’s Catskills, where he already owns and operates the Phoenicia Diner.
So this post not only highlights that first photo of the By-Pass Diner but also sheds some light on the fragility of the American diner and the diner business in general. It points to the fact that my photos are my contribution to documenting diner history over the last forty one years….
October 31st came and went and it was not until yesterday, November 2nd that I realized that I failed to acknowledge the anniversary of the creation of this blog. The reason that it slipped my mind was that Denise & I took my usual long weekend and attended a special event in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the wedding of my oldest nephew Christopher Cultrera and his lovely wife Kayla.
So, October 31, 2007 marks the very first blog post from Diner Hotline but that was not the true beginning. Some people may know that Diner Hotline started as a hard copy column I penned for the Society for Commercial Archeology. I wrote the first brief column, minus photos in December of 1988 and it was published in the Spring 1989 edition of the SCA News Journal. After a few years, the column was moved to the SCA Journal Magazine. I retired the column in August of 2007. But even then I knew I was not finished with Diner Hotline. In fact Brian Butko of the SCA convinced me it was time to take Diner Hotline into the 21st Century and onto the internet.
So, I continue to write the blog, although sporadically. I try to be more regular with the posts but as I have learned, I am getting more particular how and what I write. I start to write a post and I reach a point that I get distracted and the process sometimes stalls. Case in point, I have a post I started over a month ago and have yet to finish it. I will revisit it soon, to complete the piece and have others in my mind to eventually write. So, be patient and you will be rewarded with some future posts that I hope you will enjoy.