Ralph Moberly, formerly of Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner dies

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Ralph Moberly, the man who created one of Worcester, Massachusetts more interesting venues for rock and alternative music passed away last Thursday morning suddenly at age 64.  Reportedly suffering a heart attack while visiting in Philadelphia, Mr. Moberly was most recently residing in Vermont. Here is the text of an article that appeared in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette on Friday…

Legendary city eccentric dies Owned Chadwick Square diner

By Scott McLennan Telegram & Gazette Staff

WORCESTER— Friends of Ralph Moberly last night were mourning the loss of one of Worcester’s wildly eccentric characters whose legacy is a one-of-a-kind nightspot that still bears his name six years after he sold it. Mr. Moberly, believed to be 64, apparently suffered a heart attack yesterday morning while visiting Philadelphia. He had been living in Vermont, but was in Worcester earlier this month for the opening of the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.

“I saw him when he came for the opening of the Hanover. He looked great,” said Vincent Hemmeter, who bought Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner from Mr. Moberly. Mr. Hemmeter also worked for Mr. Moberly, joining the staff of Ralph’s Diner in 1986.

“He hired me to work the stage door. Then he gave me the register to the diner. I had to be bartender and he told me, ‘Whatever you don’t know, fake it,’ ” Mr. Hemmeter recalled, the story a fitting vignette about a place that seemed to thrive on improvisational zeal.

Mr. Moberly bought the diner in 1979 and moved it from Route 9 to Prescott Street, affixing it to a warehouse building that would eventually become the premier music club in Worcester. Adorned with classic bar fixtures taken from the Blue Moon Saloon in Milford plus an assortment of eclectic eye candy, Ralph’s created an environment that nurtured all manner of lunacy. Artists, jocks, bikers, musicians and weirdos of any stripe all managed to call Ralph’s theirs as the nightclub became both landmark and booming business in Worcester.

Mr. Moberly, his wife, Carolyn, and their sons Miles and Brigham all worked the diner nightclub. Mr. Moberly opened Bowlers nightclub in 1992 near Ralph’s Diner. Upon separating from his wife and business partner Carolyn, Mr. Moberly took to operating Bowlers and leaving his namesake establishment to Carolyn. In 2000, he reappeared at the diner, quipping that as part of his divorce agreement with Carolyn he “lost the custody battle and got the diner.”

But tired of the business, Mr. Moberly struck a deal to sell Ralph’s Diner to Mr. Hemmeter, who had left the nightclub to open his own namesake bar in 1997.

Mr. Moberly’s enigmatic personality cultivated his legend as someone who was either brilliant or deranged. Most will say he was probably a little of both.

“He was a folk legend,” said Joey Rovezzi of his longtime friend Mr. Moberly. Asked his favorite Ralph story, Mr. Rovezzi shot back, “Being with him in New Orleans and getting drunk with Dr. J.”

The annals of Worcester nightlife are full of such Ralph lore.  “He wasn’t cheated.” Mr. Hemmeter said.

“He lived his life exactly the way he wanted to.”

Funeral arrangements were not clear last night, but celebrations of Mr. Moberly’s life are expected in the coming week.

Plans to move Pennsylvania diner to Vermont scrapped

In a March 1st post I mentioned that there were plans to move the Sunrise Diner of Jim Thorpe, PA to Montpelier, VT. This info according to a piece reported in the Times Argus newspaper said there were problems with the proposed site, in regards to federal and state flood plain regulations. Well now the developer has decided it is not worth the effort and cancelled his plans. Ironically just this week, Randy Garbin of Roadsideonline posted info on a conversation he had with the current owner of the diner in Jim Thorpe who reported that he has not been approached by anyone from Vermont about buying the diner. (you can view this at Randy’s site http://www.btwmagazine.com/ . Here is the text of the new article that came out today in the Times Argus…

Diner’s move to Montpelier is now toast

March 28, 2008


MONTPELIER – Plans to park a vintage 1949 diner in downtown Montpelier have been put off permanently because of flood plain regulations.

Jeff Jacobs, owner of Montpelier Property Management, had plans in the works since last fall to move the diner – currently named the Sunset Diner and sitting empty in Jim Thorpe, Pa. – to an empty lot at 66 Main Street between Splash! and Brooks pharmacy in the heart of the capital.

The property is four feet below the floodplain, which means the diner would need to be elevated at least that amount to meet regulations.

“It would have changed the character of the diner and it would have changed the cost dramatically,” said Kevin Casey, an employee of Jacobs who was put in charge of the project. “I made the choice last week to kill it.”

The guidelines of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Flood Plain Insurance Program require all new buildings to be raised above the base flood elevation. If Jacobs had gone ahead with the project and not raised the diner, he could have put the city at risk of losing federal disaster assistance funds if there was flooding in the future.

He also would have had a hard time getting a tenant to take over the diner without flood insurance, according to Clancy Desmet, Planning and Zoning Administrator for Montpelier. Without being at, or above, floodplain elevation, the structure could not have been able to be insured. The last major flood in downtown Montpelier was in 1992, but city officials routinely keep an eye on the nearby Winooski River every spring out of concern of a repeat occurrence.

“The history of flooding in Montpelier is pretty extensive,” said Desmet, adding that with the help of an architect or engineer, a downtown diner was possible. “The project could have happened.”

Maine’s Farmington Diner moved 4.5 miles down the road

Moving day for the Farmington Diner finally arrived yesterday after quite a few delays. Now the developer can continue with the construction of the new Rite-Aid Pharmacy that is taking the place of the popular eatery.

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Here is a link to a New England Cable News piece on the move..   http://www.necn.com/Boston/New-England/Popular-Farmington-Maine-diner-takes-a-road-trip/1206398496.html

Now the real work begins for new owner Rachel Jackson-Hodsdon who had the diner moved to property she owns in Wilton. This is just a temporary storage site as she has plans to find a new operating location to set it up. These tentative plans include the possibility of using and serving locally grown food, not unlike the Farmer’s Diner in Queechee, VT. As is usually the case in these situations, getting the diner back up and running may take some time and certainly a lot of money, but at least it has been saved from the wrecking ball and may in fact have a new life in the near future. I wish good luck to Ms. Jackson-Hodson and her plans for the Farmington Diner! (I hope her plans include removing that ugly roof covering the diner building).

Springfield Royal Diner reopens under new management

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The Springfield Royal Diner of Springfield, VT reopened last week. Closed for the last year or so this diner is an extremely rare Mahony Diner. Mahony was one of the companies spawned by Jerry O’Mahony Diner Company. According to Dick Gutman’s American Diner Then & Now, the company only built 4 diners and as far as we know this diner could be the last one in existence.

Originally operated in Kingston, NY, where I first encountered it back in the 1980’s when it was called the Royal Diner. It closed in Kingston a few years back and was eventually bought by Matt Aldrich and moved to Springfield. He spent some time cleaning it up and building additions to both the right and left side and installed matching stainless-steel exteriors to these additions  making the whole complex a cohesive blend. These were added on to his existing building which housed his Corvette Museum. Aldrich moved his Corvette collection out of the space the museum operated from within the last 2 years and I believe he replaced it with some sort of lounge. The diner operated for around 6 years but was closed abruptly last year. In fact Matt has been selling off some coffee mugs on ebay recently, (I know, I bought one).

An article appeared in the Rutland Herald on Saturday the 22nd telling of the reopening. It is now called the Springfield Royal Diner and Pancake House. Here is a link to the article… http://www.rutlandherald.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080322/NEWS04/803220333/1003/NEWS02

Jack’s Diner of Albany, NY gets positive review

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The Times-Union newspaper of Albany, NY ran a nice review of Jack’s Diner yesterday. The diner, located on Central Avenue in the State Capital has been a constant fixture since 1947. Jack’s is a rare Comac Diner with alternating bands of green and yellow enamel with stainless steel and rounded corners, basically a very nice streamlined facade. and is in near original condition. Here is the text from the review…

Classic comfort food at Jack’s Diner

By JOSEPH DALTON, Special to the Times Union
First published: Thursday, March 20, 2008

On Easter morning a couple years ago, my partner and I picked up the Sunday papers and headed to the charming Miss Albany Diner for breakfast, only to find it closed. So, instead, we tried Jack’s Diner on Central Avenue. The contrast between the places is dramatic. There’s nothing particularly cute or nostalgic at Jack’s. It’s just a diner. We nicknamed it the Mister Albany. Jack’s has been around since 1947, and for the past 44 years it has been run by owner John J. Murtagh, 78, who still calls himself “the new Jack.” The diner’s heyday was back when Albany’s population was larger and Central Avenue was the destination for shopping. Murtagh says that there were once five General Motors car dealerships within one block, “and there were no McDonald’s or Wendy’s. Thursday nights the shops were open late, and Central Avenue looked like Fifth Avenue in New York.”  Well, maybe there is some nostalgia at Jack’s, after all.I’ve had a couple serviceable breakfasts at the place since that first encounter, but it has been a while, and I’d never gone for lunch until a recent weekday. Though the place was full when I arrived with a friend at around 12:30 p.m., a booth opened rather quickly. Our white-haired waitress, Janice, brought coffee ($1.25) and a no-nonsense attitude.Frequently, her voice rang through the place, as she’d call out an order or question to the kitchen. She could also be heard giving some lip to a table of four guys who were demanding this and that, but it was obvious they were regulars and everything was in good fun. According to Murtagh, Janice has been hopping tables at Jack’s for 33 years.

What better test for a diner than meatloaf ($6.60)? I was served two large slices, which had some tomato paste on the top and bits of onion and green pepper in the meat. It was tasty and rather comforting. The brown gravy, on the meat and the fluffy mashed potatoes, was clearly freshly made, since some tiny chunks of flour could be seen, though it didn’t mar the taste or texture a bit. The vegetable choices of the day were peas or corn, and the latter was obviously canned but otherwise serviceable.
The house salad ($2.75) was an unexpectedly substantial and colorful mixture of iceberg, carrots, tomatoes and celery. I didn’t understand why, but the Italian dressing came in a bowl on the side. I was also given what’s called a hard roll, though it was squishy and fresh, with a swipe of butter in the middle.

The same kind of soft hard roll served as the bun for my friend’s meal, the Jack’s Burger ($5.75), which includes cheddar cheese and bacon. It was warm and delicious and came with a large serving of fries — the kind with the ridges down the side, like they’ve been cut with pinking sheers — that were cooked to golden perfection.

For dessert, we picked the cherry pie a la mode ($3.75), and requested that the pie be warmed up a bit. It was probably obvious that we were enjoying it, but Janice nevertheless asked if she’d overdone it in the microwave.

With such a long history, Jack’s seems like something to rely on and I’ll surely be returning for some diner classics. By the way, when we recently spoke, Murtagh was noncommittal about being open this Easter Sunday.

Our meals with tax and tip came to $27.38.

Joseph Dalton is a local freelance writer who contributes regularly to the Times Union.

 

 

Former Mr. Peanut sign from Peabody, Mass. lives on in Arkansas

When I was a child, back in the late 50’s and early 60’s, whenever my Dad would take the family on rides north on U. S. Route 1 toward Salisbury or New Hampshire, I was always looking for landmarks such as the Leaning Tower (on the Prince Spaghetti House, now Prince Pizzeria) or  Ship’s Haven (later The Ship Restaurant).  In fact Route 1 was loaded with roadside visuals, not so much now but back then it was always an interesting ride. The one roadside gem I recall looking for the most was the large Mr. Peanut sign that was situated in front of the Planters Peanut House located on Rte. 1 north in Peabody. The sign was approximately 30 ft. high, you could not miss him.
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Well, by the late 60’s, Planters had closed the store and it subsequently became the Half Dollar Bar, a roadside watering hole. The sign remained in place. It was painted to look like a guy wearing a black tuxedo but was still recognizable as Mr. Peanut by the unique shape. The bar closed and was demolished by the mid-to-late 80’s. At that point the sign remained on the site which was fenced-off. As I recall, it was Pete Phillips, a colleague of mine from the Society for Commercial Archeology who found out the sign was threatened with demolition and I believe he may have been the person who contacted Planters Peanuts and told them of the sign’s impending doom.

Well unlike Dunkin Donuts who will not restore their one remaining 1957 vintage roadside neon sign in Brighton, Mass., Planters came and rescued the sign in 1988 and eventually restored it to its former glory. It is currently located at their large processing plant in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Here is a shot courtesy of Debra Jane Seltzer, taken recently which coincidentally is from a similar angle to my shot (above) from the 1980’s (although slightly closer)

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When I mentioned the sign’s origins to Debra after viewing her photo on Flickr, she questioned me on that fact and I said sure there were many signs similar to this but I remember when it all happened. I did some digging through my SCA NewsJournals and found the mention from Pete Phillips in the Spring 1989 issue (the very same issue that Diner Hotline first appeared).  Pete’s report mentioned the sign went to Alabama. I sent an email to Planters Peanuts asking them if it was the same sign and unfortunately, the email went to parent company Kraft Foods who could not answer the quetsion. I then got the bright idea to call Planters in Fort Smith and was put through to someone who works in the Plant Managers office. They told me that the sign in front of their plant was in fact the one from Massachusetts.

You can see Debra’s website by clicking on the link in my blogroll and you can get to her photos on flickr and see where she’s been recently by clicking this link …  http://www.flickr.com/photos/agilitynut/

Notes from the Hotline, March 17, 2008

Second visit to Blanchard’s 101 Diner for Breakfast

Steve Repucci and I got together and made the trip out to Worcester on Saturday morning for breakfast at Blanchard’s 101 Diner. We got a warm welcome from Chris and Matt who were relaxing, waiting for the morning’s customers to start showing up. It looks like things seemed to have smoothed out, and they are getting more and more comfortable running the diner.  The food as well as the service were excellent and the overall experience was pleasant, making us wish we lived closer to the diner so we could patronize it more often!

George Sanborn, dean of Massachusetts transit history dies at the age of 77

An old acquaintance of ours, George Sanborn, formerly of the Roslindale section of Boston passed away on Saturday. George I believe was a longtime member of the Society for Commercial Archeology (how I first learned of him) and a trustee of the Seashore Trolley Museum was the mainstay of  the state’s Transportation Library for nearly 4 decades. He knew virtually every bit of information including dates and other minutia of the history of Mass Transit in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He compiled a very detailed History of  the “T” which grew out of the nation’s first subway system. Back in the early 90’s Denise and I went into Boston and met with George. I was there for the express purpose of buying a copy of his history book. He was a very gracious host and even gave us free passes (which we used) to visit the Seashore Trolley Museum.
Condolences to all who knew George, he was truly one of a kind!