A look back at the Park Street Diner – Ayer, Mass.

Here is a diner that never should have disappeared. This was a 1950’s vintage DeRaffele Diner, one of only 3 known to be delivered to Massachusetts (not counting the Corner Lunch which was a Musi re-do of a similar model DeRaffele). This was the Park Street Diner located in downtown Ayer, Mass. It was also one of the largest diners in the Bay State and had plenty of business, probably because of its proximity to Fort Devens. In fact it was open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year!

I ate at this diner quite a few times over the years, in fact some of those visits predated the start of my officially documenting diners with photos. It was always pretty startling to round the corner of Rte. 2A and see this huge stainless steel covered diner sitting on the corner, especially since most of the diners in this area of Massachusetts were much smaller Worcester Lunch Cars! Dick Gutman has a photo in his book, American Diner Then & Now showing the earlier incarnation of this diner, a very rare Barriere Diner!

The Park Street Diner closed  in late 1985 if I recall correctly. It was bought by Carlton Blackwell, a former Mayor of Fitchburg. Ironically, when I researched just now to get Mr. Blackwell’s name right, I found he had passed away on my last birthday (May 25, 2010). When the diner closed, I recall reading that Mr. Blackwell said the day of the diner had passed and that he was renovating the building to become a different restaurant called “Ryan’s Roast” which featured roast beef and other meats.

So, after an auction  the diner was started to be renovated. Before all the stainless steel and enameled striped exterior was destroyed, Dan Scully, one of the original members of the Society for Commercial Archeology was able to secure the rights to remove the exterior covering which to my knowledge, he still has. In fact Dan loaned 2 or 3 sections including window trim which became a huge part of the landmark exhibit, American Diner Then & Now that was curated by Dick Gutman at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Mass. back in 1995. They were used at the entrance to the exhibit.

Above you can see the diner building after the stainless exterior was removed. It was being enlarged to become Ryan’s Roast. This restaurant did not last too long, maybe 1.5 to 2 years at the most. After it closed, it became a bank and is currently still being used as a bank. See below….

Here is an image from Google Street view showing the building as it currently is…. a Sovereign Bank branch. It looks to be even more modified since I shot my photo, the entryway is larger now!

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Classic Diners of Massachusetts, a new book in the near future!

Back in mid-Janurary, I was contacted by Jeff Saraceno, a Commissioning Editor with The History Press, a noted publisher of local history books headquartered in Charleston, SC. He had been web surfing for ideas and possible authors and came across this Weblog.

Jeff thought that a possible History book about Classic New England Diners might be something to explore and asked me what I thought. I told him I was certainly interested and that I would like to think it over. I immediately started doing my own research into The History Press. I was familiar with the publisher as an aquaintence of mine, Barbara Kerr of the Medford Public Library (Medford, Massachusetts) had put together a book for them entitled “Glimpses of Medford – Selections from the Historical Register” that was published in 2007.

I contacted Barbara and asked her about her time working with The History Press and she told me it was a positive experience. In turn, Barbara put me in touch with Dee Morris who also penned  two books for the publisher, one entitled “Medford, Massachusetts –  A Brief History” and another entitled “Somerville, Massachusetts – A Brief History”. Dee also expressed positive feelings about working with the publisher.

I did some web surfing myself and read up on the publisher and realized that they are the parent company of Tempus Publishing, Inc. which in turn happens to have an imprint called Arcadia Publishing (the people who put out the Images of America books). The major difference between the books published by The History Press and Arcadia’s Images of America series is that the books put out by The History Press are heavier on text and have fewer photos.

I bought a copy of Barbara Kerr’s book and checked it out. Then I got back to Jeff and told him I thought that trying to do a book of Diners in New England would not really be feasible for the size book that they publish. Jeff then asked what about splitting it up and start with just Massachusetts? I told him that would certainly work better. He sent me an authors proposal to fill out and I also put together a short outline of how I would approach it.

I sent everything off to him this past weekend and he presented it to his people at a weekly meeting today and they accepted it! So I hopefully will have a contract this coming weekend and it looks like I have to get cracking!

So, if everything goes ok, the book entitled Classic Diners of Massachusetts will be published either this fall (if I can get it together fairly quick) or at the very latest by the holidays!

Another trip back to the early 1980’s

As the cartoon character Mister Peabody used to say….. Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to the early 1980’s. Yes, I’m taking another trip back in time to show some photos of diners I documented back then. First up is a diner that is still going strong in Highspire, PA, a small town adjacent to Harrisburg.

Highspire Diner, 2nd Street, Highspire, PA


Highspire Diner, that’s Homer Alverado the owner at the time out in front,
photo circa March, 1982 by Larry Cultrera


Highspire Diner, photo circa March, 1982 by Larry Cultrera

This wonderful example of an early 1950 vintage Silk City Diner is almost pristine, even today! I believe the signage has changed since 1982, I especially like the word “Highspire” arched over the word “Diner” on the Coke sign. You don’t see that often but I believe it was unique to that area as I recall seeing other Coke signs down there with a similar lettering style.

Magnolia Diner, Rte. 40, Joppa, MD


Magnolia Diner, May 31, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera


Magnolia Diner, May 31, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera

This Mountain View Diner with unique “squared-off” corners was closed at the time of these photos. I am not sure it ever opened for business again. Not even sure it still exists. (I’m am sure Spencer Stewart might be able to enlighten us on the current status of this place). Later on that day, I photographed the Hightstown Diner (see below). Also Steve Repucci and I stopped in New York City and connected with John Baeder for the first face-to-face meeting we ever had with him. He was in the middle of a marathon rewrite for his Gas, Food and Lodging book that weekend. He took a quick break to come and meet us.

Colonial Diner, Main Street, Brockton, Mass.


Colonial Diner, early 1980’s photo by Larry Cultrera


Colonial Diner, early 1980’s photo by Larry Cultrera

The Colonial Diner was the last diner in downtown Brockton. It was a large Sterling Diner with monitor roof and stained glass windows (like Worcester Lunch Cars of similar vinatge). According to my notes it was torn down by 1993.

Forest Diner, Rte. 20, Auburn, Mass.


Forest Diner, early 1980’s photo by Larry Cultrera


Forest Diner, early 1980’s photo by Larry Cultrera

This diner originally operated as the Casu Diner in Turners Falls, Mass. It was moved to its second location in Auburn a few years later and operated as Lavalle’s Diner. I believe that location was taken by eminent domain possibly for I-290 (where it crossed Rte. 20) and the diner was then moved to this location adjacent to the Forest Motel. It was again sold in the late 1980’s and eventually made its way to Colchester, VT to become Libby’s Blue Line Diner. It is Worcester Lunch Car No. 838.

Cable Car Diner, Bank Street, Attleboro, Mass.


Cable Car Diner, Sept. 14, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Cable Car Diner, Sept. 14, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

In the early 1980’s, Attleboro had 4 diners in the downtown area. This 1930’s Worcester Lunch Car had operated as Barney’s Diner prior to my first visit. This rare diner had a mirror-image back-bar to the normal Worcester configuration. the grill and refrigerator as well as the rest of the set-up was on the right end instead of the left. So the “blank” panel adjacent to the window (above the sign) is the location of the refrigerator. This diner was closed and moved in the late 1980’s.

Franklin Cafe, Mill Street, Attleboro, Mass.


Franklin Cafe, Sept. 14, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Franklin Cafe, Sept. 14, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

Here is another of the 4 Attleboro diners. This diner was originally called the Franklin Diner and was operated by the Morin family who currently run Morin’s Restaurant around the corner from this place. This was the only one of the 4 diners that was closed when I first visited the town. It was torn down by the late 1980’s.

Hightstown Diner, Mercer Street, Hightstown, NJ


Hightstown Diner, May 31, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera


Hightstown Diner, May 31, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera

The Hightstown Diner looks to be a 1950’s Kullman Diner in these photos. But in actuality, this is a 1940’s streamlined DeRaffele Diner that Kullman retooled in the 1950’s or early 60’s. The sign on the roof is noteworthy and can even be seen in a postcard image of the diner with its 1940’s appearance. The diner has since been stuccoed over and had a mansard added.

I was contacted by Terry Parliaros, one of the owners in the last couple of years and we had a couple of emails and possibly phone conversations if I recall. I sent him scans of these 2 images as well as 2 different postcards I have in the collection, 1 of the first incarnation, a 1930’s vintage barrel roofed Tierney Diner and the 1940’s vintage DeRaffele.

Since then I almost forgot about this incident until this week when I got a nice surprise in the mail. Terry sent along a newly created multi-page laminated menu (as well as a take out version) accompanied with a thank you note for sending the photos. I want to extend my thanks to Terry for sending these along and hope to take him up on his offer to visit the diner the next time I am down that way!  Here is a link to their website…. http://www.hightstowndiner.com/menu.html, for some reason their Home Page is not working but the rest of the site is ok.