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
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.
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.
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….
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.