I just read this article from the Denton Record Chronicle out of Denton, TX. It was about the passing of Jim Smith the former owner/operator of Jim’s Diner of that town. Apparently this was a storefront type establishment, (not a factory-built diner) that was much loved and appreciated for a number of years. The story tells of Mr. Smith’s commissioning of a wall mural on the side of his establishment. It looks to me that the artist (Shawn Dell Joyce) based her mural on John Baeder’s painting of the Lemoyne Diner once located near Harrisburg, PA.
Jim’s Diner is shown in the 1990s on Fry Street. Jim Smith, owner of
the former restaurant, died Monday at age 75.
(Photo courtesy of Denton Register Chronicle)
Here is the text of the article ……..
A legacy of taste and art
Jim’s Diner owner dies at age 75
08:20 AM CDT on Thursday, October 15, 2009
By Les Cockrell / Region Editor
The idea surfaced one day in the late 1970s when Jim and Judy Smith were driving through Denton. “He said, ‘I’ve always wanted to have my own restaurant,’” Judy Smith recalled, adding that she encouraged her husband to act on his dream. “Let’s do it,” she told him. “Let’s jump off the bridge.” The result was Jim’s Diner, an iconic eatery that became a fixture on Fry Street and endeared itself to many.
“He opened his diner in ’78 or ’79,” Judy Smith said. “I’m so glad he did. “He got to do his dream, and not many men get to do that.” Jim Smith owned the diner for only about 10 years, his wife said, but the identity he gained from
the business endured until his death early Monday at age 75. “I went to wake him up, and he was dead,” Judy Smith said. “He died in his sleep.”
Born in Newton Falls, N.Y., in 1934, Jim Smith grew up in Wellsville, N.Y., where the couple married. A veteran of the U.S. Navy, Smith worked for Bausch & Lomb and then Xerox, his wife said. In 1973, the couple and their four sons moved to Texas as part of a corporate relocation. He was working for Xerox when he decided to open Jim’s Diner, his wife said, and the business at 110 Fry St. soon became a neighborhood fixture. But it was a decision Smith made in 1987 that secured his place in local history.
That was the year Smith commissioned a 22-year-old student at the University of North Texas to paint a mural on the outside wall of his building. After much discussion, and some disagreement, Smith and the artist settled on an idea and work began. “He had a lot of faith in me and my work,” said Shawn Dell Joyce, who now lives in New York, where she owns a studio, art school and gallery. “He was a very generous and giving man.”
The final result — a depiction of a 1930s streamliner dining car — brought a lot of attention to Jim’s Diner and to Denton. It was the characters posed in the windows of the dining car — John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, Wally and “Beaver” Cleaver and the Beatles — who really captured the public’s imagination. The artist also worked as a baker at Jim’s Diner, she said. “When Jim commissioned me to do the mural, I would bake biscuits at the diner
in the wee hours of the morning,” Joyce said. “I had a key, and I would go in there and bake for hours.”
The mural painted on the facade of Jim’s Diner is shown in its original glory. (Photo courtesy of Denton Register Chronicle)
Smith was particular about the mural, Joyce said. “My concept was to put great works of art in each window,” she said. “He said, ‘You’re going to put in Denton greats and John Wayne.’ I was happy to oblige.” Thus, the finished mural featured diner regulars Sheldon Newman and Dennis Swilley, along with the pop culture figures.
“That [mural] was his way of helping me get on with my career,” she said. “I had been working there to put myself through school. “He was probably the best boss I ever had. He ran a pretty tight ship, but I knew that inside the gruff exterior that he really loved me.”
John Baeder’s painting of the Lemoyne Diner (courtesy John Baeder)
I believe Shawn Dell Joyce’s mural for Jim’s Diner was based on this
Jim’s Diner was a favorite hangout for many locals, especially artists and musicians, Joyce said, and many Denton visitors made sure to stop there. “When I was working there, the Talking Heads came through and had breakfast at Jim’s Diner,” she said. “There were many notables who ate there.” Joyce said she has many fond memories of the Smiths. “They were really integral people in my life and helped shape my success,” she said. “They probably kept a good dozen of us from starving.”
Jim usually worked at the diner seven days a week, Judy Smith said, and she was relieved when her husband decided to sell the business. “It would have killed him,” she said. “I don’t think he hardly took a vacation in all those years.” Smith sold the name of the diner along with the business, Judy Smith said, so Jim’s Diner continued to serve customers for a while. “We were happy that someone bought it and kept the name,” she said.
Eventually, the property was sold again and later demolished along with other Fry Street buildings in 2007. Three of the mural panels were salvaged and can be enjoyed today at the Center for the Visual Arts, at 400 E. Hickory St. “It [the mural] became a wonderful, iconic part of Fry Street and, consequently, Denton,” said Margaret Chalfant, executive director of the Greater Denton Arts Council. “I think it’s wonderful that someone in the restaurant business had the vision to do something that unique.”
It was important to preserve the mural, Chalfant said. “To be able to preserve that landmark was wonderful for the arts council and for the citizens of Denton,” she said. “We didn’t realize how far-reaching the memories attached to this mural were. “We’re preserving some of our artistic history.”
A memorial service for Jim Smith is scheduled for 11 a.m. Nov. 11 at the Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, his wife said. After selling Jim’s Diner, Smith worked for another local restaurant and then became food service manager at UNT’s University Union. “He was pretty ill the last few years,” Judy said.
Judy Smith owns Rose Costumes, located at 5800 N. Interstate 35, Suite 508, but the business once was located next door to her husband’s diner. The costume business grew out of a vintage furniture and clothing store called Secondhand Rose. She and a former partner suggested the name for Jim’s Diner, she said. “We thought it should be something simple,” she recalled.
The couple celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary in June, and Judy Smith said her husband will be remembered as someone who was always ready to help. “He helped me,” she said. “He didn’t like to work at the store, but he was the best sounding board. Our businesses were tied together. We supported each other.
“He had a pretty good life.”
LES COCKRELL can be reached at 940-566-6887. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .