I was honored to be interviewed for a piece that appeared in the Boston Globe “G” section on July 4th. It is part of their series called the “G Force”……..
Medford native celebrates classic diners
July 03, 2012
From 1988 to 2007, the Medford native wrote a column about diners for the Society for Commercial Archeology Journal. Since then, he has maintained
his Diner Hotline blog, and last year, he published “Classic Diners of Massachusetts” (The History Press), which goes into its third printing this month.
Q. You write that your journey started in 1980, and you have since visited and photographed more than 820 diners. What spurred your interest?
A. I’ve had an interest in diners since I was a little kid, but it wasn’t until 1979 or 1980 that I became aware they were disappearing. I was also getting into 35mm photography around that time and [diners] fed my different sensibilities: my love of history in particular. The history grabbed me.
Q. What about the history?
A. I knew that diners were built in factories; they weren’t generally built on-site. It wasn’t until 1980 that some books were starting to come out. First, John Baeder, the photo-realist artist, brought out “Diners” in 1978 and it featured his paintings and drawings. And in 1979 Richard Gutman brought out “American Diner,” which was the precursor to a book he brought out in the ’90s called “American Diner: Then & Now,” which has since become the bible for diner history. Once I started reading the history and figuring out there’s all these different manufacturers that used to build diners and some that still do at that point in time, you start identifying the different manufacturers by the different styles, details they put into their products.
So it was like how a classic car buff could look at a certain car and say, “Oh, that’s a 1957 Chevy Bel Air and it’s modified in this manner.’’ A diner buff can say, “That’s a 1948 Jerry O’Mahoney and it’s been altered by doing this or that ” or “most of it’s original.”
Q. Are New England diners different from diners elsewhere?
A. What really differentiates northern New England diners from southern New England diners, say, Connecticut, or even Long Island, N.Y., or Pennsylvania diners, is the fact that after 1960, especially by 1965, we weren’t getting any new diners up here, whereas the diners down in New York, southern Connecticut, were continually being upgraded. Owners go back to the factories and have new diners built, generally bigger than what they had. Up here, you could call them conservative-style diners, because they were just very small. And they managed to hold on, still dwindling little by little over the years. We still have the greatest collection of early- to mid-20th century diners anywhere.
Q. Does interest in diners ebb and flow or are they destined to eventually become extinct?
A. It sort of goes in spurts. By the late ’70s, diners were really starting to die out, especially around here. But with the books that came out, there came a resurgence. Right now, you don’t see too much happening around here except there’s a chain called the 5 and Diner that started out in the southwest, Phoenix. In about 2006, a family from Massachusetts decided to buy a franchise of the 5 and Diner and they opened it in Worcester, where the history of diner-building started. And within two years, they bought the whole chain.
Q. Which local diners are your favorites?
A. The Capitol Diner in Lynn, which has been run by the same family since the late ’30s, and the Salem Diner. Even though its current owners are fairly new to the diner, they’ve been in the restaurant business for many years and they are continuing the tradition at the Salem Diner and have rejuvenated
Q. In your photo, you’re wearing a shirt from Tim’s Diner in Leominster. What’s the story?
A. It’s a great diner and one of my favorites, primarily open only in the mornings. It’s one of the diners I wish I lived closer to because I’d be there a lot more often. The family that’s been running it has been running it since the early ’50s. It was originally known as Roy’s Diner. They’re famous for their fish chowder. The locals can’t wait for Fridays. It goes right out the door.
Interviewed by Glenn Yoder