Back when I started documenting diners in the greater Boston area with my photographs in the early 1980’s, I discovered an interesting fact. The older mill towns still had the greatest concentration of diners still in existence. This fact holds true to a certain degree today only with diminished numbers. Attleboro, Lawrence, Lynn, Worcester and Lowell, Mass. stood out at that time.
Attleboro had four factory-built diners downtown (although one of these was closed) as well as one being used for other purposes on U.S. Rte. 1. Also, the Service Diner was still on U.S. Rte. 1 in Attleboro operating as Eddie & Myles’ Diner at that time.
Lawrence also had at least four spread out along Route 28 (again one was closed).
Lynn had four diners and all were still fairly original (and in operation).
Worcseter had the most with sixteen diners (not surprisingly) and all of them were open for food service (with the exception of three), one being used as a real estate office and another sitting in a large garage unfinished while still another was being used as a residence.
This post will be dedicated to all the diners that were in Lowell at the beginning of the 1980’s. By my count there were at least seven factory-built diners (actually one was home-made, but this fact only came to light in recent years).
Owl Diner, 244 Appleton Street
The Owl Diner is Worcester Lunch Car No. 759 that dates to 1940 and originally operated in Waltham, Mass. as the flagship of the Monarch Diners (a chain of diners owned by the Decola brothers). It moved to Appleton Street in 1950 when it was replaced in Waltham with a large new stainless steel Jerry O’Mahony diner.
In the early 1980’s it was being run by the Zouikis family and looked like the photos above and below. Take note that the wonderful neon sign mounted on the street pole was working at that time!
A couple of years later the Shanahan family took over the reigns of the Owl after running the Peerless Diner on Chelmsford Street for a number of years. They were only leasing the Peerless and were able to purchase the Owl Diner. They renamed it the Four Sister’s Owl Diner and by all accounts it has been a huge success. They recently added a new large vestibule to the front of the diner (see photo below).
Club Diner, 145 Dutton Street
The Club Diner is a 1933 vintage Worcester Lunch Car (No. 703) that was remodelled in the 1960’s. It has retained its basic shape but has an added-on diningroom which facilitated the exterior changes, making the whole building look more unified. The interior was updated a little as well but the footprint remains the same with the counter and stools on the right-hand end of the diner. There are also deuce booths (tables for 2) along the windows in front of the counter section and four large booths on the left end of the original building which is complimented by the add-on diningroom beyond and behind. It was originally owned by Arthur Turcotte but has been owned and operated by the LeVasseur family since 1938.
Arthur’s Paradise Diner, 112 Bridge Street
Arthur’s Paradise Diner is a 1937 vintage Worcester Lunch car (No. 727) and one of at least 3 diners with the Paradise name. Originally owned by John Decola and John Korsak, it has gone through countless different owners/operators since it was brand-new.
Gorham Street Diner, 984 Gorham Street
This diner was actually not built by a diner manufacturer but it certainly fooled the “diner experts” and “aficionados” for many years. It was not until Gary Thomas was researching for his “Images of America” book “Diners of the North Shore”, that the unique history of this diner came to light.
Thomas found out that this diner was constructed off and on during roughly a five-year period between 1945 and the early 50’s in Salisbury, Mass. by Donald Evans. Evans was the brother of Jimmy Evans who ran first the Strand Diner in Salisbury and then two versions of Ann’s Diner in the same town.
In fact it was his brother Jimmy who actually paid Donald to complete the construction. It was located for a couple of years on Broadway in Salisbury where it traded as Evans’ Streamliner before being sold and moved to Gorham Street in Lowell in 1956 by Edward G. Bryer who operated the diner as Bryer’s Streamliner. According to Gary Thomas, the stainless steel covered front door you see in my photos came from the 2nd Ann’s Diner (WLC No. 824). He also said the diner had equipment and material that were purchased from the Worcester factory including stools and the hood with bill of fare menu boards that confused later “diner experts’ prompting them to think this was in fact built by Worcester.
I unfortunately never got to go inside this diner when it was operating. In the last few years of its life as a regular diner it went through a few operators and names. In John Baeder’s painting of it, it was called the Chateau Diner and as can be seen in my photos, the Gorham Street Diner. Shortly after I took the first photos as seen here, I made a return trip to find it undergoing a complete remodelling! (see below)
They had stripped the exterior completely eliminating the slanted end walls and building new “rounded” end walls as well as adding the raised “trolley-like” clerestory making it look like a trolley car. They also relocated the entrance from the middle to both ends of the front facade and gutted the interior. The diner building itself is now just used as a dining area for the Trolley Pizzaria.
Cupples Square Diner, corner of Westford Street
& Osgood Street
The Cupples Square Diner was a barrell-roofed Worcester car that was actually installed under the overhang of a store block. It probably dates to the 1930’s but I am not sure of its production number. It was an economy model without a lot of frills. I did manage to eat there a few times in the 1980’s but it was gone by the 1990’s. I assume it was dismantled as there is a regular storefront now where the diner used to be.
Ray and Paulette’s Diner, Gorham Street
Ray and Paulette’s Diner was located just a couple of doors down the block from Dana’s Luncheonette which sits at the corner of Appleton Street. It may have been a Worcester Lunch Car but I am also thinking it is roughly the same size as a diner pictured in Richard Gutman’s “American Diner Then & Now” book on page 79 (see below). This photo shows a diner (named Bob’s Diner) built by Pollard & Co. Dining Car Builders of Lowell being moved by truck. I am using a gut feeling and going out on a limb to say that these two diners are one and the same!
Ray and Paulette’s has certainly gone thru some changes (windows and exterior covering) so it is entirely possible. I was in this diner once although I never had a meal (kicking myself) but it seemed fairly intact on the inside. I do recall the tile wall on the front had a good-sized crack running through it. This diner was gone by the mid-1980’s.
Peerless Diner, Chelmsford Street
The Peerless Diner was originally located at 190 South Union Street in Lawrence prior to it being moved to Lowell. Worcester Lunch Car No. 764 dates to 1940. In the early 1980’s it was operated by the Shanahan family (see Owl Diner above). They only leased the building and when the Owl Diner became available they bought that and moved their business there. The Peerless was operated by someone else until it was moved to Worcester. It was bought by the late Ralph Moberly who also owned Ralph’s Chadwick Square Diner.
He stored it briefly next to the Chadwick Square Diner and made plans to move it to Key West, Florida. To facilitate this, he had to cut the diner length-wise so it could be transported over the bridges to Key West. It ended up being stored down there and unfortunately got picked apart by souvenir hunters and was eventually destroyed.
Just to let you know there was in fact another diner in Lowell in the early 1980’s (photo not included here) but I never photographed it until the 1990’s. The Cameo Diner (which is still very much alive) has been around for many, many years although the current building is not factory-built. The story is it actually evolved from an old lunch wagon that was on its site. Maybe I’ll do another post that will include a “Cameo” appearance in the future!