Larry Cultrera From Lunch Carts to Mega-Restaurants: The Evolution of the American Diner
Starting with the shooting of one fateful photograph of a diner on November 29, 1980, Larry Cultrera has logged thousands of miles and shot thousands of diner photographs in the last 41 plus years. He considers himself an archivist/photographer of the American Roadside, specializing in documenting the American Diner through his photographs. In October of 2007, he started writing the Diner Hotline Weblog which is a continuation of a column he penned for the SCA’s Journal Magazine for over 18 years previously.
Join Larry, who has photographed and kept a running log of just under 900 of these truly unique American restaurants, as he covers the various styles and designs that diners have had through history.
As I am wont to do, I initiated a Google search on my name one day this past April and found it associated with an interesting research document. This document titled Post World War II Automobile Era Roadside Architecture in NH was prepared by Lisa Mausolf, a Preservation Consultant, under contract for Cumberland Farms (a New England Convenience store and gas station chain) as mitigation for the removal of Earl’s (Martin’s) Drive-In at 2 Flat Rock Bridge Road in Rochester, New Hampshire.
Being curious as to why my name would come up in association with this document (although I had my suspicions), I started reading and found out that my New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries book was used as a reference on diners located in New Hampshire! Fair enough! I actually read the whole piece and was impressed with Lisa Mausolf’s research. In fact I believe this would actually make a decent “Coffee Table” book. As I read through, I found some interesting facts as well as corroboration of one or two things I had come across in years past, checking out roadside stuff in the Granite State.
One of the pieces of corroboration I discovered was about a former Drive-In Restaurant I learned about circa 1995 in Keene, New Hampshire. At that time it was operated as Gary’s Remember Then Drive-In. Located on Marlboro Street a few blocks off of Main Street, Gary’s was certainly a throw back with Car-Hop service. Denise & I went there at least three times after hearing about it. I spoke with the owner Gary once and told him how much I liked the place. He informed me that it was a former Dog N’ Suds Root Beer Drive-In. I was kind of puzzled about this surprising information as I had thought the Dog N’ Suds chain never made it this far east from its Mid-West roots. I did not contradict him but remained skeptical.
Well, in reading Lisa Mausolf’s research I noticed she included a newspaper ad from the mid-1960s for the Dog N’Suds in Keene, New Hampshire! Corroboration big time !!!!
Unfortunately, Gary’s only lasted a relatively short time as on a subsequent visit to Keene, possibly within 10 years after I first heard about it, I drove down Marlboro Street and found the building almost unrecognizable and operating as a Suzuki Auto Dealership. A more recent Google search has confirmed even the Suzuki dealership is long-gone and there is a Kickboxing School now in the building.
The second piece of info I found of interest was the fact that the place I knew as Poor Pierre’s Restaurant in Nashua was originally opened circa 1967 as Mr. Hot Dog. The building itself looks to have been of on-site construction but may have been built as possibly either part of a chain of restaurants or at the very least marketed as a commercial structure for various uses.
There is another building of the same design in Concord, New Hampshire that has housed other businesses in the past including restaurants, now currently operating as a Men’s Wearhouse store. As Ms. Mausolf states in her research, although the two buildings were built using a similar design, it is not actually known if they were related business -wise, or like I mentioned above, just offered to entrepreneurs as a viable commercial building.
Monday, November 29, 2021 marks the anniversary of me shooting the first of thousands of “Diner” photographs. Most regular readers probably know I always acknowledge this date every year on the Diner Hotline blog. A couple of things have come together in recent months that sort of underline the importance to my life that this seemingly innocuous event that happened forty one years ago has loomed large in the scheme of things, at least to me.
Number one: I have completed the digitizing of all my 35mm prints and slides of “Diners”. This task in itself took all told at least 4 years to complete. I have also updated my database (digital Diner Log) to reflect the location of the original slides and negatives of those images as well as included two photos of each diner entry into the log. I am currently revamping the 35mm slide archive of “Diner” images to be housed in new archival boxes. This task is being done to get all images into a semblance of order to possibly facilitate the eventual donation of these slides to an institution that might want them as part of an historical record. Doing something like this to the 35mm prints (and negatives) might actually be a little more daunting. Not so much for the prints more than the negatives as other non-diner images are mixed in with the diner images. That is a problem to be attacked at another time.
Number two: the future of diners in general is still precarious and to place a spotlight on this fact, that first diner I documented with my photos, the By-Pass Diner of Harrisburg, PA is currently in limbo. The diner had changed hands in the 1990s and been operated as the American Dream Diner right up until the last year or so. It changed hands again earlier this year to become Harry’s Bistro. If you check it out online, it has gotten some great reviews and it gives the impression that it is still in operation. But someone I know recently stopped by and found it closed with an ominous notice taped to the window that says there were problems that have shut down the business. For how long, I do not know but the person who reported this fact said it looked like it had been closed for some time.
It turns out there are other diners I have documented over the last four decades that are also in jeopardy, including another Harrisburg diner, the East Shore Diner. The East Shore Diner is being threatened with possible demolition or at least in the best scenario moved to a new location because of a planned construction project to revamp highway on/off ramps adjacent to the property where the diner has been since the early 1950s when it was first installed as Seybold’s Diner.
Another diner threatened with demolition is Bishop’s Fourth Street Diner of Newport, Rhode Island as the property owner wants it gone to expand an adjacent business.
Back at the end of July, 2021, it was reported that the Daddypop’s Tumble Inn Diner of Claremont, New Hampshire had suffered a suspected arson fire. They were reported to start repairs on the damage which affected the basement and electrical equipment. Unfortunately this may be complicated by the fact that Deborah Ann Kirby, the owner of the Tumble Inn passed away suddenly towards the end of October, putting the fate of this diner in limbo.
Another diner is also in limbo and slated for demolition is the former Ann’s Diner, operated more recently as Pat’s Diner of Salisbury, Massachusetts. Pat Archambault the owner for many years has had the diner up for sale for quite some time. She finally sold it at the end of July and unfortunately the owner of the gas station next door to the diner bought the property and has no intention of utilizing the diner. Ironically as I write this I just found out that Pat Archambault just passed away herself.
Two other Massachusetts diners future are questionable, the first is the Salem Diner which is currently owned by Salem State University. The university stopped using it as a food option within the last two years and is trying to get someone to buy and move the diner. As far as I know, no one has come forward with a likely proposal to move and reuse this very rare Sterling Streamliner.
The second Massachusetts diner is a late model Worcester Lunch Car currently operating as the Breakfast Club in Allston, Mass. The diner sits on leased property which is slated to be redeveloped. The future of this diner is not looking good at this point.
Within the last week or so we have heard that the 29 Diner in Fairfax, Virginia has had a very bad kitchen fire that miraculously has spared the diner in front but closed the business for at least 6 months.
It’s not all bad news as the Edgemere Diner of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts which has been closed fairly recently was sold at auction within the last two weeks. The diner had been owned since 1995 by the town of Shrewsbury when the diner and property was taken for back taxes owed by the owner of the business. Since then the town has leased the diner out to numerous operators until now. The town finally decided that they did not want to be landlords anymore. The good news is that Michael Cioffi bought the diner and said he plans to move it from its location on U.S. Route 20 – which was a stipulation of the sale – to New York’s Catskills, where he already owns and operates the Phoenicia Diner.
So this post not only highlights that first photo of the By-Pass Diner but also sheds some light on the fragility of the American diner and the diner business in general. It points to the fact that my photos are my contribution to documenting diner history over the last forty one years….
October 31st came and went and it was not until yesterday, November 2nd that I realized that I failed to acknowledge the anniversary of the creation of this blog. The reason that it slipped my mind was that Denise & I took my usual long weekend and attended a special event in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the wedding of my oldest nephew Christopher Cultrera and his lovely wife Kayla.
So, October 31, 2007 marks the very first blog post from Diner Hotline but that was not the true beginning. Some people may know that Diner Hotline started as a hard copy column I penned for the Society for Commercial Archeology. I wrote the first brief column, minus photos in December of 1988 and it was published in the Spring 1989 edition of the SCA News Journal. After a few years, the column was moved to the SCA Journal Magazine. I retired the column in August of 2007. But even then I knew I was not finished with Diner Hotline. In fact Brian Butko of the SCA convinced me it was time to take Diner Hotline into the 21st Century and onto the internet.
So, I continue to write the blog, although sporadically. I try to be more regular with the posts but as I have learned, I am getting more particular how and what I write. I start to write a post and I reach a point that I get distracted and the process sometimes stalls. Case in point, I have a post I started over a month ago and have yet to finish it. I will revisit it soon, to complete the piece and have others in my mind to eventually write. So, be patient and you will be rewarded with some future posts that I hope you will enjoy.
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 where I live, 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….
I recently received a copy of a new book by Jimmy Rosen of Duncannon, Pennsylvania. The book is titled Got Gas? – A pictorial look at central Pennsylvania service stations from the 20th Century. I have known Jimmy for quite a few years through Facebook and we have a lot of friends in common. Jimmy and I have actually never met but we are certainly kindred spirits. Jimmy is an old soul at heart and enjoys collecting among other things, antique autos, motorscooters, arcade games and vending machines. He is the proprietor of The Old Sled Works, a retail market for antique and craft vendors located in the building complex that for many years housed Standard Novelty Works, famous for their Lightning Guider sleds. As Jimmy told me, most people are familiar with Flexible Flyer sleds which were a main competitor to Lightning Guider sleds. You can find out more info on the Old Sled Works here at http://www.sledworks.com/
For some background, Standard Novelty Works started manufacturing sleds in 1904. Jimmy’s dad, Norm Rosen became the second owner of the company in 1968 at the age of 29 and continued making the sleds through 1990 prior to shutting down due to dwindling sales. Jimmy was given the opportunity to reopen the buildings as Old Sled Works in April of 1991. As Jimmy went on to tell me, “I had traveled around central Pennsylvania looking at other similar type malls and flea markets to get ideas. I expected a two or three year run while I was still figuring out what “real career” I wanted to be involved in. Well, we just celebrated thirty years and I still haven’t decided what career I want to be involved in”.
Luckily for us, Jimmy stayed with this non-career he never planned on pursuing. He came across a lot of interesting things from a collecting standpoint. Not long ago an old acquaintance by the name of Bob Shultz contacted Jimmy and asked him to take a look at some items he was looking at finding a new home for, among them a decent amount of cases and boxes of artifacts from the former Atlantic Refining District Office, once located at 2217 North 7th Street in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Schultz had been employed at the district office for Atlantic Refining from 1962 to 1996 when it closed and was among the employees instructed to have everything removed from the office. These cases and boxes had been slated for the trash heap but Shultz knew of the existence of the old maps, car advertisements and some photos of area gas stations that were stashed and could not bear to just toss these, so he took them home.
These photos of area gas stations were actually more than 300 large-format negatives dating from the 1920s and 1930s. The photos from the negatives from this collection have become that basis for Got Gas? In fact most of these have never been seen by the general public before and it is most certainly a huge glimpse into the early history of service stations in and around the Capitol Region of Pennsylvania.
I had been following Jimmy Rosen’s posts about the impending publication of this book when earlier this year he posted a photo of a place called The Park Side Service Station which was located at the corner of State and Walnut Streets in Harrisburg. I recognized this place immediately but knew at as The Park Side Cafe from the 1980s. I was very excited to see this old photo and sent Jimmy my one and only photo of The Park Side Cafe from a 35mm slide I shot in 1983.
Jimmy immediately asked for permission to use my photo as part of a then & now section in his book. I of course said that would be great. I am always thrilled to see my photos being used (with permission and attribution). Otherwise they may only show up in my Facebook posts… My photo, along with The Park Side as the service station and a more current photo appear on page 49 in Jimmy’s book.
When I shot my photo, I had often passed this building when visiting Harrisburg and was taken by the old neon signs as well as the retro look of the cafe itself. I guess I was lucky to get this one shot as it captured everything I liked about the place. I know I did finally get to go in and have a meal approximately four years after I took the photo.
Anyway, to talk more about this self-published book, this will appeal to people who enjoy Gas Station photos and/or collectors of gas station memorabilia, as well as anyone who has grown up in the Greater Harrisburg area. It shows a lot of places that may still be around, though altered and used for other purposes as evidenced by The Park Side photos. The photos are just plain wonderful. Jimmy had help with identifying a good portion of the locations from researchers Emily McCoy and Kurt Harlacher, leaving only a small amount unidentified. The book features a wonderful Foreword written by my old friend from the Society for Commercial Archeology – Brian Butko.
This book is a great addition to anyone’s roadside library and at $29.95 it is a good deal as well. To purchase this book you can contact Jimmy at the Old Sled Works for more information….http://www.sledworks.com/
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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…
Gulf Hill Dairy Ice Cream Stand – South Dartmouth, Massachusetts
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
This year November 29th falls on a Sunday. Who knew that a tentative single 35mm photo taken on this same date 40 years ago in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, would lead me into a multi-decade mission to document diners (at last count 875 in my database) throughout the Eastern United States with my photographs.
Now granted, I have always had a fascination with diners that goes back to my early childhood in Medford, Massachusetts in the late 50s and early 60s. I recall going with my dad to a few local diners like Bobbie’s Diner and the Star Lite Diner, both on Mystic Avenue in our hometown as well as the Victoria Diner in Boston.
I also recall after Easter Morning Mass going for breakfasts with my family to Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car on Main Street, a large “L” shaped diner delivered in the early 60s that was a brand new replacement for a smaller stainless steel diner that the Carroll family had operated previously in the city from 1948, that itself was a replacement for an even earlier diner started in 1929.
Later on during high school as well as years after graduating, Carroll’s was the go-to meeting place that was open 24 hours a day. Myself and my friends could be found there, day or night! So I can safely say that diners became part of my DNA, a constant throughout my life and by 1979, I started thinking about them in an expanded view. My pal, Steve Repucci and I started taking Sunday morning road-trips around the area and the first stop along the way was a local diner for breakfast. Soon, the task of finding a diner to have breakfast determined the direction of the road-trip.
All through the 1970s, I had owned one or two Kodak Instamatic cameras and never seriously looked at photography as a hobby. As 1980 began, I had been toying with the idea of getting into photography after being exposed to it by Steve Repucci who had been shooting 35mm photos for a number of years. So the first of two key events leading me to take that first diner photo occurred sometime in the Summer of 1980, when I co-purchased my first 35mm camera along with my older brother Steve. My friend and former co-worker Scott Drown was selling a used Mamiya 1000 DTL that he had been shooting with for a few years. So my brother and I alternated using this camera for around 9 months before I decided I needed my own camera and sold him my half.
The first couple of months I tested my wings by shooting scenic photos, etc. It was just a month or so into using that first camera when the second key event happened. Steve Repucci had decided to try living outside of Massachusetts and moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This happened on Labor Day weekend. Because I owned a van, I of course offered my services in helping with the move. This was my first ever trip down to the Keystone State. During that first visit to Pennsylvania, I had taken notice of one or two diners driving around the Capitol region. After that first trip a second one was already planned for Thanksgiving weekend.
Thanksgiving fell on Thursday the 27th that year. If I remember correctly, my brother Rick and friend Scott Drown accompanied me on that trip. We left not long after midnight on the 28th and drove out through Connecticut and New York on Interstate 84. In fact we took I-84 all the way to Scranton, PA to access I-81 south to Harrisburg. I recall hitting some pretty bad fog through that stretch of highway between Scranton and Harrisburg, possibly the worst I have ever attempted to drive through in my life. After arriving we rested a bit and visited as well as probably going out to eat somewhere and probably called it a day fairly early. The next morning we went to breakfast at the nearby By Pass Diner on Herr Street, probably around four miles or so from where Steve was living on North Progress Avenue. This is when I snapped my first photo of a diner. Little did I know this would be the first in what has turned out to be a few thousand photos taken in the next four decades!
Well, the dam was broken and after I came home from Harrisburg I started going around the Greater Boston area and shooting photos of all the diners I knew of. Unfortunately, in my inexperience, I was insisting on using a wide angle lens in a lot of these early photo excursions. The reason I say it was unfortunate was that I was usually across the street using the wide angle lens and it pushed the subject a little too far away. Now in hindsight this seemed to work out OK as anyone who sees these early photos can get the perspective of seeing the diner in relation to its surroundings. And seeing that I am currently in a multi-year endeavor of scanning all my archive of diner photos, I have developed a way to create new versions of these photos by zooming in and re-cropping the image to represent the photo it should have been (and keeping the original version intact).
Here are a few of those early shots after Harrisburg…
Since those early days I have used quite a number of different cameras to shoot diner photos including some Kodak Brownie and Dual Lens Reflex cameras that I have collected. Also two Chinon 35mm cameras as well as some small digital cameras. Since 2008 when I changed totally to digital, I have used my trusty Pentax DSLR, a couple of Nikon Cool Pix and my newest an Olympus Pen mirror-less camera. After changing careers in 1996, I have become proficient in using Adobe Photoshop to digitize all of my 35mm slides and am currently working on the early 35mm prints. I hope to complete the digital archive of all the diner photos within the next year!
This coming Saturday, October 31, 2020 will mark 13 years since I started this blog. Granted I have not been very regular with my posts this year, but there is nothing “very regular” about this year anyway!
Truth be told, I am still working on my multi-year project – scanning of my diner photos/slides. I have completed scanning all the 35mm slides that I shot between March 1983 thru to mid-2008. For the last two years I have been slogging thru the scanning and cleaning up of the 35mm prints I shot between November, 1980 and March, 1983. The prints take longer as the clean-up/enhancing is fairly time consuming as I am extremely particular on how the photos should look.
To mark this anniversary, I want to look back to the origins of Diner Hotline and how it eventually morphed into this blog. Diner Hotline started way back in the early to mid-1980s (long before the internet) as an unofficial way to communicate info and issues concerning American Diners. Basically I would phone Dick Gutman, John Baeder, David Hebb or other interested people (usually a select group of like-minded members of the Society for Commercial Archeology) to let them know some tidbit of info on the goings on in the diner community. I would usually start off the greeting by saying… “Diner Hotline, Diner Hotline” and then proceed to impart the news I had to tell the particular individual that I had called.
In November of 1988, the Society for Commercial Archeology had a yearly gathering hosted by The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. It was a memorable event with hundreds of people from all over the country in attendance. A few weeks after I attended the event, I had phoned the then President of the SCA, Michael B. “Mike” Jackson. I happened to mention some now forgotten diner news and he suggested that I should write a piece for the SCA NewsJournal. He even went as far as saying it should be a regular column! My first reaction was to almost decline as in my mind, I was not a writer. But as we continued talking, I started to warm up to the idea and basically said yes, I would give it a shot. I do recall telling Mike that I already had a name for the column – Diner Hotline.
So, in December of 1988, I wrote the first brief installment of Diner Hotline. It appeared in the Spring, 1989 issue of the SCA NewsJournal.
I continued to write Diner Hotline, which became the first ever regular column for any of the SCA publications. Within a few years, the SCA Board of Directors decided the NewsJournal was not being produced as frequently as they would have liked. After all, it sort of started as a newsletter that had actually outgrown the format and it was taking longer for all the different pieces of the puzzle to come together and be published. It was decided to revamp the concept and split the publication into a newsletter called The SCA News which would be published four times a year. They would also create a new publication, a magazine called the SCA Journal which would be published twice a year. The Board offered me the option as to which publication to contribute Diner Hotline to. I opted for the Journal as I would only have two deadlines.
I wrote all but one Diner Hotline from that first Spring, 1989 Issue of the NewsJournal until the Fall, 2007 Issue of the Journal when I officially retired the column.
So, not long after I retired the Diner Hotline column I was convinced by long-time friend Brian Butko to create this blog. He suggested the WordPress platform to use for this new endeavor. I checked it out and made my first tentative post into blogging on October 31, 2007. Here is the link to that short piece… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2007/10/31/
But the biggest thing that happened was being contacted by The History Press in early 2011 about the possibility of me authoring a book for them on Diners. It was initially proposed as a book on Diners of New England. But I was familiar with the books that The History Press put out and I informed the editor that you could not do justice to the region with a book that only had just under 200 pages. So it was suggested that I do one on Massachusetts Diners. I agreed that would be more doable and put together an outline which was accepted. This led to me writing my first book for them entitled Classic Diners of Massachusetts (October, 2011) and ultimately my second book, New Hampshire Diners: Classic Granite State Eateries (October, 2014).
After these books came out, I continued to write the blog but the frequency of posts have dwindled. But I promise that I will continue to keep the blog alive and make more posts. The next one will be in a month to mark a huge milestone – 40 years of photographing diners!