Notes from the Hotline, 01-14-2012

Classic Diners of Massachusetts Slide Presentation
January 23rd in Medford, Mass.

I will be doing a slide presentation based on my Classic Diners of Massachusetts book at the Medford Public Library on January 23, 2012. The presentation will be similar to the one I did for the Somerville Public Library with some modifications. These will include some images of diners from Medford’s past.

Here is the blurb the Library posted on their website….

Classic Diners of Massachusetts A Lecture by Larry Cultrera

Monday, January 23 at 7:00 p.m.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was the birthplace of “night lunch wagon” manufacturing industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These horse-drawn food carts eventually evolved into classic American diners. For many years, diner builders like the Worcester Lunch Car Company and J.B. Judkins Company operated in the Bay State, although few new diners opened for business after 1960. This left the state with a high concentration of some of the best-preserved diners built during the early to mid-twentieth century, including the Capitol Diner in Lynn, the Route 66 Diner in Springfield and Buddy’s Diner in Somerville.

Medford native Larry Cultrera is a diner historian and the author of the Diner Hotline blog. His new book Classic Diners of Massachusetts has just been released by the History Press.The Library is located at 111 High Street (Route 60) on-street parking as well as a small parking lot behind the building is available.

 

Rosebud Diner of Somerville, Mass. changing owners soon


Rosebud Diner postcard designed by Larry Cultrera

I got a phone call on January 1st from old friend Arthur Krim, a founding member of the Society for Commercial Archeology. It seems he was contacted by Kristi Chase of the Somerville Historical Comission who was concerned about the future of the Rosebud Diner. Arthur asked me if I had any knowledge of the possible sale of the diner, I told him that I had not heard anything. I last saw Bill Nichols (whose family owns the diner) back in November at my “Author Event” held at the Somerville Public Library and nothing was mentioned then. Arthur informed me that Kristi had heard from someone who stated he was in the process of purchasing the Rosebud and wanted to change or alter the neon sign on the roof. I told Arthur that I would look into the situation.

I called Bill Nichols shortly after talking with Arthur and asked him what was happening. He said everything was fine and that he knew nothing about any changes concerning the diner. So I thought, well maybe this was just a rumor. The next day I called Kristi Chase and she in turn reitierated what she told Arthur and the news sounded credible. Because the diner is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Historical Commission needs to be informed on possible changes to listed properties. Well I called Bill back and told him what was said. Needless to say he was surprised and a little upset, it seems his dad  was selling the diner and had not yet informed him.

I again contacted Bill this past week after he had spoken with his dad who told him that someone had approached him with an offer to by the building/business. Bill says he is not sure of the actual timeline but estimates the change in ownership will happen possibly within the next month or month and  half. I am sad for this change and hope that nothing drastic happens to this long-time landmark in my life.

 

Glenn Wells’s RoadsideFans website migrates to WordPress

Good friend, colleague and occasional road trip buddy Glenn Wells received a nice Christmas present from his stepson Ray Milstrey, an updated website/blog. Ray also created the old RoadsideFans website, but now that the site has migrated to WordPress, it will become interactive. Here is what Glenn says about the move……

The new RoadsideFans.com is a WordPress blog, and if that seems familiar, it’s because several other roadside-related web sites already use WordPress – Diner Hotline, Retro Roadmap, Diner Hunter, and Lincoln Highway News among them. As with the others, visitors to RoadsideFans will now have a chance to leave comments – simply click the arrow at the top right and scroll down to the bottom of the posting. There will probably be more new features yet to come as I become more familiar with WordPress.

You will find several features from the old web site on the new RoadsideFans.com. By clicking FEATURES on the bar above, you can access the Howard Johnson’s, barbecue chicken, and Taconic Parkway features from the old web site. However, the Online Diner Tours and some other photo features from the old site have been retired. Most of these were a decade or more old, and many of the places no longer exist or have changed names. I am considering uploading the pictures to a Flickr account to maintain the historical record. 

I want to congratulate Glenn on the updated website and wish him good luck. I know I have enjoyed using wordpress for Diner Hotline! You can find a link to RoadsideFans in my blogroll as well as here….
http://www.roadsidefans.com/

Murphy’s Diner lives on!

This weekend marks the 29th anniversary of when I shot my first photo of a diner. I posted previously about this at the end of last month. In thinking back on these last 29 years and all the diners I have photographed (since that first shot of the Bypass Diner of Harrisburg, PA), some of my most intriguing shots have been of closed or abandoned diners (like the former Rosedale Diner, Daryl Hall & John Oates Abandoned Luncheonette in my header).

Possibly the first abandoned diner I ever documented was one I found in Haverhill, Mass. It was the summer of 1981 and if I remember correctly my brother Rick and I were driving north on state Rte. 97. I had passed thru downtown Haverhill and was just going over I-495 heading toward Methuen, Mass. and Salem, NH. Just over on the left past I-495 was an old farmhouse with some trees behind it. Peeking out from behind the trees was the side elevation facade of a stainless steel late 1940’s or early 1950’s diner.

Below, you can see the photos from my first visit to Murphy’s in Haverhill…..


Left side close-up. This is the side you could see from the road,
just a different angle. You can see where the roof of the kitchen
building was cut away in this view.
August, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Front side view almost hidden by the trees.
August, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Front right corner view.
August, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Right rear view also showing where the roof of the kitchen was cut
away. August, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

I stopped to check it out and actually talked to some people who lived in the house. They were just renting the accomodations and told me their landlord owned the diner as well as the property. They did not know anything about the diner but gave me the name of the owner. I did some sluething and actually got a phone number for the owner.

I subsequently called him one day soon after to ask about the diner. He was somewhat reluctant to say much about it and was a tad suspicious of me and my motives. I finally convinced him that I was conducting a personal research project, documenting diners (he probably thought I was nuts). I told him when I saw a diner up on blocks in a yard behind a house, I felt compelled to find out where the diner came from.

He eventually told me that it was the former Murphy’s Diner of Cambridge, Mass. I later showed the photos to my diner buddy David Hebb and he showed me a book he had in his personal library published in 1977 by the Cambridge Historical Commission. The book was entitled  Survey of Architectural History of Cambridge, Northwest Cambridge and Survey Index written and researched primarily by Arthur Krim. (Arthur and I were to become friends and collegues in the Society for Commercial Archeology not too long after).

On page 149 of this book there was a photo and a short blurb about Murphy’s Diner. Here is what a partial scan of the page showed…

Following are a closer view of the photo and the info on the page…



In preparation for this post, Dick Gutman sent me info from his database about the diner with some interesting notes, among them a mention that the diner left Cambridge in 1968. I mentioned to Dick about the 1970 date from the book and he acknowledged that he wasn’t sure where that info he had came from. This had prompted me to contact Arthur Krim.

I spoke with Arthur today (November 29th) for some background and to confirm the date he had written (as to when the diner left Cambridge). He said by the time they were doing the research for the book in 1971 the diner was already gone. Luckily the photo of the diner was shot just prior to the move in anticipation of the research. He also mentioned city permits and other info that were obtained in the research that verified the facts.

 The diner remained in Haverhill until June of 1993 when (according to Richard Gutman’s notes) it was bought by Charles Gutzos (who contracted with Brian Payne) who moved the diner to Peabody, Mass. Gutzos had plans to restore and reuse the diner but these plans never came to fruition due to Gutzos’ passing away suddenly.


Murphy’s in storage just off Pulaski Street in Peabody, Mass.
June, 1994 photo by Larry Cultrera


Murphy’s in storage just off Pulaski Street in Peabody, Mass.
June, 1994 photo by Larry Cultrera


Interior of Murphy’s Diner when in Peabody, Mass.
June, 1994 photo by Larry Cultrera

The diner again stayed in storage for the next 2 years in Peabody when it was bought on March 3, 1995 by Pendragon a British Automobile Dealership located in the town of Derby, who specialized in  selling classic 1950’s American vehicles. The diner was placed on a container ship and sailed over to the United Kingdom on April 28, 1995 where it underwent a $200, 000 restoration and was put into service as The Motown Diner. The Motown Diner went out of business by 1997.


Exterior photo of the Motown Diner in Derby, England 
July, 1996 photo by Richard Gutman


Dick Gutman in front of the Motown Diner in Derby, England 
July, 1996 photo by Kellie Gutman


Interior photo of the Motown Diner in Derby, England 
July, 1996 photo by Richard Gutman

After the Motown Diner closed it remained in storage for quite a few years again. The next chapter of Murphy’s Diner starts up in 2004. Enter Jeff Laight and Trish Whitehouse of S. Derbyshire, England. They actually bought the diner through a listing on Ebay! They now operate it as the 50’s American Diner in Church Gresley, S. Derbyshire. I have been in contact with them for a couple of years and actually was able to clue them into a copy of the Cambridge Historical Commission’s book which they bought on Amazon.com. I emailed them recently for this post and here are their own words on how they found the diner….

We bought the diner off ebay after looking for a farm in Wales (strange I know but thats us for you), it was sitting behind an Aston Martin dealership in Derby and had been left to the elements and not in a good state at all. It had smaashed windows all the electrics when removed from its last site had just been ripped out of the ground. The roof was leaking, etc. and the list went on.


The 50’s American Diner photo courtesy of
Jeff Laight & Trish Whitehouse
 
When we had bought the diner we did not know how to move it as moving diners is not the norm in England. We contacted many companies specializing in moving large stuff by road, one company said they would take it to pieces and move it in vans!! After many quotes we eventually settled on Darren Wilson Lifting Solutions because of its location and weight the crane we had to use was a 200 ton crane made up of 2 parts and a specialist lorry from Heanor Haulage.
 
During its journey to Church Gresley they took a wrong turn and were then stuck in traffic calming but only knocked 1 post over! After she landed on site, a year of never ending jobs started. Going before the planning permisision was a nightmare! The local council treated the building as a new build even though it was 50 years old, they tried to get us to double glaze the windows!!


The 50’s American Diner photo courtesy of
Jeff Laight & Trish Whitehouse
 
During the rebuild we had to renew all electrics re do the exterior, IE: take all the panels off at which point we found that most of the panels had been replaced with fibreglass copies which was a great shame. We also added a new toilet and washing up building at the rear. This all sounds very simple but it really wasn’t. We opened 22nd August 2005 and we are still here so we must be doing something right!
 

The 50’s American Diner photo courtesy of
Jeff Laight & Trish Whitehouse 
 
During the last 4 1/2 years we have enjoyed our time as diner owners and looking forward to the next 4 1/2 years. Since opening the diner has been featured on BBC TV, ITV, Sky Radio and of course KHQ TV in the USA.
Last year we were named as 1 of the top 25 webcams of the world by Earthcam and top 10 in March 2008. We have tailoured the menu to English tastes whilst still keeping to the diner’s history where we could. We have a chap here that makes us rootbeer to an old recipe too.
 

The 50’s American Diner photo courtesy of
Jeff Laight & Trish Whitehouse

The 50’s American Diner photo courtesy of
Jeff Laight & Trish Whitehouse
 
This brings me to June of this year, I did my Power Point presentation called Local Roadside Memories at the Medford, Mass. Public Library for the Medford Historical Society. It was well received by the packed room of attendees. One of the people who attended was Maryellen McCarthy of Medford. She asked me after the show if I knew anything about Murphy’s Diner that used to be in Cambridge.
 
She mentioned that she and her friends who attended Matignon High School (a Catholic High School in North Cambridge) were regular customers in the mid-to-late 1950’s of the diner as it was located about 1 or 2 blocks away from the school. She also mentioned that she had an old menu from Murphy’s in her posession. I of course told her the diner still existed and that there was a link on my blog to their website.
 
Front and back of Murphy’s Diner menu
courtesy of Maryellen McCarthy
 


Inside pages of Murphy’s Diner menu
courtesy of Maryellen McCarthy

 
Fast forward to 2 weeks ago when I received a phone call from Maryellen. She was excited to tell me about something she organized. After She told me her news I asked her to email me all the details so I could post it in Diner Hotline! This is what she wrote…. 
 
After I attended your lecture at the Medford Public Library (Local Roadside Memories) and learned that the Murphy’s Diner in North Cambridge (where I went for French fries and a Coke after school with Matignon classmates) had been moved to the UK you gave me an idea – why not celebrate our 70th birthdays together in a booth in the original Murphy’s Diner in Swadlincote, Derbyshire UK?  The diner has been fully restored and is operating as a diner/museum, a trbute to 1950s America according to their website. I emailed as many of my Class of 1957 classmates as I could find, made some phone calls, got in touch with the diner owners and so far have a group of twelve and likely more who will be traveling to the UK and visiting the diner on Monday, May 3rd 2010.

 Jeff and Trish, the owners, are just as excited; “over the moon” is the expression. I emailed a picture of an original Murphy’s menu that I still have and we have been exchanging emails since. They are arranging for the Friends of the American Diner Auto Club  to pick us up at the railway station in vintage American cars and I understand they have been in touch with the BBC to alert them about this “human interest” story.

 Thank you Larry, you have started what I know is going to be a really fun event for us and for the diner people. They told me they never thought they would ever meet anyone who had actually sat in a booth in their diner. They have named a dish they serve “The 2525 Massachusetts Avenue” for the original address in North Cambridge and pictures of the Matignon Class of ’57 cheerleaders and football team now hang on their wall.

I am flattered that I got to play a small role in this little adventure that Maryellen and her friends are going to embark on next spring.