37 years down the road…

It is still hard to even wrap my brain around the fact that I took my very first “Diner” photograph 37 years ago on November 29, 1980! Although my interest in Diners goes back to the 1950s when I was around 5 or 6 years old, the groundwork for this first “Diner” photo op was a few months in the making. I had purchased a used 35mm camera in the summer of 1980 and started taking some scenic photos after being inspired by my pal Steve Repucci.

bypass-diner_11-29-1980
The Bypass Diner, Herr Street in Harrisburg, PA. The first “Diner”
photograph featuring my blue 1979 Chevy Van parked in front!

To backtrack a little, Steve and I crossed paths after I had started a new job in September of 1976 at Analogic Corporation in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Steve had been employed there since 1974. We became acquainted through our shared employment between 1976 and all thru 1977, but did not socialize much outside of work until June 24, 1978, when we had gone on a camping trip to the Lake George, NY area for a weekend.

After that weekend, we became fast friends and I soon learned of Steve’s passion for 35mm photography! At that time I had always had a Kodak Instamatic camera around just for taking snapshots. I was not an avid photographer at all. But seeing some of the photos that Steve shot inspired me to look at photography seriously as a new hobby.

In April of 1979, another critical high point came when I purchased my first brand-new vehicle, a 1979 Chevy Van. From 1971 until that April, I had always owned used vehicles which got me around adequately enough, but there was always that looming cloud of possible mechanical problems which could hinder long distance travel. In purchasing the new van, this cloud had finally dissipated! In fact during that year, Steve and I had started our weekly Sunday morning short road trips, usually stopping for breakfast at local diners. This got our heads wrapped around the idea of tailoring the Sunday morning ride destinations either driving to already known diners to just flat out exploring to find new places to have breakfast.

So with the purchase of the new van in 1979, this allowed me the opportunity to increase the scope of my traveling. And then with the subsequent purchase of my first 35mm camera, the stage was set that lead me to that first “Diner” photo! September of 1980, Steve had realized his plans of moving to Harrisburg, PA for a change of scene. A good friend of his from the U.S. Air Force, Ed Womer, lived there and gave Steve the incentive to relocate.

I was one of the people who helped in getting Steve moved (owning a van back then, I was always being asked to help people move). So this was my first time traveling to Pennsylvania. On that initial trip, I noticed a few diners while I was there, although I do not recall eating in any on that trip. It was the next time down over the long Thanksgiving Day weekend when I took that first shot of the Bypass Diner which was a mile or so from where Steve and Ed had their shared apartment. Nowadays, the Bypass Diner still exists although it has been operated as the American Dream Diner for many years.

Now that 37 years have elapsed and I have photographed over 860 diners in that time. I can’t help but think back on this personal trip, especially since I have been scanning all my slides and photos in earnest for the last 2 and 1/2 years, (I stopped using 35mm film and went fully digital in 2008). With this scanning project, I am building up my digital archive of photos. It seems that whenever I scan any particular photo, be that of a diner or any other miscellaneous subject, I tend to relive those days.

But really, it all started when I was a kid, living in Medford, Massachusetts. My dad Sebastian “Sam” Cultrera loved diners and was the guy who first told me about them. He brought me out to breakfast to places like the Star Lite Diner, on Mystic Ave. in Medford…

Star-5
The one and only photo of the Star Lite Diner known to exist.
This is my colorized version (using Photoshop).

The Star Lite was fairly close to my family’s meat market and I also used to ride the delivery bike from the store down to the diner for lunch. I recall playing tunes on the juke box and kibitzing with the owner Jim and his son Richie. They closed for their usual 2 week vacation in the summer of 1968 but unfortunately never reopened. The diner reportedly was moved to a salvage yard in nearby Chelsea, Massachusetts.

starlt3
My large scale scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner.

We also frequented Bobbie’s Diner, also located on Mystic Ave. in Medford. My dad actually supplied hamburger meat and Italian Sausage to Bobbie’s Diner from our family meat market, the Blue Eagle Market.

Bobbie's-new-scan
My one and only photo of Bobbie’s Diner, not long before it
was demolished.

Bobbie's-2_July-1981
I was driving by one morning and saw that the diner had been
dismantled and placed in a dumpster.

Bobbie's-3_July-1981
The next day it was almost completely gone…

Later, when I became friends with David Hebb, he gave me one of his definitive photos of Bobbie’s Diner for my collection…

Bobbie's-Diner_David-Hebb-photo
David Hebb’s photo of Bobbie’s Diner from circa 1980 or so.

I have since learned a bit of the history of this diner and that it was located prior to World War II in Haines Square a commercial center just off the Fellsway in Medford.
It was originally known as Jack’s Diner. The family that owned it moved it in the early 1940s to the yard adjacent to their home for a few years before relocating it to Mystic Avenue where it again operated as Jack’s before being sold.

Jack's
Jack’s Diner being moved from Haines Square.

The last diner to operate in Medford was Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car, a circa 1961 vintage Swingle Diner. This replaced 2 earlier diners at its location on Main Street. I recall my family going for breakfast on Easter morning after church for a couple of years when this diner was brand new. Later, after graduating from high school, Carroll’s became the go-to hang out for my friends and I for quite a few years.

car2-82a
A night-time photo I shot in the winter of 1982

Carrolls-8-83
Carroll’s Diner, from a photo I shot in 1983.

Carroll’s closed in 1986 and was demolished to make way for a new office building. More recently the Carroll family opened a new restaurant a couple of blocks away just off Medford Square called Carroll’s Bar & Grill.

Carroll's-10_5-2-2012
Carroll’s Bar & Grill on Main Street in Medford Square.
May 5, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

When I started this trip 37 years ago, little did I know that it would eventually lead to me writing this blog as well as 2 books. I want to give a shout-out to all the friends I have made during this journey, chief among them, Richard J.S. Gutman, John Baeder, David Hebb and all the diner owners I have come to know personally. I wonder what the next decade or two might have in store???

 

 

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