Celebrating a major milestone – my 40 year anniversary of photographing Diners

This year November 29th falls on a Sunday. Who knew that a tentative single 35mm photo taken on this same date 40 years ago in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, would lead me into a multi-decade mission to document diners (at last count 875 in my database) throughout the Eastern United States with my photographs.

Now granted, I have always had a fascination with diners that goes back to my early childhood in Medford, Massachusetts in the late 50s and early 60s. I recall going with my dad to a few local diners like Bobbie’s Diner and the Star Lite Diner, both on Mystic Avenue in our hometown as well as the Victoria Diner in Boston.

Bobbie’s Diner, 33 Mystic Avenue – Medford, Massachusetts
colorized image of the Star Lite Diner,
383 Mystic Avenue – Medford, Massachusetts
Victoria Diner, 1024 Massachusetts Avenue – Boston, Massachusetts

I also recall after Easter Morning Mass going for breakfasts with my family to Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car on Main Street, a large “L” shaped diner delivered in the early 60s that was a brand new replacement for a smaller stainless steel diner that the Carroll family had operated previously in the city from 1948, that itself was a replacement for an even earlier diner started in 1929.

Carroll’s Diner, 101 Main Street – Medford, Massachusetts

Later on during high school as well as years after graduating, Carroll’s was the go-to meeting place that was open 24 hours a day. Myself and my friends could be found there, day or night! So I can safely say that diners became part of my DNA, a constant throughout my life and by 1979, I started thinking about them in an expanded view. My pal, Steve Repucci and I started taking Sunday morning road-trips around the area and the first stop along the way was a local diner for breakfast. Soon, the task of finding a diner to have breakfast determined the direction of the road-trip.

All through the 1970s, I had owned one or two Kodak Instamatic cameras and never seriously looked at photography as a hobby. As 1980 began, I had been toying with the idea of getting into photography after being exposed to it by Steve Repucci who had been shooting 35mm photos for a number of years. So the first of two key events leading me to take that first diner photo occurred sometime in the Summer of 1980, when I co-purchased my first 35mm camera along with my older brother Steve. My friend and former co-worker Scott Drown was selling a used Mamiya 1000 DTL that he had been shooting with for a few years. So my brother and I alternated using this camera for around 9 months before I decided I needed my own camera and sold him my half.

a camera similar to what I used to take that first Diner photograph

The first couple of months I tested my wings by shooting scenic photos, etc. It was just a month or so into using that first camera when the second key event happened. Steve Repucci had decided to try living outside of Massachusetts and moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This happened on Labor Day weekend. Because I owned a van, I of course offered my services in helping with the move. This was my first ever trip down to the Keystone State. During that first visit to Pennsylvania, I had taken notice of one or two diners driving around the Capitol region. After that first trip a second one was already planned for Thanksgiving weekend.

Thanksgiving fell on Thursday the 27th that year. If I remember correctly, my brother Rick and friend Scott Drown accompanied me on that trip. We left not long after midnight on the 28th and drove out through Connecticut and New York on Interstate 84. In fact we took I-84 all the way to Scranton, PA to access I-81 south to Harrisburg. I recall hitting some pretty bad fog through that stretch of highway between Scranton and Harrisburg, possibly the worst I have ever attempted to drive through in my life. After arriving we rested a bit and visited as well as probably going out to eat somewhere and probably called it a day fairly early. The next morning we went to breakfast at the nearby By Pass Diner on Herr Street, probably around four miles or so from where Steve was living on North Progress Avenue. This is when I snapped my first photo of a diner. Little did I know this would be the first in what has turned out to be a few thousand photos taken in the next four decades!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is bypass-diner_11-29-1980.gif
My first diner photograph, By Pass Diner, 1933 Herr Street – Harrisburg, PA

Well, the dam was broken and after I came home from Harrisburg I started going around the Greater Boston area and shooting photos of all the diners I knew of. Unfortunately, in my inexperience, I was insisting on using a wide angle lens in a lot of these early photo excursions. The reason I say it was unfortunate was that I was usually across the street using the wide angle lens and it pushed the subject a little too far away. Now in hindsight this seemed to work out OK as anyone who sees these early photos can get the perspective of seeing the diner in relation to its surroundings. And seeing that I am currently in a multi-year endeavor of scanning all my archive of diner photos, I have developed a way to create new versions of these photos by zooming in and re-cropping the image to represent the photo it should have been (and keeping the original version intact).

Here are a few of those early shots after Harrisburg…

Viv’s Diner – Malden, Massachusetts_November, 1980
Boston Street Diner – Lynn, Massachusetts_November, 1980
White Way Grill – Lynn, Massachusetts_November, 1980 a rare
early close-up only because the truck was blocking the view.
Unfortunately, I never got another shot of this the way it looked
here as new owners renovated the diner totally and lost
the original classic look…
Rosebud Diner – Somerville, Massachusetts_December, 1980
Apple Tree Diner – Dedham, Massachusetts_January, 1981
Salem Diner – Salem, Massachusetts_March, 1981

Since those early days I have used quite a number of different cameras to shoot diner photos including some Kodak Brownie and Dual Lens Reflex cameras that I have collected. Also two Chinon 35mm cameras as well as some small digital cameras. Since 2008 when I changed totally to digital, I have used my trusty Pentax DSLR, a couple of Nikon Cool Pix and my newest an Olympus Pen mirror-less camera. After changing careers in 1996, I have become proficient in using Adobe Photoshop to digitize all of my 35mm slides and am currently working on the early 35mm prints. I hope to complete the digital archive of all the diner photos within the next year!

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.

Knotty-Pine-Lunch-2
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

Image-#-005_Victoria's-Diner
Victoria’s Diner in Boston. Photo by Larry Cultrera

Alexi P-2
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

 

Another look back to the early 1980’s

I recently bought a new scanner to replace the one I had for almost 10 years. I was not happy with the results I was getting from the old one, especially when scanning slides. The new one seemed to be much better and the software was more advanced, which I certainly liked.

This past weekend I felt moved to scan an image from a negative as I had not tried this with the new scanner yet. When thinking of an image to scan I immediately thought of a photo I shot on Dec. 25, 1982 of the Agawam Diner in Rowley, Mass. It is without a doubt one of the better shots I have ever taken of that diner. I took the shot on Christmas because it is the only day during the year that the diner is closed and I could get a nice clean shot without cars being parked in front!

I wanted to scan this image as I did not have a print of it anymore. In fact I gave the one and only print I had to a producer from the short-lived Connie Chung Show (circa June, 1990). They were doing a show (or a segment of a show) on “Diners”. He had contacted me when he was researching the subject and utillized me as a sort of guide. Basically I brought him around to a whole slew of diners from Boston all the way to Northampton, Mass. and various places in between. They actually did some filming at the Agawam Diner (hence the reason he asked for a photo) where I was interviewed on camera. Unfortunately this show never aired.

So last Saturday, I checked my Diner Log database to find where I had the negative stored and got my hands on it in about a minute.  I brought out the adapter for 35mm negatives for the scanner and placed the negative in it. I checked the settings on this when the software turned on and found they were set up like I have it for slide scanning, so I went with it! Well I was pleasantly surprised to see the image come out exactly the way I remembered it! Check this out…..


Agawam Diner, Rowley, Mass. Dec. 25, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera

Since I scanned that, I was in the mood for scanning some other photos from that period as a trip back in time. All these other scans came from prints and some were cropped while most of them were enhanced slightly. Here they are in no particular order….

Lido Diner – Route. 22, Spingfield, NJ


Lido Diner, photo Nov. 29, 1981 by Larry Cultrera


Lido Diner, photo Nov. 29, 1981 by Larry Cultrera

The Lido Diner was a large 1960 vintage Paramount Diner. Back in 1987, I had the opportunity to stay at the Colonial Motel down the street one weekend and took at least 2 meals at this diner. I recall they had their own bakery and served freshly baked bread. Man that was good! I did a Bing street map search recently and it seems there is a 7-11 Store on that site now.

Shirl’s Cozy Diner – Champlain Avenue, Ticonderoga, NY


Shirl’s Cozy Diner, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Shirl’s Cozy Diner, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

Shirl’s was built on site (not factory-built) and was fairly small. It did not make it into the 1990’s. The lot is now used for parking for the Sunoco Station next door.

Henry’s Diner – Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, Mass.


Henry’s Diner, circa March, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Henry’s Diner, circa March, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

Henry’s Diner was another on-site built diner, in fact I believe it was almost triangular in shape to conform to the corner it sat on. According to my notes it was torn down by 1992. I also recall it had operated under the name of Steve’s Diner earlier. I believe I had breakfast with my dad here a couple of times in the late 60’s.

Colonial Kitchen – U.S. Route 11, Liverpool, PA


Colonial Kitchen, the former Lesher’s Diner.
Aug. 8, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Colonial Kitchen, the former Lesher’s Diner.
Aug. 8, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

The Colonial Kitchen, as it was called when I photographed it was formerly Lesher’s Diner, this info is from a postcard I have in my collection. It was a 1940 vintage Jerry O’Mahony diner which according to my notes was replaced entirely by another building by the mid-1980’s.

Ted’s Diner – Route 28, Londonderry, NH


Ted’s Diner circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Ted’s Diner circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

I don’t know much about this place but I do recall seeing this in the mid-to-late 1960’s. It was actually just off exit 5 of I-93 and was visible from the highway. I do not know if this is built on-site or a completely redone factory-built place. It was torn down by the mid-1980’s and replaced with another building that currently houses Poor Boy’s Restaurant and Deli. When getting this post together I realized this diner did not make it into the Diner Log database and had to search the negative file to complete my info for this.

Burlington Diner – Route 130, Burlington, NJ


Burlington Diner, May 31, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera


Burlington Diner, May 31, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera

The Burlington Diner looks like one very long building when in actuality, it is 2 diners grafted end to end. The section on the left is the original diner which is a barrel roof DeRaffele diner from the early 30’s. The right hand section was a newer DeRaffele that they grafted on and then changed the facade to look more modern as well as unified. The pylon and flared roof section on the extreme right was added, probably in the 1960’s. I do not know if it is operating currently but the building is still there and a google street map search shows it as Amy’s Omlette House, Burlington Diner.

Sam’s Lunch – 82 Lafayette Street, Salem, Mass.


Sam’s Lunch, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Sam’s Lunch, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

Sam’s Lunch was built by Teirney Diners and was reported to still have wheels attached to it. I never got to go inside but managed to shoot these two photos as well as one slightly later shot before it was torn down. It disappeared by the mid-1980’s.