Diners and such, Fall River, Mass. in the 1980’s

I have probably written this before (in the book for sure), that back in the 1980’s, the old mill towns in Massachusetts still had high concentrations of diners left over from earlier decades. The cities of Lowell, Attleboro and Lynn come to mind. As the last 30 years have gone by, the amount of diners in these towns have also dwindled. In this post I am going to talk about the South Coast city of Fall River.

To start off this little tour, I am going to take you for a ride down the main thoroughfare known as Pleasant Street. Back in the 1980’s, Fall River still had 5 diners, 3 of them were located on Pleasant Street.

Paramount Diner/Catering

The first diner, heading from west to east on this street was the Paramount Diner/Paramount Catering located approximately at 171 Pleasant St. This was a  barrel-roofed Worcester Lunch Car dating from sometime in the 1930’s. I was checking through some Worcester Lunch Car Company info and could not find a Worcester Diner of this style and size that was delivered brand-new from the factory to Fall River. I suspect it was brought here from elsewhere (possibly the former Romeo’s Diner of nearby New Bedford). As I understand it, this operated at this location as the State Diner circa 1940 and was renamed the Paramount Diner later.

Paramount Diner/Catering at 171 Pleasant St. in Fall River, Mass. This is from my first visit to document diners in Fall River. I do not know the exact date as it was taken just before I started the diner log in July of 1981. It looks like the owners were covering the exterior with T-111 wooden panelling. The diner was just being used for a catering operation at this time.

In this second shot from the same visit in July of 1981, you can see the diner was attached to a larger building in the rear which itself was attached to what looks to be an old gas station-type building.

Here we see the diner in April of 1984 looking to be in similar condition.
No more T-111 has been installed (or finished for that matter). The only big difference is the windows on the side of the addition which were covered in the earlier shots are now uncovered, at least on the outside.

In doing some research for this post I came across an obituary from the Fall River Herald News dated April 26, 2008 for Peter Ciosek. Mister Ciosek passed away on April 25, 2008 at the age of 93. The obituary mentioned that he was the owner of the Paramount Diner/Catering for 35 years. The diner itself was gone by the late 1980’s, reportedly destroyed in a fire. There is currently an “L” shaped modern professional building on this site.

Sambo’s Diner

The next diner heading east on Pleasant St. was Sambo’s Diner. Located at 657 Pleasant St. it was a pretty rare configuration built by Paramount Diners of Haledon, NJ. Ironically, I received a scan of an ad from Jeff Kunkle of Vintage Roadside a few years ago. The ad was featured in a rare edition of the trade publication “Diner & Drive-In” magazine dating from May of 1956. The ad depicted this very diner and stated the owner was Sam Schwartz (hence the name Sambo’s).

Advertisement from May, 1956 issue of Diner & Drive-In magazine

This photo and the following three photos were shot in August of 1983 showing this diner in great detail. I can only conjecture that the flat roof of the diner had problems over the years and the owner added this slanted roof over the structure.

As one can see, this was a fairly small diner for the time period.

It was very stylish with large plate glass windows.

Looking inside you can see this interior is a throwback to lunchwagon days.

Unfortunately, this diner was gone by the early 1990’s and was replaced by a Mister Donut (now Dunkin Donut) shop.

Mark You Restaurant

In all those early diner hunting trips driving down Pleasant St., I passed by a completely remarkable looking storefront Chinese restaurant called the Mark You Restaurant (1236 Pleasant St.) and kept saying…. I have got to stop and photograph this place. I finally did shoot some photos of it in November of 1984, and I am so glad I did!  This place was so cool with a facade of black and biege Vitrolite, glass block windows and a tall verticle sign.

The lettering on the facade is probably 1940-1950 vintage and is accented by some stainless-steel trim. It might be hard to read, but the sign on the canopy/base of the verticle sign says “Chow Mein”.

That fantastic verticle sign really makes this place visible driving in either direction on Pleasant St.

A close-up of the sign

Another fantastic detail… a stainless-steel frame within the glass block window with a porthole that features a neon clock!

I checked online to see if this restaurant was still around as the last time I drove this stretch of Pleasant St. in May of 2011, I did not see the place. It seems the restaurant closed in 2007 and remained closed for approximately 3 years before being reopened. Unfortunately, it looks like the black and beige facade has been painted over in blue and white. Also during the 3 years it was closed, the verticle sign was removed, explaining why I did not notice the restaurant last year. I informed Dick Gutman about my plans in writing this post last weekend and mentioned the Mark You and he immediately told me that old friend Dave Waller rescued the sign. Well at least I know it did not go to a junk yard!

Nite Owl Diner

The Nite Owl Diner located at 1680 Pleasant Street is the final stop on this street before we move on. This circa 1956 diner was built by DeRaffele Diners.  I am not sure but I am thinking that this diner was also owned by Fall River “diner king” Al McDermott as this new little stainless-steel job replaced a truck-mounted Worcester Lunch Car (No. 786) that dated from 1945 that he owned.

The original Nite Owl Diner in Fall River. This was Worcester Lunch Car No. 786, the photo was taken right before it was replaced by the current diner.
Photo courtesy of John Baeder

This is possibly my favorite photo that I ever took of the Nite Owl Diner.
It dates to November of 1984 by the look of things, it seems the city was replacing the sidewalks around the diner.

This diner was “finished” on all sides with stainless-steel and red enamel stripes. Like its neighbor down the street, Sambo’s, this was set-up more like a lunch wagon on the interior instead of the more familiar layout.

As you can see the neon sign that had been installed on the roof of the older diner ended up on this one where it still sits today.

I went crazy photographing the diner that day in 1984 as the light was pretty much perfect!

Here is a 1991 “oil on canvas” painting by John Baeder of the Nite Owl.
(used with permission) image courtesy of John Baeder.

As far as I know, the Nite Owl Diner has stood closed now for a number of years but is still very much intact.

Al Mac’s Diner Restaurant

Now that we have left Pleasant St. we will travel back to the other end of town to Al Mac’s Diner located at 135 President Avenue. This is a 1953 vinatge DeRaffele Diner and one of the last bought by Al McDermott. When I first photographed this diner in July of 1981, it was actually facing President Avenue. Unless the light of day was a flat cloudy light, the diner which was facing north was very hard to photograph.

This particular day was sunny, but I managed to squeek out a couple of decent shots.

Before the end of the 1980’s, the diner was rearranged on the property. Basically the building was turned 90 degrees, counter clockwise and a new kitchen was built on the back. This way the large piece of property could be redeveloped into the strip mall that currently exists here.

Here is the diner turned and re-installed at the same location. Because of this new configuration, the diner has become more photogenic as it faces west now. By the way, that sign in this second photograph was brand-new and replaced the one in the older photograph which had rotted and ultimately fallen down.

Here is another “oil on canvas” painting by John Baeder from 1991. This image proves just how photogenic this diner became when it was turned around.

You can see more of John’s paintings here at his website….

Al Mac’s is a great place to have a meal when you are in the area and currently one of only 2 diners mentioned here that are still operating.

Andy’s Rockland Diner

This diner located at 1019 South Main Street in Fall River was known as just the “Rockland Diner” when I first came across it on March 13, 1982. This diner was built by J.B. Judkins of Merrimac, Mass., the manufacturers of Sterling Diners. This is in fact a Sterling Dinette, a fairly small diner model. This was one of at least two that I knew to exist in Massachusetts. The other was the Old Colony Diner in Mansfield (now The Catman Cafe). In fact both of these dinette models were enlarged by removing the left side wall and placing it on the front elevation.

The Rockland Diner in Fall River, The wall with 3 windows at the extreme
left of the front wall were originally the side wall of the diner.

The diner was enlarged even more with the brick addition on the right.

As I understand it, the diner is now completely encased in brick and fairly unrecogizable as a diner now. After Al Mac’s, the Rockland Diner is the only other diner that is still operating in Fall River.

25 thoughts on “Diners and such, Fall River, Mass. in the 1980’s

  1. I wonder if this may have been the diner which replaced Worcester #645. 645 had been the Suntaug in Peabody and it’s owner, Ernie Stansfield, told me that Sterling set him up with a used Worcester and he believed it had come from a trade-in from Fall River. This is the only known Sterling ever in Fall River so who knows? 645 had started out in another location but was repossessed by WLCC in the 1930s and it’s history between it’s original location and Peabody is unknown. AlMac was always known to be bouncing used diners around, and his exploits are almost incomprehensible because they involved so many diners over such a long span of time.

  2. I remember most of the diners spoken about and photographed. Al McDermott used to come into my barber shop when he was still alive and he owned Al Macs. I also remember Hickey’s up on the Taunton Green which is still operating after undergoing renovation, by the kids at Bristol Plymouth high school vocational. They were a great place to go to late at night when you wanted to eat something at that ungodly hour. Back then my stomach could eat that stuff at that ungodly hour.

  3. I know most of those and have been in 90 % of them way back in the 40’s.50’s and 60’s. A Fall River native who moved to Arizona in 1978 escaping the two snowstorms that snowed us in for two weeks on the way to the West,but we made it and have been here for 37 years.The only problem is that all this week and probably this month the temps are over 100 every day. Still beats snow over your head though. Have a great day Fall River.Maybe I will see you soon on a vacation.

  4. Did you neglect to mention Ray’s Diner on Stafford Rd? It was the only diner that it’s owner brought their dog in to visit with customers. It was a Doberman . My dad “Eddy” worked there for many years. He was also known as Lefty. Ray’s made the best “coffee cabs”.

    • Sorry Barbara, This post was about diners that were still in Fall River in the 1980s. If it was there in the 1980s, I did not know about it, if it was gone prior to the 1980s, it would not be relevant to the topic.

  5. I don’t think that Paramount Catering could have Romeo’s as it really looks to be something less than 14′ wide like Romeo’s. I do know that the same person who first had the Paramount in Fall River did call it the State, like you said. She was Honorine Lariviere. Mrs. Lariviere had a diner in New Bedford which was also called the State and the address disappears from the directories just before this shows up in Fall River! sounds like the same diner to me, but unfortunately the trail goes cold as there is no further history of it in New Bedford at 55 Spring, only goes back to about 1937 there.

    As an aside, Romeo’s (#732 14′ X 23′) was run by George Lucas from 1945-1955 but 1955 is as far as I can access city directories online for New Bedford. I just had a thought after seeing your image of the Green/Lucas Diner and wondered, could he have joined #732 with another diner to make such a large one? If he already owned a diner, why not, the Green/Lucas certainly looks to be 14′ wide anyway. there is no record of Worcester making such a long barrel roofed diner and the first 14′ wide one that I know of was Duffy’s in Leicester (#628) in 1929, so I think it would show up in the WLCC floor plans. the porcelain panels on the front of the Green Diner look very aftermarket too.

  6. You left off Earnshaw’s Diner down the road from Al Mac’s. Still there as Mill Pond Diner.

    Was 2nd Nite Owl diner on 2nd street, not sure if closed by 1980.

    • Hi Steve,
      Thanks for the comment, but I need to address the point you made about Earnshaw’s – first of all, this post is dedicated to the “factory-built” diners that existed in Fall River in the early 1980s (except for the mention of the Mark You Chinese Restaurant). Secondly, I was not even aware of Earnshaw’s until much later and that is in fact an “on-site” diner that replaced the one that is currently the Mill Pond Diner in Wareham. Chances are that back in the early 80s, I would not have photographed it (as I did in the 90s). Never saw the 2nd Nite Owl.

  7. My Dad worked @ The Night Owl when I was in high school. Durfee graduated ’54. He also worked @ their one on wheels that was in between 2 banks om Main St. It was there when I was in HS. They also had it on the Taunton Green @ Christmas Time. We now live in South Plymouth, so we are aware of the Mill Pond Dinner. Our daughter sent this article to us, and we enjoyed it so much

  8. I grew up in Swansea and i remember my dad taking us to Earnshaws or Almacs on sunday morning for breakfast. This was back in the 70s and 80s.

  9. Regarding the Paramount Catering Company, I believe this may have originally been Duffy’s Diner, which was opened by my grandfather. I believe his was in Worcester, but I may be mistaken.
    I dug up the only photo that I have of his diner, and the two are structurally identical. There’s a minor difference in the orientation of the door and top window. If nothing else, they were the same exact model.

  10. Sambos, had the best pizza there. I can remember going there with my mom and dad as a kid. My dad used to give me pennies to put in the old fashioned mechanical banks they had sitting on the counter. I can still taste their Pepperoni Pizza. Fairly thick cut and the Pepperoni would leave a bit of heat on your tongue after every bite. I have not been able to find a similar Pepperoni anywhere it was the best! Across the street was a large billboard for copper tone tan with a little girl that a dog had a hold of her shorts………lol

    I also remember very well the Carnival Drive In. My Sister Linda worked there for many years. And who doesn’t remember McCrays on Rte. 6 in Westport

    If only we could turn back the hands of time. Those were the days : )

  11. I was born and raised in Fall River. During the late 50s/early 60s, I spent a fair amount of time in Sambo’s parking lot. I have a story ready for Publishing on Medium.com that includes a brief description of Sambo’s. May I use one of your Sambo’s photos in the story. Title: Brain Freeze: The “Borrowed Hot Rod” and Racing at 140mph. Thank you for your consideration. – – Don Drewniak, BMC Durfee 1961.

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