Notes from the Hotline, 4-10-2010

Site of Bel Aire Diner slated for development.

The Bel Aire Diner of Peabody, Mass. has been closed for 3 or 4 years. Rumors have flown since this 1952 vintage Mountain View Diner closed about a reopening but nothing was happening until recently. A couple of months ago an article from the Boston Globe mentioned that of all the developments proposed for U.S. Rte. 1 in the Peabody/Danvers area the resurrection of the parcel where the Bel Aire Diner and it’s companion Best Gas Station are was the most likely to proceed.

Within the last 2 weeks a sign appeared on the stanchions of the Gas Station sign, check this out….

On closer examination you can see the diner incorporated into this larger 2 story building that will house other businesses besides the diner.

The reported facts are the diner is to be moved back on the lot and placed on a new foundation and as the artist’s rendering shows, be incorporated into the larger building. The article also mentioned the whole place (gas station & diner) will be an expanded “truck stop”. I also heard from Bob Fennell of the Capitol Diner that when the Bel Aire Diner reopens, it will be operated by the same people who run Red’s Sandwich Shop in downtown Salem, Mass.

In the above photo you can see the excavator that has been parked to the side of the diner for most of the winter. I will continue to watch this as I drive by it every day on the way to and from work.

Agawam Diner “play” to run in Newburyport

I first heard about this a few weeks ago from Randy Garbin of Roadside Online…. the North Shore’s beloved Agawam Diner is now immortalized in an original play written by Josh Faigen. I hope to get a chance to see it before it closes. My pal Steve Repucci and his wife Mary Lou are attending the show tonight so I will hear how it was when I talk to him on Monday morning.

Here is the piece that was written by Correspondent Wendy Killeen for the Boston Globe last weekend…

Daily special: a play

Noted for its home-cooked food, Rowley diner now has a role in Newburyport playwright’s work

Two evenings a week for several years, Josh Faigen drove his son from Newburyport to Rowley to study with a tutor who lived near the Agawam Diner. During the session, he’d go in for coffee.

“This is the best place you can spend an hour when you don’t have anything else to do,’’ Faigen said recently at the diner. “He used to sit there and drink coffee and have pie and not say much,’’ said Angela Galanis Mitchell, an Agawam waitress for 21 years and part of the family that has owned it since 1940. She didn’t know much about Faigen, but, she said, “I knew he was observing.’’

Faigen is a playwright. And, yes, he was taking note of everything going on in the 54-seat diner, so that he could write about it. His play, “The Agawam,’’ debuts at The Actors Studio in Newburyport Thursday and runs through April 25. “This is an infinite resource for writers,’’ Faigen said. “Everybody here is really welcoming and they have never been surprised by anything, ever. Stuff happens in here. It’s the zeitgeist of this place.’’

He recalled an older man who was asked by another patron if he still played the tuba. “He brought it in from his car and played Christmas carols to rousing applause and then put it back in his car,’’ Faigen said.

Tuba Man is one of eight characters in the play, but the only one based on a real person. Others are composites or fictional. Set entirely in the diner, the play also features a waitress, cashier, cook, salesman, old man and his girlfriend, and the Man of God.

What it is about, Faigen is at a loss to say. “I couldn’t tell you what it’s about, and I wouldn’t even if I could,’’ he said. “I only wrote the play,’’ he continued. “It becomes a whole layer cake, of my work at the beginning, Stephen Haley’s work as the director, the actors’ work, and then the audience’s work. By the time it gets on stage, there are so many more layers of meaning, emotion, and story. I can’t know what it’s about because it isn’t finished until it’s actually performed.’’

In promotional material for the play, publicist Jay Tormey describes the plot: “People drink coffee. They eat pie. Someone dies. A miracle happens, maybe two. Then everyone’s life shifts a few degrees in a better direction. Or maybe not.’’

Faigen, 55, grew up in New Mexico. He majored in piano performance and philosophy at Colgate University in upstate New York. “So, you can see I was prepared for the world,’’ he said with a laugh. For almost 25 years he lived in Pittsburgh, where he met his wife, Penny Lazarus. He had a traditional typesetting business but as the industry waned, the couple decided to move, choosing Newburyport in 2000 because it’s near the ocean. 

In the 1990s he worked for a high-tech company on Route 128. He was laid off but now works as a consultant for the same company, which builds large composition equipment. With neighbors who are playwrights, the couple soon tapped into Newburyport’s fertile theater community. At a party, Faigen was introduced to Marc Clopton, founder and executive director of The Actors Studio, and mentioned he was interested in plays, although he had never written one. He said Clopton told him, “Anyone can write plays; you just have to have lived.’’

A few months later, Faigen started writing, and he also joined an author’s group. His first play, “Our Nation’s Capitol,’’ was inspired by a visit to a local assisted living facility. He has since written comedies, dramas, and experimental plays. And he has received recognition, from winning the New Works Festival at the Firehouse Center in Newburyport several times to having his work staged in theaters elsewhere. Lazarus said a turning point came about three years ago.

“There was a point when someone asked him what he did,’’ she said. “He’d answer, ‘I’m a playwright with a day job.’ That was a very crucial, significant turn. It said a lot to his family, to himself, and to anyone else.’’ “Theater is really, really fun,’’ Faigen said. “It was never my lifelong dream, but it is very habit-forming.’’

Now the entire family, including the couple’s sons Adlai, 16, and Max, 10, are involved in theater and the arts. Clopton said because Faigen is “not steeped in [theatrical] tradition he plays outside the box. His plays are unique and unexpected, and therefore exciting and refreshing.

“He has a great sense of humor and ironic eye for human nature and a great soulfulness,’’ Clopton said. “He sort of speaks to that part of us that is hard to define; a part of ourselves we hesitate to share in casual conversation that is deep, mystical, and puzzling.’’

Mitchell said having a play written about her family’s diner “is cool and an honor . . . I’m definitely going to see it.’’

“The Agawam,’’ by Josh Faigen, directed by Stephen Haley; April 8-25,  The Actors Studio, The Tannery, Newburyport. 978-465-1229, www.newburyportacting.org.

Last weekend’s revisit to Mendon

Last weekend the weather was so nice that I convinced Denise that we should take a ride out to Mendon (Mass.) and have lunch at the Miss Mendon Diner. The diner was doing a steady business and we had a pleasant lunch. Denise had a cup of Chicken Noodle soup and I had a Grilled Cheese on Wheat with french fries. Nothing too heavy but we both enjoyed what we ate!

We also talked briefly with General Manager Michael O’ Donovan and met his wife Jennifer as well. He showed us where the original porcelain panels that said “Newport” (the diner was originally the Miss Newport Diner) were now hung on an interior wall next door at one of Imperial Auto’s service buildings along with some of the antique signage that owner Kevin Meehan has collected.

When we left the Miss Mendon we drove down the street about a mile to the entrance to the Myriad Ballroom. I had been curious to see if things had changed since 1983 when I first saw the former stainless steel diner that had been added on to the ballroom years before. David Hebb had shown me some photos he took of this place before I ended up seeing it myself. I would guess that the diner is being used as kitchen facilities for the ballroom which is itself being utillized as a function hall.


The former diner at the Myriad Ballroom from January, 1983 


The former diner at the Myriad Ballroom from January, 1983 

From the above 2 photos you can see that there was some stainless steel (albeit painted white) still covering the right side and the adjacent front portion (for about the width of 2 windows). With the exception of the corner window, all the other windows had been closed in.

I took a couple of more shots last week showing that new siding was placed on the diner to incorporate it more seemlessly into the whole building…

The only real identifying feature is the rounded corner with it’s window still intact. My guess is this is a Jerry O’Mahony diner from the early 1950’s. I also heard that this may have been relocated from somewhere in Rhode Island.

2 thoughts on “Notes from the Hotline, 4-10-2010

  1. Your correct on both counts: “The only real identifying feature is the rounded corner with it’s window still intact. My guess is this is a Jerry O’Mahony diner from the early 1950′s. I also heard that this may have been relocated from somewhere in Rhode Island.”

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