Diner Hotline Weblog – an even dozen years and counting….

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I am sure a fair portion of people who read this blog are aware that Diner Hotline had started out as the first ever regular column that appeared in two of the publications made available to the members of the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA). It first showed up in 1989 in the original News Journal which was a newsletter for the organization. Later on in 1991, the publication was split into a newsletter called the SCA News and a magazine called the SCA Journal. I was given a choice as to where I wanted Diner Hotline to appear and chose the Journal. The column ran until September of 2007. Shortly thereafter, I was influenced by my good friend Brian Butko to think about morphing the Hotline into a blog.

So on October 31, 2007 the Diner Hotline Weblog made it’s debut with a short post. Over the years I have kept true to my mission of posting about “Diners, Drive-ins and other Roadside Stuff”, making it a little more diversified than the original Diner Hotline column.

https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/about/

Although the frequency of posts has diminished greatly over the last 6 years or more, I am committed to keeping this alive with the occasional post as the spirit moves me. I am currently expanding the digital library of photos I have shot over the last 39 years. I have completed the 35mm slide scanning and currently am working on the 3 plus years of 35mm prints I had shot prior to switching to slide film. The scanning and cleaning of the prints has proved to be hugely time-consuming but I am very pleased with the results thus far.

I hope that people will continue to check in here from time to time and like what I have to say. Also, I do have some Facebook pages that I post photos, etc to, including “Diner Hotline”, “Got Diners”, “Classic Diners of Massachusetts”, New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries” and of course my personal Facebook page “Larry Cultrera”….

New Hampshire Diner presentation, Friday, October 11, 2019 – Plaistow, NH Public Library

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I will be doing a slide presentation in conjunction with the Plaistow Historical Society this coming Friday afternoon. It will be held at the Plaistow Public Library, 85 Main Street (Route 121A) at 3:00 PM. I will have a small supply of my books (Classic Diners of Massachusetts) and (New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries) for sale as well. The slide presentation is based on my NH Diners book, but slightly expanded.

A friend’s recent book launch leads to my first real “Diner” road-trip in many years!

As you may have noticed, this is my first blog post in a while. Again I apologize for the infrequent posts but I have been scanning my collection of 35mm slides and prints, which has consumed a lot of spare time for a few years. The slides are all scanned but the prints take more time. The outcome so far is that the digital archive of Diner photos is growing.

Starting this past June, I have officially “Semi-retired” from my job, working only Tuesday thru Thursday, with 4 day weekends. That being said, an opportunity arose to actually plan a road-trip to New Jersey (which took place at the end of September). Now the last time I was even in the Garden State was just over 21 years ago – in June of 1998 to be exact.

The opportunity that presented itself was the publishing of a new book by my friend Michael Gabriele of Clifton, New Jersey. The book is his 5th book overall published by The History Press and 2nd book about New Jersey Diners. The new book is entitled Stories From New Jersey Diners: Monuments To Community. Gabriele had announced within the last couple of months that he would be having an official book launch at the Nutley (NJ) Museum on the evening of September 27th, a Friday night. This fit in perfectly with my new 4-day weekend schedule. I was actually thinking about keeping it a surprise and just showing up, but immediately nixed that idea, mainly because there were a few people I wanted to see when I got down there. So I let Michael Gabriele in on the possibility of my attending and he was extremely enthusiastic about my proposed plan and encouraged me to make the effort.

At the top of the list of people I wanted to get together with was Donald Kaplan, co-author of the very first book on Diners I ever bought, Diners Of The Northeast! I refer to this book along with Diners by John Baeder and American Diner by Richard J.S. Gutman & Elliott Kaufman as the Holy Trinity of Diner books that came out in the late 1970s and into 1980.

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Cover of the original edition of Diners Of The Northeast, by
Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink, the first “Diner” book that
I purchased circa October, 1980.

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The cover sleeve of the original hard cover edition of
American Diner by Richard Gutman & Elliott Kaufman.
The second “Diner” book which I purchased in late 1980.

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The cover of the first edition of Diners by John Baeder.
This is the third “Diner” book I purchased, circa January, 1981.

Even though I may have been aware of the books authored by John Baeder (Diners) and Richard Gutman (American Diner) had been published in 1978 and 1979 respectively, Donald Kaplan and his co-author Alan (now Allyson) Bellink’s book came out around September of 1980 right at the flash point where my diner awareness was just starting to take hold.

I had been a diner aficionado since I was very young and already started taking Sunday morning road-trips with my pal Steve Repucci since late 1979 to discover (or rediscover) diners for Sunday morning breakfasts. Also, I had just purchased my first 35mm camera and the thought was beginning to form in my brain to document these diners that were fast disappearing from the landscape here in New England. I estimate that I purchased Diners Of The Northeast sometime in October of 1980 and it swung the door wide open for the almost 40 year obsession that followed!

I purchased the other books American Diner and Diners within 3 months and had started taking my first tentative photos as well as expanding my already existent post card collection with a “diner category”. Now early in 1981, I had met and become friends with Richard Gutman and about a year later the same happened with John Baeder. But connecting with the co-authors Kaplan & Bellink did not happen until 1996 when I met briefly with Alan Bellink at a diner-related get together. My budding friendship with Donald Kaplan started much later (2010 or so) thru Facebook. Donald, (who lives in the Bronx) and I have become fast friends in the last couple of years. We speak at least once a week. I of course let Donald Kaplan in on my plans for a trip down toward New York and New Jersey.

So as far as the proposed New Jersey road-trip, I convinced my wife Denise that we should do this. Believe me, that is a very hard sell with her. I got reservations at the Hampton Inn in Carlstadt (near the Meadowlands Sports Complex) which put me in a very central location for where I wanted to be. I had called my old friend Arnie Corrado to let him know of my plans. Arnie, who along with his late father Ralph, owned and operated Rosie’s Diner in Little Ferry, NJ until they sold and closed it in 1990. We had lost touch for a number of years until I made the effort about 6 years ago and we have been in constant contact since.

There were other people I planned to meet up with at the event. These people included Les Cooper (from the family that manufactured Silk City Diners), Gloria Nash from Queens, NY (who I actually met within the last couple of months in Massachusetts), Mark Oberndorf ( a painter of vernacular buildings as well as homes, etc.) and Alex Panko (who, with his family owned and operated the Peterpank Diner in Sayreville, New Jersey).

Which brings us to the weekend of September 27 thru 29th of 2019. Denise and I left Saugus around 3:30 AM on Friday (the27th). We made our first stop for coffee and a bathroom break at the Vernon Diner which is located at Exit 65 right off of I-84 southbound in Connecticut. This place is an easy off/on to the highway and is housed in a former Howard Johnson’s Restaurant. The place is nicely done up as a modern diner including a vast display case of baked goods. Unfortunately, it was dark and I did not get photos.

Our next stop was Exit 10 in Newtown, CT. I wanted to get new photos of the Sandy Hook Diner, a small barrel-roofed diner that probably dates to the 1920s. After those photos, we drove back to the nicely redone Blue Colony Diner at the exit to have another coffee and bathroom break. I had photographed both of these diners back in the early 1980s. The Sandy Hook had not changed significantly but the Blue Colony, originally built by Manno Diners had a complete makeover in the last 20 or so years, done by DeRaffele Diner Company.

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The Sandy Hook Diner, Newtown, Connecticut.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019

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The Blue Colony Diner, Newtown, Connecticut.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019

Continuing on, we got back on I-84 and made it to Exit 2B on the western end of Danbury, before the New York state line. Taking U.S. Route 6 to NY Route 22 in Brewster, NY, we continued driving south to North White Plains. We took I-287 west to Exit 1 in Elmsford and got Route 119 south past the Eldorado Diner to the Saw Mill River Parkway and headed south on that road until it became the Henry Hudson Parkway. We got off at Exit 23 and headed south on Broadway through the Bronx to 231st Street. We continued west on 231st to Tibbett Avenue and south one block to the Tibbett Diner, where we met up with Donald Kaplan.

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The Tibbett Diner, 3033 Tibbett Avenue, Bronx, New York.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019

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Donald Kaplan & Larry Cultrera outside the Tibbett Diner.
Photo by Denise Cultrera, September 27, 2019

After meeting up and spending some time with Donald, he convinced me to head a few miles south on Broadway to take the George Washington Bridge over to New Jersey, instead of going back to the Tappan Zee area and taking the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge over to the Garden State. I took his advice and it worked out fine, saving us some time. After crossing the GWB, we headed toward Little Ferry on Route 46 and contacted Arnie Corrado. We made plans to meet at the White Manna Diner in nearby Hackensack. No sooner did I get off the phone with Arnie, Michael Gabriele called to see where we were. I informed him of the White Manna plans and he immediately said he would meet us there…

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The White Manna Diner, 358 River Street, Hackensack, New Jersey.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019

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Michael Gabriele, Larry Cultrera & Arnie Corrado at the White
Manna Diner. Photo by Denise Cultrera, September 27, 2019

Now Michael Gabriele and I have been friends for around 6 years since he contacted me after he contracted to do his first New Jersey diner book for our publisher, The History Press. But until the 27th of September, we had never met face-to-face! At the White Manna, Michael, Arnie and I partook of some wonderful sliders and enjoyed the atmosphere of this fantastically preserved Paramount Diner. Afterward, Michael went home and Denise and I visited with Arnie briefly at his home in Little Ferry before heading to our hotel to check in. After we were settled in our hotel room, we went out and searched for a late lunch and found the Candlewyck Diner in East Rutherford, NJ. The Candlewyck is a circa 1970s vintage Kullman Diner that was renovated on site in recent years and the new look, inside and out represents yet another evolution in diner design!

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The Candlewyck Diner 179 Paterson Street,
East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Photograph by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019.

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Michael Gabriele’s new book published by The History Press.

So, the major reason to come to New Jersey was to attend the launch of Michael Gabriele’s new book at the Nutley Museum. In fact I was slated to give a short slide presentation along with Michael and the other guest speaker, Les Cooper. It was lucky I had spoken with Michael on the afternoon before the trip. He informed me that the Museum’s laptop computer was on the fritz and wondered if I was bringing my own laptop PC. I of course was bringing it to use to get online, etc when I was at the hotel. So the evening of the book launch we setup with the museum’s large screen TV and fired up Power Point….

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Gloria Nash, Arnie Corrado and Denise Cultrera attending
book launch event at the Nutley Museum. Photo by
Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019.

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Michael Gabriele speaking at the Nutley Museum.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, Spetember 27, 2019.

I also finally got to meet Alex Panko and Les Cooper both of whom I have known for a few years but had never met. Alex was a trip, pretty much the way I expected, he is extremely outgoing (not to mention a little hyper, he drinks an ton of Coca Cola). Les was also pretty much the person I expected, interesting and well spoken.

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Larry Cultrera, Alex Panko and Les Cooper at the Nutley Museum.
Photo by Denise Cultrera, September 27, 2019

The next morning (Saturday the 28th), Denise and I went to have breakfast at the Bendix Diner on Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights. It was wonderful to see all the neon in working order. The diner itself, a rare Master Diner, is really starting to show its age, both inside and out unfortunately. I shot some photos as the morning light was coming up and then revisited it in the early afternoon to get great daytime shots…

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Bendix Diner, Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey.
Early morning photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019

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Bendix Diner, Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey.
Early afternoon photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019

Around mid-morning, Denise and I drove over to Michael Gabriele’s home in Clifton and met his wife Julie as well as one of his sons (sorry Mike, I forgot his name). Then Michael gave us a little tour around the area to let me document some diners that I had not previously photographed. Let me say the light for taking photos this particular weekend was totally perfect and I lucked out. The following places were shot during that little excursion with Michael.

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The Colonial Diner, 27 Orient Way in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.
This is a 1950 vintage Mountain View Diner modified with that
new roof topper and sign, while maintaining the original design.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019.

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The Red Hawk Diner located on the campus of
Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019.

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The Park West Diner on Route 46. A nicely renovated Kullman
diner, originally known as the Golden Star Diner in the
Woodland Park/Little Falls area.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019.

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The Little Falls Diner, 11 Paterson Avenue, Little falls, New Jersey.
This place has been closed for many years.

On Sunday morning (the 29th), Denise and I got on the road early and headed north on Route 17. We stopped while it was still dark at the State Line Diner in Mahwah for breakfast! What a great place, I would have loved to get some photos if it were in daylight! We crossed the Hudson on I-287 over the recently completed Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. We reversed our path using the same roads we traveled down on Friday to head back to Connecticut.  On the way up Route 22, we bypassed into Katonah, New York to possibly stop for coffee at the Blue Dolphin Diner. Unfortunately, the diner was not open on Sunday morning and I noticed it is now operating as an upscale bistro. I also noticed the interior was extremely compromised with almost nothing original remaining. Very sad, but at least the outside still looked great.

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The Blue Dolphin Diner, 175 Katonah Avenue, Katonah, New York.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, from September 28, 2019.

Just prior to crossing the state line into Connecticut, we stopped at Bob’s Diner in Brewster. It looks the same as the last time I saw it back in the 1980s with the exception of the paint color on the outside. A nice little downtown diner.

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Bob’s Diner, 27 Main Street in Brewster, New York.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019.

Shortly after crossing the state line, I stopped at the Mill Plain Diner (formerly the Windmill Diner) on Mill Plain Road (U.S. Route 6) in Danbury. I remember this diner as having a brick facade with a mansard roof back in the 1980s. Within the last year or so the place had an extreme makeover, inside and out by DeRaffele Diners and looks fantastic. I heard it is now owned by the same people who have the Blue Colony Diner in Newtown.

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The Mill Plain Diner, 14 Mill Plain Road in Danbury, Connecticut.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, Spetmeber 28, 2019.

To finish off this early fall road-trip, we made one last stop in Connecticut before making it back into Massachusetts. We got off the highway briefly in East Hartford and I revisited a diner I had eaten in back in the 1980s, but never photographed. It has been on my bucket list for a while and I finally got my photos. The AAA Diner is a 1970s vintage brick diner with mansard roof that on the outside still looks similar to the way I remember it. The interior has gotten an update and is now bright and airy….

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The AAA Diner, 1209 Main Street in East Hartford, Connecticut.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 25, 2019.

As I stated earlier, the weather could not have cooperated more than it did for this long-awaited interstate road-trip and I was extremely happy to get the photos I did, as well as meet new friends and reconnect with old friends. I will follow up soon with a review of Michael Gabriele’s book in the near future!

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

duff's-diner-mb-back
Back view of Duff’s Diner Matchbook

duff's-diner-mb-inside

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…

michael-paul-smith-inscription

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

bypass-diner_11-29-1980
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.

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

LAC-1981
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….

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

Hightstown-Diner-2a
Hightstown Diner – Hightstown, New Jersey
Photo from May 31, 1982

Norm's-Diner-2
Norm’s Diner – Groton, Connecticut
Photo from September 18, 1982

Ruby's-Silver-Diner-3
Ruby’s Silver Diner – Schenectady, New York
Photo from October 2, 1982

Salem-Diner-5
Salem Diner – Salem, Massachusetts
Photo from May, 1982

Tom-Sawyer-Diner-1
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.

Star-5
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.

Diners-by-Baeder

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.

American-Diner

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.

Diners-of-Northeast

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.