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.

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.

bypass-diner_11-29-1980
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.

starlt3
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.

car2-82a
A night-time photo I shot in the winter of 1982

Carrolls-8-83
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.

Carroll's-10_5-2-2012
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???