A friend’s recent book launch leads to my first real “Diner” road-trip in many years!

As you may have noticed, this is my first blog post in a while. Again I apologize for the infrequent posts but I have been scanning my collection of 35mm slides and prints, which has consumed a lot of spare time for a few years. The slides are all scanned but the prints take more time. The outcome so far is that the digital archive of Diner photos is growing.

Starting this past June, I have officially “Semi-retired” from my job, working only Tuesday thru Thursday, with 4 day weekends. That being said, an opportunity arose to actually plan a road-trip to New Jersey (which took place at the end of September). Now the last time I was even in the Garden State was just over 21 years ago – in June of 1998 to be exact.

The opportunity that presented itself was the publishing of a new book by my friend Michael Gabriele of Clifton, New Jersey. The book is his 5th book overall published by The History Press and 2nd book about New Jersey Diners. The new book is entitled Stories From New Jersey Diners: Monuments To Community. Gabriele had announced within the last couple of months that he would be having an official book launch at the Nutley (NJ) Museum on the evening of September 27th, a Friday night. This fit in perfectly with my new 4-day weekend schedule. I was actually thinking about keeping it a surprise and just showing up, but immediately nixed that idea, mainly because there were a few people I wanted to see when I got down there. So I let Michael Gabriele in on the possibility of my attending and he was extremely enthusiastic about my proposed plan and encouraged me to make the effort.

At the top of the list of people I wanted to get together with was Donald Kaplan, co-author of the very first book on Diners I ever bought, Diners Of The Northeast! I refer to this book along with Diners by John Baeder and American Diner by Richard J.S. Gutman & Elliott Kaufman as the Holy Trinity of Diner books that came out in the late 1970s and into 1980.

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Cover of the original edition of Diners Of The Northeast, by
Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink, the first “Diner” book that
I purchased circa October, 1980.

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The cover sleeve of the original hard cover edition of
American Diner by Richard Gutman & Elliott Kaufman.
The second “Diner” book which I purchased in late 1980.

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The cover of the first edition of Diners by John Baeder.
This is the third “Diner” book I purchased, circa January, 1981.

Even though I may have been aware of the books authored by John Baeder (Diners) and Richard Gutman (American Diner) had been published in 1978 and 1979 respectively, Donald Kaplan and his co-author Alan (now Allyson) Bellink’s book came out around September of 1980 right at the flash point where my diner awareness was just starting to take hold.

I had been a diner aficionado since I was very young and already started taking Sunday morning road-trips with my pal Steve Repucci since late 1979 to discover (or rediscover) diners for Sunday morning breakfasts. Also, I had just purchased my first 35mm camera and the thought was beginning to form in my brain to document these diners that were fast disappearing from the landscape here in New England. I estimate that I purchased Diners Of The Northeast sometime in October of 1980 and it swung the door wide open for the almost 40 year obsession that followed!

I purchased the other books American Diner and Diners within 3 months and had started taking my first tentative photos as well as expanding my already existent post card collection with a “diner category”. Now early in 1981, I had met and become friends with Richard Gutman and about a year later the same happened with John Baeder. But connecting with the co-authors Kaplan & Bellink did not happen until 1996 when I met briefly with Alan Bellink at a diner-related get together. My budding friendship with Donald Kaplan started much later (2010 or so) thru Facebook. Donald, (who lives in the Bronx) and I have become fast friends in the last couple of years. We speak at least once a week. I of course let Donald Kaplan in on my plans for a trip down toward New York and New Jersey.

So as far as the proposed New Jersey road-trip, I convinced my wife Denise that we should do this. Believe me, that is a very hard sell with her. I got reservations at the Hampton Inn in Carlstadt (near the Meadowlands Sports Complex) which put me in a very central location for where I wanted to be. I had called my old friend Arnie Corrado to let him know of my plans. Arnie, who along with his late father Ralph, owned and operated Rosie’s Diner in Little Ferry, NJ until they sold and closed it in 1990. We had lost touch for a number of years until I made the effort about 6 years ago and we have been in constant contact since.

There were other people I planned to meet up with at the event. These people included Les Cooper (from the family that manufactured Silk City Diners), Gloria Nash from Queens, NY (who I actually met within the last couple of months in Massachusetts), Mark Oberndorf ( a painter of vernacular buildings as well as homes, etc.) and Alex Panko (who, with his family owned and operated the Peterpank Diner in Sayreville, New Jersey).

Which brings us to the weekend of September 27 thru 29th of 2019. Denise and I left Saugus around 3:30 AM on Friday (the27th). We made our first stop for coffee and a bathroom break at the Vernon Diner which is located at Exit 65 right off of I-84 southbound in Connecticut. This place is an easy off/on to the highway and is housed in a former Howard Johnson’s Restaurant. The place is nicely done up as a modern diner including a vast display case of baked goods. Unfortunately, it was dark and I did not get photos.

Our next stop was Exit 10 in Newtown, CT. I wanted to get new photos of the Sandy Hook Diner, a small barrel-roofed diner that probably dates to the 1920s. After those photos, we drove back to the nicely redone Blue Colony Diner at the exit to have another coffee and bathroom break. I had photographed both of these diners back in the early 1980s. The Sandy Hook had not changed significantly but the Blue Colony, originally built by Manno Diners had a complete makeover in the last 20 or so years, done by DeRaffele Diner Company.

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The Sandy Hook Diner, Newtown, Connecticut.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019

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The Blue Colony Diner, Newtown, Connecticut.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019

Continuing on, we got back on I-84 and made it to Exit 2B on the western end of Danbury, before the New York state line. Taking U.S. Route 6 to NY Route 22 in Brewster, NY, we continued driving south to North White Plains. We took I-287 west to Exit 1 in Elmsford and got Route 119 south past the Eldorado Diner to the Saw Mill River Parkway and headed south on that road until it became the Henry Hudson Parkway. We got off at Exit 23 and headed south on Broadway through the Bronx to 231st Street. We continued west on 231st to Tibbett Avenue and south one block to the Tibbett Diner, where we met up with Donald Kaplan.

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The Tibbett Diner, 3033 Tibbett Avenue, Bronx, New York.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019

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Donald Kaplan & Larry Cultrera outside the Tibbett Diner.
Photo by Denise Cultrera, September 27, 2019

After meeting up and spending some time with Donald, he convinced me to head a few miles south on Broadway to take the George Washington Bridge over to New Jersey, instead of going back to the Tappan Zee area and taking the Mario M. Cuomo Bridge over to the Garden State. I took his advice and it worked out fine, saving us some time. After crossing the GWB, we headed toward Little Ferry on Route 46 and contacted Arnie Corrado. We made plans to meet at the White Manna Diner in nearby Hackensack. No sooner did I get off the phone with Arnie, Michael Gabriele called to see where we were. I informed him of the White Manna plans and he immediately said he would meet us there…

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The White Manna Diner, 358 River Street, Hackensack, New Jersey.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019

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Michael Gabriele, Larry Cultrera & Arnie Corrado at the White
Manna Diner. Photo by Denise Cultrera, September 27, 2019

Now Michael Gabriele and I have been friends for around 6 years since he contacted me after he contracted to do his first New Jersey diner book for our publisher, The History Press. But until the 27th of September, we had never met face-to-face! At the White Manna, Michael, Arnie and I partook of some wonderful sliders and enjoyed the atmosphere of this fantastically preserved Paramount Diner. Afterward, Michael went home and Denise and I visited with Arnie briefly at his home in Little Ferry before heading to our hotel to check in. After we were settled in our hotel room, we went out and searched for a late lunch and found the Candlewyck Diner in East Rutherford, NJ. The Candlewyck is a circa 1970s vintage Kullman Diner that was renovated on site in recent years and the new look, inside and out represents yet another evolution in diner design!

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The Candlewyck Diner 179 Paterson Street,
East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Photograph by Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019.

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Michael Gabriele’s new book published by The History Press.

So, the major reason to come to New Jersey was to attend the launch of Michael Gabriele’s new book at the Nutley Museum. In fact I was slated to give a short slide presentation along with Michael and the other guest speaker, Les Cooper. It was lucky I had spoken with Michael on the afternoon before the trip. He informed me that the Museum’s laptop computer was on the fritz and wondered if I was bringing my own laptop PC. I of course was bringing it to use to get online, etc when I was at the hotel. So the evening of the book launch we setup with the museum’s large screen TV and fired up Power Point….

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Gloria Nash, Arnie Corrado and Denise Cultrera attending
book launch event at the Nutley Museum. Photo by
Larry Cultrera, September 27, 2019.

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Michael Gabriele speaking at the Nutley Museum.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, Spetember 27, 2019.

I also finally got to meet Alex Panko and Les Cooper both of whom I have known for a few years but had never met. Alex was a trip, pretty much the way I expected, he is extremely outgoing (not to mention a little hyper, he drinks an ton of Coca Cola). Les was also pretty much the person I expected, interesting and well spoken.

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Larry Cultrera, Alex Panko and Les Cooper at the Nutley Museum.
Photo by Denise Cultrera, September 27, 2019

The next morning (Saturday the 28th), Denise and I went to have breakfast at the Bendix Diner on Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights. It was wonderful to see all the neon in working order. The diner itself, a rare Master Diner, is really starting to show its age, both inside and out unfortunately. I shot some photos as the morning light was coming up and then revisited it in the early afternoon to get great daytime shots…

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Bendix Diner, Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey.
Early morning photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019

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Bendix Diner, Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey.
Early afternoon photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019

Around mid-morning, Denise and I drove over to Michael Gabriele’s home in Clifton and met his wife Julie as well as one of his sons (sorry Mike, I forgot his name). Then Michael gave us a little tour around the area to let me document some diners that I had not previously photographed. Let me say the light for taking photos this particular weekend was totally perfect and I lucked out. The following places were shot during that little excursion with Michael.

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The Colonial Diner, 27 Orient Way in Lyndhurst, New Jersey.
This is a 1950 vintage Mountain View Diner modified with that
new roof topper and sign, while maintaining the original design.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019.

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The Red Hawk Diner located on the campus of
Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019.

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The Park West Diner on Route 46. A nicely renovated Kullman
diner, originally known as the Golden Star Diner in the
Woodland Park/Little Falls area.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019.

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The Little Falls Diner, 11 Paterson Avenue, Little falls, New Jersey.
This place has been closed for many years.

On Sunday morning (the 29th), Denise and I got on the road early and headed north on Route 17. We stopped while it was still dark at the State Line Diner in Mahwah for breakfast! What a great place, I would have loved to get some photos if it were in daylight! We crossed the Hudson on I-287 over the recently completed Mario M. Cuomo Bridge. We reversed our path using the same roads we traveled down on Friday to head back to Connecticut.  On the way up Route 22, we bypassed into Katonah, New York to possibly stop for coffee at the Blue Dolphin Diner. Unfortunately, the diner was not open on Sunday morning and I noticed it is now operating as an upscale bistro. I also noticed the interior was extremely compromised with almost nothing original remaining. Very sad, but at least the outside still looked great.

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The Blue Dolphin Diner, 175 Katonah Avenue, Katonah, New York.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, from September 28, 2019.

Just prior to crossing the state line into Connecticut, we stopped at Bob’s Diner in Brewster. It looks the same as the last time I saw it back in the 1980s with the exception of the paint color on the outside. A nice little downtown diner.

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Bob’s Diner, 27 Main Street in Brewster, New York.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 28, 2019.

Shortly after crossing the state line, I stopped at the Mill Plain Diner (formerly the Windmill Diner) on Mill Plain Road (U.S. Route 6) in Danbury. I remember this diner as having a brick facade with a mansard roof back in the 1980s. Within the last year or so the place had an extreme makeover, inside and out by DeRaffele Diners and looks fantastic. I heard it is now owned by the same people who have the Blue Colony Diner in Newtown.

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The Mill Plain Diner, 14 Mill Plain Road in Danbury, Connecticut.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, Spetmeber 28, 2019.

To finish off this early fall road-trip, we made one last stop in Connecticut before making it back into Massachusetts. We got off the highway briefly in East Hartford and I revisited a diner I had eaten in back in the 1980s, but never photographed. It has been on my bucket list for a while and I finally got my photos. The Triple-A Diner is a 1970s vintage brick diner with mansard roof that on the outside still looks similar to the way I remember it. The interior has gotten an update and is now bright and airy….

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The Triple-A Diner, 1209 Main Street in East Hartford, Connecticut.
Photo by Larry Cultrera, September 25, 2019.

As I stated earlier, the weather could not have cooperated more than it did for this long-awaited interstate road-trip and I was extremely happy to get the photos I did, as well as meet new friends and reconnect with old friends. I will follow up soon with a review of Michael Gabriele’s book in the near future!

GoFundMe page to help defray costs in transporting a 1920s vintage Diner from Pennsylvania to Rhode Island

I was contacted recently by Chris Tunnah in the last month. Chris is a restaurateur  based in  New York state operating restaurants as a General Manager & Consultant in NYC for the last 15 years, working with celebrity chef’s such as Tom Colicchio, Missy Robbins, Scott Conant and Floyd Cardoz to name just a few. Although living and working in New York, Chris also has a home in the Newport, Rhode Island area and has had a dream of bringing a small classic factory-built diner back to that area.

This is actually not the first time I had heard from Chris. We exchanged some emails back in March of 2013, when he was trying to obtain the long-closed Skee’s Diner of Torrington, Connecticut and move it to Newport or Middletown, RI, Unfortunately this plan ultimately fell thru. Also in that 2013 email Chris went on to say “Before Skee’s, two years ago I discussed purchasing the Red Rose Diner in Towanda, Pennsylvania from Mike Holt, but he was unable to commit to the sale….. and I await a change of heart from Mike. The Red Rose would be fantastic in Newport”.

I get daily “News blurbs” about “Diners” thru Google and was aware that Chris ‘s dreams about bringing a diner back to Rhode Island might be coming closer to reality. It seems the Red Rose Diner project was revived after the more recent closure of that diner. In the news pieces I have seen, it was mentioned that Chris had to jump thru some hoops to get approval for his plans to bring the diner to a new location im Middletown, CT. Unfortunately, this, along with the purchase price of the diner and property have stretched his savings account to the limits.

To complete his objective, Chris has started a GoFundMe page to help defray costs in bringing his Red Rose Diner from Pennsylvania to Rhode Island.  you can check out the GoFundMe page here for further details…  https://www.gofundme.com/save-one-of-last-1920039s-us-diners

As I happen to know a bit about this particular diner, let me fill in some of the details as I know them… The story of the Red Rose Diner goes back much further than its recent time in Towanda, PA. It is a 1927 vintage Tierney diner that has spent its whole life in Pennsylvania since it left the factory in New Rochelle, NY. It was originally built as the Lackawanna Trail Diner and operated under that name for many years in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania.

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Post card from my collection of the Lackawanna Trail Diner

I had first learned about this diner through a “before and after” piece John Baeder included in his 1984 book “Gas, Food and Lodging” (A Post Card Odyssey Through the American Roadside). In the book he showed the above post card image from his vast collection as well as a more recent photo he had shot in May of 1979 when it sported a weathered wooden shingle skirt under the windows and was called Besecker’s Diner.

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May, 1979 photo by John Baeder when it was Besecker’s Diner

I first documented the diner in June 29, 1985, not too long after Gas, Food and Lodging first came out. By then the diner lost the wooden shingles and was painted white and operating as Jerry’s Diner. The diner continued to operate at the original location until the mid-to late 1990s.

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June 29, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera when it was Jerry’s Diner

In the late 1990s, the closed Jerry’s Diner became available and there was more than one entity interested in rescuing it. One of these entities was none other than my old friend Gordon Tindall of Decorah, Iowa. Gordon had previously rescued the Clarksville Diner from Clarksville, NJ near where he grew up. He had heard it was threatened because of new development that was happening in that area and he arranged to move it to Iowa in the late 1980s. After a lot of work restoring and equipping that diner, he was able to re-open it and operate it for 5 or 6 years. He eventually sold that diner and it was moved to France where it is today.

Well Gordon was not through after the first restoration and approached the owners of Jerry’s Diner and convinced them to sell it to him. He relocated the diner to a storage location in Lancaster, PA where he worked on the diner and brought it back to near original condition. He had hopes of keeping it in Lancaster but was never able to secure the location he wanted. That is when the diner ended up moving to Towanda. These next few photos are courtesy of Chris Tunnah of the Red Rose Diner in Towanda.

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Tindall operated this diner for another 5 years after opening it before moving on to another project. This would be the complete rebuild of an extremely rare diner that was saved by Michael Engle initially. This would be the former Village Diner of Wellington, Ohio. Also known as Cecil’s Trackside Diner before it closed at that location, this diner was built by Goodell Hardware out of the Silver Creek, New York area, a model that resembled ones built by Ward & Dickenson Diners.

Engle moved the diner from Ohio to Gilbertsville, NY but did not have the wherewithal to complete a restoration. In the meantime he had made the acquaintance of Tindall and finally asked him if he wanted to take on the daunting task to complete the job. So while Tindall was operating the Red Rose Diner, he had started to work on the new diner in his spare time. I wrote about that diner here on Diner Hotline back in June of 2009…  https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2009/06/28/gordon-tindalls-spud-boy-diner-gets-nice-write-up-and-it-is-almost-a-year-away-from-opening/

Anyway, we wish Chris Tunnah well in his endeavor and hope he can realize his goal of getting this classic diner re-opened again soon.

 

A Tribute to Michael Paul Smith, a true artist in Forced Perspective Photography

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Michael Paul Smith with a diorama set up of Elgin Park
courtesy of Michael Paul Smith archives

I was saddened to hear the news that Michael Paul Smith had passed away on November 19, 2018. I will go into a little more detail below, but as an intro; Smith , who described himself as a recluse, became well known world-wide for his unbelievably detailed forced perspective digital photos of diorama scenes utilizing his rather large collection of 1/24 scale die-cast car & truck models along with scratch-built model buildings combined with actual outdoor scenes.

There was no formal obituary at the time of his death, but within a week or so I was “tagged” by my long-time Society for Commercial Archeology friend, Brian Butko in a Facebook post he wrote that alerted his followers and Facebook friends about this. I believe there was a link to a piece from Hemmings Motor News which effectively became a default obituary for Michael. Here is that link… https://www.hemmings.com/blog/2018/11/27/modeler-michael-paul-smith-permanently-moves-to-elgin-park-at-age-67/ .

For those who do not know of Michael Paul Smith, he lived for many years on the edge of downtown Winchester, Massachusetts in the third floor of a large Victorian house. He had a pleasant soft-spoken personality and described himself as a recluse, although he did not actually avoid making contact with other people, he just kept to himself for the most part. He grew up near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the small town of Sewickley.

According to his Bio, his family moved to Massachusetts where he graduated from high school and eventually ended up studying at the Worcester Art Museum as well as UMass Amherst. Michael had bounced around “employment-wise” in the early years after college, trying out various professions including working for a cabinet maker, a short-lived (one day) stint as a mail carrier, a bartender, and an art director for an advertising agency. He also started a wallpaper and painting business and in another career move, made models for an architectural firm.

Smith was an avid modeller from an early age and the skills he developed over his life helped him to become one of the most widely known artists using a small point and shoot digital camera to create forced perspective photographs that truly fooled his many fans world-wide. The seeds of this began in the 1990s when he started collecting super detailed die-cast car and truck models produced by companies like Danbury Mint and Franklin Mint, as well as others.

Smith’s fondness for classic automobile design from the 1920s thru the 50s inspired him to eventually start an over two decade-long endeavor of utilizing his skills (learned from building architectural models) to create 1/24th scale buildings to be used as a set-up for photographing his die cast models of cars and trucks. His first dioramas were mostly shot inside. He eventually moved his dioramas outside and used actual street backdrops to line-up his model buildings and cars in naturally lighted situations where the viewer was hard pressed to see where the diorama ended and the real background started…

The photos were eventually posted on a Flickr page he developed that he dubbed “Elgin Park” https://www.flickr.com/photos/24796741@N05/ . Elgin Park was a fictionalized (and certainly idealized) place based on his boyhood hometown of Sewickley, PA. After some publicity from a British website, Smith’s viewership of his Flickr page mushroomed and went viral with millions of hits almost over night. I myself saw some of these a number of years ago through postings on Facebook and other places. I was totally amazed at the photographs and skill it took to create these images. Here are some of my favorites….

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The Flickr page eventually led to 2 books Smith co-authored with his friend Gail K. Ellison. The first was Elgin Park, An Ideal American town published in 2011…

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This first book was in a way an extension of his Flickr page with loads of photos of the dioramas. He did not go into too much detail as to his process that created the images.

This book was followed by Elgin Park, The 1/24th-scale creation of a fictitious mid 20th century American town published in 2015…

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The second book was physically quite large and possibly the most expensive book I ever purchased. After hearing of Michael’s passing, I dug out both this and the first book from my personal library to prepare to write this blog post. This second book went into extreme detail to describe the process involved in creating his scenes. All the little tricks of the trade (so to speak) to create scratch-built model buildings, back drops and miscellaneous detailed equipment/pieces to enhance the individual scenes were spelled out. There were also select comments from his legion of world-wide on-line fans as well as his responses to them.

It was not until I read a Boston Globe article about Michael Paul Smith and his Elgin Park project close after the time that the second book was published that I realized we had met back in 1995. I have been associated with the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA), becoming a member in 1981, I had attended many of the organizations events held in the northeast since that time. In late 1988, I had started contributing by authoring the first-ever regular column in the SCA’s News Journal (later to be known as the Journal magazine). I named it Diner Hotline (surprise) and wrote for the Journal for over 18 years before retiring the column and starting this blog.

The last event the SCA held in the Boston area (and in fact, New England) occurred on June 23-24, 1995, dubbed the “New England Diner Weekend”, this event was organized locally by myself and Richard J. S. Gutman on the Massachusetts part and Daniel Zilka on the Rhode Island part, along with national assistance by SCA’ers Tania Werbizky, Pete Phillips and Mike Bennett. The event centered on visiting two major exhibits celebrating the American Diner, the first exhibit was at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts curated by Richard Gutman and named after his landmark book, “American Diner Then & Now”.

The second was a smaller exhibit at the Rhode Island Historical Society  which noted the Ocean State’s place in diner history as the birthplace of the horse-drawn lunch wagon. Starting in Lexington at a Friday night reception and continuing the next day with a bus tour going from Lexington to Worcester, Mass. and then on to Providence, RI. The weather cooperated and it was a huge success. We had a large attendance including many locals from Massachusetts and New England as well as people from around the country. Michael Paul Smith was one of those attending.

During the event, I had brought along a handful of photos to show interested people of a diner-related personal project I had started around January of 1995. This project was a completely new thing for me, a scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner, Worcester Lunch Car No. 817 which was located in my hometown of Medford, Massachusetts from 1948 to 1968. I had some H.O. scale plastic models of diners in my collection, some built primarily as they came, others I had “kit-bashed” to look different. This new model was the first attempt at doing something on this scale (so to speak). The Star Lite was a diner that I actually patronized as a kid and was hugely disappointed when they closed for their usual vacation in the summer of 1968 and never reopened. The diner was reportedly moved to a salvage yard and never survived.

The model was not built to any particular scale such as 1/24, etc. I just used graph paper to draw a representational plan that was in perspective and looked right to me. The model ended up being approximately 30 inches long. At the time of the SCA event in June of 95, the exterior had been completed. I had accomplished this level of completion in a few short weeks and took the photos which were processed in February of 95.

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My large, scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner from the group of photos I brought along to the SCA New England Diner Weekend to show interested people. By the way it is sitting on an actual Worcester Lunch Car table….

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Second view of the scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner

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Third view of the scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner

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Fourth view of the scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner

As I said, Michael and I met sometime during the New England Diner weekend, in fact it may have been at the stop we made to the Modern Diner in Pawtucket, RI. I showed him the photos of my Star Lite Diner model and he immediately was enthusiastic about what I had accomplished. I do recall he asked about the scale of it and told him I did not use any particular scale. We quickly found out that we lived about 7 minutes or so (by car) from each other. I was living on Osborne Road in Medford, about 2 blocks from the town line with Winchester. He lived about a mile and a half from there near the center of town. We made arrangements for me to visit with him soon after and I brought the model with me. We visited at his home for an hour or so and he was impressed with my diner model and how improvised it was with little or no materials other than balsa and bass wood and other items I used to create it. Now don’t get me wrong, I think I did pretty well for this attempt to build the model but my expertise was nowhere in the same ballpark as Michael’s modelling experience. Be that as it may, little did I know that this chance encounter may have actually led to Michael’s near future project of creating Elgin Park….

During that early  visit, Michael dragged out a paper bag filled with advertising match books when he found out I collected those. In that whole bag, there was one match book from Duffs Diner & Dining Room in Winchester, VA. It was a very odd size, overly large (4.25″ long x 3.35″ wide, closed) but a real beauty. He donated it to my collection…

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Front view of Duff’s Diner Matchbook

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Back view of Duff’s Diner Matchbook

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Inside view of Duff’s Diner Matchbook with only a small amount of matches

After we visited that day in 1995 we did not keep in touch and I certainly had no clue that this whole “Elgin Park” project would evolve within the next few years. Fast Forward 20 plus years later after I discovered that it was he who had been behind all those wonderful diorama photos, I decided to contact him through his Flickr page and he responded. I asked if he remembered me and he said, yes, of course. So we made arrangements for myself and my wife Denise to visit him on Sunday, June 26, 2016. I brought a copy of each of my Diner books which I signed for him as well as my copy of his 2015 Elgin Park book (for him to sign for me).

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He also gave me a copy of his first Elgin Park book from 2011, which he signed as well. I noticed when he signed my copy of the 2015 Elgin Park book, he also left an inscription that totally floored me and took me by surprise…

michael-paul-smith-inscription

After seeing the inscription, it dawned on me that he considered our 1995 meeting pivotal in his process of going down the road he would travel to end up creating Elgin Park and thus, become internationally known for this endeavor. I was floored by this knowledge as well as humbled. I certainly do not give myself any credit for what Michael accomplished as it was all him and his talent as well as ability to create these lasting images which legions of fans world-wide have enjoyed for years.

Rest In Peace my friend…..

 

Marking 38 years of documenting Diners with my photographs

bypass-diner_11-29-1980
My first attempt at photographing a diner. In this case, the By-Pass Diner of Harrisburg, PA – November 29, 1980

It is still amazing to me that the photo featured above would ever snowball into hundreds if not thousands of photos over a span of 38 years (and that’s just counting the diner photos). Truth be told, this was not my first 35mm photo as I had taken other scenic & miscellaneous shots in the 3 or 4 months prior to this one.  But the above photo represents various forces that had finally coalesced into a 38 year personal crusade to document not only the American Diner, but other roadside buildings and businesses before they disappeared.

To this day I will tell you that I am not a technically trained photographer, I still basically employ a point and shoot kind of approach. But I can say that I am a camera geek and own many cameras. From a collection of Kodak Brownies and Instamatics, as well as five or six 35mm film cameras and close to a half dozen digital cameras. This also is curious because I can recall my feelings were quite ambivalent about photography back in the mid-to late 1970s.

These feelings toward photography started to change after meeting my long-time friend and travel companion, Steve Repucci. Our paths crossed toward the end of 1976 when I started a new job at Analogic Corporation, a company I had previously worked for briefly when I was still in High School in the Spring of 1970. We did not connect right away as we were in different departments. In fact I first became friendly with Steve’s brother Scott (who also was employed there) before I eventually socialized with Steve.

Steve and I had bonded a little at work thru passing conversations in the coming months of 1977 into early 1978. This bond was sealed further during an impromptu  camping trip to Lake George, NY on June 24, 1978. We found out that we were kindred spirits who enjoyed taking road trips, etc. I learned that Steve had been an avid photographer using 35mm cameras since his time in the U.S. Air Force during the early 1970s. By 1980, I had seen quite a lot of his photographs and was totally inspired to get into it myself.

So by the Summer of 1980 I had heard that a friend was selling a used 35mm Mamiya 1000 DTL, (which coincidentally was Steve Repucci’s first 35mm camera). I actually went and bought the camera with my older brother Steve and we shared it for about 1/2 a year before I sold him my half and got a new camera. The Mamiya was the camera I used for all my diner photos from November 29, 1980 into the Spring of 1981 when I got the first of two Chinon 35mm cameras. I later graduated to owning two Pentax 35mm cameras, the last one was my go-to camera until 2008.

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A Mamiya 1000DTL similar to my first 35mm camera .

LAC-1981
A photo of yours truly standing in Medford Square (Medford, Mass.)
Possibly the only photo showing me with the Mamiya 1000 DTL 35mm SLR.
(1981 Photo by Joe Fortunato)

Since that first photo of the By-Pass Diner, I have gone on to document over 860 diners, most are factory-built classic diners while others were home-made or on-site establishments. I have photographed some old neon signs and various roadside buildings as well.

I started to experiment with digital photography circa 2000 or so while continuing with film cameras. Gradually I was taking more and more digital shots for a few years until the last roll of film came out of the Pentax with photos from 2005 thru 2008. I realized that it was not worth using the film cameras anymore and decided to make the switch totally when I bought the Pentax K200 Digital SLR at that point.

This brings me to 2018 and I now carry 3 digital cameras in my bag. The Pentax K200 DSLR, a Nikon Coolpix P7800 and the newest – a Olympus E-PL29. This last one is a brand-new retro version of an Olympus PEN model that was very popular for years, starting in 1959. I have yet to shoot any diners with this one as I have had a skin ulcer on my left foot since the end of July which has kept me in a cast. When the foot is healed I hope to get back out and take some photos.

Also, in the last 2 years or so I have been diligently scanning all of my 35mm slides and prints to create a digital archive. I have completed the slides and am now slogging thru the prints. The prints take more time to scan, clean and enhance. It helps to have patience to do this because it is very gratifying to see the finished image. This process has made me appreciate the early diner photos even more. I am pleasantly surprised at how decent a lot of these shots actually are. The following images are some of my early favorites….

Collin's-Diner-3
Collin’s Diner – Canaan, Connecticut
Photo from October 3, 1982

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Hightstown Diner – Hightstown, New Jersey
Photo from May 31, 1982

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Norm’s Diner – Groton, Connecticut
Photo from September 18, 1982

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Ruby’s Silver Diner – Schenectady, New York
Photo from October 2, 1982

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Salem Diner – Salem, Massachusetts
Photo from May, 1982

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Tom Sawyer Diner – Allentown, Pennsylvania
Photo from February 26, 1982

11th Anniversary for Diner Hotline blog

Well, another year has rolled around. October 31st marks the 11th year this blog has been up and running. Granted, I have not posted much for most of this year as I have been feverishly scanning the photo archives, 35mm slides and prints (this scanning process started in earnest in the last year and a half).  I started shooting 35mm photos in the summer of 1980 and documented the first diner on November 29, 1980. The slides are all scanned (diner & non-diner shots) effectively covering a span of 35 years, (I switched from 35mm print film to slide film circa March of 1983).

Most Diner Hotline readers know, but for those who do not, my obsession with diners started  when I was very young. I had been very observant as a child, whenever we were going on errands around town or just little road trips in and around the Bay State, I always noticed places along the roadside. Diners seem to always catch my eye and in the late 1950s into the early 1960s, there were still plenty of them here in New England. The seed of knowledge was planted when I was approximately 5 or 6 years old when I asked my dad about this building we used to pass on Mystic Avenue in South Medford near the Somerville town line.

It was a blue colored building with a rounded roof that featured “Old English” lettering on it that said Star (left side of the center entrance) and Lite (to the right of the entrance). My question to my dad was, is that a railroad car? He answered no, it is a restaurant called a diner. He went on to explain that diners were built in factories and were designed to resemble railroad cars. The Star Lite Diner was a 1948 vintage Worcester Lunch Car and a huge amount of the diners in our area looked similar to the Star Lite as Worcester Lunch Car Company was the local diner builder.

Star-5
There is only one photo that exists of the Star Lite Diner
the above is my colorized version. Note: the trim along the
roof and overhang should actually be yellow…

So basically my obsession was intact very early and I have memories of eating at quite a few diners when I was a kid including the Star Lite, Bobbie’s Diner and Carroll’s Colonial Diner, all in my hometown of Medford as well as others in the area. In fact I hung out at Carroll’s for a few years after graduating from high school in 1979. The diner was a large “L” shaped structure with huge windows and an additional dining room addition that was open 24-7 through the 1970s.

After purchasing my first “new” vehicle (as opposed to a used vehicle), a 1979 Chevy van, I was able to increase the area of my own little road trips without the worry of a vehicle breakdown. I started going on Sunday morning road trips with my good friend Steve Repucci which always started at a diner, originally Genia’s Diner in North Woburn, Mass. We eventually decided to start visiting other diners that we either knew about or just drove in search of a diner thus determining the direction to drive in.

The late 1970s saw the publication of two watershed books on Diners. The first was the 1978 Diners by artist John Baeder. This featured paintings and sketches  in color and black & white along with some wonderful text in John Baeder’s distinctive style of story telling.

Diners-by-Baeder

The second book was American Diner by Richard Gutman and Elliot Kaufman (in collaboration with David Slovic) published in 1979. This became the first book ever to delve into the history of diners.

American-Diner

In 1980, another book was published called Diners of The Northeast by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink. This was a guide to a selection of diners in New Jersey, New York and New England. This was actually the first book that I bought and it became the catalyst that sparked my interest in diners to a fever pitch.

Diners-of-Northeast

The diner obsession lead to my photographing over 860 diners in almost 38 years. I became a member of the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) in 1981 which eventually lead to me contributing to the SCA publications in the form of the first ever regular column called Diner Hotline (1989-2007). I retired the SCA Diner Hotline column in 2007 and began the Diner Hotline weblog as stated on October 31, 2007. The blog also lead to the publishing of my own two books, Classic Diners of Massachusetts (2011) and New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries (2014).

I hope to be increasing the amount of blog posts soon as the digital archive of my photos and slides are now closer to completion.

Singer-Songwriter to do East Coast Diner Tour to promote album.

I recently heard from Alexi Paraschos, a self described soul/pop artist currently living in Philadelphia. Hailing originally from the Boston suburb of Newton, (he graduated Newton North High School, 2005) and attended Tufts University 2009. Prior to moving to Philly, he has spent most of his life in the Boston area. Alexi began writing songs when he was eleven years old.

Alexi told me that since moving to Philly, he has connected with some great producers and is about to release his next album, entitled “25/8”. The idea behind 25/8 is a step beyond 24/7–being passionate about someone or something you believe in. That was how he ended up coming up with the unique idea to promote the album. Basically he plans to travel around the East Coast on a sort of “Diner Tour”. He goes on to say that he sees diners as places that are usually open around the clock, helping people to refuel. Plus, he thought, who wouldn’t enjoy listening to some soulful music at 11:30 at night while eating some bacon and eggs!

It was also, in researching the idea that he came across the profound connection that diners have to Greek Americans. He says being the son of a proud Greek immigrant father, I felt like I was the perfect person to pull off this idea.

Alexi P-3
Alexi Paraschos, publicity photo courtesy of his website

During our conversation, Alexi mentioned that growing up in Newton, he frequented the Knotty Pine Lunch in the Auburndale section of that city. The Knotty Pine, although not a factory built diner is a great local restaurant with the menu, ambiance and service one typically associates with a great neighborhood diner.

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The Knotty Pine Lunch located at 295 Auburn St, in the Auburndale
section of Newton. Photo by Larry Cultrera

I asked Alexi what diners he frequented in Philly and he told me that “I’ve gone to a bunch of the diners here–Oregon Diner, Silk City Diner (which is actually one of the most popular live music spots in the city), the Melrose Diner, and a couple of the newer, high end diners City Diner and Continental Diner”.  He also mentioned he does make it back to Boston fairly often and was actually just in Boston on Monday night, February 19th at Victoria’s Diner doing a “test show” for the tour. He included a short video of part of his performance at the Vic here… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKdqoqIxGC4&feature=youtu.be

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Victoria’s Diner in Boston. Photo by Larry Cultrera

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Alexi Paraschos publicity photo, courtesy of his website

For more info, Alexi has a YouTube Channel https://www.youtube.com/user/alexisongs as well as his website https://www.alexisongs.com/ .

Alexi has also got a Kickstarter fund going on right now to help finance the East Coast Diner Tour that he will embark on this coming June… if anyone is interested in helping him out, check out this video…

I hope to catch his Diner Tour Kick-off show at Victoria’s Diner, Friday, June 1, 2018.

Alexi P-1
Alexi Paraschos, publicity photo from his website

 

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.

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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 led 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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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???

 

 

10 years of Blogging – Diner Hotline style!

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I know I have been largely absent from blogging this past year. This has been to my on-going project of scanning all of my 35mm slides (diners and other things, etc.) as well as another personal project I volunteered for last year. The other project involved creating a 100th Anniversary book for my local Catholic church which is winding down at this point and I hope to get it to the printer in the next 2 weeks. I have been extremely active on Facebook and even created a new page called got diners? This page is made up of a good amount of output from the scanning of my diner photos from the last 2 years.

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you can find this page at… https://www.facebook.com/got.diners/

But I could not ignore the fact that today is October 31st, a milestone for me! It has been 10 years since Diner Hotline weblog made its debut! I hope to start regular blog posts again with this being the first of more to come.

HAPPY DINERING!

Today marks 36 years since shooting my first “Diner” photograph!

November 29, 1980 is a very significant date in my life. I was visiting my pal Steve Repucci in Harrisburg, PA on the long Thanksgiving Day weekend. We had moved Steve down to Harrisburg on the previous Labor Day Weekend, which happened to be my first trip to that city and Pennsylvania as well. On the previous visit I noticed there were quite a few diners although I do not recall eating at one then. So this Thanksgiving trip was purely more of a pleasure trip. We arrived on the Friday after Thanksgiving (November 28th) and probably mellowed out after the 8 (or more) hour trip, which had been very tiring due to the heavy fog we encountered on I-81 between Scranton and Harrisburg. The next morning we drove over to the Bypass Diner which was fairly close to where Steve lived. I am not sure when I actually took this first tentative photo of the diner but am inclined to think it was after we had breakfast.

bypass-diner_11-29-1980
The Bypass Diner, Herr Street, Harrisburg, PA
November 29, 1980 photo by Larry Cultrera

With this one photo, I started a 36 year trek that has continued for many miles and quite a few vehicles. In the process, I have made countless friends along the way and by my estimate photographed over 860 diners! This process eventually included the creation of my long running regular column for the Society for Commercial Archeology Journal magazine (Diner Hotline) and this blog of the same name after I retired the column. The blog led me to the authoring of my two books… Classic Diners of Massachusetts and New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries, both published by The History Press.  I am currently attempting to scan all the 35mm prints and slides of diners I shot from November of 1980 until 2008 when I stopped using 35mm film and went totally digital with the purchase of my Pentax digital SLR.

New Hampshire’s Mary Ann’s Diner – three locations – great food and service!

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Roadside sign for Mary Ann’s Diner, Salem, NH.
August 28, 2016 photo by Larry Cultrera

36 years ago (November 29, 1980), when I first started documenting diners with my photos, I was pretty much a “Diner Snob”. By this I mean that I wanted  to ONLY take photos of “real diners”, not what I considered “fake diners” – AKA on-site built ones. They had to be the classic prefabricated railroad car styled buildings that those of us in the northeast grew up with. I certainly gravitated to the older ones built by Worcester Lunch Car Company, also Sterling diners built by J.B. Judkins and representatives from the mid-Atlantic region like Jerry O’Mahony, Fodero and DeRaffele along with the occasional Silk City and Paramount diners! At first I also for the most part resisted photographing the “newer styles” of factory-built diners that came after 1960. But as my previous post has shown I did manage to get some of the local ones here in Massachusetts.

Mary Ann’s Diner – Derry, NH

As time progressed, I modified my feelings toward the newer style of diners when I got a clearer view of the big picture and realized that these too were a huge part of diner history, I started documenting more of those and appreciated them for what they represented, although in hindsight, I wish I had not passed by a number of them in the early days without shooting a photo or two. I had also relaxed my standards by the end of the 1990s and started including diners that were built on-site or into existing commercial structures, mostly because they represented in spirit, a true diner experience enhanced by good food, service and atmosphere.

This brings me to my subject of this post – Mary Ann’s Diners of New Hampshire. Starting out in 1989 with the downtown Derry location and later expansion to include the locations in Windham (2013) and very recently Salem (2016). This little chain is now a contender along with the three (soon to be four) locations of The Red Arrow Diner and the offerings from the Common Man family of restaurants that include the Tilt’n Diner, Route 104 Diner, Airport Diner and the two Hi-Way Diners, which are helping to make the Granite State a true “diner destination”.

I had first caught wind of Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry sometime in the early 2000s, probably from seeing it on the locally produced Phantom Gourmet television show. I knew from what I had seen, that this new diner was located in an on-site commercial building. I also saw that the owners (the Andreoli family) had attempted the retro look with kitschy 1950s nostalgia decorating the interior as well as the waitresses wearing poodle skirts, etc. Now I must confess that this has historically been a “turn-off” for me personally as I firmly believe that a good diner should not have to resort to kitsch to attract customers. Whether it is in a factory-built model or an on-site “wanna be”, the restaurant only needs to have good food and service, along with a friendly staff to flourish. The atmosphere should grow and be enhanced from these qualities and the regular clientele will appreciate it and help to create the true “diner feeling” or vibe that would make that diner the “go-to” place in town!

That being said, I want to go on to say that even though all three of the Mary Ann’s Diners have this element of kitsch to their interior decor, in this case it does not hurt so much because the excellent food, service and hospitality helps to enrich the atmosphere, making it a great diner experience which more than makes up for these retro decorations that in other places might be a distraction.

According to my “Diner Log” database, I made my first visit to Mary Ann’s in Derry on March 2, 2002. I have since learned that they may have previously operated at a nearby location prior to inhabiting this store front at 28 East Broadway. This existing commercial building was decorated on the outside with a neon “Mary Ann’s” sign topped with three back-lit signs – the center one featured cartoon figure of Mary Ann holding a “Coke” bottle (the restaurant’s logo) which was flanked on the left side by a “drink” sign and on the right by a Coca Cola” sign. Above the windows on either side of the front door were two other back-lit signs, “diner” on the left and “restaurant” on the right. The only other decorations that gave a nod to the retro restaurant on the inside were the “red & white” checkerboard design under the windows and some mirror finish quilted stainless steel on either side of the front door. The two following photos show it from that visit.

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Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry, NH. March 2, 2002 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry, NH. March 2, 2002 photo by Larry Cultrera

At that time the interior featured (and still does) a lot of kitschy 1950s memorabilia, some formica surfaces as well as ceramic tile and stainless steel trim and panels. It already had a counter and stools along with many tables & chairs as well as booth seating. Between that first visit to Mary Ann’s and my second one, I had seen a unique transformation taking place in Amherst, NH when an existing structure that had housed two or three restaurants previously was being rehabbed to look like a post modern retro diner. It was obvious that the company doing the on-site work were well versed in building and renovating diners. The materials and design elements told me this. Also, one of the workers who was there told me the contractor was based in New Jersey. Unfortunately, I did not get the name of this contractor at that time. Suffice to say, this place then known as the Timeless Diner was going to be a showplace.

Fast forward to 2004 and my next visit to Mary Ann’s in Derry. I guess I did not recall what the exterior looked like from the first visit and failed to notice a change on the outside when I got there. Anyway, once I walked in and sat at the counter, I looked around the interior and saw some changes that immediately caught my eye. There were some elements added to the interior that I knew had not been there before. Chief among the changes that were noticeable to me was the new “cove” ceiling over the back-bar area behind the counter. I asked the waitress who was serving me (I believe it was Mary Ann Andreoli herself) if they had had work/updating done on the place and she affirmed this fact. I then asked if it was the same company that did the Timeless Diner and she said an emphatic yes! The “cove” ceiling was a dead giveaway as it was pretty identical to the one at the Timeless Diner. The next two photos were taken in anticipation of writing my New Hampshire Diners book…

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Interior of Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry. August 3, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Interior of Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry. August 3, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

The changes were not only on the interior but also the front facade got a newer treatment under the windows with some vertically fluted blue enameled panels with stainless steel trim! Another change happened to the rear of the building which had previously been just a brick wall and back entrance from the rear parking lot. The contractor added on a post modern entryway along with a small dining room addition that would be used for overflow seating and private functions. That whole rear facade was covered in horizontal red enameled panels alternating with stainless stripes. There were also stainless steel panels along with some blue vertical elements and a red roof topper, effectively giving the back of the building a completely different look than the front. Now historically, I seemed to always stop there for breakfast and never managed to get really good photos when I was there early in the morning. That of course didn’t stop me from trying! The next photos were from a visit in February 24, 2008 which were not half bad considering it was not the perfect light…

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Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry, NH. February 24, 2008 photo by Larry Cultrera
showing the redone front facade.

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Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry, NH. February 24, 2008 photo by Larry Cultrera
showing the redone rear facade.

These were decent photos (acceptable but not perfect) but when I was taking photos for the book in 2013 and 2014, I was determined to get better ones. Well this happened on a trip back from the Lakes Region south of the White Mountains. We were heading home in the mid-afternoon and I detoured off the highway between 2:45 and 3:00 pm to see what the place looked like. Also, I was counting on the fact that the diner had closed for the  day at 2:00 pm making it almost certain the there were no vehicles blocking the shots! When we got there I was immediately excited to see the place in perfect light and finally got the definitive photos I had been looking for!

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Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry, NH. April 19, 2014 photo by Larry Cultrera
This one ended up on the cover of my New Hampshire Diners book!

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Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry, NH. April 19, 2014 photo by Larry Cultrera
Rear view of the diner…

While researching for the NH Diners book, I knew that I would be including Mary Ann’s Diner as well as Joey’s Diner (formerly the Timeless Diner) in my chapter on “On-site and Homemade Diners”! The one important (at least to me) piece of information I was missing for both of these places was the name of the company that did the retro renovations to them. I knew the current owner of Joey’s might not know and had no luck after multiple attempts in getting in touch with Bill Andreoli Sr. of Mary Ann’s (who certainly would know) either.

So, armed with a suggestion from a friend, I decided to do and end run and try to find out from a different direction. I finally contacted Sharon M. Jensen, the Department of Public Works executive secretary for the Town of Derry who was extremely helpful. Within a short amount of time I received a copy of the building permit dated October 23, 2003 that described the renovations and other work that was done to Mary Ann’s Diner. But most importantly it had the name of the contractor – Designer Diners, Inc. of Newark, NJ.

Even though Mary Ann’s Diner in Derry is only open for breakfast and lunch on the weekdays and breakfast only on the weekends, this place has been such a wild success, the Andreoli’s decided to branch out with a new location in Windham, NH which opened in 2013. The new location did get a mention in the diner listings in my NH Diner book.

Mary Ann’s Diner – Windham, NH

I finally got around to visit Mary Ann’s Diner in Windham, NH just last weekend (October 30, 2016) in anticipation of doing this blog post. This version of Mary Ann’s Diner is located in a strip mall just off Route 111 west of I-93, about a mile or so – at the corner of Cobbetts Pond Road and Lowell Road. The actual storefront is narrow and quite deceiving as to how large the diner is. There is a barber shop to the left of the diner but the shop is not as deep into the building. The diner actually makes a left turn behind the barber shop. Designer Diners again did the whole interior of this place and it looks great! I have yet to eat here but I have no doubt it is as good as the other two locations! The Windham one has the same hours as the Derry location.

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Exterior of Mary Ann’s Diner in Windham, NH.
October 30, 2016 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Interior of Mary Ann’s Diner in Windham, NH.
October 30, 2016 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Interior of Mary Ann’s Diner in Windham, NH.
October 30, 2016 photo by Larry Cultrera

Mary Ann’s Diner – Salem, NH

Earlier this year a report came out that the Andreoli’s, the owners of Mary Ann’s Diner were rehabbing a former Bickford’s Grille on Veterans Memorial Highway at the corner of Route 28 in Salem, NH to be their third location. I received word from Bob Higgins that it was getting close to opening around the beginning of August. So I made a trip up to Salem on August 14, 2016 to see what the place looked like. Even though it was a Sunday afternoon, things were hopping with workers doing various tasks to get it ready for a soft opening. The Exterior of the building received small changes. The formerly wood shingled large mansard surrounding the brick building got a metal covering with white trim and the window frames were now mirror finish stainless steel. The pediment over the front entryway already had the signage but was waiting for some decorative stainless steel panels that would arrive that week. I was invited inside to photograph the restaurant and was happy to see that Designer Diners did not disappoint, they pulled out all the stops and the place looked fantastic!

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Interior of the new Mary Ann’s Diner in Salem, NH.
August 14, 2016 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Interior of the new Mary Ann’s Diner in Salem, NH.
August 14, 2016 photo by Larry Cultrera

While I was there, one of the workers gave Bill Andreoli  Jr. a call and handed me the cell phone. We spoke for a few minutes and he told me that the father and son team who make up the Designer Diner company are basically retired from the business. But because of their history with the Andreoli’s other two diner projects, they agreed to come back for this project and do the work in their spare time.  The new Mary Ann’s was slated to hold their grand opening on August 18th but it was put off for a couple of days. I managed to get there on August 28, 2016 for breakfast.

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Exterior of the new Mary Ann’s Diner in Salem, NH.
August 28, 2016 early morning photo by Larry Cultrera

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Exterior of the new Mary Ann’s Diner in Salem, NH.
August 28, 2016 early morning photo by Larry Cultrera

The place has been getting huge crowds and is already very popular. This location is open longer hours than the other two and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner! We tried to get there for lunch on a Sunday (September 4th) but found out after a 30 minute wait that the full lunch menu is not served until 2:00 pm on weekends. So hopefully sometime in the near future we can check out the full lunchtime menu.

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Exterior of the new Mary Ann’s Diner in Salem, NH.
September 4, 2016 early afternoon photo by Larry Cultrera

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Exterior of the new Mary Ann’s Diner in Salem, NH.
September 4, 2016 early afternoon photo by Larry Cultrera