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…

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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…..

 

Diner Hotline weblog – 8 years old today!!!

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October 31, 2015 is of course Halloween, but also the date marks the 8th anniversary of the creation of this blog! As some of my readers know, Diner Hotline started as the first regular column to ever appear in the publications of the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA). It was suggested to me by Mike Jackson (then president of the SCA) in the Fall of 1988 during a phone conversation that I could possibly write a piece to appear in the SCA News Journal. The News Journal was the organization’s only regular publication at the time that was a combination newsletter/magazine.

When he suggested to me about writing a column, I first thought… I am not a writer, but then again I read a lot and could probably relate personal tales associated with diners and happen to have had some good info and sources at my disposal to possibly attempt something like this. I also thought that it was an opportunity to be one of the few “non-academic voices” (basically the average everyday roadside enthusiast) contributing to the publication. I even recall saying to Mike… I already have a name for the column, “Diner Hotline”, which had been a sort of inside joke between myself, David Hebb , Dick Gutman and John Baeder. I had been known to call any and all of these guys on the phone when I had some juicy tid-bits of news and other information about a diner. As soon as they answered the phone, I would preface by saying “DINER HOTLINE, DINER HOTLINE” and then impart the info!

Thus, Diner Hotline became a reality and the first short piece appeared in the Spring 1989 edition (Volume 10, Number 1) of the SCA News Journal continuing through to when the publication separated into two different entities, the SCA News (a newsletter) and the SCA Journal (a full fledged magazine) The News was published more frequently while the Journal was twice a year. I opted for Diner Hotline to continue in the Journal (only two deadlines a year). My Hotline contributions went though a whole host of Journal editors over the years and continued until  the Fall 2007 edition of the SCA Journal when I retired the column.

Shortly after I retired the column (almost immediately actually) my good friend Brian Butko mentioned to me in passing that I should start a blog! So I asked him some questions about how to go about doing this and by the last day of October of 2007, the blog was born!

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So I want to mention that coming up really soon, I will be reviewing the new book about my pal John Baeder (John Baeder’s Road Well Taken). Written by Jay Williams, it is an extremely heavy book (figuratively as well as literally). It is filled with many of his paintings (diner and non-diner) and delves into John’s psyche and how all the influences in his life lead him to become one of the internationally renowned artists of our time.

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Also, I have another Author event coming up on Friday evening, November 6th at Gibson’s Bookstore (Concord’s indie bookstore since 1898) in downtown Concord, NH. Starting at 5:30pm with a small slide presentation followed by a book signing for my New Hampshire Diners: Classic Granite State Eateries. Gibson’s Bookstore is located at 45 South Main St, Concord, NH 03301

http://www.gibsonsbookstore.com/event/nh-diners

New Roadside related books in my library…

I have recently added 3 new (to me) books to my ever increasing personal “Roadside related” library that I highly recommend to anyone who has an interest, whether in passing or as an avid aficionado!

The first title I want to recommend is…

Remembering Roadside America

I came across this one by happenstance two or three months ago. I happened to “Google” my name and clicked on “books” and a reference came up to this new book with the subtitle “Preserving the Recent Past as Landscape and Place”  published by the University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN) and written by coauthors John A. Jakle, Emeritus Professor of Geography at the University of Illinois, Urbana- Champaign and Keith A. Sculle, the former head of research and education at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. They have coauthored other roadside related titles already in my personal library such as; Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile AgeThe Motel in America and The Gas Station in America. Being familiar with these past titles and the scholarly approach the authors used, I was spurred on to purchase this book and see for myself how I ended up being mentioned within the context of this book, (I was definitely curious, to say the least)!

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Cover of John A. Jakle and Keith Sculle’s book, Remembering
Roadside America

The blurb on the back cover on the book is a good synopsis describing the content…

The use of cars and trucks over the past century has remade American geography-pushing big cities ever outward toward suburbanization, spurring the growth of some small towns while hastening the decline of others, and spawning a new kind of commercial landscape marked by gas stations, drive-in restaurants, motels, tourist attractions, and other retail entities that express our national love affair with the open road. By its very nature, this landscape is ever changing, indeed ephemeral. What is new quickly becomes old and is soon forgotten.

 In this book, a summation in many ways of the authors’ decades of combined research, John JakIe and Keith Sculle ponder how “Roadside America” might be remembered, especially since so little physical evidence of its earliest years survives. In lively prose supplemented by copious illustrations, they survey the ways in which automobility has transformed life in the United States. Asking how we might best commemorate this part of our past-which has been so vital economically and politically, so significant to Americans’ cultural aspirations, yet so often ignored by scholars who dismiss it as kitsch-they propose the development of an outdoor museum that would treat seriously the themes of our roadside history.

 Museums have been created for frontier pioneering, the rise of commercial agriculture, and the coming of water- and steam-powered industrialization and transportation, especially the railroad. Is now not the time, the authors ask, for a museum forcefully exploring the automobile’s emergence and the changes it has brought to place and landscape?

OK, so this is in keeping with their particular style of writing and gives you a good idea about what the book is like. Upon receiving my copy of the book I found the mention pertaining to me in the “Preserving Roads and Roadsides” chapter! It turns out that I was not mentioned here by name but I was referred to in the text on Page 122…  “one aficionado who wrote and illustrated a column on diners for the Society for Commercial Archeology’s publications for 19 years recalled how he first became interested in diners when he was six years old and how he had continued this interest throughout his life” (Index note 70). That was a mind blower for sure, so I turned to the Index notes on Page 258 for that chapter and here is where I was mentioned by name along with “Diner Hotline” (the original print version that preceded this blog)…
70. Larry Cultrera, “Diner Hotline”, SCA Journal 25 (Fall 2007): 36; and Larry Cultrera, “Diner Hotline”, SCA Journal 21 (Fall 2003): 24-25.

I spoke with Keith Sculle after reading the book and conveyed my gratitude for he and John Jakle mentioning myself and Diner Hotline in their book! I told him that I felt extremely honored by the gesture! He expressed his personal disappointment in my discontinuing the Diner Hotline column in the SCA Journal back in 2007 and often wondered as to why I did that. I told him that I thought I felt that I had brought the column to a point where I was not enjoying the writing and the deadlines any longer and needed a change. I also said that this event gave birth to this Weblog shortly thereafter and it became the Diner Hotline it was finally meant to be (in my mind).

Coauthors Jakle & Sculle also went on to mention my friend Brian Butko and his efforts with the Lincoln Highway in the same way on Page 125 (same chapter)… “The Lincoln Motor Court, astride the Lincoln Highway at Tulls Hill, PA, enables one to peer over a long time into the time travelers’ transcendent quest. Built in 1944, the Lincoln Motor Court was off the beaten path by the 1970s. Jakle & Sculle mention that the current owners Bob & Debbie Altizer had purchased the motel in 1983. By 1993, nostalgic yearnings and boosterism amid the nationwide culture of leisure gave birth to a new Lincoln Highway Association. This is where the authors refer to Brian Butko – “A historian and photographer engrossed in his work on a travel guide of the (Lincoln) highway in Pennsylvania and an eager proponent for combining heritage tourism and road and roadside preservation counseled the owners of the Lincoln Motor Court on the possibility of reviving their business by appealing to travelers seeking to re-enact a trip on the Lincoln Highway. Advertising its historical qualities made the retro business profitable, and other entrepreneurs near the Altizers also successfully adopted the strategy” (Index note 76). Turning to the Index notes on Page 258 … 76. Ibid., 8-9; Brian A. Butko, “Historic Highway Preservation: Not a Dead End Street!” CRM16 (1993): 36; and Brian A. Butko, Pennsylvania Travelers’ Guide: The Lincoln Highway (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1996), 188-90.

I will say that Jakle and Sculle’s books are not your typical “coffee table” variety of roadside history tomes and are fairly heavy reading owing to both of the author’s educational/historic preservation backgrounds. But they certainly have a wealth of information within their books and that those readers willing to read thru them will be rewarded with a new perspective in how they look at preserving or at the very least documenting the American Roadside which in the long run will benefit future generations!

The second book I acquired was a book with a much more local focus…

New England Notebook: One Reporter, Six States, Uncommon Stories

This book was published in 2013 by Globe Pequot Press and written by Ted Reinstein. For those who might not be familiar with Mr. Reinstein, he is best known around New England as a longtime correspondent for “Chronicle,” the equally longtime and celebrated nightly newsmagazine which airs on Boston’s ABC affiliate, WCVB-TV. I have been watching Chronicle from its inception in the early 1980s and have always enjoyed the show. In fact, I was actually on a Chronicle show back in the July 25, 1991 along with Richard Gutman and Randy Garbin among others in a show called “Devoted to Diners.  More recently I was featured in a segment of New Hampshire Chronicle (WMUR-TV’s version of the show) highlighting my latest book “New Hampshire Diners: Classic Granite State Eateries”. Anyway, to get back to Ted Reinstein, he signed on to Chronicle as a correspondent in the late 90s and he quickly became one of my favorite people to watch as his segments seem to be among the most enjoyable to me. I was certainly aware that his book had been published and had actually thumbed thru it once or twice at the local Barnes & Noble but did not purchase it until he came to do a slide lecture/author event at the Saugus Public Library March 30, 2015!

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Cover of Ted Reinstein’s book New England Notebook

I met Ted at his author event and immediately found him to be as entertaining in person as he comes across on television! He engages his audience thru the TV show or in the book as well as at one of his author appearances, and when he talks about a person, place or thing, you know he has done his homework. Not only because it is his job, but because he has a genuine interest and therefor keeps his audience interested in the subject at hand! I was informed about his upcoming event at the Saugus Public Library by a friend Bob Teal back in mid-March. Ironically, Ironically Ted’s Saugus event followed another author event/lecture he did for the Parker Lecture Series up in Lowell, Massachusetts on March 19th as well – exactly one month before I did one ending the season for that series!

New England Notebook features some of Ted’s favorite stories that he has covered over the years… the people and places that stood out in his and respectively, the viewers minds! Just from watching him on the show I knew he was a kindred spirit and has a love of diners. He has a better than average grasp of New England diner history which gives his reporting on the subject a huge amount of credibility! In the final chapter of this book (Chapter 10 – The Foods) there is a section called “Diners: A New England Specialty” and features the late lamented Rosebud Diner of Somerville with a great night-time photo by my friend Elizabeth Thomsen (OK, I know the Rosebud building is still there but the classic interior is completely gone and the menu offered is not even close to a diner).  Other diners included are Becky’s Diner of Portland, ME, the Boulevard Diner and Miss Worcester Diner of Worcester, Mass., the Deluxe Town Diner of Watertown, Mass., and Agawam Diner of Rowley, Mass., as well as the Main Street Station Diner of Plymouth, NH and the Red Arrow Diner of Manchester, NH. I hope to someday join Ted for a decent Diner “Breakfast” in the near future, maybe even at Tim’s Diner in Leominster, I know Ted has not been there yet! This book is filled with other entertaining stories flavored with Ted Reinstein’s wit & wisdom and well worth the read!

So if you are ever in the Boston area, check out Chronicle on WCVB-TV (Channel 5), it is on Monday thru Friday at 7:30pm. Even if Ted is not on, it is an award winning show that always seems to offer something for the discerning viewer!

The third book I purchased and read was recommended to me by Debra Jane Seltzer…

Road Trip: Roadside America From Custard’s Last Stand
to the Wigwam Restaurant

Published by Universal Publishing – this book is written & illustrated by Richard Longstreth, an architectural historian and professor at George Washington University. Longstreth directs the graduate program in historic preservation at the university and is the author of numerous books and articles including “The American Department Store Transformed 1920-1960″ and Looking Beyond the Icons: Midcentury Architecture, Landscape and Urbanism”. In fact Mr. Longstreth is quoted quite a bit by John Jakle & Kieth Sculle in pretty much all their books on the American Roadside, so I was certainly familiar with his name over the years but this is the first book of his that I have actually bought! This book is chock-full of color photos that he shot from the late 1960s into the 1980s in his travels!

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Cover of Richard Longstreth’s book, Road Trip, from Custard’s
Last Stand to the Wigwam Restaurant

A lot of these places in Longstreth’s photos are either long gone or partially to extremely altered at the time of this books publishing. But we are certainly the lucky recipients of his foresightedness in his documenting these roadside treasures that are somewhat reminiscent of John Margolies best work. The difference is that Margolies has been known to remove litter and debris from his subject matter prior to shooting the photos and Longstreth, like most of us, does not! The one thing he does like Margolies is wait for the right “light” to take the shots of his subject (in most cases, but not all), something I always wished I had the luxury of doing back in the 1980s!

The places he photographed are from pretty much all over the country! From motels, to gas stations, to diners – Mr. Longstreth covers it all! There are period supermarkets, Drive-In Movie Theaters and other roadside attractions. The one drawback to the book is the choice of small type/font that was used for the text as well as captions (kind of small in my opinion) but in fact, the photos are what truly shine in this book and I can certainly overlook that little drawback! This is the kind of book that makes me wish that I should have started taking my own roadside photos much earlier than 1980! I sort of wish that there was such a thing as time travel, I would take my camera and go back in time to take the photos I never had a chance to!

Well, be that as it may, Mr. Longstreth did take all these shots and we can certainly appreciate and admire them!

Diner Hotline Weblog celebrates 6 years!

Well, October 31st has rolled around again and this means I get to look back and remember that 6 years ago today the Diner Hotline Weblog was launched! As I have said in my “About” page, this blog was the continuation of my long-running column in the Society for Commercial Archeology’s Journal magazine. The column had debuted in the Spring 1988 edition of the SCA NewsJournal and within a few years I opted to have the column in the  SCA Journal instead of the SCA News when the entity was split into 2 separate publications. I wrote it until the summer of 2007 and Diner Hotline Weblog came about almost 3 months later at the urging of Brian Butko.Diner-Hotline-decal

 

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In the intervening 6 years, I am very proud of the posts I have written although I would like to write more frequent posts. Anyway The most popular post by far was the Abandoned Luncheonette post I did back in 2010 , co-written by Matt Simmons. I am also proud that writing this blog has lead to my authoring the book Classic Diners of Massachusetts (2011, The History Press) and now I am starting on a new book for the same publisher, New Hampshire Diners: Classic Granite State Eateries due out in the Fall of 2014. So, I want to thank all the my faithful readers/followers and fellow roadtrippers for coming along for the ride so far!

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The Dining Car of Philadelphia, a family tradition!

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Close-up of the fantastic sign for The Dining Car in Philadelphia,
July 1, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera

Growing up in the Boston area, I recall all the various diners we had around thru the 1950’s and 1960’s. Most were built by the local Worcester Lunch Car Company (Worcester, Mass.) as well as more than a few Sterling Diners that were built in nearby Merrimac, Mass. by the J.B. Judkins Company. We also had a handful of  Fodero’s, Mountain Views and O’Mahony’s from New Jersey. There were quite a few Brill diners built in Springfield, Mass. for the J.G. Brill Company based in Philadelphia, PA as well as a couple of Valentine diners out of Witchita, KS.  I personally was also familiar with Swingle diners (another New Jersey company, 1957-1988) having grown up with two of their diners here, Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car of my hometown of Medford (1961) and the Victoria Diner of Boston (1965). These two diners were the most modern diners in the Greater Boston area.

After starting my documentation of existing diners in the early 1980’s, I made the acquaintance of Richard Gutman, a native of Allentown, PA who had relocated to the Boston area in the early 1970’s after graduating from Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning. Dick had authored the first real history book on this truly unique type of restaurant known as a diner. The book was titled Amercian Diner (this later was updated to a more comprehensive volume entitled Amercian Diner Then & Now).  From reading his book, I learned that the evolution of diners was an on-going process. Basically from the horse-drawn lunch wagons of the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, to the barrel-roofed and monitor-roofed railroad car inspired designs of the 1920’s, 1930’s and early 1940’s as well as the modern stainless steel streamlined diners of the late 1940’s thru the 1950’s. But from the early 1960’s into the early 1980’s the diner manufacturers had drifted away from the traditional “railroad car” styled diners to the larger multi-section diner-restaurants with their more updated Colonial and Mediterranean influenced designs.

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View of the left side front elevation of The Dining Car,
July 1, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera

I would guess it was from Richard Gutman, that I had heard (not too long after I met him) of a new diner being built by Swingle Diners… the first ever retro-styled diner called The Dining Car of Philadelphia, PA. So in my travels on the diner trail, I planned on someday checking this new old-style diner out. I had heard that Swingle in collaboration with the Morozin family (owners of The Dining Car) had loosely based the design of the new Dining Car on the old Monarch model that the Jerry O’Mahony Dining Car Company had built back in the mid-to-late 1930’s. It featured a metal-sheathed monitor roof, not used since the 1950’s as well as a black enameled body (with the name of the diner lettered on) under the windows. It also included stainless steel trim on the corners of the building as well as the window sills. So it was in the middle of  a diner road-trip, July 17, 1984 to be precise that myself and Steve Repucci visited the Swingle Diner factory in Middlesex, NJ. We were given a tour of the plant by Eric Swingle, a nephew of owner Joe Swingle. We met Joe along with his chief designer Joe Montano. I asked Joe Montano about The Dining Car and he actually pulled out the blue prints to show us what it looked like! It wasn’t until July 1, 1985 that we actually set foot in the diner on a subsequent road-trip. We had lunch as I recall and I took quite a few exterior shots of this huge diner (which can be seen here). I found myself at The Dining Car one other time since then…. June 19, 1993 during the Delaware Valley Diner Tour which was part of the Diner Experience, a symposium conducted by the Society for Commercial Archeology. But going through my slide archive, it seems I did not photograph it that time.

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View of the full front elevation of The Dining Car,
July 1, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera

To help with some background for this post, I recently spoke with Nancy Morozin, a friend of mine from Facebook who is the current general manager of the diner started by her dad, Joe Morozin Sr. Nancy runs the business along with her brother Joe Jr. and sister Judy. Joe Jr. oversees all back-of-the-house functions while Judy is responsible for the training of all front-of-the-house personnel. The Dining Car story goes back to Joe Sr’s. early days, basically from a teenager on – running various eateries with names such as the GI Inn, and another called the White Way among others. Jump to the year 1961 when Joe was ready for something new and larger, this is when he bought a brand-new Swingle Diner. Nancy describes it as an “L-Shaped” Colonial-styled diner with large windows and hammered copper hood. From the sounds of it, this would have made it a contemporary of Carroll’s Diner in Medford (the one I grew up with). This diner was known as the Torresdale Diner from 1961 – 1976. In 1976, the family updated the diner with a slight renovation that included some new victorian-styled decorations salvaged from an old Atlantic City hotel and decided to change the name to The Dining Car. It operated as  such until they approached Swingle Diners about building them the new larger diner in 1981. Contrary to some reports I have read (as well as being mentioned by Nancy), The Dining Car was not the last brand-new diner built by Swingle Diners. I know this for a fact because when I visited the factory in 1984, they were just completing the final sections of the Penny II Diner of Norwalk, CT. Ironically while we were there, they received a phone call that the first two sections of the diner, which had left the factory on the previous day, had arrived on site that morning! Also, according to Mike Engle (co-author of Diners of New York), the Country View Diner of  Brunswick, NY was possibly the last diner out of the factory. It was built in 1988 and opened in 1989 as the Stagecoach Inn.

The-Dining-Car-5
View of the right side front elevation of The Dining Car,
July 1, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera

In the late 1980’s Bob Giaimo and Chef Ype Von Hengst of the proposed Silver Diner chain out of the Washington, DC area actually trained at The Dining Car to see how a large upscale diner operated. Giaimo and the Morozins remained friendy since then. In 1989, the Morozins decided they need to do something as the customers queuing up to purchase their baked goods from their in-house bakery were interfering with the other clientele who were attempting to pay for their meals. You see as Nancy explains it, the diner’s bakery is famous for its Apple Walnut Pie, which is similar to a cheesecake, baked in a pie shell with sweet apples folded inside and topped with walnuts rolled in brown sugar and cinnamon. Another popular item is the Jewish Apple Cake which is a European coffee cake baked with apples and cinnamon sugar. The diner received the “Best of Philadelphia” for that. So a new addition was planned to house and sell the baked goods. Looking for advice, Nancy approached Bob Giaimo to consult with as he previously had operated a chain of upscale bakery/cafés (American Café Restaurants). She hoped to get idea’s for the proposed “Market” addition. When all was said and done the new addition was grafted onto the front of the diner’s entryway. It was designed by the noted restaurant designer, Charles Morris Mount who also consulted along with Richard Gutman and Kullman Diners to design the first Silver Diner for Giaimo, located in Rockville, MD. As Nancy went on to tell me…. There are also a few food items that are uber popular that we sell in the “market” which is why she opted to call the new addition a “market” vs a “bakery”.

Joe-Sr.-&-Nancy-Morizon(1)
Joe Morozin Sr. and Nancy Morozin holding a copy of the revised Edition of
Diners of Pennsylvania by Brian Butko, Kevin Patrick and Kyle Weaver
photo courtesy of Kyle R. Weaver

The diner employs a staff of around 130 and with later additions currently seats 260 patrons. Many of the staff have been working at the diner for years and even decades. This is because the staff is treated like family and the same can be said about the regular customers!

Another interesting story Nancy related to me about the regular customers was when the new diner was installed back in 1981, it was placed on the property adjacent to the old diner. They were basically sitting back to back with a fence between the back walls of both the buildings. Apparently there were a handful of these regular customers who wanted to have the official last meal in the older diner and the first one in the newer diner. So to help facilitate this, an opening was made in the fence between the two diners and the customers in the old diner picked up their plates and coffee cups and proceeded to walk thru the kitchen of that diner, out the back door, thru the opening in the fence and into the back door of the new diner. They went thru that kitchen and into the main part of this diner to finish their meals! What a delightful story, to say the least!

Up until a few years ago The Dining Car was one of a handful of family-run diners that had operated under 2 or 3 generations. There was the Melrose Diner operated by the Kubach family, the Mayfair Diner operated by members of the Morrison, Struhm and Mulholland families as well as the Country Club Diner operated by the Perloff family. Within the last 6 years or so all of those diners with the exception of The Dining Car were bought by Michael Petrogiannis.  In fact Nancy says they too were approached by at least two or three parties who were inquiring whether they wanted to sell their diner a number of years ago, but the Morozins were not interested in selling. As far as I’m concerned, I believe I speak for all their regular customers as well as myself when I say that I am glad as well as relieved to know that the Morozin family will continue to operate this long-time Philadelphia institution for many years to come!

The-Dining-Car_Kyle-R-Weaver
More recent view of the left side front elevation of The Dining Car, showing
the 1989 addition of the “Market” off the front of the entryway designed by
the late Charles Morris Mount, photo by Kyle R. Weaver

If you are ever in the Philadelphia area I highly recommend you visit The Dining Car, it is located at 8826 Frankford Avenue. Telephone is 215-338-5113 and you can also check out The Dining Car’s website at… http://www.thediningcar.com/

If you go, tell them Diner Hotline sent you!

Notes from the Hotline, 9-5-2011

Diners of Pennsylvania, Second Edition


Diners of Pennsylvania Front Cover, Second Edition

I got my official copy of Diners of Pennsylvania back in March. I have also been meaning to mention something here about this book but the writing of my own book, Classic Diners of Massachusetts for “The History Press” sort of took priority. I actually read this new version prior to publication (and prior to receiving my hardcopy) as I was privileged to be one of the people to write a blurb for the back cover. This book, published by “Stackpole Books” out of Mechanicsburg, PA is the latest in this series that the publisher initiated with the first edition (of Diners of Pennsylvania) back in 1999.

Back then co-authors Brian Butko and Kevin Patrick did an outstanding job. In fact, I will say it was groundbreaking in the compilation of information along with the photos and maps that accompanied the text, (as I said in my blurb on the back cover) making it a benchmark for all the other books that followed it!  Thanks to the combined effort of Butko, Patrick and editor Kyle Weaver (the 3rd co-author for this new edition), this updated version surpasses the first remarkably without effort. It also helps that all the photos are in full color this time around, making for the finest presentation of any the publisher has done previously.

According to Brian Butko, Kyle Weaver did the “on the road” research, sometimes with other people along. Brian says; “so for example, he and I drove Western PA together. Plus I had been collecting updates along the way. Then we all proofed it together. It’s very much a 3-way effort – not that we did it all together, but our parts blend seamlessly I think”. I would have to agree with Brian, it did all blend seamlessly and it is a must for any diner afficianado’s book collection!

Peanut Mobile sighting in Boston on July 30th

Denise and I took a subway ride into Boston on July 30th and checked out the Planters Peanut Mobile at City Hall Plaza. The vehicle was on a National Tour and had stopped in Beantown that weekend!


Planters Peanut Mobile, July 30, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Planters Peanut Mobile, July 30, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Planters Peanut Mobile, July 30, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Larry & Denise Cultrera with Mister Peanut, photo courtesy of
Planters Peanuts

While we were there, we walked over to an adjacent building and I finally shot the famous steaming “Teapot”….

Mike O’Connor checks in with an update on his continuing restoration of Worcester Lunch Car No. 705

Thought you might like to see how Worcester Lunch Car No. 705 is progressing, feel free to post them on your weblog! Dennis Day from Sterling, Mass. did the lettering he took his time and did a great job. We are very happy with the whole project and can’t thank Gary Thomas enough for his great work on No. 705 ! I’m planning on keeping it here on my property and enjoying it with our friends. It is a great place for car club meetings, etc. regards, Mike & Maggie Ann O’Connor


Interior of Worcester Lunch car No. 705. All the back-bar cabinetry was created by Gary Thomas. Photo courtesy of Mike O’Connor.


Exterior showing the newly painted lettering. The diner now has its original name back on it. The Park Diner was delivered to Horace Mayhew in Salem, NH on June 14, 1933. Photo courtesy of Mike O’Connor.


Maggie Ann’s The Park Diner with all the exterior lights on.
Photo courtesy of Mike O’Connor.

Latest acquisition for my Diner Postcard collection

I was checking Ebay recently and saw a postcard I did not know existed! It was a “long” postcard of the original Prospect Mountain Diner, a “double-wide” 1950 Silk City diner that was destroyed in a fire a few years ago. Located in Lake George, NY, I have memories from my teen years when my family vacationed in that resort town, in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains.
I also frequented the diner many times since then, whenever I was in Lake George. Therefore, it really saddened me when the diner burned! There were not that many examples of a double-wide Silk City to my knowledge, and this was almost pristine. Anyway, here is the postcard I purchased…..


Postcard view showing exterior of diner with an interior view of the Rickshaw Room Annex as well as the kitchen. This was a rarity, the diner served a typical comfort food menu while the annex served Chinese cuisine.

The Story of the The Abandoned Luncheonette, AKA the Rosedale Diner


Daryl Hall & John Oates’ Abandoned Luncheonette,
1973 Atlantic Records Album Cover

Not long after I started the Diner Hotline Weblog, I mentioned that I would write about the “Diner in my Header” (the photo at the top of my blog), see…
https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2007/11/07/diner-in-my-header/.
I know a lot of “Diner People” were familiar with a similar image that dates back to 1973 and was the inspiration for my 1982 photo. So now I am finally going to keep my promise to my faithful readers and tell the story in its complete form, with the help of my friend Matt Simmons!

Back in 1991, I was asked by Randy Garbin of Roadside Magazine (now RoadsideOnline) to contribute a “Diner Hunting” story for the fourth issue of his fledgling publication (Roadside, Summer, 1991). At first I thought, which of the hundreds of diners I had documented up to that point in time would make a compelling enough tale for Randy’s faithful readers? Then it came to me in a New York minute (OK, a Pennsylvania minute) that it had to be the story of how I found the “ABANDONED LUNCHEONETTE” !!! The next part is basically what I wrote for Roadside, with a few new tweaks……


My recreation of the photo from the album cover, 2/26/1982

For those of you readers not familiar with it, Abandoned Luncheonette is the title song of an LP record album by recording artists Daryl Hall & John Oates, released in 1973 on the Atlantic Records label. The album cover featured a photograph of an abandoned diner. This cover had always intrigued me whenever I came across it in music stores. I used to say to myself, “Wow…what a great idea for an album cover.” Every so often, I would even hear the song on the radio, but I never paid much attention to the lyrics.

It wasn’t until November 1980, the same weekend I had taken my first photograph of a diner in Harrisburg, PA, that I actually came closer to finding the Abandoned Luncheonette. I was driving through New York City and had the radio tuned to an FM station. Between tunes, the DJ mentioned how he liked diners, which definitely got my attention, and then he played the Abandoned Luncheonette song. For the first time, I really listened to the lyrics. I couldn’t believe it – what a great tune! The words spoke to me and stirred something within me. I had to have this record. Needless to say, I bought this album – the first of around 15 albums in my collection with images of diners featured on the covers.

A year later while I was again visiting Harrisburg, I was sitting in my friend Steve Repucci’s living room, looking at a map of Pennsylvania and trying to locate a small road in the Philadelphia area. You see, there is a clue to the Abandoned Luncheonette’s location on the inner sleeve that mentions “the man on Route 724.” I knew that Daryl Hall & John Oates both were raised in the Philly area and figured that the diner may be located near there. I couldn’t find Route 724 anywhere on the map. There were just too many small roads with~3 digit designations to see it. But wouldn’t you know, the next morning while driving home on Route 222 through Reading, PA at around 4:30 a.m., I came upon the junction of Route 724. I couldn’t believe it! I pulled over and checked out the map. The road went only a few miles to the west, but went 30 or so miles to the east, towards Philadelphia. I knew this had to be the right road and decided that on my next trip, I would go exploring.

On February 26, 1982, I returned to Pennsylvania with Steve’s brother Scott to help get Steve moved back to Boston. Since we had some time to kill on the trip down, we bypassed through Reading and headed down Route 724. We had traveled about 20 miles or so to the east into the outskirts of Pottstown (actually Kenilworth, PA) when there it was – the Abandoned Luncheonette – sitting about 25 feet off the side of the road. This was really exciting, almost like finding the Holy Grail. It was still recognizable and looked very similar to the album cover, albeit with nine years worth of over-grown foliage. Luckily, it was the middle of winter, and I was able to duplicate the album cover photo without the bushes and trees getting in the way.


Photo of me in front of the diner,  shot by Scott Repucci 2/26/1982


Scott Repucci inside the Abandoned Luncheonette, 2/26/1982


Left – front view of the Abandoned Luncheonette, 2/26/1982

rosedale5
Interior shot of the Abandoned Luncheonette, 2/26/1982


Right –  front view of the Abandoned Luncheonette, 2/26/1982


Left – side view of the Abandoned Luncheonette, 2/26/1982


Another interior shot of the Abandoned Luncheonette, 2/26/1982

I have since found out the diner was formerly the Rosedale Diner, operated for years at the corner of High Street and Rosedale Drive in Pottstown. The diner was probably moved sometime in the early 1970’s to Route 724, but was never put back into service. It was certainly in sad shape when I found it and on a subsequent visit April 3, 1983, it was completely unrecognizable having had all of its stainless steel exterior stripped away. In fact, The Man on Rte. 724 himself (Bill Faulk) asked us to leave the premises.


Front view of diner completely stripped, 4/3/1983

Although it’s a shame this diner met with an untimely death, I feel lucky that I was able to find it with the slimmest of clues and document it prior to it becoming almost completely unrecognizable. Now if I could only get the original Rosedale Diner linen postcard into my collection!


Rosedale Diner postcard from my collection

Well, since I wrote that story in 1991, I was able to obtain a copy of the Rosedale Diner postcard for the collection (thanks Art Goody!). Also, within the last 5 years or so, I have become acquainted with some key people who were able to impart some more facts and info on the Abandoned Luncheonette. One of the facts I had wrong in the earlier story was when I guessed the time period the diner got moved to its final resting place. Not sometime in the early 1970’s as I surmised, but actually in 1965.

One of the people that I have managed to make contact with was Susan Norman of the Pottstown, PA area. She was able to give me some first-hand info on the diner and its history. Susan is good friends with Cindy Faulk Baker. In fact they have known each other most of their lives. Cindy is the daughter of Bill Faulk who was the owner and operator of the Rosedale Diner. In my correspondence with Susan, she was able to fill me in on some of the facts about the diner and also put me in touch with Cindy. In fact, Susan sent a nice little “care” package to me with some photos as well as an old menu cover from the Rosedale Diner, which I greatly appreciated!


Rosedale Diner menu cover courtesy of Susan Norman

Ironically, not too long after I started corresponding with Susan, Brian Butko put me in touch with Matt Simmons, around the time I started this blog in 2007. Matt was himself trying to find info on The Abandoned Luncheonette. Matt is from the Detroit, MI area and is a big fan of  Daryl Hall & John Oates’ early music. He was trying to piece together info on his favorite album cover from H&O and Brian knew that had been a passion of mine for a while. So thus began a trading of info back and forth between Matt and myself.

In the mean time, it was brought to my attention by Susan Norman that Bill Faulk passed away on November 6, 2007, (I wrote about it in the blog) and within the same week a drinking glass with the Rosedale Diner logo silk screened on it went up for auction on ebay. What a coincidence! I immediately bid on it and was determined to get it for the collection. I watched over the auction for the last hour or so of bidding and managed to squeak by in the last 2 minutes for the winning bid!


front of Rosedale Diner drinking glass w/logo


Back of Rosedale Diner drinking glass

Since then, I have continued to post all sorts of “Diner related” posts as well as other roadside topics in the almost 3 intervening years. In the back of my mind, the story of the Abandoned Luncheonette/Rosedale Diner was always lurking. Also, Matt Simmons was making inroads in gaining more info and insights while making friends with Cindy Baker and her sister, Marla LaBelle as well as their friend Susan Norman.

Recently, when I did a post on Abandoned Diners, I renewed my promise to finally do something with the story of the Rosedale. Matt contacted me at this point and said he was making another trip to Pennsylvania and after the trip, would document everything he’d learned and send it to me. Well, the middle of July came and with it an email from Matt with the promised story. I read it over and got back to him to let him know that it was a fantastic piece! I told him he was getting co-authorship of this post. (In fact, his text makes up most of it)! So here is Matt’s part of the post……

It was a summer day in 1973, and Bill Faulk was musing to his 26 year-old daughter, Cindy, about a peculiar recent event. Two young men, or “hippie boys”, as Bill described them, had walked into his restaurant, Toggs, with an unusual request.

“He said they told him that they wanted to enter some contest,” Cindy recalls.

According to Bill, the hippie boys informed him that if they won this contest, they would get to record an album of their music. A photo of the dormant diner across the street, which Bill also owned, would be perfect for the cover.

“I told them they could take a picture of it, but not to go inside,” Bill would tell a newspaper reporter, ten years later. “They went inside, anyway.”

After Bill called the local police, the hippie boys, along with their college-aged female photographer, abruptly scurried from the diner.

Fifty-two summers earlier, long before hippie boys and girls came to prominence, Talmadge William Faulk’s introduction to the world came in Prattville, Alabama. The simplicity of southern farm life was shaken at the age of seven, when his beloved mother, Annie Pearl, passed away. Formal education was forsaken shortly thereafter, stalling short of the fourth grade. Following a laborious youth and adolescence, the twenty-one year old known as “Toggs” to some and “Bill” to most, enlisted in the army at Fort McClellan. While serving in World War II, he earned promotions to the level of Sergeant and often fulfilled cooking duties for his fellow soldiers.

While on furlough in Atlantic City in the autumn of 1944, Bill became acquainted with Nancy Scheeler—a lovely twenty year-old from Pottstown, PA. Their relationship quickly blossomed, driven by a flurry of love letters penned by Bill. Having recently discovered and read the letters, Cindy declares, “My Dad was very, should I say—suave.”

A few months after meeting in Atlantic City, Bill and Nancy were married on Christmas Day of 1944.


Operating location of the Rosedale Diner, photo courtesy of Matt Simmons

Following the Allies’ victory, the newlyweds settled in Nancy’s hometown. Situated forty miles northwest of the Liberty Bell, the borough served as residence for roughly 22,000 others. In August of 1946, Nancy gave birth to Cindy. When Bill’s daughter was three and a half, he took a symbolic step toward fulfilling a longtime dream. Registering as a business owner with the State of Pennsylvania, Bill secured the name “Rosedale Diner” for his new venture. He opened his restaurant at the corner of East High and Rosedale streets. High Street, a.k.a. Route 422 at the time, was the bustling main drag in Pottstown. In addition to the cross-street namesake, the surrounding collection of homes was known as the “Rosedale neighborhood”—the most prestigious in the borough. Manufactured by Fodero Dining Car Company, Bill’s diner sparkled with a stainless steel exterior and red trim. A kaleidoscope of pink and burgundy tiles lined the interior floor and walls, and the forty-three seat restaurant featured a significant luxury: air-conditioning.


Fodero Dining Car Company builder’s tag courtesy of Pat Fodero

The Rosedale operated just a mile and a half down High Street from the Sunnybrook Ballroom, a popular dance hall in which jazz and big band musicians performed. Consequently, the likes of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington sporadically inhabited the diner’s booths. But no famed swing-master of the time would ultimately wield as great of an impact on the diner’s fortunes as a young boy named Daryl. The youth from nearby Cedarville was often brought to the Rosedale by his parents, Walter and Betty Hohl. Betty was a local music teacher, whose son was among her pupils.


A proud Bill Faulk sitting at the counter at the Rosedale Diner
photo courtesy of Cindy Baker, Marla LaBelle & Susan Norman


unidentified customer & Bill Faulk sitting in a booth at the Rosedale Diner
photo courtesy of Cindy Baker, Marla LaBelle & Susan Norman


Bill with daughter Cindy inside the Rosedale Diner
photo courtesy of Cindy Baker, Marla LaBelle & Susan Norman


Great interior shot of the Rosedale Diner
photo courtesy of Cindy Baker, Marla LaBelle & Susan Norman

Open twenty-four hours, six days a week, operating the Rosedale required a complete family effort. Bill typically labored until at least 9:00 P.M., with Nancy joining him at 4:00 in the afternoon. Cindy spent many evenings of her youth at the diner, and at age twelve, she became part of the daily staff. She performed just about every task required at the Rosedale, until earning her high school diploma. During those six years of six-day work weeks, Cindy’s father never provided her with financial compensation for her efforts.

Of course, the Rosedale Diner did have paid staff, as well.

“Dad hired lots of pretty waitresses,” Cindy recalls.

Among them was Jean Harner, who Cindy believes was eighteen when she accepted a waitress position at the Rosedale. However, when asked if it’s possible, Cindy acknowledges that perhaps Jean actually was twenty when the diner was a baby. Jean would quickly become significant in Bill’s life, and remain so until the end of hers.


Aerial view of Rosedale Diner prior to obtaining an entryway vestibule
from Fodero Diners. (the diner came from the factory sans vestibule, I believe that Fodero designed it to have a vestibule but due to construction and set-up costs, Bill put-off having one initially. I suspect that after the diner was paid-off, Bill went back to Fodero and had one made) – LAC
photo courtesy of Cindy Baker, Marla LaBelle & Susan Norman


circa 1957 photo showing newly installed factory-built entryway vestibule
photo courtesy of Cindy Baker, Marla LaBelle & Susan Norman

From the Rosedale’s opening day, Bill merely leased the land on High Street. He declined opportunities to buy it more than once, balking at the asking price. In 1965, Nagle Motors, the company that held the parcel, found another party that didn’t flinch at the cost of procurement. A new franchise of a fledgling fast-food chain known as McDonald’s moved in. The Rosedale was relegated to being towed out.

As fate would have it, the dislodging of the diner was not the biggest Faulk family event of 1965. In July, three days after Bill’s forty-fourth birthday, he and Nancy welcomed their second daughter, Marla. One month shy of turning eighteen, Cindy was no longer an only child. The challenge of having a bigger family to support was compounded by the newfound uncertainty and upheaval in Bill’s professional life. The proliferation of McDonald’s had been no surprise to him. He had been telling a variety of people for years that fast food was the future of the restaurant business. With his diner now homeless, Bill decided the time to join the future was now.

He purchased land on each side of Route 724 on the southeastern outskirts of Pottstown.  Bill secured several rural acres on the north side, and enough space to open a new restaurant directly across the street on the south side. Bill claimed to have paid $6,000 to have the Rosedale towed from its bustling High Street locale and moved two miles to his new spread. He directed the diner be placed near the north edge of Route 724. And in that spot, the Rosedale sat. Empty, quiet, dark and dusty…  the Rosedale sat. Bill raised cattle on the surrounding acres, as the Rosedale sat. And sat.


Rte. 724 signs, photo courtesy Matt Simmons

Bill had his new fast food restaurant, Toggs, constructed directly across the street. Unlike the High Street location, Bill’s new eatery was isolated from the vibrancy of Pottstown life. It turned out that the most significant structure in its proximity was a private residence—Daryl Hohl’s grandmother’s house.

To enhance his pursuit of a music career by easing pronunciation, Daryl changed his surname to Hall. He met fellow southeast Pennsylvania native John Oates while they were each students at Temple University. Together, they signed with Atlantic records and released their first album in 1972. After “Whole Oats” faded with little radio play, meager sales and lukewarm reviews, the duo began writing songs for what would become the most critically acclaimed album they would ever release. One of the songs, composed by Daryl, was inspired by the diner that had transformed from a sparkling childhood memory to a dormant and downtrodden relic. So, at least one thing Daryl said on that summer day at Toggs in 1973 was true. Bill Faulk’s defunct diner would be perfect for his and John’s album cover.

On November 3rd, 1973, Daryl Hall and John Oates released their second album, entitled “Abandoned Luncheonette”. The front cover featured an exterior photo of the Rosedale, encompassed by the tall grass and shrubs of eight years of inactivity. The back cover featured a photo of the duo that was taken moments before the police arrived at the scene.

The inner album sleeve contained head shots of Hall and Oates against the stainless steel interior of a different diner, indicating that Bill’s call to the police had initially prevented the hippie boys from getting all the snapshots they wanted.

Among the acknowledgements read: “Luncheonettes courtesy of The Man on Rt. 724 and Imperial Shell Homes, Inc. (better known as ‘The Diner Graveyard’)”. Bill was sent a Hall & Oates t-shirt and what was promised to be the first copy of the album off the presses. Daryl and John inscribed the back cover, right over the picture that had been taken against Bill’s wishes.

“’Mr. Man’, your cooperation was wonderful and we love you and your family. – Daryl Hall, John Oates”.


Signed back cover of Abandoned Luncheonette album
photo courtesy of Cindy Baker, Marla LaBelle & Susan Norman

Despite widespread critical acclaim, the LP would not be a commercial success for Hall and Oates for several years. “She’s Gone”, from Side A, initially fizzled as a single, only to hit number #1 on the R & B chart when covered by Tavares. The first song on side B was the title track. Its lyrics painted a somewhat pitiful picture of an antiquated couple, sitting in an empty diner, clinging to the distant days in which their youthful energy had brought the building to life. To anyone who ever knew Bill, it would be obvious that the lyrics were about him. But the song’s other fallen hero was not his wife.

“I have no doubt that the woman in the song is Jean,” Cindy asserts.

After all, by the day Daryl, John, and their photographer walked into Toggs, Bill and Jean had long been a couple. For quite some time, the marriage between Bill and Nancy had merely existed on paper. The husband and wife had moved on, mutually.

After receiving the autographed copy of “Abandoned Luncheonette”, life went on in typical fashion. According to Marla, Bill listened to the album once, and then never again removed it from its sleeve. But in 1976, Bill started to notice something surprising and disturbing. The locks on his diner’s doors had been broken, and items were vanishing from within. Random strangers were stopping by, even in broad daylight, and attempting to go inside the Rosedale. Not coincidentally, Hall and Oates had recently scored their first top ten hit with “Sara Smile”. Atlantic records quickly reissued “She’s Gone”, and it went top ten as well, drawing significant attention to the album from which it had come three years prior.

At first, the corresponding deterioration of the Rosedale was gradual. Then came the 1980’s. Hall and Oates began the decade with separate multi-platinum-selling albums in three successive years. The local hippie boys, who had dropped by Toggs with a peculiar request nearly a decade earlier, were now arguably the second most popular musical act in the world behind Michael Jackson. People came from all over the world, in search of the special spot on Route 724 at Peterman Road. The Rosedale was ravaged.

By January of ’83, township officials had informed Bill that his dilapidated diner was now an eyesore that had to be eradicated. Bill saw little choice but to plan its demolition.  News of the impending doom spread quickly, from papers in Pottstown, Reading and Philadelphia, to the city of brotherly love’s NBC affiliate. Terry Ruggles came to the site on Route 724 with microphone in hand and cameraman in tow. Bill told a story about one man who had chained the door of the Rosedale to the bumper of his car, in an effort to drag away a unique souvenir. The bumper lost the tug of war. Bill listened unsympathetically, as the man lamented his fate.


Bill Faulk, Terry Ruggles and unidentified cameraman in a TV interview
circa 1983 photo courtesy of Susan Norman


Terry Ruggles interviewing Bill on camera
1983 photo courtesy of Susan Norman


Bill Faulk, Terry Ruggles, Cindy Baker & Jean Harner inside Pizza World
1983 photo courtesy of Susan Norman

News of the Rosedale’s numbered days also reached Hall and Oates themselves. Daryl decided that he wanted to rescue the endangered relic, and he prompted Randy Hoffman, a member of his and John’s management team, to negotiate with Bill.

“I’d love to sell it,” Bill told Michael Sangiacomo of the Pottstown Mercury.  “They might as well buy it.”

But they never did. Why the transaction never took place is not entirely clear. Hoffman, through a spokesperson, insisted that he “honestly could not remember”. Nor could John Oates, nor could Betty Hohl. Daryl Hall could not be reached for comment. Rumor has it that Bill demanded a ridiculous amount of money, and Daryl emphatically declined.

“I honestly couldn’t have seen Bill ever being willing to sell the diner, not unless someone offered him a million dollars,” mused longtime Faulk family friend, Sue Norman. Although Bill expressed in print that he would like to sell the Rosedale, Cindy highly doubts that her father meant it.

“My Dad never wanted to sell anything. Once he owned something, it was his.”

Toggs had not survived the 70’s on a rural roadside, and Bill had used his fleeting moment on the TV news to try to promote his newly remodeled restaurant across from the fading Rosedale, known as Pizza World. On March 25th, 1983, Jean was busy at the new establishment when she noticed a large bus pull up next to the Rosedale. Nine men emerged and began to pose for a picture in front of the diner. Jean charged across the street. She angrily insisted that the group leave immediately. One of the men approached her in an effort to calm her down. Jean listened as he said something along the lines of, “Wait, it’s us. You know, the guys who immortalized the place.”

Jean had not recognized him. It was John Oates. Daryl Hall was standing right behind him. The duo were on their way to perform in Philadelphia. Although no longer hippies, the boys had returned. To see the Rosedale one last time.

“That’s when she really flew off the handle,” said John.

Jean wove her central message of “I ougtha sue your asses!” with a tapestry of profanities.

“We laughed and headed on down to Philly,” John recalls.

Shortly thereafter, the Rosedale was gone. Bill received neither compensation nor consolation. Any scrap value merely made a dent in the back taxes he now owed on the massive parcel of land. Once upon a time, Bill had invested years of savings and sweat in a sparkling diner in order to become a successful businessman and provider. That sparkling diner had now been reduced to dirty, scattered debris on land he would soon no longer own.

“Dad had talked about moving back to Alabama and reopening the diner there,” Marla once offered.

“He talked about going back to his watering hole in Alabama,” Cindy said.  She then added that it never seemed a legitimate possibility.

Pizza World suffered the same fate as Toggs, only faster. At age 70, as Bill was gearing up to re-open it for his last hurrah in the restaurant business, he suffered a stroke.  Bill survived, but retired reluctantly.

Two years later, on yet another summer day, Bill was driving on Route 724 with Jean alongside him. They were having a routine conversation—until Jean didn’t answer. She died moments later, from a massive heart attack.

“I think Jean was the love of my Dad’s life,” Cindy once opined.

Bill soldiered on, and three years later, he was elated by the arrival of Marla’s son, Nash.

Bill had long regretted that he had not forged a closer relationship with his first grandson, Shawn, who had arrived slightly more than three years prior to that fateful day the hippie boys dropped by Toggs. Bill’s path to grandfatherly redemption seemed to have fallen off the map when Cindy had moved to North Carolina in 1977. But with the arrival of Nash, “Pop Pop” enthusiastically devoted his time to atoning for past mistakes and making the most of his second chance.

Proving Cindy’s declaration that he could never willingly relinquish ownership, Bill still stopped by a long-dormant Pizza World, into the early years of the new millenium. One day, while tidying up the parking lot, Bill noticed a man across the street, who was obviously struggling to find a particular spot. Bill approached him, and pleasantly asked him if he was looking for the diner.

“I used to own it,” Bill said proudly, launching into a story.

With help from family and friends, Bill continued to live by himself at his longtime home in Pottstown. By the age of eighty-six, his physical state required the constant care of a nursing home. Eleven days after checking in, and thirty four years and three days after “Abandoned Luncheontte” was released, Talmadge W. Faulk passed away on November 6th, 2007. Nancy joined him two months later, each of them leaving behind two daughters, two grandsons, and one—as John Oates described—immortal diner.

It is logical to assume that had Hall and Oates never approached Bill with their peculiar request, the Rosedale would have stood intact until his death. At the very least, the world was deprived of a rather unique estate sale. Instead, the diner crumbled under the weight of a record album cover. An album, that ironically (t-shirt notwithstanding), is the only tangible thing Talmadge W. Faulk ever received for his trouble.

Yet, with more than one million copies of Abandoned Luncheonette sold, along with countless pairs of eyes who have merely seen the cover, Bill’s Rosedale is indisputably one of the most famous diners in history. And that distinction has value—even though the diner owner himself was mystified by the worldwide appeal of two local hippie boys.

Pennsylvania Route 724 spans thirty miles, and passes through more than a dozen municipalities. Only one person in this world will ever be THE man on this considerable stretch of asphalt. And that man was Talmadge W. Faulk. Today, forty-five years after closing forever, Faulk’s diner still has significance, even to people who never once set foot in it. People like me.

On June 12th, 2010, I traveled six hundred miles from my home for what has become an annual visit with recently made, but dearly held friends. Marla’s husband, Mike, stepped several feet into thick woods, rummaging around the large infertile rectangle emblazoned by the Rosedale. While Marla, Nash, and I spotted several tiles from the floor and walls on the outskirts of the woods, Mike emerged with something I had never come across in my previous visits to the site. He extended it to me.  It was a plate, nearly 50% intact. “Would you like this?”  Mike asked.

I wanted to smile, but my jaw had dropped. I hope that somehow, somewhere, The Man on Route 724 was smiling for me.


Partial dinner plate from Rosedale Diner found in the underbrush
photo courtesy of Matt Simmons


Sketch of the Abandoned Luncheonette done by Scott Moyer


Former site on Rte 724 of the Abandoned Luncheonette today.
photo courtesy of Matt Simmons


Bill Faulk’s Pizza World today, another Abandoned restaurant!
photo courtesy of Matt Simmons


L-R, Susan Norman, Cindy Baker, Matt Simmons & Marla LaBelle
2010 photo courtesy of Matt Simmons

Acknowledgments:

I want to thank Matt Simmons for the great job he did writing the major portion of this piece. He did what I would have liked to accomplish myself. But due to time & travel constraints as well as a myriad of other reasons on my end, I was unable to do. I also want to thank Cindy, Marla & Susan for their part in telling this story. Without their assistance, none of this would have come to fruition. Finally, thanks to Daryl Hall & John Oates for inspiring me with that long-ago album cover that intrigued me so much through the 1970’s! – Larry Cultrera

The content of this story was greatly enhanced with information contributed by:

Cindy Baker, Marla LaBelle, Sue Norman, Betty Hohl, John Oates, Tim Hufnagle, Michael SanGiacomo, Nick Tosches and WCAU TV in Philadelphia.

They each have my sincere gratitude.

As does Daryl Hall, for writing the song that has led me on this remarkable journey.

…A journey that may have stalled in my corner of the world, were it not for Larry Cultrera.  Larry, thank you for sharing your Diner Hotline Weblog so that I may share my favorite story.” –  Matt Simmons