When I first started photographing diners in the early 1980s, I revisited places in my home state of Massachusetts I recalled from earlier travels. These places were not only in the eastern part of the state but also extended to the greater Worcester area. You see for a good portion of the 1970s, my older brother Steve lived in Dudley and Auburn, both suburbs of Worcester, so I was familiar with the area. Among the diners I recalled seeing from those earlier times was Sherwood’s Diner, Worcester Lunch Car No. 755. It was located in a commercial stretch of State Route 12, south of Worcester in Auburn. The diner was last used as an ice cream stand and by the time I started documenting diners with my photographs, Sherwood’s had not been in operation for quite some time. According to my Diner Log database my first photos of Sherwood’s date to September 26, 1981.
In the intervening years, between 1981 until now, quite a bit of information has surfaced concerning the history of this diner. One of the most interesting pieces of information I learned was the fact that when the diner was brand-new, it was delivered to its first operating location in my hometown of Medford, Massachusetts on February 8, 1940. It was built for Treadway L. Sherwood who ran it for a short time before the Worcester Lunch Car Company repossessed it. According to what I can gather from the info written on the Worcester Lunch Car Company preliminary layout drawing, Mr. Sherwood may have been from Brooklyn, New York but was going to operate the diner at 109 Middlesex Avenue in Medford. That address would be close to the northern edge of Wellington Circle, the intersection of State Routes 16 and 28. A number of years ago when I found out that the diner had been located briefly in Medford, I asked a handful of older local people I knew if they recalled Sherwood’s. I found for the most part, the people I asked either did not recall the diner or had vague recollections of it. Also, to my knowledge no photographs exist of the diner when it was operating at that first location. Interesting note (circled on the layout drawing) was the later addition of the new address of 70 Foster Street @ Commercial Street when the diner was moved to its new operating location Worcester in 1942.
I found it curious about the note on the drawing listing the new address as 70 Foster Street in Worcester as there are other accounts stating that Ernest Ryan bought the diner in 1942 and it remained in business at 56 Foster Street until it closed in 1969. I believe there could be two schools of thoughts accounting for the discrepancy… 1. that maybe street numbers changed at one point in time, or 2. Charlie Gemme got it wrong when he made the note on his drawing.
The Worcester Redevelopment Authority took the property where the diner was located along with adjacent parcels by eminent domain in 1970 to make way for the development of what is currently known as the DCU Center (originally named the Worcester Centrum when it was built). At that time, the diner was moved briefly to Shrewsbury prior to being relocated to Route 12 in Auburn, where it was used as an ice cream stand for a while before it closed. As I stated above, when I photographed it in 1981, it had been closed for a few years already. It eventually fell victim to vandals by the mid to late 1980s and by the middle of the next decade it was in very sad shape before it was ultimately saved from demolition in the late 1990s. The diner was moved to various storage locations in Rhode Island before it ended up stored in shrink wrap behind a business on Route 146 in Sutton, Massachusetts. The diner stayed at the Sutton storage location for over a half dozen years, until recently.
Jump ahead to July, 2021 when it is reported by the Worcester Telegram as well as other news sources that the WooSox Foundation, a charitable arm of the Worcester Red Sox had purchased and was restoring Sherwood’s Diner. The plan as described was that the diner would serve as headquarters for the Foundation and be installed into the new Polar Park complex. The WooSox, a professional minor league baseball team based in Worcester, Massachusetts is the Triple-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. From 1973 until 2020 the team had been known as the Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Red Sox. The restoration was being made possible through a donation from the Fuller Foundation.
After the WooSox Foundation took possession of Sherwood’s, they contracted with Steve Stutman of Stutman Contracting to start working on the diner. It was transported to Worcester and placed in a vacant lot behind the O’Connor Brothers Funeral Home on Park Avenue, which had donated the place to allow for the restaurant’s renovation. Finally inspecting the diner after the shrink wrap was removed, Stutman was quoted in a newspaper article that “It was worse than we thought,” he said. “The front and back walls had to be completely rebuilt, and a lot of other things had to be done. We had the shell and some parts that were inside like the old refrigerator, some equipment that was left behind. “ Perhaps the most important part of any restaurant is the counter and it was gone.
However, the executive director of the Worcester Historical Museum, William Wallace, put the architect Janet Marie Smith, who was leading the baseball stadium project for the WooSox, in touch with Richard J.S. Gutman of West Roxbury, author of four books on diners and considered the best restoration expert in the country. His advice was invaluable in restoring the restaurant to an approximation of its original condition. He helped facilitate the donation of a marble counter top and stools that had been salvaged from another Worcester Lunch Car. “Ramshackle is an understatement,” Gutman said of Sherwood’s Diner. “I know Steve Stutman did a miracle… it’s perfectly awesome that they are doing this. This puts an exclamation mark on something that has been one of the city’s triumphs.
Before Gutman was asked to join the project, a decision had already been made not to use porcelain enamel walls on both the exterior and inside of the diner where the original panels were gone. MDF board (an engineered wood product similar to plywood, but made using wood fibers combined with wax and a resin binder) was already in place on the façade when Gutman first saw the partially-renovated diner on April 21, 2021. A sign-painter had been hired to reproduce the original graphics.
So work on the diner’s restoration was fast-tracked through this summer and the diner was actually moved into its new spot on Summit Street just beyond centerfield of the Worcester Red Sox’s Polar Park on August 23, 2021. A crane lifted the structure off the flatbed truck that was used to transport it onto a new foundation facing the ball park. This location on Summit Street is to become Worcester’s de-facto version of Boston’s Jersey Street. Dubbed Summit Street Fair, it will be a boulevard packed with fans, food and activities before the game. Sherwood’s Diner will be featured along with other attractions like the retired Boston Duck Boat, “Beantown Betty” which had been used by the Boston Red Sox for celebrating their 2004 World Series championship. Murals and playgrounds will also add to the flavor of the street. Summit Street Fair will typically have music, magicians, face painters, and other family fun elements. Mascots Smiley Ball and Woofster are expected to be frequent visitors.
The diner will still be a spot to grab food such as coffee, Table Talk Pies and Polar Beverages. The WooSox Foundation also plan to use it as a space to host player autograph signings, mascot meet-and-greets, broadcast radio shows and host other events. Another report from Spectrumnews1.com stated that Sherwood’s Diner will house information on all of the charities and non-profits they work with, as well as serve as a broadcast booth. Worcester Red Sox president, Charles Steinberg, says this will act as a community gathering place at the ball park. “Imagine walking into the diner, seeing the gang at “Cheers,” except it’s actually former ballplayers signing autographs, doing a post game radio or TV show or just talking to fans,” said Dr. Steinberg. “So imagine there could always be a surprise as far as who you will see, what you might get. It might seem like a diner, but it might be even more than that.”
After following the news on Sherwood’s and updates of the progress from Dick Gutman, I finally found some time to take the ride out to Worcester on Saturday, September 4th. Accompanied by my brother Steve (who has memories of actually getting ice cream at Sherwood’s when it was in Auburn), we hooked up with Brian Goslow, the managing editor of Artscope Magazine. I contacted Brian, a born & bred Worcester native a day or two before we drove out from the Boston area. Although we have known each other for years as long-time Facebook friends, this was our first face-to-face meeting to my recollection. We checked out the diner without getting too close. It was within a fenced-in work zone and there were workers in and around the diner’s location. We asked permission to come into the fenced-in area to take photos of the diner and it was granted.
While there, we checked out Polar Park and it is beautiful, I could not resist taking some photos of this brand-new ball park. Maybe we’ll take in a ballgame sometime in the near future…
After our visit to the park, we drove around the corner to have lunch at George’s Coney Island Lunch, a favorite stop of mine while in Worcester. We had some chili dogs to top off a great visit….