Murphy’s Diner lives on!

This weekend marks the 29th anniversary of when I shot my first photo of a diner. I posted previously about this at the end of last month. In thinking back on these last 29 years and all the diners I have photographed (since that first shot of the Bypass Diner of Harrisburg, PA), some of my most intriguing shots have been of closed or abandoned diners (like the former Rosedale Diner, Daryl Hall & John Oates Abandoned Luncheonette in my header).

Possibly the first abandoned diner I ever documented was one I found in Haverhill, Mass. It was the summer of 1981 and if I remember correctly my brother Rick and I were driving north on state Rte. 97. I had passed thru downtown Haverhill and was just going over I-495 heading toward Methuen, Mass. and Salem, NH. Just over on the left past I-495 was an old farmhouse with some trees behind it. Peeking out from behind the trees was the side elevation facade of a stainless steel late 1940’s or early 1950’s diner.

Below, you can see the photos from my first visit to Murphy’s in Haverhill…..


Left side close-up. This is the side you could see from the road,
just a different angle. You can see where the roof of the kitchen
building was cut away in this view.
August, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Front side view almost hidden by the trees.
August, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Front right corner view.
August, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Right rear view also showing where the roof of the kitchen was cut
away. August, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

I stopped to check it out and actually talked to some people who lived in the house. They were just renting the accomodations and told me their landlord owned the diner as well as the property. They did not know anything about the diner but gave me the name of the owner. I did some sluething and actually got a phone number for the owner.

I subsequently called him one day soon after to ask about the diner. He was somewhat reluctant to say much about it and was a tad suspicious of me and my motives. I finally convinced him that I was conducting a personal research project, documenting diners (he probably thought I was nuts). I told him when I saw a diner up on blocks in a yard behind a house, I felt compelled to find out where the diner came from.

He eventually told me that it was the former Murphy’s Diner of Cambridge, Mass. I later showed the photos to my diner buddy David Hebb and he showed me a book he had in his personal library published in 1977 by the Cambridge Historical Commission. The book was entitled  Survey of Architectural History of Cambridge, Northwest Cambridge and Survey Index written and researched primarily by Arthur Krim. (Arthur and I were to become friends and collegues in the Society for Commercial Archeology not too long after).

On page 149 of this book there was a photo and a short blurb about Murphy’s Diner. Here is what a partial scan of the page showed…

Following are a closer view of the photo and the info on the page…



In preparation for this post, Dick Gutman sent me info from his database about the diner with some interesting notes, among them a mention that the diner left Cambridge in 1968. I mentioned to Dick about the 1970 date from the book and he acknowledged that he wasn’t sure where that info he had came from. This had prompted me to contact Arthur Krim.

I spoke with Arthur today (November 29th) for some background and to confirm the date he had written (as to when the diner left Cambridge). He said by the time they were doing the research for the book in 1971 the diner was already gone. Luckily the photo of the diner was shot just prior to the move in anticipation of the research. He also mentioned city permits and other info that were obtained in the research that verified the facts.

 The diner remained in Haverhill until June of 1993 when (according to Richard Gutman’s notes) it was bought by Charles Gutzos (who contracted with Brian Payne) who moved the diner to Peabody, Mass. Gutzos had plans to restore and reuse the diner but these plans never came to fruition due to Gutzos’ passing away suddenly.


Murphy’s in storage just off Pulaski Street in Peabody, Mass.
June, 1994 photo by Larry Cultrera


Murphy’s in storage just off Pulaski Street in Peabody, Mass.
June, 1994 photo by Larry Cultrera


Interior of Murphy’s Diner when in Peabody, Mass.
June, 1994 photo by Larry Cultrera

The diner again stayed in storage for the next 2 years in Peabody when it was bought on March 3, 1995 by Pendragon a British Automobile Dealership located in the town of Derby, who specialized in  selling classic 1950’s American vehicles. The diner was placed on a container ship and sailed over to the United Kingdom on April 28, 1995 where it underwent a $200, 000 restoration and was put into service as The Motown Diner. The Motown Diner went out of business by 1997.


Exterior photo of the Motown Diner in Derby, England 
July, 1996 photo by Richard Gutman


Dick Gutman in front of the Motown Diner in Derby, England 
July, 1996 photo by Kellie Gutman


Interior photo of the Motown Diner in Derby, England 
July, 1996 photo by Richard Gutman

After the Motown Diner closed it remained in storage for quite a few years again. The next chapter of Murphy’s Diner starts up in 2004. Enter Jeff Laight and Trish Whitehouse of S. Derbyshire, England. They actually bought the diner through a listing on Ebay! They now operate it as the 50’s American Diner in Church Gresley, S. Derbyshire. I have been in contact with them for a couple of years and actually was able to clue them into a copy of the Cambridge Historical Commission’s book which they bought on Amazon.com. I emailed them recently for this post and here are their own words on how they found the diner….

We bought the diner off ebay after looking for a farm in Wales (strange I know but thats us for you), it was sitting behind an Aston Martin dealership in Derby and had been left to the elements and not in a good state at all. It had smaashed windows all the electrics when removed from its last site had just been ripped out of the ground. The roof was leaking, etc. and the list went on.


The 50’s American Diner photo courtesy of
Jeff Laight & Trish Whitehouse
 
When we had bought the diner we did not know how to move it as moving diners is not the norm in England. We contacted many companies specializing in moving large stuff by road, one company said they would take it to pieces and move it in vans!! After many quotes we eventually settled on Darren Wilson Lifting Solutions because of its location and weight the crane we had to use was a 200 ton crane made up of 2 parts and a specialist lorry from Heanor Haulage.
 
During its journey to Church Gresley they took a wrong turn and were then stuck in traffic calming but only knocked 1 post over! After she landed on site, a year of never ending jobs started. Going before the planning permisision was a nightmare! The local council treated the building as a new build even though it was 50 years old, they tried to get us to double glaze the windows!!


The 50’s American Diner photo courtesy of
Jeff Laight & Trish Whitehouse
 
During the rebuild we had to renew all electrics re do the exterior, IE: take all the panels off at which point we found that most of the panels had been replaced with fibreglass copies which was a great shame. We also added a new toilet and washing up building at the rear. This all sounds very simple but it really wasn’t. We opened 22nd August 2005 and we are still here so we must be doing something right!
 

The 50’s American Diner photo courtesy of
Jeff Laight & Trish Whitehouse 
 
During the last 4 1/2 years we have enjoyed our time as diner owners and looking forward to the next 4 1/2 years. Since opening the diner has been featured on BBC TV, ITV, Sky Radio and of course KHQ TV in the USA.
Last year we were named as 1 of the top 25 webcams of the world by Earthcam and top 10 in March 2008. We have tailoured the menu to English tastes whilst still keeping to the diner’s history where we could. We have a chap here that makes us rootbeer to an old recipe too.
 

The 50’s American Diner photo courtesy of
Jeff Laight & Trish Whitehouse

The 50’s American Diner photo courtesy of
Jeff Laight & Trish Whitehouse
 
This brings me to June of this year, I did my Power Point presentation called Local Roadside Memories at the Medford, Mass. Public Library for the Medford Historical Society. It was well received by the packed room of attendees. One of the people who attended was Maryellen McCarthy of Medford. She asked me after the show if I knew anything about Murphy’s Diner that used to be in Cambridge.
 
She mentioned that she and her friends who attended Matignon High School (a Catholic High School in North Cambridge) were regular customers in the mid-to-late 1950’s of the diner as it was located about 1 or 2 blocks away from the school. She also mentioned that she had an old menu from Murphy’s in her posession. I of course told her the diner still existed and that there was a link on my blog to their website.
 
Front and back of Murphy’s Diner menu
courtesy of Maryellen McCarthy
 


Inside pages of Murphy’s Diner menu
courtesy of Maryellen McCarthy

 
Fast forward to 2 weeks ago when I received a phone call from Maryellen. She was excited to tell me about something she organized. After She told me her news I asked her to email me all the details so I could post it in Diner Hotline! This is what she wrote…. 
 
After I attended your lecture at the Medford Public Library (Local Roadside Memories) and learned that the Murphy’s Diner in North Cambridge (where I went for French fries and a Coke after school with Matignon classmates) had been moved to the UK you gave me an idea – why not celebrate our 70th birthdays together in a booth in the original Murphy’s Diner in Swadlincote, Derbyshire UK?  The diner has been fully restored and is operating as a diner/museum, a trbute to 1950s America according to their website. I emailed as many of my Class of 1957 classmates as I could find, made some phone calls, got in touch with the diner owners and so far have a group of twelve and likely more who will be traveling to the UK and visiting the diner on Monday, May 3rd 2010.

 Jeff and Trish, the owners, are just as excited; “over the moon” is the expression. I emailed a picture of an original Murphy’s menu that I still have and we have been exchanging emails since. They are arranging for the Friends of the American Diner Auto Club  to pick us up at the railway station in vintage American cars and I understand they have been in touch with the BBC to alert them about this “human interest” story.

 Thank you Larry, you have started what I know is going to be a really fun event for us and for the diner people. They told me they never thought they would ever meet anyone who had actually sat in a booth in their diner. They have named a dish they serve “The 2525 Massachusetts Avenue” for the original address in North Cambridge and pictures of the Matignon Class of ’57 cheerleaders and football team now hang on their wall.

I am flattered that I got to play a small role in this little adventure that Maryellen and her friends are going to embark on next spring.

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Looking for a good read? Here’s a recommendation…

Check out A1 Diner, Real Food, Recipes, & Recollections
by Sarah Rolph

I have recently been in contact with Sarah Rolph. I knew about her through various people including Dick Gutman (author of American Diner Then & Now and The Worcester Lunch Car Company) who contributed archival photos as well as a  promo blurb on the back cover, and Ron Dylewski of “The American Roadside” website (http://www.theamericanroadside.com/) . In fact it was Ron who first put me in touch with her just over a year ago. Anyway Sarah wrote a book that came out in 2006 that I finally added to my Diner/Roadside library and it is a really great read!

This book captures the essence of the A1 Diner in Gardiner, Maine. This is Worcester Lunch Car # 790, a lovingly maintained circa 1946 vintage semi-streamlined model installed in a unique location. Originally known as Heald’s Diner (the name is still emblazoned on the porcelain panels) the diner is actually mounted on a steel frame 20 feet above ground to place the building adjacent to the bridge that crosses the Cobbossee Stream. The Diner’s front and side doors are entered from the bridge. You can also walk down stairs on the left side of the diner to the street below and actually view the underside of the diner.

I first knew about this diner through the book Diners of the Northeast by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink. Their book was a state by state guide to diners from Maine to New Jersey published in 1980 by The Berkshire Traveller Press. Of the diners in Maine they reviewed, the A1 (then still known as Wakefield’s Diner) seemed to be one of the highlights of their research.

Sarah Rolph’s book  features reminisces and stories from original owner Eddie Heald’s daughter Marguerite Gagne to second owner Maurice Wakefield to third owner Albert Giberson leading to current owners Mike Giberson and Neil Andersen. Along the way there are also stories from waitresses and other workers through the years, most notably Bob Newell who worked for every owner until retiring within the last 2 or 3 months.


Giberson’s Diner, photo circa August 28, 1982
by Larry Cultrera

Customers old and new chime in as well and the sense of history and nostalgia, not to mention sense of place and community come shinning through, making one want to take the long ride up to Gardiner to experience this place again (or even for the first time if you’ve never been). Interspersed throughout are recipes for meals from the respective different owners/cooks and time periods down the years.

I asked Sarah how she came about writing this book and she answered…..

I learned about the diner from my friend Karen Molvig. (She is no longer living.)  I met Karen when we both lived in Manhattan, in the late 1970s.  I was in my early twenties (I’m 54 now).  I moved to Boston in 1980.  Several years later, Karen moved to Maine—the Great Escape from the city.  She bought a place in Gardiner and eventually found A1 Diner.  Knowing I would enjoy the place, she took me there for supper on one of my visits.  She and her partner Jean had started to become friends with Mike and Neil, so that made it easy to meet them.


Giberson’s Diner, photo circa August 28, 1982
by Larry Cultrera

 I am originally from California, and had never been in an authentic diner.  I was fascinated by the small size, the fine materials, and the charm of the place.  I also loved the food.  As I got to know Mike, who was the main chef during the time I visited—late 1990s—he told me stories about the history of the diner.  It was clear he was very proud of his role in keeping the place alive and making it better, and it seemed like a really interesting story to me, the way the diner’s ups and downs reflected the changes of the town. 

When Mike and Neil purchased the diner, in the late 1980s, it was a difficult time in Gardiner.  I loved the small-business success story, the way Mike and Neil patiently worked to make the diner a success according to their longstanding vision.  They had to move very slowly, to keep from alienating their small cadre of regular customers and to keep from signaling to the town that this new version of the diner would be for yuppies only.  They really wanted to stay true to the diner’s heritage as a center of a community, and they succeeded in doing that while also upgrading it.  Now, as you know, you can still get a good old-fashioned hamburger, but you can also get Asian noodles.


Underneath the Diner, photo circa August 28, 1982
by Larry Cultrera

 When I met them, Mike and Neil had largely achieved this vision, but they told me stories about the way it had been when they started, and it was clear that it had been a long and difficult road.  I really admired their ability to achieve their dream through sheer hard work and imagination.  It seemed like that alone was a great story, the small-business challenges that had finally paid off. 

Ruth Reichl’s first memoir, Tender at the Bone, had come out around that time, and Mike and I both enjoyed it very much.  It reminded me of Mike, too.  Ruth learned to cook when she was a little kid, and so did Mike—he told me he would cook when nobody was home, and if the dish didn’t work out he would hide the evidence.  That book included recipes, which has since become a bit of a trend.  We thought it would be fun to do a history of the diner with recipes from every era.  I wanted to use the same approach Reichl did, having each recipe fit with one of the stories.  (In the end, I had to cheat a little bit to make it work out so that there were recipes in every chapter.  We didn’t have any recipes from the Eddie Heald era, but we used a modern soufflé recipe since we served soufflé to Marguerite Gagne when I interviewed her at the diner.  (Sadly, she is no longer living.)

 Tilbury House, Publishers, is located in Gardiner, Maine, so it was an easy sell.  In fact the publisher had been hoping someone would write a book about the diner and asked Neil—he told her someone was working on something, so she wasn’t even surprised to hear from me!

 Once I had the contract with Tilbury I did more research, spent a lot of time with Mike and Neil, interviewed Cindy and Bob, and interviewed Maurice Wakefield over the phone.  He was living in Florida at the time (he, too, has since died).  His mind was still very sharp, although his hearing was starting to go.  He had a special phone that increased the volume.  His daughter would make the appointments with me and take the call and then tell Maurice to get on his phone. 

He was great to interview, remembered a lot of stories, and wanted to tell me exactly how things were.  He was so pleased that people still remembered him and still cared.  It had been about thirty years, so he thought people would have forgotten him, but they had not.  Not only did the diner people I interviewed have stories about Maurice, but people in town remembered him, too. 

When I went to the State Library to look for old clippings, the gal who showed me how to use the microfiche machine, when I said I was writing about the diner, said “Oh!  Wakefield’s?!”  It was still Wakefield’s to her.  I was pleased to tell Maurice that.  I did two long phone interviews with him, and then I decided I really wanted to meet him, so Mike and I traveled to Florida and spent an afternoon with him.  It was really fun, the two of them talked about every little thing about the diner, the small details they both still enjoyed.  It was quite fun to hear them comparing notes about the place, and of course about the people—Cindy and Bob both worked for both Maurice and Mike. 

I  thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and give it a Diner Hotline “Approved” rating! It is available at Amazon….
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0884482774?ie=UTF8&tag=theamericanroadside-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0884482774

Notes from the Hotline, 11-14-09

New York Diner News

This has been posted on numerous sites including RoadsideOnline and Roadside Fans Yahoo Group but I need to get on the bandwagon as well. It was reported this week that two legendary diners from Albany, NY are being put up for sale by their respective long-time owners. There was also news of a “changing of the guard” at an iconic New York City diner this week as well.

Miss Albany Diner

The first of the two Capitol District Diners to be on the block is Cliff and Jane Brown’s Miss Albany Diner. Cliff is right up there in my book (along with Phil Paleologos of New Bedford’s Shawmut Diner) as being one of the most affable and enthusiastic owners I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. The Brown’s have been running the Miss Albany for 20 years interestingly after having retired from previous positions in other careers.

MAD1

 Here is the text of a story that appeared in the Albany Times Union on November 12th…

Diner for sale, hold the change

The Miss Albany Diner owners ready to retire, but hope their classic fare remains eternal

MAD2

The diner, like the neighborhood, draws all types: Yuppies and factory workers, rich and poor, old-timers and hipsters — all in search of a cup of coffee, a warm meal and… “A friend,” Jane says. “They just need somebody to listen to them.”

The Browns this year are celebrating their 20th year as owners of the Miss Albany. But Cliff is 82 and Jane is 75 — and they’re eager to move on. Their son Bill, the restaurant’s cook, isn’t interested in taking over. The Browns are looking for the right person to take the diner into its next phase. Jane Brown says the business is profitable, though it has hardly made the couple rich.

“I will miss the people,” she says. “I will not miss the work.” The Miss Albany is adjacent to Wolff’s Biergarten, the popular nightspot. And its owner, Matt Baumgartner, is one of the diner’s big fans. “Anytime I have friends visit that’s one of my go-to places,” he said. “And everybody leaves loving it.”

The Miss Albany was built in 1941 and remains authentic to its time — so authentic that it received a preservation award from the Historic Albany Foundation, which noted that diner has never undergone a character-robbing remodeling. It has kept its charm. “It just feels like a good, old-fashioned diner,” Baumgartner said. “They don’t make diner cars like that anymore.”

Chris Churchill can be reached at 454-5442 or cchurchill@timesunion.com. Read his blog at http://blog.timesunion.com/realestate

MAD3

Although it is sad to hear that the Brown’s will no longer be a part of this diner experience in the Capitol District in the near future, they certainly are due a well deserved retirement and we wish them all of our best wishes.

Jack’s Diner

The second of the two Capitol District Diners reported this week to be for sale is Jack’s Diner at 547 Central Ave., a well maintained and rare Comac Diner run by Jack Murtagh (who is only the second owner) business is on the market for $175,000, because Jack is retiring after 44 years in the business.

jacks.gif

Empire Diner

Empire-NYC-1

It was also reported this week that NYC’s Empire Diner will be changing operators. Apparently the lease was up for renewal and the long-time operators lost out to owners of a very popular coffee shop from Union Square. This was the text of a small piece from the Gothamist website…..

The iconic Empire Diner in Chelsea is being taken over by the team that operates the obnoxiously fashionable but beautifully staffed Coffee Shop in Union Square. The owner of the property will not be renewing the lease with Renata Gonzalez, who’s operated the classic diner for over three decades. Instead, the Gotham City Restaurant Group will replace Gonzalez with a 15-year lease rumored to be in the $25,000 per month range. Gonzalez says she’s trying to get the new owner to keep some of the current employees, some of whom have been there for as long as her, but that seems unlikely. The name’s changing too, but that hasn’t been revealed yet.

Coffee Shop co-owner Carolyn Benitez tells Chelsea Now the diner will still operate 24/7, but she’s planning on radically reinventing the menu: “It’s a diner in feel, and that’s what appeals to us. It’s not going to have any other identity except being a great old diner with better food.” She’s promising “better ingredients and better quality production,” as well as “that Coffee Shop flavor,” which we interpret as ‘higher prices and hot but aloof servers.’ Oh well, at least we’re not losing it to Alabama.

As I understand it, Renata Gonzalez took over ownership from Jack Doenias who was credited with the transformation of this 1946 Fodero diner into the world’s first upscale diner in 1976. Also, Renata had ties with Thomas Feucht who is the founder of the Sam Kullman’s Diners, a chain in Germany.

It is a little upsetting to hear the new operators are going to change the name of the diner. We hope the other changes alluded to will not destroy this landmark diner.

New Postcard for Rosebud Diner soon to be printed

In 1997, a couple of years after the Rosebud Diner, (Worcester Lunch Car #773) of Somerville, Mass. was rehabbed and reopened as a diner in 1995 (after operating for over 30 years as a bar), owner Bill Nichols asked me to help him create a postcard for the diner. You see he had a postcard display in the corridor leading to the kitchen and restrooms from Hot Stamp Postcards. The deal was if you let Hot Stamp in with one of their displays you would be able to have postcards of your establishment printed for free.

Originally Bill had some postcards printed by Hot Stamp featuring the Don Sawyer painting of the Rosebud Diner. As I recall Don may have objected to the image he painted being on a postcard (I might be wrong about that). Anyway, Bill wanted a new one so I jumped in and created a postcard as per Hot Stamp’s guidelines provided by Billy. I decided to use a slide I had shot the day of the grand reopening of the Rosebud (as a diner). Being that the diner was still not fully restored on the outside at that time I utilized Adobe Photoshop on the scanned image to fix things to make it look like it was restored.

Fast forward to 2009, the Diner gave away its last postcard some time ago and Billy wanted to order some more. I suggested maybe it was time to do a new version and he agreed. I went over to the diner on a nice and bright Sunday in August and shot maybe 6 or 7 different images, the early afternoon light was so perfect, I could not believe it! I downloaded all the shots and I liked all of them but ended up using an almost similar shot to the older postcard. It was still the best angle.

Being that there were still some trim pieces missing from an aborted attempt at exterior restoration done 10 years ago as well as some of the front porcelain steel panels on the diner not lining up exactly right, I had to use my Adobe Photoshop skills again to fix things and make the diner look perfect. The results met with both Billy’s and my approval as seen below…

New-Rosebud-PC-front

I also contacted GoCards ( the new name for Hot Stamp) and got their new guidelines as I had anticipated things should have changed along with the technology over the last 10 years. Sure enough I could do all my designing in Adobe Illustrator for the layout of both the back and front of the new postcard. Here is the back of the postcard below….

New-Rosebud-PC-back