Worcester, Massachusetts’ Corner Lunch Diner origins uncovered

I have been documenting Diners with my photos for over 40 years now and every now and then a piece of the vast puzzle of American Diner history finally shows up and fills in a blank. Especially since the advent of social media and Facebook in general, the amount of information has increased and the legions of Diner aficionados that have come out of the woodwork or in this case, the world wide web have helped considerably!

Worcester, Massachusetts historically is the birthplace of diner manufacturing with people such as Samuel Messer Jones, Charles H. Palmer and Thomas H. Buckley building horse-drawn lunch wagons from the 1870s into the early 1900s. Buckley’s concern gave way to the Worcester Lunch Car And Carriage Manufacturing Company in the early 1900s and Worcester Lunch Car continued until the late 1950s when they built their last diner. The company’s assets were auctioned in May of 1961, thus ending diner manufacturing in that city. But years before that happened, Worcester Lunch Car was finding it hard to compete with the other manufacturers in New York and New Jersey. This was evidenced with the fact that some local diner owners ended up upgrading to larger more modern diners out of the mid-Atlantic region.

In fact, the City of Worcester had received at least two Jerry O’Mahony Diners, Messier’s Diner and the nearby Kenmore Diner, more than likely in the 1940s. Another non-Worcester built diner, the Corner Lunch Diner showed up in the city circa 1967. Even though this diner was delivered a few years after the Worcester Lunch Car Company closed up, the Corner Lunch was a slap in the face – being relocated almost across the street from the former Worcester Lunch Car factory!

my first photo of the Corner Lunch from February, 1981
A close-up view of the Corner Lunch. Photo by Larry Cultrera, July, 1983

Now granted, the Corner Lunch was a used/reconditioned diner originally built by DeRaffele Diners out of New Rochelle, New York. I am not sure when I first heard that this diner was originally located on Long Island, NY prior to be taken in on trade by Musi Dining Car Company, but I will say that I had probably known this for two or three decades now. What we did not know was what its original operating name and location was. Until two years ago that is!

The maker’s tag placed over the entrance to the kitchen by Musi Dining Car Co.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, July 21, 2019

Back on July 9, 2019, a guy named Chris Barbuschak posted three black and white photos he came across in his research on the Dinerville Facebook page. The first photo was an exterior of a diner called the O-Co-Nee Grill. The other two photos Chris said were unidentified but I knew right away they were interior views of the same diner! I also figured out that this was the original location of the Corner Lunch before it came to Worcester. Right after I saw these photos, a Post Card came up for Auction on Ebay and I got it! As I suspected the diner was much longer when originally built by DeRaffele circa 1950 or so. The front elevation had a large entryway centered on that wall and flanked by five windows and a curved corner window on each side.

Exterior photo of the O-Co-Nee Grill, Bay Shore, Long Island. Photo courtesy of the
New York ABC Board provided by Chris Barbuschak
First interior photo of the O-Co-Nee Grill, notice the “compass” pattern in the terrazzo floor between the 2nd and 3rd coat racks on the ends of the 2 booth benches. This was a huge clue….. Photo courtesy of the New York ABC Board provided by Chris Barbuschak
Second interior photo of the O-Co-Nee Grill. Photo courtesy of the
New York ABC Board provided by Chris Barbuschak
interior view showing the “compass” graphic in the terrazzo floor of the Corner Lunch.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, July 21, 2019
Post Card from my collection of the O-Co-Nee Grill.
back of the Post Card of the O-Co-Nee Grill….

I immediately got in touch with Chris thru Facebook by sending him a Friend Request and told him those photos cleared up a mystery and how important they were. Chris got back to me and said… Hi Larry, it’s an honor to be friend requested by you. As a diner enthusiast, I’ve been following your amazing blog for years. I’m thrilled to have been of some assistance to the O-Co-Nee Grill/Corner Lunch puzzle. You are more than welcome to use the photos. They’re probably public domain anyways since the New York ABC Board had them photographed. Looking forward to seeing the new photos of the Corner Lunch that you’ll take!

I told him that the biggest change to the diner when it got to Worcester was to the left end, possibly 10 to 15 feet or so were chopped off of both the front diner section and the factory-built kitchen section so the diner could fit on the property at its new location in Worcester. Also, the original entryway did not make the move to Worcester.

Here is the left side of the diner after it was altered by Musi.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, March, 1983

They actually put the stainless steel and enamel stripes on the redone side wall of the front section to make it look more finished. The back section just got a plain metal clad exterior covering. The interior was also finished off very professionally by Musi and one would never know that this diner was a dozen or more feet longer at one time.

An interior photo by Larry Cultrera, March, 1983
another interior photo by Larry Cultrera, March, 1983

Over the years, the diner has not changed much on the inside as this next photo will show. Seen in this shot is my wife Denise, sitting at the counter and Charlie Boukalis the current owner at the grill. Charlie and his daughter Joanna (aka JoJo, seen in the background behind the counter) have been operating the diner for 18 years at this point in 2021.

Interior photo by Larry Cultrera, July 21, 2019.

The exterior of the diner is showing some wear and tear after over 70 years of service but hopefully will continue to serve the people of Worcester as well as diner lovers from New England and beyond for many years to come…

Exterior view of the Corner Lunch Diner by Larry Cultrera, July 21, 2019
Exterior view of the Corner Lunch Diner by Larry Cultrera, July 21, 2019

Unique Roadside commercial structures revisited…

Back on June 17, 2008 when this blog was less than a year old, I wrote a post called Interesting places I have photographed… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2008/06/17/interesting-roadside-places-i-have-photographed/. Now in July of 2021, I want to revisit this subject – to expand, update and utilize the pretty much completed digital archive I now have at my disposal. After spending the better part of four years scanning (and in some cases, re-scanning) all the 35mm prints and slides for all my Diner photos (dating from my first diner photograph, the By-Pass Diner – November 29, 1980 until switching totally to digital cameras in the summer of 2008) as well as scanning most if not all of my roadside related photos, I am now back to hopefully writing my blog on a more regular basis!

This newly completed archive of scanned photos are now up to my personal standards as to how my photos should look. This means that to the best of my ability and 25 years of using Adobe Photoshop, that regardless of the lighting conditions of how each photo was shot, I have tweaked and enhanced all these photos to be as close to what I had intended them to be when I initially set up the shots back in the day. The differences will be noticeable if you compare some of the photos in that earlier blog post to this one because I am more than likely going to use some of those images again here.

I want to explain my decision to revisit this subject about unique or unusual buildings instead of something more Dinercentric. Being a long-time member of the Society for Commercial Archeology, my interest’s run the gamut from my first love of Diners to Drive-In Restaurants, Hot Dog Stands, and selective old-time fast food places. But the unusual shaped buildings, (termed Programatic Architecture) hold a special place as well. This interest might also go back to my childhood when I noticed restaurants in the local area shaped like a Clipper Ship or Take-Out cardboard Fried Clam Box. So when I had decided to start taking photographs of Diners, it was a very small step to including other commercial roadside architecture as subject matter.

In fact, as I have written before, the impetus to start the documentation of Diners, etc. with my own photos were the first three Diner books that were published just prior to me starting on this 40 plus year project, (Diners by John Baeder, 1978 – American Diner by Richard J.S. Gutman & Elliott Kaufman, 1979 – and Diners of the Northeast by Donald Kaplan & Allyson Bellink, 1980). In fact there were other Roadside Related books starting to be published that got my attention as well. I recall purchasing two of these books, the first of many, more than likely by 1982. The End of the Road by John Margolies and Vanishing Roadside America by Warren H. Anderson, both published in 1981.

The End of the Road by John Margoloies
Vanishing Roadside America by Warren H. Anderson

Other books that came to my attention as well as into my personal library include; White Towers by Paul Hirshorn and Steven Izenour – published in 1979, California Crazy by Jim Heimann and Rip Georges – published in 1980, Main Street to Miracle Mile by Chester H. Liebs – published in 1985 and Orange Roofs, Golden Arches by Philip Langdon – published in 1986.

White Towers by Paul Hirshorn and Steven Izenour
California Crazy by Jim Heimann and Rip Georges
Main Street to Miracle Mile by Chester H. Liebs
Orange Roofs, Golden Arches by Philip Langdon

But the book that became an inspiration for me to expand my photography to include the unusual and unique roadside commercial buildings was titled The Well-Built Elephant by J.J.C. Andrews. I bought it as soon as it was published in 1984 and was completely intrigued by it!

The Well-Built Elephant by J.J.C. Andrews

In his book, Mr. Andrews mentioned something about his growing up in my home state of Massachusetts, but did not really go into any details about his early life and very general info on how he came to pursue his own hobby of documenting these places. He did mention about being a tour manager for recording artists such as David Bowie and how late one night while riding on a tour bus between gigs, he saw a restaurant shaped like a hamburger somewhere. He knew he could not stop the bus and photograph it but was determined to get back there at his earliest convenience and document it. Unfortunately, when he did get back to that location, he found it had been demolished prior to his return! This led him to make an effort to document as many of these places as he could. This eventually gave birth to an exhibit of his photos and the publication of his book.

When I was planning this blog post I started doing a little research to find out more about Mr. Andrews. I knew I had read somewhere previously that he passed away at a young age and was surprised to find that he died within a year or two of the publication of his book. My research led me to a podcast featuring Tony Defries, who was the person behind the Mainman group of companies, the “first of its kind” rights management organization formed by entrepreneur and impresario Defries in 1972. This company supported and helped to develop the careers of various artists including David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Mick Ronson, Mott the Hoople, Ian Hunter, Mick Ralphs, Dana Gillespie, Amanda Lear, Wayne/Jayne County, John Cougar Mellencamp and many others. This was the company that Jamie Andrews (as he was known by friends and colleagues) worked for from the mid-1970s until his death approximately ten years later. In this podcast, Mister Defries speaks mainly of Jamie Andrews and his involvement in Mainman as well mentioning the Well-Built Elephant book project. You can hear the podcast here… https://mainmanlabel.com/episode-31/ .

One of the recording artists that Mainman handled was Cidny Bullens (formerly Cindy Bullens) who also grew up in Massachusetts. I am friends with Cidny thru Facebook and asked him about Jamie, trying to find out where he grew up. Cid seemed to recall Andover or North Andover but acknowledged that he could be wrong on that fact. He did have these thoughts on Jamie though… Hi Larry-Oh to see Jamie’s name brings back such good memories. Jamie was a dear friend from the late 70’s when I signed with Mainman to his untimely death. He was a sweet man and a wonderful photographer. After Cidny’s response, I decided to dig a little deeper and did a Google search on Jamie’s mother’s name Dora Andrews and found mention of Lawrence, Massachusetts, so Cidny was pretty close on his recollection as Lawrence borders both Andover and North Andover.

Anyway, after being a little long winded here, I will get to the meat of this blog post. By showcasing my own photos of these unusual buildings as a tribute to Jamie Andrews and his Well-Built Elephant book…

Lucy The Elephant – Margate, New Jersey

Photo by Larry Cultrera, November 19, 1985

In honor of the photo on the cover of Jamie Andrews’ book, I decided to go with one of my photos of Lucy the Elephant located south of Atlantic City in Margate New Jersey….. my photo is at a slightly different angle than his photo but the mid-November light was perfect for mine.

The Big Duck – Flanders, New York

Photo by Larry Cultrera, May 23, 1992

I chose one of my later photos of The Big Duck which was taken at a different location than when I first found it in the 1980s. This was one of two photos I shot on the one and only road trip to Long Island with my wife Denise. I love this shot as Denise is posing at the front door to the building….

Hood Milk Bottle – Museum Wharf,
Boston, Massachusetts

Photo by Larry Cultrera, December 27, 2020

This is actually one of my newest photos. The bottle had just gone through a restoration and an updating. It really looks beautiful…

The Milk Bottle Restaurant – Raynham, Massachusetts

Photo by Larry Cultrera, August, 2001

This was very similar to the current Hood’s Milk Bottle. These two as well as Frates Restaurant in New Bedford were built for the Sankey Dairy who sold Ice Cream out of them. The Raynham location has been enlarged over the years and is a great little restaurant.

Frates Restaurant – New Bedford, Massachusetts

Photo by Larry Cultrera, September, 1992

Frates Restaurant had also been expanded and is currently operating as G & S Pizza, just minus the awnings around the bottle.

DuFresne’s Dairy Bar – Granby, Massachusetts

Photo by Larry Cultrera, April 29, 1984

I stumbled upon DuFresne’s Dairy Bar in mid-afternoon on a Sunday coming back into Massachusetts from Connecticut. The Milk Bottle and Can were attached to a regular building with a hip roof, just behind the two mimetic structures in this shot where the large awning is sticking out. Currently operating as the Earlee Mug Restaurant.

Salvador’s Dairy Ice Cream Stand – South Dartmouth, Massachusetts

Photo by Larry Cultrera, April, 1984

Here’s another place I stumbled upon on another Sunday morning road trip. I firmly believe that I had just purchased The Well-Built Elephant book not long before and had actually seen Jamie Andrews photo of it. But as I recall, I was not actually looking for this place. We more than likely left New Bedford after having breakfast at the Orchid Diner and headed west on U.S. Route 6. I surmise we took a left hand turn and just drove south from Route 6 and eventually found our way to this fantastic Ice Cream place. This is one of three photos I shot in 1984. I actually just took a ride last month to revisit this place and found out the business closed within the last two years, below is a photo from that trip…

Photo by Larry Cultrera, June 13, 2021

Gulf Hill Dairy Ice Cream Stand – South Dartmouth, Massachusetts

Photo by Larry Cultrera, June 13, 2021

On that same Sunday morning last month when we drove down to the South Coast of Massachusetts to revisit Salvador’s Dairy, our other destination was this other fantastic place within a few miles in the same town. I have to say the park-like area where this stand is located is one of the prettiest places I know in that area. It borders on Buzzards Bay.

Bayrd’s Indian Trading Post – Wakefield, Massachusetts

Photo by Larry Cultrera, May, 1985

Bayrd’s Indian Trading post was a unique little family business, operated by actual Native Americans. The property was sold for redevelopment and the building was gone by the end of the 1980s.

The Gallon Measure Gas Station – Buchanan, New York

Photo by Larry Cultrera, July 18, 1984

Here’s another place that I knew about from The Well-Built Elephant book. Located north of New York City in the little town of Buchanan. This place was built to resemble an old Gallon Measure oil can.

The Ship Restaurant – Lynnfield, Massachusetts

Photo by Larry Cultrera, August, 1989

The Ship Restaurant started out as a place called Ship’s Haven and looked like a Steamship. In the early 1960s the building was enlarged and rebuilt to look like this. The restaurant closed a few years ago and was demolished to make way for a new strip mall.

Sailor Tom’s House – Reading, Massachusetts

Photo by Larry Cultrera, April 9, 2006

Sailor Tom’s house was the final remnant of a unique roadside restaurant complex that closed in the late 1950s. Sailor Tom was in actuality Joseph Lafayette Thompson who built a small Seafood Grill on Route 28. The small building was expanded to become a large restaurant and the center of a 36 acre complex with a miniature New England Fishing Village and a former P.T. Boat as a gift shop. Thompson built his house on a rise just behind the complex. The house was torn down within the last 15 years or so for a new upscale housing development.

The Clam Box – Ipswich, Massachusetts

Photo by Larry Cultrera, May 25, 2009

The Clam Box has been in business under various operators since 1935. It was originally just the box shaped building with the flaps. It has been expanded over the years to have an enclosed ordering area as well as a side dining room. It is ultimately our favorite place to get fried clams, etc.

Prince Pizzeria – Saugus, Massachusetts

Photo by Larry Cultrera, April 22, 2006

Though technically not a different shaped building, Prince Pizzeria is noteworthy for the Leaning Tower that is part of the structure. The restaurant was originally part of the Prince Spaghetti House chain operated by Prince Spaghetti Company of Lowell, Massachusetts. There were other Spaghetti Houses I knew about in Somerville, Massachusetts and Quincy, Massachusetts. The chain ceased to exist by the early 1960s and this one was taken over by a former Prince employee, Arthur Castraberti and is still operated by his family today. This is the only one left.

The Leaning Tower Restaurant – Quincy, Massachusetts

Photo by Larry Cultrera, January, 1984

The Leaning Tower looks pretty close to the way it was built in the 1950s when it was part of the Prince Spaghetti House chain. This was right next door to the original Dunkin’ Donuts shop (a little of that building can be seen at the left). This was gone by the 1990s.

Twisty Treat Ice Cream Stand – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Photo by Larry Cultrera, July 11, 2005

I came across this one evening prior to eating supper at the Mayfair Diner in Northeast Philadelphia. The light was not perfect but this was the best image.