This blog post is ultimately about the Embassy Grill (or Grille), a diner that lived most of its operating life fairly close to the factory that built it. But before I get into the details (as I know them) about that diner, I want to relate a little history (a primer if you will) about the company that built it and how few of these diners survive today! The info for the history of Brill Diners comes from the research of my friend Dick Gutman…. The Embassy was built by Wason Manufacturing Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, one of two subsidiaries of the J.G. Brill Company which was based out of Philadelphia, PA. Brill was noted for their line of trolley cars and train trucks (the wheel assemblies for railroad rolling stock). The other subsidiary being the G.C. Kuhlman Car Company out of Cleveland, Ohio, which presumably served a more mid-western customer base. For a period of time in the late 1920s and early 1930s they also produced a line of steel diners. There were countless examples of Brill Diners located in the eastern U.S., especially in the northeast. We had many in and around the Boston area. Places I personally know about such as Caverly’s Diner in Charlestown, the Pine Tree Diner in Somerville (both gone by the end of the 1970s) as well as the very first version of Carroll’s Diner in my hometown of Medford. The lone surviving Brill diner currently operating in the northeast is the Capitol Diner in downtown Lynn, Massachusetts. In point of fact, the Capitol may be the only operating Brill diner left anywhere!
Brill diners all had monitor style roofs with the raised clerestory highly reminiscent of railroad cars. The exteriors were covered in painted steel panels and had cast iron light fixtures with round white globes affixed to the curved section on the roof hanging just over the windows. Most if not all Brill diners featured glass-topped counters where the diner operators would display pies and other baked goods and the cooking was done right behind the counter, short order style. The next few photos will show you some of the distinctive features of a typical Brill Diner…
The exterior of the Capitol Diner in Lynn, Mass. The exteriors almost
always had a door situated at the corners of the front facade flanking
at least 8 windows. Some may have been built with a door centered
on the front facade.
The interior of the Capitol Diner showing the glass-topped counter. This diner’s interior
has been altered mostly due to a fire in the late 1970s but still retains the original feel.
(photo by Larry Cultrera)
An exterior light fixture from my personal collection. It was removed from the Capitol
Diner when the roof was recovered in the early 1990s. Some were broken and in fact
they had not been used in years. I removed several layers of paint and restored what looked
to be the original dark green finish. The white globe was obtained by the National Heritage
Museum in Lexington, Mass. when the light fixture was loaned to them for a major diner exhibit.
(photo by Larry Cultrera)
The next few photos are of other examples of Brill Diners here in the northeast that lasted past the middle of the 20th century…
The Pine Tree Diner of Somerville, Mass. also lasted into the 1970s. By the time this was
demolished for the MBTA Red Line subway extension, it was pretty much disguised.
(photo courtesy of David Guss)
An old photo from my collection featuring a Brill diner located on Massachusetts Avenue
at Arlington Heights – Arlington, Mass. This diner would later be replaced in the 1950s by
a large stainless steel Fodero diner that operated briefly here as part of the Monarch Diner
chain before moving to Cambridge to become the Kendall Diner. The site was then occupied
by a Worcester streamliner known as the Pullman Diner until that closed in the mid-1970s.
(photo from my collection)
Walsh’s Diner looks to be an earlier & larger Brill diner that was located on the corner
of West Water Street & Main Street in Wakefield, Mass. until the early 1950s when it
was replaced by a streamline modernistic Jerry O’Mahony diner. This diner went on to
another operating location on Bridge Road – U.S. Rte. 1 in Salisbury, Mass. as Bossy Gillis’
Diner for an unspecified amount of time. (photo from my collection)
A little further afield was the Deluxe Diner of Pomona, CA. This Brill diner was longer and
wider than most and had the rare center front door configuration. Notice the cast iron light
fixtures here with the white globes. (photo from my collection)
Well, now that you know a little about Brill Diners, I will get down to the nitty gritty on the Embassy Grill. What got me to think of this diner was that a friend from Facebook & Flickr (Greg MacKay) had pointed me toward a link to the website Masslive.com that featured a bunch of photos of restaurants in the greater Springfield area that no longer exist. The Embassy Grill showed up in 2 photos!
After seeing those two photos, I decided to revisit this diner (so to speak) and dig up info including my own involvement in documenting this place and any other facts I had in my archives. Some of those facts came from some great detective work by Will Anderson. Will wrote about this diner in his book “Lost Diners and Roadside Restaurants of New England and New York” (2001). According to what Will dug up, this diner was originally located at 253 Front Street in the Market Square area of Chicopee, Massachusetts, the next town to the north of Springfield (where Wason Manufacturing was located). Opened in 1928, it was operated as the Market Square Diner by owner Bill “Winkie” Theroux. Ironically I was speaking on the phone to John Baeder about this upcoming post and mentioned Will Anderson and John informed me that Will had recently passed away on March 7, 2015. I was saddened to hear this and later spoke with Will’s wife Catherine Buotte to reminisce as well as express my condolences.
I personally first knew of this diner through an image that was depicted on page 73 in John Baeder’s 1978 book “Diners”. John photographed the diner back in the 1970s. He normally would have done either a watercolor or oil painting of the image but had decided to expand his horizons by looking at other mediums. In this case he teamed up with master printer Donn H. Steward (1921-1985). A plate was created to be used in the printing of the soft-ground etching (the black & white image in his book). Ironically, years later I would become the guardian of a number of “Artist’s Proofs” of the soft-ground etching of the Embassy that had been stored for years in John’s “walk-up” apartment in New York City. When he was cleaning out the old apartment in 1988, I helped him pack up the rest of his belongings and the Trial Proofs were there. He asked me to take care of them for a period of time, which turned out to be close to 20 years or so. After finally sending off the proofs to John a few years ago, he sent an autographed one back to me and is a treasured part of my collection!
When I first saw the image of the diner in John Baeder’s book, I had no idea if it even still existed. After becoming friends with John in 1982, I learned John was residing in Nashville, Tennessee after moving there from New York City. He’d been there for a couple of years already but had recently bought the house he now lives in. He was planning on coming back to New York City to pack up a portion of his belongings and truck them down to Nashville. I ended up offering my services to him so in October of 1983, I met John down in NYC and helped him load a rental truck with a huge amount of books, memorabilia and other personal objects. I actually stayed at his old apartment for 2 or 3 days and at one point found an old Kodak slide carousel box that was being used for storage of some papers and memorabilia, etc. I saw 2 or 3 yellowed news clippings (from the Springfield Morning Union newspaper) someone had sent John that were dated from 1979 or so and they were all about the Embassy Grille (that’s how it was spelled here) being moved to South Hadley, Massachusetts by Anthony W. Ravosa Sr. Mr. Ravosa was known around greater Springfield as a band leader (Tony Ravosa Orchestra), Attorney and the owner of restaurants and real estate. In 1969, he purchased a small ramshackle bar on the banks of the Connecticut River in South Hadley called the River Lodge, which he would later remodel and expand dramatically over many years into the storied Riverboat, a celebrated, four-star restaurant of wide renown.
Back to the Embassy… the Theroux family continued to operate the diner under its original name (Market Sqaure Diner) until 1966 according to Will Anderson. At that time it was mostly being run by Bobby Theroux, Winkie’s son. Theroux decided to expand the diner by building a brick addition on the right end of the building to increase seating in the establishment. This was when the name change occurred “to something a little more classy”… the Embassy Grill! If you look at the old images of the Embassy you will see that the diner has a barrel roof instead of the monitor that a Brill diner always had. I believe when the annex was built, it was decided to add the newer barrel roof over the original monitor to make the connection to the new building work better. Though not common at least it was better than a mansard roof!
The Embassy continued to operate until 1978 when Bob Theroux sold the property the diner was on to the city of Chicopee for a street widening project. This is when Theroux sold the diner to Anthony Ravosa. Those news clippings I got from John Baeder spelled out the problems that Mr. Ravosa unfortunately ended up having when he moved the diner. He ran into a roadblock briefly when the Town of South Hadley claimed that Ravosa moving the diner to his property adjacent to the Riverboat Restaurant violated zoning laws and that it needed special building permits, etc. Be that as it may, Ravosa ended up doing what he needed to do to get the old diner situated on the new location. Unfortunately his plans did not include using it as a traditional diner but an oyster bar connected to the larger restaurant!
After helping John Baeder pack up a rental truck and move his belongings down to Nashville that Ocotber, 1983 – (what a roadtrip that was!), I was now armed with a location to finally document with photographs the Embassy Grill! So on November 13, 1983, Dave Hebb and myself took a ride out to South Hadley to locate the old diner. After a little hunting we did find the location on River Lodge Road and found the restaurant complex by then operating as DeLuca’s Riverboat Restaurant! After recently speaking with Anthony Ravosa Jr., I learned that his father had given up daily operation of the restaurant and started leasing the place to other operators. In fact at one point it was a dance club and may have been known as Mark Twain’s.
Exterior view of the Embassy Grill being used as an Oyster Bar in South Hadley, Mass.
It looks like they attempted to make the diner look more like a caboose.
(November 13, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera)
Emabassy Grill in South Hadley, Mass. The interior of the diner had been stripped and just had tables
and chairs if I recall. Curiously, the Belding Hall refrigerator was still where it always was – for some
reason, they kept it. (November 13, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera)
From speaking with Anthony Ravosa Jr. as well as Randy Garbin, it looks like the complex lasted here in South Hadley until the early 1990s when the property was redeveloped into townhouse condos. So there is no trace of the former Embassy Grill or the Riverboat Restaurant left! The diner could have ceased to exist back in 1978 or so but lived a fairly short second life not too far away from its long-time operating location and probably still within 10 miles or so of where it was manufactured, making it the second to last operating Brill diner in Massachusetts! On a final note the former owners of the Embassy Grill passed away in the last 5 years, Anthony Ravosa Sr. on May 10, 2010 and Bobby Theroux more recently at the age of 100 years on August 26, 2013.