Diners from my youth

I grew up in Medford, Mass., 5 miles north of Boston. In the late 50’s and early 60’s there were many diners in the area still doing business. It seems every city or town had at least one or more diners. Medford had at least 5 diners around 1958.

There were 2 Valentine diners that had started out as part of a short lived chain called Howard Rust’s Radamat. They featured an early version of microwave cooking. This chain did not last long and the 2 in Medford became separate entities, one became the Humpty Dumpty Diner and was located on Riverside Avenue @ the corner of River Street in Medford Square (demolished circa 1960) and the other had various names such as the Jumbo Diner (for the Tufts University mascot) and the White House Cafe among others. This one was on Boston Avenue across from the Tufts campus and lasted into the early 1970’s. Personally, I do not remember the one in Medford Square but do remember the one on Boston Avenue. I have a color xerox of the actual postcard for the chain (front view only) and it depicts the Medford Square location.

There were 2 diners on Mystic Avenue, the Star Lite Diner was located close to the Medford/Somerville line and was a 1948 vintage Worcester Lunch Car (#817). It was where the Burger King is now. It closed abruptly in 1968 (I believe), I was a semi-regular customer along with my dad and brothers and remember Jim & his son Richie. They closed for their usual 2 -week vacation and never reopened. I heard years later that they may have lost the diner through gambling (not substantiated). This was my first big diner loss.

The other diner on Mystic Avenue was located at 33 Mystic Ave. and was called Bobbie’s Diner. This diner was originally located in Haines Square in Medford and was known as Jack’s. This was a mid-to-late 1920’s vintage Jerry O’Mahony diner. It operated at Haines Square prior to WWII and was moved into storage for a few years prior to being relocated to Mystic Ave. by the early 50’s. It was still called Jack’s after the move. I started working for my dad at his meat market circa 1965 as a delivery boy and this is when I started frequenting diners with my dad for breakfast. The Star Lite and Bobbie’s were definite stops and we also supplied hamburg and italian sausages to Bobbie’s. Bobbie’s survived until the early 1980’s.

The longest running diner in Medford was Carroll’s Diner. Located on Main Street diagonally across from the beginning of Mystic Avenue, there were historically 3 different versions of Carroll’s. The first from 1930 – 1948 was a Brill Diner which stood in front of an existing building that had an attached section to the rear that were formerly stables for the Medford House, an old Inn that use to sit next door at the corner of Main & South Sts. The building behind the diner housed Maurice Carroll’s other business, the Medford Battery Company.

In late 1948 (around the same time the Star Lite Diner was delivered to Mystic Ave.) A brand new stainless steel Jerry O’Mahony diner was delivered to Main Street. At this time the building behind the first Carroll’s was altered by removing 10 or 15 feet of the front so they could push back the old diner on the lot, making room for the new one. The old diner became the kitchen for the new diner and the new combined entity of Carroll’s was advertised on a matchbook cover as a “Modern diner in Historic Medford”. By this time it was being run by brothers Maurice, Jr. and John F. (Jack) Carroll.

This diner was replaced by 1962 when a brand new 3-piece Swingle Diner was delivered (August, 1961) and set-up nextdoor along with a large on-site kitchen and function room complex. When the new diner was open for business, the 1948 diner was brought back to Swingle’s factory in Middlesex, NJ to be rehabbed. It was resold in 1964 and moved along with an add-on diningroom to Umbria Street in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia where today it is operating as the Domino Diner. The original Brill diner was more than likely demolished along with the front part of the older pre-existing building. The back section was completely rebuilt in brick to match the kitchen/function room behind the new diner and became added space for functions.

The 1961 vintage Swingle, billed as Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car was the diner I recall going to for breakfast after church with the family on Easter Sunday for a couple of years. It operated until the early 1970’s when the Carroll family decided to remove the counters and stools of this “L” shaped diner and renamed it Carroll’s Restaurant. A new building was added to the right side of the diner that housed a diningroom with offices on the second floor and another function room downstairs in the basement. It was during this point in time that I was hanging out with my friends at Carroll’s, it was centrally located and open 24 hours. It was very convenient.

After I started photographing diners in 1980, I would occasionally patronize Carroll’s as it became the last survivor in Medford. I was there one day in 1985 and talking with Maurice Carroll, Jr. as well as his sons Tom and Paul. I was attempting to get copies of old pictures from them for my collection (I eventually did get some). During this conversation with Maury, I was explaining my facination with diners and said after all, this is the last diner in Medford, and he said “oh, it’s not a diner anymore”. I then said to him, you can call it what you want, but both you and I know this was built in a diner factory in New Jersey. In fact when the diner closed in 1986, Maury was quoted in the local newspaper that no matter what they did to the restaurant to try to get away from the diner image, everyone still referred to it as Carroll’s Diner!

One more Carroll’s memory I have is that in early 1986 I was interviewed for an article that was published in the November, 1986 edition of Smithsonian Magazine. This was one of the first major articles on diners and I was honored to be a part of it. I met the writer, Donald Dale Jackson at Carroll’s where he conducted the initial interview. I found out that he was also interviewing John Carroll, Jr. for the article. John and I later became friends from around 1992 until his untimely death from cancer in 1996. I have to say Carroll’s is still missed by a lot of people, including myself!