GoFundMe page to help defray costs in transporting a 1920s vintage Diner from Pennsylvania to Rhode Island

I was contacted recently by Chris Tunnah in the last month. Chris is a restaurateur  based in  New York state operating restaurants as a General Manager & Consultant in NYC for the last 15 years, working with celebrity chef’s such as Tom Colicchio, Missy Robbins, Scott Conant and Floyd Cardoz to name just a few. Although living and working in New York, Chris also has a home in the Newport, Rhode Island area and has had a dream of bringing a small classic factory-built diner back to that area.

This is actually not the first time I had heard from Chris. We exchanged some emails back in March of 2013, when he was trying to obtain the long-closed Skee’s Diner of Torrington, Connecticut and move it to Newport or Middletown, RI, Unfortunately this plan ultimately fell thru. Also in that 2013 email Chris went on to say “Before Skee’s, two years ago I discussed purchasing the Red Rose Diner in Towanda, Pennsylvania from Mike Holt, but he was unable to commit to the sale….. and I await a change of heart from Mike. The Red Rose would be fantastic in Newport”.

I get daily “News blurbs” about “Diners” thru Google and was aware that Chris ‘s dreams about bringing a diner back to Rhode Island might be coming closer to reality. It seems the Red Rose Diner project was revived after the more recent closure of that diner. In the news pieces I have seen, it was mentioned that Chris had to jump thru some hoops to get approval for his plans to bring the diner to a new location im Middletown, CT. Unfortunately, this, along with the purchase price of the diner and property have stretched his savings account to the limits.

To complete his objective, Chris has started a GoFundMe page to help defray costs in bringing his Red Rose Diner from Pennsylvania to Rhode Island.  you can check out the GoFundMe page here for further details…  https://www.gofundme.com/save-one-of-last-1920039s-us-diners

As I happen to know a bit about this particular diner, let me fill in some of the details as I know them… The story of the Red Rose Diner goes back much further than its recent time in Towanda, PA. It is a 1927 vintage Tierney diner that has spent its whole life in Pennsylvania since it left the factory in New Rochelle, NY. It was originally built as the Lackawanna Trail Diner and operated under that name for many years in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

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Post card from my collection of the Lackawanna Trail Diner

I had first learned about this diner through a “before and after” piece John Baeder included in his 1984 book “Gas, Food and Lodging” (A Post Card Odyssey Through the American Roadside). In the book he showed the above post card image from his vast collection as well as a more recent photo he had shot in May of 1979 when it sported a weathered wooden shingle skirt under the windows and was called Besecker’s Diner.

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May, 1979 photo by John Baeder when it was Besecker’s Diner

I first documented the diner in June 29, 1985, not too long after Gas, Food and Lodging first came out. By then the diner lost the wooden shingles and was painted white and operating as Jerry’s Diner. The diner continued to operate at the original location until the mid-to late 1990s.

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June 29, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera when it was Jerry’s Diner

In the late 1990s, the closed Jerry’s Diner became available and there was more than one entity interested in rescuing it. One of these entities was none other than my old friend Gordon Tindall of Decorah, Iowa. Gordon had previously rescued the Clarksville Diner from Clarksville, NJ near where he grew up. He had heard it was threatened because of new development that was happening in that area and he arranged to move it to Iowa in the late 1980s. After a lot of work restoring and equipping that diner, he was able to re-open it and operate it for 5 or 6 years. He eventually sold that diner and it was moved to France where it is today.

Well Gordon was not through after the first restoration and approached the owners of Jerry’s Diner and convinced them to sell it to him. He relocated the diner to a storage location in Lancaster, PA where he worked on the diner and brought it back to near original condition. He had hopes of keeping it in Lancaster but was never able to secure the location he wanted. That is when the diner ended up moving to Towanda. These next few photos are courtesy of Chris Tunnah of the Red Rose Diner in Towanda.

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Tindall operated this diner for another 5 years after opening it before moving on to another project. This would be the complete rebuild of an extremely rare diner that was saved by Michael Engle initially. This would be the former Village Diner of Wellington, Ohio. Also known as Cecil’s Trackside Diner before it closed at that location, this diner was built by Goodell Hardware out of the Silver Creek, New York area, a model that resembled ones built by Ward & Dickenson Diners.

Engle moved the diner from Ohio to Gilbertsville, NY but did not have the wherewithal to complete a restoration. In the meantime he had made the acquaintance of Tindall and finally asked him if he wanted to take on the daunting task to complete the job. So while Tindall was operating the Red Rose Diner, he had started to work on the new diner in his spare time. I wrote about that diner here on Diner Hotline back in June of 2009…  https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2009/06/28/gordon-tindalls-spud-boy-diner-gets-nice-write-up-and-it-is-almost-a-year-away-from-opening/

Anyway, we wish Chris Tunnah well in his endeavor and hope he can realize his goal of getting this classic diner re-opened again soon.

 

A Tribute to Michael Paul Smith, a true artist in Forced Perspective Photography

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Michael Paul Smith with a diorama set up of Elgin Park
courtesy of Michael Paul Smith archives

I was saddened to hear the news that Michael Paul Smith had passed away on November 19, 2018. I will go into a little more detail below, but as an intro; Smith , who described himself as a recluse, became well known world-wide for his unbelievably detailed forced perspective digital photos of diorama scenes utilizing his rather large collection of 1/24 scale die-cast car & truck models along with scratch-built model buildings combined with actual outdoor scenes.

There was no formal obituary at the time of his death, but within a week or so I was “tagged” by my long-time Society for Commercial Archeology friend, Brian Butko in a Facebook post he wrote that alerted his followers and Facebook friends about this. I believe there was a link to a piece from Hemmings Motor News which effectively became a default obituary for Michael. Here is that link… https://www.hemmings.com/blog/2018/11/27/modeler-michael-paul-smith-permanently-moves-to-elgin-park-at-age-67/ .

For those who do not know of Michael Paul Smith, he lived for many years on the edge of downtown Winchester, Massachusetts in the third floor of a large Victorian house. He had a pleasant soft-spoken personality and described himself as a recluse, although he did not actually avoid making contact with other people, he just kept to himself for the most part. He grew up near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the small town of Sewickley.

According to his Bio, his family moved to Massachusetts where he graduated from high school and eventually ended up studying at the Worcester Art Museum as well as UMass Amherst. Michael had bounced around “employment-wise” in the early years after college, trying out various professions including working for a cabinet maker, a short-lived (one day) stint as a mail carrier, a bartender, and an art director for an advertising agency. He also started a wallpaper and painting business and in another career move, made models for an architectural firm.

Smith was an avid modeller from an early age and the skills he developed over his life helped him to become one of the most widely known artists using a small point and shoot digital camera to create forced perspective photographs that truly fooled his many fans world-wide. The seeds of this began in the 1990s when he started collecting super detailed die-cast car and truck models produced by companies like Danbury Mint and Franklin Mint, as well as others.

Smith’s fondness for classic automobile design from the 1920s thru the 50s inspired him to eventually start an over two decade-long endeavor of utilizing his skills (learned from building architectural models) to create 1/24th scale buildings to be used as a set-up for photographing his die cast models of cars and trucks. His first dioramas were mostly shot inside. He eventually moved his dioramas outside and used actual street backdrops to line-up his model buildings and cars in naturally lighted situations where the viewer was hard pressed to see where the diorama ended and the real background started…

The photos were eventually posted on a Flickr page he developed that he dubbed “Elgin Park” https://www.flickr.com/photos/24796741@N05/ . Elgin Park was a fictionalized (and certainly idealized) place based on his boyhood hometown of Sewickley, PA. After some publicity from a British website, Smith’s viewership of his Flickr page mushroomed and went viral with millions of hits almost over night. I myself saw some of these a number of years ago through postings on Facebook and other places. I was totally amazed at the photographs and skill it took to create these images. Here are some of my favorites….

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The Flickr page eventually led to 2 books Smith co-authored with his friend Gail K. Ellison. The first was Elgin Park, An Ideal American town published in 2011…

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This first book was in a way an extension of his Flickr page with loads of photos of the dioramas. He did not go into too much detail as to his process that created the images.

This book was followed by Elgin Park, The 1/24th-scale creation of a fictitious mid 20th century American town published in 2015…

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The second book was physically quite large and possibly the most expensive book I ever purchased. After hearing of Michael’s passing, I dug out both this and the first book from my personal library to prepare to write this blog post. This second book went into extreme detail to describe the process involved in creating his scenes. All the little tricks of the trade (so to speak) to create scratch-built model buildings, back drops and miscellaneous detailed equipment/pieces to enhance the individual scenes were spelled out. There were also select comments from his legion of world-wide on-line fans as well as his responses to them.

It was not until I read a Boston Globe article about Michael Paul Smith and his Elgin Park project close after the time that the second book was published that I realized we had met back in 1995. I have been associated with the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA), becoming a member in 1981, I had attended many of the organizations events held in the northeast since that time. In late 1988, I had started contributing by authoring the first-ever regular column in the SCA’s News Journal (later to be known as the Journal magazine). I named it Diner Hotline (surprise) and wrote for the Journal for over 18 years before retiring the column and starting this blog.

The last event the SCA held in the Boston area (and in fact, New England) occurred on June 23-24, 1995, dubbed the “New England Diner Weekend”, this event was organized locally by myself and Richard J. S. Gutman on the Massachusetts part and Daniel Zilka on the Rhode Island part, along with national assistance by SCA’ers Tania Werbizky, Pete Phillips and Mike Bennett. The event centered on visiting two major exhibits celebrating the American Diner, the first exhibit was at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts curated by Richard Gutman and named after his landmark book, “American Diner Then & Now”.

The second was a smaller exhibit at the Rhode Island Historical Society  which noted the Ocean State’s place in diner history as the birthplace of the horse-drawn lunch wagon. Starting in Lexington at a Friday night reception and continuing the next day with a bus tour going from Lexington to Worcester, Mass. and then on to Providence, RI. The weather cooperated and it was a huge success. We had a large attendance including many locals from Massachusetts and New England as well as people from around the country. Michael Paul Smith was one of those attending.

During the event, I had brought along a handful of photos to show interested people of a diner-related personal project I had started around January of 1995. This project was a completely new thing for me, a scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner, Worcester Lunch Car No. 817 which was located in my hometown of Medford, Massachusetts from 1948 to 1968. I had some H.O. scale plastic models of diners in my collection, some built primarily as they came, others I had “kit-bashed” to look different. This new model was the first attempt at doing something on this scale (so to speak). The Star Lite was a diner that I actually patronized as a kid and was hugely disappointed when they closed for their usual vacation in the summer of 1968 and never reopened. The diner was reportedly moved to a salvage yard and never survived.

The model was not built to any particular scale such as 1/24, etc. I just used graph paper to draw a representational plan that was in perspective and looked right to me. The model ended up being approximately 30 inches long. At the time of the SCA event in June of 95, the exterior had been completed. I had accomplished this level of completion in a few short weeks and took the photos which were processed in February of 95.

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My large, scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner from the group of photos I brought along to the SCA New England Diner Weekend to show interested people. By the way it is sitting on an actual Worcester Lunch Car table….

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Second view of the scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner

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Third view of the scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner

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Fourth view of the scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner

As I said, Michael and I met sometime during the New England Diner weekend, in fact it may have been at the stop we made to the Modern Diner in Pawtucket, RI. I showed him the photos of my Star Lite Diner model and he immediately was enthusiastic about what I had accomplished. I do recall he asked about the scale of it and told him I did not use any particular scale. We quickly found out that we lived about 7 minutes or so (by car) from each other. I was living on Osborne Road in Medford, about 2 blocks from the town line with Winchester. He lived about a mile and a half from there near the center of town. We made arrangements for me to visit with him soon after and I brought the model with me. We visited at his home for an hour or so and he was impressed with my diner model and how improvised it was with little or no materials other than balsa and bass wood and other items I used to create it. Now don’t get me wrong, I think I did pretty well for this attempt to build the model but my expertise was nowhere in the same ballpark as Michael’s modelling experience. Be that as it may, little did I know that this chance encounter may have actually led to Michael’s near future project of creating Elgin Park….

During that early  visit, Michael dragged out a paper bag filled with advertising match books when he found out I collected those. In that whole bag, there was one match book from Duffs Diner & Dining Room in Winchester, VA. It was a very odd size, overly large (4.25″ long x 3.35″ wide, closed) but a real beauty. He donated it to my collection…

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Front view of Duff’s Diner Matchbook

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Back view of Duff’s Diner Matchbook

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Inside view of Duff’s Diner Matchbook with only a small amount of matches

After we visited that day in 1995 we did not keep in touch and I certainly had no clue that this whole “Elgin Park” project would evolve within the next few years. Fast Forward 20 plus years later after I discovered that it was he who had been behind all those wonderful diorama photos, I decided to contact him through his Flickr page and he responded. I asked if he remembered me and he said, yes, of course. So we made arrangements for myself and my wife Denise to visit him on Sunday, June 26, 2016. I brought a copy of each of my Diner books which I signed for him as well as my copy of his 2015 Elgin Park book (for him to sign for me).

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He also gave me a copy of his first Elgin Park book from 2011, which he signed as well. I noticed when he signed my copy of the 2015 Elgin Park book, he also left an inscription that totally floored me and took me by surprise…

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After seeing the inscription, it dawned on me that he considered our 1995 meeting pivotal in his process of going down the road he would travel to end up creating Elgin Park and thus, become internationally known for this endeavor. I was floored by this knowledge as well as humbled. I certainly do not give myself any credit for what Michael accomplished as it was all him and his talent as well as ability to create these lasting images which legions of fans world-wide have enjoyed for years.

Rest In Peace my friend…..

 

Marking 38 years of documenting Diners with my photographs

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My first attempt at photographing a diner. In this case, the By-Pass Diner of Harrisburg, PA – November 29, 1980

It is still amazing to me that the photo featured above would ever snowball into hundreds if not thousands of photos over a span of 38 years (and that’s just counting the diner photos). Truth be told, this was not my first 35mm photo as I had taken other scenic & miscellaneous shots in the 3 or 4 months prior to this one.  But the above photo represents various forces that had finally coalesced into a 38 year personal crusade to document not only the American Diner, but other roadside buildings and businesses before they disappeared.

To this day I will tell you that I am not a technically trained photographer, I still basically employ a point and shoot kind of approach. But I can say that I am a camera geek and own many cameras. From a collection of Kodak Brownies and Instamatics, as well as five or six 35mm film cameras and close to a half dozen digital cameras. This also is curious because I can recall my feelings were quite ambivalent about photography back in the mid-to late 1970s.

These feelings toward photography started to change after meeting my long-time friend and travel companion, Steve Repucci. Our paths crossed toward the end of 1976 when I started a new job at Analogic Corporation, a company I had previously worked for briefly when I was still in High School in the Spring of 1970. We did not connect right away as we were in different departments. In fact I first became friendly with Steve’s brother Scott (who also was employed there) before I eventually socialized with Steve.

Steve and I had bonded a little at work thru passing conversations in the coming months of 1977 into early 1978. This bond was sealed further during an impromptu  camping trip to Lake George, NY on June 24, 1978. We found out that we were kindred spirits who enjoyed taking road trips, etc. I learned that Steve had been an avid photographer using 35mm cameras since his time in the U.S. Air Force during the early 1970s. By 1980, I had seen quite a lot of his photographs and was totally inspired to get into it myself.

So by the Summer of 1980 I had heard that a friend was selling a used 35mm Mamiya 1000 DTL, (which coincidentally was Steve Repucci’s first 35mm camera). I actually went and bought the camera with my older brother Steve and we shared it for about 1/2 a year before I sold him my half and got a new camera. The Mamiya was the camera I used for all my diner photos from November 29, 1980 into the Spring of 1981 when I got the first of two Chinon 35mm cameras. I later graduated to owning two Pentax 35mm cameras, the last one was my go-to camera until 2008.

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A Mamiya 1000DTL similar to my first 35mm camera .

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A photo of yours truly standing in Medford Square (Medford, Mass.)
Possibly the only photo showing me with the Mamiya 1000 DTL 35mm SLR.
(1981 Photo by Joe Fortunato)

Since that first photo of the By-Pass Diner, I have gone on to document over 860 diners, most are factory-built classic diners while others were home-made or on-site establishments. I have photographed some old neon signs and various roadside buildings as well.

I started to experiment with digital photography circa 2000 or so while continuing with film cameras. Gradually I was taking more and more digital shots for a few years until the last roll of film came out of the Pentax with photos from 2005 thru 2008. I realized that it was not worth using the film cameras anymore and decided to make the switch totally when I bought the Pentax K200 Digital SLR at that point.

This brings me to 2018 and I now carry 3 digital cameras in my bag. The Pentax K200 DSLR, a Nikon Coolpix P7800 and the newest – a Olympus E-PL29. This last one is a brand-new retro version of an Olympus PEN model that was very popular for years, starting in 1959. I have yet to shoot any diners with this one as I have had a skin ulcer on my left foot since the end of July which has kept me in a cast. When the foot is healed I hope to get back out and take some photos.

Also, in the last 2 years or so I have been diligently scanning all of my 35mm slides and prints to create a digital archive. I have completed the slides and am now slogging thru the prints. The prints take more time to scan, clean and enhance. It helps to have patience to do this because it is very gratifying to see the finished image. This process has made me appreciate the early diner photos even more. I am pleasantly surprised at how decent a lot of these shots actually are. The following images are some of my early favorites….

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Collin’s Diner – Canaan, Connecticut
Photo from October 3, 1982

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Hightstown Diner – Hightstown, New Jersey
Photo from May 31, 1982

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Norm’s Diner – Groton, Connecticut
Photo from September 18, 1982

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Ruby’s Silver Diner – Schenectady, New York
Photo from October 2, 1982

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Salem Diner – Salem, Massachusetts
Photo from May, 1982

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Tom Sawyer Diner – Allentown, Pennsylvania
Photo from February 26, 1982

11th Anniversary for Diner Hotline blog

Well, another year has rolled around. October 31st marks the 11th year this blog has been up and running. Granted, I have not posted much for most of this year as I have been feverishly scanning the photo archives, 35mm slides and prints (this scanning process started in earnest in the last year and a half).  I started shooting 35mm photos in the summer of 1980 and documented the first diner on November 29, 1980. The slides are all scanned (diner & non-diner shots) effectively covering a span of 35 years, (I switched from 35mm print film to slide film circa March of 1983).

Most Diner Hotline readers know, but for those who do not, my obsession with diners started  when I was very young. I had been very observant as a child, whenever we were going on errands around town or just little road trips in and around the Bay State, I always noticed places along the roadside. Diners seem to always catch my eye and in the late 1950s into the early 1960s, there were still plenty of them here in New England. The seed of knowledge was planted when I was approximately 5 or 6 years old when I asked my dad about this building we used to pass on Mystic Avenue in South Medford near the Somerville town line.

It was a blue colored building with a rounded roof that featured “Old English” lettering on it that said Star (left side of the center entrance) and Lite (to the right of the entrance). My question to my dad was, is that a railroad car? He answered no, it is a restaurant called a diner. He went on to explain that diners were built in factories and were designed to resemble railroad cars. The Star Lite Diner was a 1948 vintage Worcester Lunch Car and a huge amount of the diners in our area looked similar to the Star Lite as Worcester Lunch Car Company was the local diner builder.

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There is only one photo that exists of the Star Lite Diner
the above is my colorized version. Note: the trim along the
roof and overhang should actually be yellow…

So basically my obsession was intact very early and I have memories of eating at quite a few diners when I was a kid including the Star Lite, Bobbie’s Diner and Carroll’s Colonial Diner, all in my hometown of Medford as well as others in the area. In fact I hung out at Carroll’s for a few years after graduating from high school in 1979. The diner was a large “L” shaped structure with huge windows and an additional dining room addition that was open 24-7 through the 1970s.

After purchasing my first “new” vehicle (as opposed to a used vehicle), a 1979 Chevy van, I was able to increase the area of my own little road trips without the worry of a vehicle breakdown. I started going on Sunday morning road trips with my good friend Steve Repucci which always started at a diner, originally Genia’s Diner in North Woburn, Mass. We eventually decided to start visiting other diners that we either knew about or just drove in search of a diner thus determining the direction to drive in.

The late 1970s saw the publication of two watershed books on Diners. The first was the 1978 Diners by artist John Baeder. This featured paintings and sketches  in color and black & white along with some wonderful text in John Baeder’s distinctive style of story telling.

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The second book was American Diner by Richard Gutman and Elliot Kaufman (in collaboration with David Slovic) published in 1979. This became the first book ever to delve into the history of diners.

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In 1980, another book was published called Diners of The Northeast by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink. This was a guide to a selection of diners in New Jersey, New York and New England. This was actually the first book that I bought and it became the catalyst that sparked my interest in diners to a fever pitch.

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The diner obsession lead to my photographing over 860 diners in almost 38 years. I became a member of the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) in 1981 which eventually lead to me contributing to the SCA publications in the form of the first ever regular column called Diner Hotline (1989-2007). I retired the SCA Diner Hotline column in 2007 and began the Diner Hotline weblog as stated on October 31, 2007. The blog also lead to the publishing of my own two books, Classic Diners of Massachusetts (2011) and New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries (2014).

I hope to be increasing the amount of blog posts soon as the digital archive of my photos and slides are now closer to completion.

Singer-Songwriter to do East Coast Diner Tour to promote album.

I recently heard from Alexi Paraschos, a self described soul/pop artist currently living in Philadelphia. Hailing originally from the Boston suburb of Newton, (he graduated Newton North High School, 2005) and attended Tufts University 2009. Prior to moving to Philly, he has spent most of his life in the Boston area. Alexi began writing songs when he was eleven years old.

Alexi told me that since moving to Philly, he has connected with some great producers and is about to release his next album, entitled “25/8”. The idea behind 25/8 is a step beyond 24/7–being passionate about someone or something you believe in. That was how he ended up coming up with the unique idea to promote the album. Basically he plans to travel around the East Coast on a sort of “Diner Tour”. He goes on to say that he sees diners as places that are usually open around the clock, helping people to refuel. Plus, he thought, who wouldn’t enjoy listening to some soulful music at 11:30 at night while eating some bacon and eggs!

It was also, in researching the idea that he came across the profound connection that diners have to Greek Americans. He says being the son of a proud Greek immigrant father, I felt like I was the perfect person to pull off this idea.

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Alexi Paraschos, publicity photo courtesy of his website

During our conversation, Alexi mentioned that growing up in Newton, he frequented the Knotty Pine Lunch in the Auburndale section of that city. The Knotty Pine, although not a factory built diner is a great local restaurant with the menu, ambiance and service one typically associates with a great neighborhood diner.

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The Knotty Pine Lunch located at 295 Auburn St, in the Auburndale
section of Newton. Photo by Larry Cultrera

I asked Alexi what diners he frequented in Philly and he told me that “I’ve gone to a bunch of the diners here–Oregon Diner, Silk City Diner (which is actually one of the most popular live music spots in the city), the Melrose Diner, and a couple of the newer, high end diners City Diner and Continental Diner”.  He also mentioned he does make it back to Boston fairly often and was actually just in Boston on Monday night, February 19th at Victoria’s Diner doing a “test show” for the tour. He included a short video of part of his performance at the Vic here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKdqoqIxGC4&feature=youtu.be

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Victoria’s Diner in Boston. Photo by Larry Cultrera

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Alexi Paraschos publicity photo, courtesy of his website

For more info, Alexi has a YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/user/alexisongs as well as his website https://www.alexisongs.com/ .

Alexi has also got a Kickstarter fund going on right now to help finance the East Coast Diner Tour that he will embark on this coming June… if anyone is interested in helping him out, check out this video…

I hope to catch his Diner Tour Kick-off show at Victoria’s Diner, Friday, June 1, 2018.

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Alexi Paraschos, publicity photo from his website

 

37 years down the road…

It is still hard to even wrap my brain around the fact that I took my very first “Diner” photograph 37 years ago on November 29, 1980! Although my interest in Diners goes back to the 1950s when I was around 5 or 6 years old, the groundwork for this first “Diner” photo op was a few months in the making. I had purchased a used 35mm camera in the summer of 1980 and started taking some scenic photos after being inspired by my pal Steve Repucci.

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The Bypass Diner, Herr Street in Harrisburg, PA. The first “Diner”
photograph featuring my blue 1979 Chevy Van parked in front!

To backtrack a little, Steve and I crossed paths after I had started a new job in September of 1976 at Analogic Corporation in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Steve had been employed there since 1974. We became acquainted through our shared employment between 1976 and all thru 1977, but did not socialize much outside of work until June 24, 1978, when we had gone on a camping trip to the Lake George, NY area for a weekend.

After that weekend, we became fast friends and I soon learned of Steve’s passion for 35mm photography! At that time I had always had a Kodak Instamatic camera around just for taking snapshots. I was not an avid photographer at all. But seeing some of the photos that Steve shot inspired me to look at photography seriously as a new hobby.

In April of 1979, another critical high point came when I purchased my first brand-new vehicle, a 1979 Chevy Van. From 1971 until that April, I had always owned used vehicles which got me around adequately enough, but there was always that looming cloud of possible mechanical problems which could hinder long distance travel. In purchasing the new van, this cloud had finally dissipated! In fact during that year, Steve and I had started our weekly Sunday morning short road trips, usually stopping for breakfast at local diners. This got our heads wrapped around the idea of tailoring the Sunday morning ride destinations either driving to already known diners to just flat out exploring to find new places to have breakfast.

So with the purchase of the new van in 1979, this allowed me the opportunity to increase the scope of my traveling. And then with the subsequent purchase of my first 35mm camera, the stage was set that led me to that first “Diner” photo! September of 1980, Steve had realized his plans of moving to Harrisburg, PA for a change of scene. A good friend of his from the U.S. Air Force, Ed Womer, lived there and gave Steve the incentive to relocate.

I was one of the people who helped in getting Steve moved (owning a van back then, I was always being asked to help people move). So this was my first time traveling to Pennsylvania. On that initial trip, I noticed a few diners while I was there, although I do not recall eating in any on that trip. It was the next time down over the long Thanksgiving Day weekend when I took that first shot of the Bypass Diner which was a mile or so from where Steve and Ed had their shared apartment. Nowadays, the Bypass Diner still exists although it has been operated as the American Dream Diner for many years.

Now that 37 years have elapsed and I have photographed over 860 diners in that time. I can’t help but think back on this personal trip, especially since I have been scanning all my slides and photos in earnest for the last 2 and 1/2 years, (I stopped using 35mm film and went fully digital in 2008). With this scanning project, I am building up my digital archive of photos. It seems that whenever I scan any particular photo, be that of a diner or any other miscellaneous subject, I tend to relive those days.

But really, it all started when I was a kid, living in Medford, Massachusetts. My dad Sebastian “Sam” Cultrera loved diners and was the guy who first told me about them. He brought me out to breakfast to places like the Star Lite Diner, on Mystic Ave. in Medford…

Star-5
The one and only photo of the Star Lite Diner known to exist.
This is my colorized version (using Photoshop).

The Star Lite was fairly close to my family’s meat market and I also used to ride the delivery bike from the store down to the diner for lunch. I recall playing tunes on the juke box and kibitzing with the owner Jim and his son Richie. They closed for their usual 2 week vacation in the summer of 1968 but unfortunately never reopened. The diner reportedly was moved to a salvage yard in nearby Chelsea, Massachusetts.

starlt3
My large scale scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner.

We also frequented Bobbie’s Diner, also located on Mystic Ave. in Medford. My dad actually supplied hamburger meat and Italian Sausage to Bobbie’s Diner from our family meat market, the Blue Eagle Market.

Bobbie's-new-scan
My one and only photo of Bobbie’s Diner, not long before it
was demolished.

Bobbie's-2_July-1981
I was driving by one morning and saw that the diner had been
dismantled and placed in a dumpster.

Bobbie's-3_July-1981
The next day it was almost completely gone…

Later, when I became friends with David Hebb, he gave me one of his definitive photos of Bobbie’s Diner for my collection…

Bobbie's-Diner_David-Hebb-photo
David Hebb’s photo of Bobbie’s Diner from circa 1980 or so.

I have since learned a bit of the history of this diner and that it was located prior to World War II in Haines Square a commercial center just off the Fellsway in Medford.
It was originally known as Jack’s Diner. The family that owned it moved it in the early 1940s to the yard adjacent to their home for a few years before relocating it to Mystic Avenue where it again operated as Jack’s before being sold.

Jack's
Jack’s Diner being moved from Haines Square.

The last diner to operate in Medford was Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car, a circa 1961 vintage Swingle Diner. This replaced 2 earlier diners at its location on Main Street. I recall my family going for breakfast on Easter morning after church for a couple of years when this diner was brand new. Later, after graduating from high school, Carroll’s became the go-to hang out for my friends and I for quite a few years.

car2-82a
A night-time photo I shot in the winter of 1982

Carrolls-8-83
Carroll’s Diner, from a photo I shot in 1983.

Carroll’s closed in 1986 and was demolished to make way for a new office building. More recently the Carroll family opened a new restaurant a couple of blocks away just off Medford Square called Carroll’s Bar & Grill.

Carroll's-10_5-2-2012
Carroll’s Bar & Grill on Main Street in Medford Square.
May 5, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

When I started this trip 37 years ago, little did I know that it would eventually lead to me writing this blog as well as 2 books. I want to give a shout-out to all the friends I have made during this journey, chief among them, Richard J.S. Gutman, John Baeder, David Hebb and all the diner owners I have come to know personally. I wonder what the next decade or two might have in store???

 

 

10 years of Blogging – Diner Hotline style!

LAC-on-10-13-17-at-2.11-PM
I know I have been largely absent from blogging this past year. This has been to my on-going project of scanning all of my 35mm slides (diners and other things, etc.) as well as another personal project I volunteered for last year. The other project involved creating a 100th Anniversary book for my local Catholic church which is winding down at this point and I hope to get it to the printer in the next 2 weeks. I have been extremely active on Facebook and even created a new page called got diners? This page is made up of a good amount of output from the scanning of my diner photos from the last 2 years.

got-diners-
you can find this page at… https://www.facebook.com/got.diners/

But I could not ignore the fact that today is October 31st, a milestone for me! It has been 10 years since Diner Hotline weblog made its debut! I hope to start regular blog posts again with this being the first of more to come.

HAPPY DINERING!