I visited the Rosebud Diner in Somerville, Mass. the other evening after work, and had a nice dinner and talk with owner Bill Nichols. The Rosebud is a Worcester semi-streamlined model dating from 1941. I have been going to the Rosebud Diner since I first started documenting diners with photographs back in the early 1980’s. But I remember it from my youth in the 50’s and 60’s when my Dad would drive by it on the way to Porter Square in Cambridge. The diner had been primarily used as a bar/lounge from 1957 through 1990 or so. I recall looking at it and thinking this bar looks like so many diners I was familiar with. Knowing that diners were built in factories from a young age, I thought that maybe diner factories sold them to be used as bars also. Oh well, live and learn!
I found out later that the diner of course started out serving food until Bill’s Dad, Gally bought the diner in 1957. He continued to run it as it had been briefly. The story goes, one day the cooks came in to work and found out the kitchen had been closed and they were out of a job. Sometime in the early 1970’s, the Nichols removed an old canvas awning from the front of the diner and hid the monitor-style roof with a mansard that hung down over the windows slightly, acting like an awning. But there were also recessed lights shining down on the front facade.
Fast forward to 1980-81 when I start taking photos of diners, I made a definitive shot of the Rosebud which I considered one of my best. I shot it from the farthest side of the little triangular park that separates Summer Street from Elm Street, across from the diner. The diner was perfectly framed by trees on the left and the right making the diner look like it was more in a country setting rather than an urban, in-town location. I later gave an 8″ x 12″ enlargement of this to Bill who placed it in a frame and proudly featured it behind the counter on the wall for 8 or 9 years. For a number of years in the 1980’s the Rosebud was a Tuesday night stop for myself and Steve Repucci for some beers, usually after having a meal at either Depasquale’s Pizzeria, Rudy’s Cafe or even Carroll’s Diner. We always would say to Bill, “hey, why don’t you take the mansard off this”. He would usually laugh at us, but understood why we wanted to see this happen.
Around 1989 or 90, the Nichols family sold the diner (but held the mortgage) and it eventually became the Cuckoo’s Nest that served a limited menu (Tex-Mex I believe) for a few years. The owners defaulted on the mortgage around 1994 and the Nichols reacquired the property through land court and decided to bring the building back as a diner. One Saturday evening after they started the work to bring the diner back to a more reasonable appearence, I had a message on my answering machine. It said “Larry, it’s Billy Nichols. We took the mansard off the diner”. I started laughing when I heard this! I probably went right over the next day and took some shots.
Well the Rosebud reopened on President’s Day, 1995 and has been going strong ever since. It has gotten some good publicity, which has helped business. It has also been placed on the National Register of Historic Places (The Massachusetts Multiple Listing). Around 1997 or so, I created the Rosebud Diner postcard from a digitally enhanced version of a photo I shot on opening day. In this enhanced shot I replaced the washed out sky and restored the right hand end wall of the diner to a more original appearance (which has since actually been done). I also designed the logo for their “diner style” coffee mug.
My visit the other day was partially business as I picked up a marked-up breakfast menu to be redesigned. I have been doing this desktop publishing thing for 12 plus years and I am finally getting a chance to do a diner menu! For anyone who has not been there, the Rosebud Diner is located at 381 Summer Street, in Davis Square, Somerville, Mass.