Ralph A. Corrado Jr, long-time owner of Rosie’s Diner passes away

Throughout the last almost 35 years of documenting diners with my photographs, I have made a lot of friends. A huge portion of those friends are kindred spirits who are also traveling the great American roadside documenting with their own photographs the commercial-built environment that developed and grew with the advent of the automobile. A smaller but no less cherished group of friends I’ve met have been various diner owners from quite a few states in the northeast region of the country. I am honored to say that a couple of those friends include the father & son team of Ralph & Arnie Corrado, who were the long-time owners of Rosie’s Farmland Diner (AKA Rosie’s Diner), formerly of Little Ferry, NJ. I became friendly with them in January of 1990, in fact the last weekend that the diner was open for business in New Jersey (more about that later in the post)!
I am sorry to report that Ralph Corrado has just passed away this past Thursday, August 6, 2015.

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Ralph A. Corrado standing in front of Rosie’s Diner
Photo courtesy of the Corrado family.

A brief history about the diner that became known as Rosie’s… At one time, this diner was arguably one of the most viewed diners in the USA, if not the world! Rosie’s had been used as the location for many commercials over the years including quite a few for New Jersey Bell, which usually had the famous actor James Earl Jones featured! The most famous commercials shot at the diner were for Bounty Paper Towels. These commercials featured the late actress Nancy Walker as “Rosie the waitress”  who was forever cleaning up spills made by her clumsy customers with Bounty – The Quicker Picker-Upper!!!!

Well this sort of all began back when Ralph was a little boy in Hoboken, NJ. His dad Raphael (Tex) Corrado operated a small Kullman Diner as Ralph recalled. He also recalls when his dad decided to upgrade with a brand-new 1946 Paramount deluxe stainless steel model that was built in 2 large sections and placed at the Traffic Circle on Route 46 in Little Ferry. The new diner was named the Silver Dollar Diner. Tex continued to operate the diner until the early 1960s with Ralph Jr. working along side him and learning the ropes! Ralph took the diner over and eventually renamed it the Farmland Diner. Ralph’s son Arnie who had a short recording career as a pop singer in the mid-to-late 1960s also worked at the diner, eventually becoming Ralph’s right hand man. The diner started becoming noticed by art directors for major New York City ad agencies who noted that this quintessential  stainless steel diner was perfect for shooting commercials and print ads, inside and out! After the Bounty Paper Towel commercials put the diner on the map (so to speak) Ralph decided to take advantage of the publicity and renamed the place “Rosie’s Farmland Diner, Home of the Quicker Picker-Upper”!

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Ralph Corrado with Nancy Walker and Arnie Corrado
Photo Courtesy of Arnie Corrado

I originally learned about Rosie’s Diner through the wonderful 1980 book “Diners of The Northeast” authored by Allyson Bellink and Donald Kaplan and published by the Berkshire Traveller Press. In this book they visited a whole slew of diners from New Jersey, New York and New England! This was the catalyst for my burgeoning interest to take hold! They featured Rosie’s in the New Jersey section and I finally got to visit the diner on Memorial Day – May 31, 1982. Steve Repucci and I were on the way back home from a visit to Harrisburg, PA via Baltimore! We stopped at Rosie’s in the early afternoon for some photos and a quick break from the road. Another reason was to use the public telephone at the diner to call John Baeder who was actually in New York City to do a massive rewrite for his upcoming book “Gas, Food & Lodging”. I had become friends with John earlier that year through correspondence and phone conversations. During a conversation just before the Memorial Day Weekend I mentioned to John that we would be coming through New York on the way home and that maybe we could hook-up briefly!

Well, I called John from Rosie’s and he said to give him another call when we got to another diner in Manhattan, this was the Kitchenette Diner that had been moved from Boston not too long before. So when we got to the Kitchenette, I again called John who was ready for a quick break. He cabbed it over to where we were and we spent a good hour or so together before he needed to get back to work! We gave him a lift to where he needed to be and headed home to Boston!

I also revisited Rosie’s a few times over the years including a little over a year later on the way to a meeting of the Society For Commercial Archeology in Wildwood, NJ. The following photo is from that visit.

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Rosie’s Farmland Diner at the Route 46 Traffic Circle in Little Ferry, NJ
June, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

Fast forward to late 1989 – I received a phone call from my new friend, ceramic sculpture artist Jerry Berta who told me he was buying Rosie’s Diner and was going to move it to Rockford, Michigan next door to his Art Studio/Showroom “The Diner Store”. The Diner Store was housed in the former Uncle Bob’s Diner, formerly of Flint, MI. Jerry saved that one from the wrecker’s ball and moved it to some property he had in his hometown. To make a long story short (sort of) I arranged to meet Jerry and his pal Fred Tiensivu in New Jersey in mid-January of 1990 for the last 3 or 4 days that Rosie’s Diner was open. It was quite the experience as the place was completely bombed with customers. We all lent a hand where it was needed – I recall giving people directions on how to get to the diner when they called on the phone and even bussed tables! I had showed up early for breakfast on that last Sunday morning and Ralph asked me if I would do him a favor, it seems a lady (who did not speak much English) was stranded earlier that morning, being basically “dumped” by the guy she was with near the diner. Ralph asked me if I would give her a ride to her neighborhood in the Bronx, which I did – my good deed for the day!

The following text was written by me for the original “hard copy” version of Diner Hotline
that appeared in the summer 1990, volume 11, no. 2 edition of the Society for Commercial Archeology’s News Journal. This piece told the story about the last weekend that Rosie’s Diner was open for business in New Jersey and the subsequent move to Michigan (I have also included the original photos that ran with it in full color here)….

Rosie’s Diner Saved by SCA Member

Jerry Berta of Rockford, Michigan, has accomplished something that few preservationists can claim. He has saved not one, but two classic diners from destruction. Berta, who first created a name for himself by fashioning ceramic and neon replicas of his favorite subject — diners – moved Uncle Bob’s Diner of Flint, Michigan, to Rockford in 1987 and restored it to its original appearance. But instead of selling food, he converted it into a combination gallery and studio, called “The Diner Store.” After opening for business, the Diner Store proved to be a big success, but frequently people driving by would stop, thinking it was a restaurant. Jerry was forced to put a new sign in his window proclaiming: No FOOD, JUST ART. Due to the number of people who stopped to seek food and the lack of functioning diners in the state of Michigan, Jerry started thinking about finding another diner and setting it next to his store, where he could lease it to someone who would run it as a classic diner. In November 1989, Jerry was attending a crafts show in New York City, and decided to drive across the George Washington Bridge and revisit Rosie’s Diner in Little Ferry, New Jersey. He had visited this diner years before, and describes it as a pivotal moment in his awakening interest in these classic eateries. After shooting some photographs and videos of the diner, he began talking to the owner, Ralph Corrado, about diners and Jerry’s connection with them. Corrado informed Jerry that Rosie’s was for sale, and that if no one bought the diner, it would be tom down. Jerry and Ralph negotiated for approximately ten minutes, and made a hand-shake deal that was finalized by Christmas. Rosie’s is a vintage 1945 Paramount Diner, which was purchased brand new by “Tex” Corrado, Ralph’s father. It was originally named the Silver Dollar; when Ralph took over operations about 1960, he renamed it the Farmland Diner. Around 1970, Ralph was approached by Proctor & Gamble, which was interested in using the diner as a location for a series of commercials for Bounty paper towels. These commercials featured the actress Nancy Walker as Rosie, a street-smart waitress who was forever wiping up spills with “The quicker picker-upper.” Ralph decided to take advantage of the publicity, and renamed the diner “Rosie’s,” the home of the “Quicker Picker-Upper.” Ralph and his family decided to sell the diner when Ralph retired and his son, Arnie, needed to spend more time with his wife and young children. Ralph was able to sell the land and diner to his next-door neighbor, an auto-glass company. 

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Rosie’s Diner in Little Ferry, New Jersey
June, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

Unfortunately, the diner itself did not fit into the new owner’s plans. When Jerry appeared on the scene, Ralph was delighted to know that the diner would have a new home with someone who loved it as much as he did. Both Jerry and Ralph used all their contacts in the media, and they created a publicity blitz from coast to coast. Both Cable News Network and the Associated Press ran stories on the closing, which took place January 13-15, 1990. Hundreds of people came by to have one last meal at the famous diner, including several SCA members. With the Massachusetts contingent were Dave Hebb from Cambridge, Gail Rosen from Newton, and myself. Steve Lintner and Christine Guedon from Gloucester City, New Jersey, were there on Saturday, and Bill McLaughlin came up from Paoli, Pennsylvania on Sunday morning. There were also many diner aficionados in attendance. I returned to Rosie’s the following weekend to assist in and to document the move. I watched with interest while the diner was split in to two sections and placed on flat-bed trucks for the move to Michigan. Rosie’s arrived safely in Rockford three days later. Special thanks go to the crew who helped in the move: Fred Tiensivu, Ian McCartney, John Boucher, and Charlie Green, along with the guys from Superior Transit. If things go according to schedule, the diner should be re-opening at the end of the summer. We’ll keep you posted. For more information about the Diner Store or Rosie’s, call Jerry Berta at 616/696- CLAY.  

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SCA members pay a farewell visit to Rosie’s in January, 1990
(left to right – David Hebb, Christine Guedon and Steve Lintner)

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Jerry Berta, Bill McLaughlin and June Roberts at Rosie’s

I had managed to maintain contact with Arnie and his wife Jeanne for a few years but eventually we lost touch as our lives got busy after 1993 or so. I am happy to say I got back in touch with Arnie & Jeanne within the last 2 years and we talk to each other at least twice a month! I also spoke with Ralph once since Arnie and I resumed our friendship and I knew that Ralph’s health was in decline.  So I was not surprised when Arnie contacted me this past weekend to let me know that his dad had passed away! If the wake had been on Saturday and not Sunday, I would have made every effort to be there for the family! Ralph was a true gentlemen of the old school and I can still hear his soft voice with that great New Jersey accent in my mind! Rest in Peace my friend, you are certainly missed!
Here is the obituary for my friend Ralph Corrado…

Ralph Corrado Jr. of Hoboken, NJ passed away Thursday, August 6th.  Ralph was the proprietor of Rosie’s Farmland Diner in Little Ferry, NJ, which operated from 1946-1990.  Ralph was extremely proud of his Italian-American heritage and Hoboken roots.  He loved the Yankees, Joe DiMaggio, and Frank Sinatra whom he personally assisted backstage at the Paramount Theater in New York in 1943.  Known for his quick-witted sense of humor and street-smart mentality, Ralph’s greatest legacy is the unwavering love and devotion that he possessed for his family members and close friends (especially his life-long friend who pre-deceased him, Alfred Avitable).

He will be fondly remembered by his devoted wife, Bonnie Corrado (nee
Bittner); faithful sons, Arnold Corrado and Marc Antonuccio; loving daughter-
in-law, Jeanne’ Corrado (nee LaForte); cherished grandchildren, Matthew Corrado,
Jenna Corrado, and Rowan Antonuccio; and admiring nieces and nephews,
including Lucille Corrado.
Ralph is rennited with his parents, Raphael “Tex” and Carmella
“Milly” Corrado; sister, Mildred Casella; and brothers, James “J.J.”, Johnny, and
Carmen “Sonny” Corrado.

A Funeral Mass was offered on Monday August 10, 2015 – 11:00 AM at St.
Ann’s Roman Catholic Church, Hoboken. Entombment will follow at Holy Cross Chapel
Mausoleum, North Arlington, NJ. Continuous visitation was held on Sunday
August 9, 2015 beginning at 4:00 PM and concluding at 8:00 PM. There was to be no
gathering at the funeral home prior to the Funeral Mass. Relatives and friends were
asked to gather directly at St. Ann’s Church no later than 10:45 AM. Valet parking
was available in rear of memorial home off Sixth Street. Arrangements by Failla
Memorial Home, 533 Willow Avenue, Hoboken, NJ 07030

Fred Casey, owner of Natick, Massachusetts diner passes away

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Casey’s Diner, Natick, Massachusetts September 5, 2009 photo by Larry Cultrera

I got a message yesterday (Saturday the 7th of February) from Facebook friend Timothy Wood with a link to an obituary for Fred Casey, the long-time owner of Casey’s Diner in Natick, Massachusetts. Fred was only 63 years of age (a year older than me). I had not heard if he had been sick, in fact I have not seen Fred for quite a while as every time I have been to the diner in recent years, his son Patrick was running things. Fred was the third generation of the Casey family operating the current 1922 vintage Worcester Lunch Car. His grandfather (also Fred Casey) opened it in 1927, buying it as a used diner from from where it had operated in nearby Framingham. Fred’s late father Joe had been running the diner since 1952 and Fred took over the reigns in the 1980s. Here is the article from Wicked Local online about Fred’s passing…

Natick: Customers remember Casey’s Diner owner

By Brian Benson/Daily News Staff
Posted Feb. 6, 2015 at 3:42 PM

NATICK – Amid the hustle and bustle of lunchtime at Casey’s Diner, customers remembered Friday owner Fred Casey for his friendly demeanor and the family-style atmosphere he maintained in the historic eatery. “It’s a sad day,” said Rick MacDonald of Framingham as he munched on a burger.  “You don’t talk about Natick and not mention Casey’s Diner.” Casey, 63, of Natick, died Thursday at Oak Knoll Healthcare Center of Framingham. He started working at Casey’s Diner when he was 10 years old and carried on a family tradition that dates to the 1890s. Vin Kerrigan, 66, of Natick, said he has been coming to the diner since he was in high school. “You always feel welcome,” he said of the atmosphere Casey fostered.

Elaine Griffin, who lives in Medway and estimated she has been coming to Casey’s Diner for four decades said Casey “was a great jovial man.” While the diner was bustling Friday, it will be closed Monday when Casey’s funeral is scheduled to take place. A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Patrick Church, 44 E. Central St., Natick. Visiting hours will be from from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at John Everett & Sons Funeral Home, 4 Park St. – See more at: http://natick.wickedlocal.com/article/20150206/NEWS/150207503#sthash.50MNtt3t.AabuA2a6.dpuf

I recall my first visit to Casey’s Diner back in early 1981. I had just had breakfast at the Apple Tree Diner in Dedham and met the owner Warren Jones for the first time. I told him I was going over to photograph Casey’s (I knew they were not open for the day). I got over there and parked the Chevy Van outside just past the diner and got out, leaving the engine running to take a few photos. While I was shooting the diner Fred’s dad Joe came out and invited me in. I must have spent a good 20 minutes talking with him about diners while my van was still running outside!
In fact I remember that Joe showed me his copy of John Baeder’s book “Diners”. Up until that point I had “American Diner” by Dick Gutman and “Diners of the Northeast” by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink in my personal library but I had not yet acquired a copy of John Baeder’s book. Needless to say the very next day I bought one at the old Wordsworth Bookstore in Harvard Square after seeing Joe Casey’s copy!
Below is a photo by Richard Howard that appeared in an article written by the talented late Donald Dale Jackson entitled “The American diner is in decline, yet more chic than ever! This was in the November, 1986 issue of Smithsonian Magazine and it gave national exposure to myself and Dick Gutman among other people including another native of my home town of Medford, John Carroll, Jr. If you can locate a copy of the mag, it still is a pretty good read! The photo shows Dick Gutman standing with Fred Casey in front of Casey’s Diner!

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Richard Howard photo from November 1986 Smithsonian Magazine

Casey’s Diner will be still be operated by Patrick Casey (and I believe his son) who will continue the tradition of serving the town of Natick and vicinity from this old-time diner that has been in their family for well over 80 years. Rest in Peace Fred!

Another Diner Road Trip – 27 years ago this weekend

I have been rather delinquent in posting recently. In part due to laziness and also because I have been contemplating this post, I just needed to scan a bunch of slides for it. A few months ago I scanned some slides for Michael Gabriele that he may or may not end up using in his forthcoming book – The History of Diners in New Jersey for my publisher, The History Press. Two of the slide boxes I left out purposely to remind me about this post and get busy scanning.

Well that really did not spur me into action and they sat (and sat). Finally a little over a week ago I got off my rear end and started scanning because Memorial Day Weekend was fast approaching and the post I wanted to write was about a Diner road trip I took on Memorial Day Weekend in 1986!

When I had scanned the slides of Paul’s Diner of Kearny, NJ for Mike G., I looked at the other slides in the box and remembered that trip. I also realized there was one other box of slides (as well as 5 slides in yet a third box) that were associated with that trip. So today I completed the scanning process and decided to get on with this post before the weekend is over!

Memorial Day Weekend in 1986 was May 24th thru 26th (Saturday to Monday). These road trips were usually taken with either Steve Repucci or David Hebb (or both). I believe this was a Dave Hebb trip….. well anyway, we more than likely took off early as I usually liked to do on Saturday, May 24th and made it down to Fairfield, CT and Larry’s Diner, as it was the first one photographed on this trip. That Saturday was pretty overcast, weather-wise as the photos will show.

I had already been to Larry’s 3 years earlier according to my Diner Log, so it was not listed in the log on this trip in 1986. We may even have had breakfast here but more than likely it was at the very least a coffee stop and photo op. This diner was built by the Jerry O’Mahony Co. in the early 1930’s and was still in extremely original condition at this point.

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Larry’s Diner, U.S. Rte. 1 in Fairfield, CT  –  Right Front corner
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Larry’s Diner, U.S. Rte. 1 in Fairfield, CT   –  Left Front corner
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Larry’s Diner, U.S. Rte. 1 in Fairfield, CT  – Left front showing the interesting
addition to the diner – a lunch wagon sized annex with a frosted window!
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Larry’s Diner, was moved around the corner from this location in the 1990’s and completely gutted on the interior to become the front of another restaurant. The outside was also changed.

Our next stop was George’s Diner at 71 Main Street in Norwalk, CT. This was a Mountain View Diner that was also fairly original inside and out with one exception, there was a brick facade under the windows facing Main St. and on the entryway. The rest of the facade was intact. The diner is still there and operating under the name “Family Diner” now.

George's-Diner-1George’s Diner, 71 Main St.  in Norwalk, CT
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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George’s Diner, 71 Main St.  in Norwalk, CT
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Down the road a piece just off U.S. Rte. 1 in Cos Cob, CT was a small 1920’s vintage barrel-roofed diner called Thanh’s Diner. It had formerly been known as Pal Joey’s Diner. This was believed to be an old Tierney diner built down the road in New Rochelle. This diner does not exist anymore.

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Thanh’s Diner, just off U.S. Rte. 1  in Cos Cob, CT
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Thanh’s Diner, just off U.S. Rte. 1  in Cos Cob, CT
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

A diner I had first read about in the book Diners of the Northeast by Donald Kaplan and Allison Bellink was the Chinatown Diner, a late 1940’s vintage diner (could be a Kullman but more than likely DeRaffele) located at 301 Halstead Ave. in Harrison, NY. It had been serving primarily Chinese food as well as an American breakfast menu when Don and Allison had visited it. By the time I finally got there in 1986, it had become an upscale bistro called the Silver Spoon Cafe.

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Silver Spoon Cafe, 301 Halstead Ave.  in Harrison, NY
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Silver Spoon Cafe, 301 Halstead Ave.  in Harrison, NY
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

When I originally wrote this post I thought the Silver Spoon Cafe was the final photo op of the day. But alas, it turns out I missed a couple of images of yet another diner that was previously logged (it did not show up in the May of 1986 section of the log, that is why I forgot to upload these). It seems we got over to the northwest corner of the Garden State and checked out Prout’s Diner in Sussex by late afternoon.

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Prout’s Diner, Main Street.  in Sussex, NJ
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Prout’s Diner, Main Street.  in Sussex, NJ
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

It looked like the weather was finally turning for the better before night came on and sure enough, bright and early on the morning of May 25th (my 33rd birthday), it was a very sunny day which made for a great breakfast and even better photos at Pal’s Diner on Rte. 17 in Mahwah, NJ.

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Pal’s Diner, Rte. 17  in Mahwah, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Pal’s Diner, Rte. 17  in Mahwah, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Pal’s Diner is one of a very few diners I have photographed that was built by Manno Diners. It was moved in the 1990’s to Grand Rapids, Michigan where it continues to operate to this day!

The next diner photographed that morning (according to the order of slides in the box) was in fact another diner I had previously visited, the White Manna on River Street in Hackensack, NJ. This was the first of several “small” diners we documented on this trip. All of these particular small diners were built dating from the late 1930’s to early 1950’s. Most offered limited menus offering hamburgers, etc. Being that it was Sunday morning, it was not open at the point in time that I stopped. I was able to document it pretty well on the exterior but the fact that it was closed offered me a great opportunity to get some great interior “thru-the-window” shots as well.

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 exterior photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 exterior photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 interior photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 interior photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 interior photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 interior photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 interior photo by Larry Cultrera

Next up was another small diner….. the White Diamond on St. Georges Ave. (Rte. 27) in Linden, NJ. This looks to be built by Mountain View diners and I believe it was moved to another location not too far away within the intervening years since I documented it.

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White Diamond, St. Georges Ave.  in Linden, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Diamond, St. Georges Ave.  in Linden, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Another small diner and possibly the jewel of the bunch was the Short Stop located at 26 Washington Ave. in Belleville, NJ. One of the cutest diners I have ever photographed, this diner was bought quite a few years ago by Steve Harwin of Cleveland, Ohio’s Diversified Diners. As far as I know, Steve still has this one in storage.

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Short Stop Diner, 26 Washington Ave.  in Belleville, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Short Stop Diner, 26 Washington Ave.  in Belleville, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

We made it over to the Harrison/Kearny area after this and saw Max’s Grill, but probably due to the morning light and Max’s being on the wrong side of the street… I did not shoot any photos of it. Just up the street from Max’s on the opposite side just over the line in Kearny we came across another small diner, the Blue Castle System. This diner has since disappeared. There is a Shell Gas Station on the sight now according to Google street view.

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Blue Castle System Diner, 829 Harrison Ave.  in Kearny, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Blue Castle System Diner, 829 Harrison Ave.  in Kearny, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Just down the street from the Blue Castle was Paul’s Diner, a 1940’s vintage Fodero. I have recently found out the diner is still there and operating as the Cardinal Diner. The only visible change I could determine was that it now sports a mansard roof that covers the original monitor style roof.

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Paul’s Diner, 1002 Harrison Ave.  in Kearny, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Paul’s Diner, 1002 Harrison Ave.  in Kearny, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

We got over to the Orange, NJ area shortly after and located the closed (taken for back taxes) Orange Diner on Lincoln Ave. behind the U.S. Post Office. This was a nice looking Mountain View diner. I do not know what happened to this diner other than the fact that the space is currently occupied by a parking lot.

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Orange Diner, Lincoln Ave.  in Orange, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Orange Diner, Lincoln Ave.  in Orange, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Also in Orange we found the State Diner over on Valley Road. This 1950’s Kullman diner as far as I know is still there, although I do not know if it is currently in operation.

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State Diner, Valley Rd.  in Orange, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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State Diner, Valley Rd.  in Orange, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Next up was the nicely preserved 1930’s vintage Summit Diner located at the corner of Summit Ave. and Union Place in downtown Summit, NJ. This was typical of what the Jerry O’Mahony diner company was building by the late 30’s. The diner is still there and operating.

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Summit Diner, Summit Ave. & Union Pl.  in Summit, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Summit Diner, Summit Ave. & Union Pl.  in Summit, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Here is the last small diner we saw that day… the 2nd of 3 White Diamond Hamburger places (we did not see the 3rd one located in Clark, NJ on this trip). This one was located at the corner of Bayway Ave. and Thomas St. in Elizabeth, NJ. I just checked Google street view and there is a Dunkin Donuts on the same location now.

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White Diamond, Bayway Ave. & Thomas St.  in Elizabeth, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Diamond, Bayway Ave. & Thomas St.  in Elizabeth, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Diamond, Bayway Ave. & Thomas St.  in Elizabeth, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

After Elizabeth, NJ we were back on the road for home and made one last stop for a photo op back in Norwalk, CT. This was for the former Norwalk Diner at that time operating as Cafe Osman. This looks to be a 1940 vintage DeRaffele diner, the type that resembled what Fodero was building at the same point in time. This diner had been altered by bricking up the facade under the windows. In fact the diner which was situated end-wise to the street had a door that was in the center of the facade facing the driveway/parking area that apparently was not used anymore. This door had been “bricked-up” as well with only the top half of the window showing. I do not know if this is still there.

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Cafe Osman, Main St.  in Norwalk, CT
May 25, 1986 exterior photo by Larry Cultrera

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Cafe Osman, Main St.  in Norwalk, CT
May 25, 1986 exterior photo by Larry Cultrera

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Cafe Osman, Main St.  in Norwalk, CT
May 25, 1986 interior photo by Larry Cultrera

The next road trip was not until August 1st of 1986when Dave Hebb and I photographed a couple of diners in Verbank and Millbrook… in eastern upstate New York.

The Famous Apple Tree Diner, a most unforgettable experience

Since my book “Classic Diners of Massachusetts” published by The History Press came out almost a year ago, it has done well enough to actually make it to a third printing. The publisher found me because of this blog and it has gone almost full circle to the point that I was recently asked to be a guest blogger on their History Press Blog. They had made a suggestion or two about which direction I should write this but I decided to go in a slightly different direction. I chose to tell the story of possibly one of the most memorable experiences I have had in my 32 plus years of diner hunting. The link to that blog post is here…… http://www.historypressblog.net/2012/08/28/classic-diners-of-massachusetts-author-recalls-world-famous-apple-tree-diner/

The History Press blog people added an introduction to this version and it was edited slightly. Also, one photo was dropped….  so I decided to post the blog the way I wrote it here in its entirety, blemishes and all………

The World Famous Apple Tree Diner

Last year I authored a book for The History Press entitled Classic Diners of Massachusetts which has become another chapter in my almost 32 year personal research project of documenting American diners with my photographs. Looking back there have been many interesting stories and moments to reflect on. All the people I have met and all the miles I have driven, not to mention the countless friendships that developed on the “diner trail”. I guess that is one of the reasons why I write my blog, Diner Hotline. It is a way to show off my hundreds if not thousands of photographs and tell a few stories and anecdotes as well.

The blog was started on October 31, 2007, but evolved from a long running column I penned for the Society for Commercial Archeology’s Journal magazine. I wrote that column (also called Diner Hotline) for 18 years before retiring it. A good friend, Brian Butko knew I wanted to move on and do something a little different and convinced me to start the blog. Well since that time, I truly feel that Diner Hotline is now the way I think it always should have been and I truly enjoy writing it as well as getting almost instantaneous feedback from a lot of my regular readers!

My interest in diners goes back to my childhood in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Later, I recall having some great times hanging out with my friends at Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car in the years following my graduation from high school in 1971. Situated in the downtown area of Medford, Mass. (my hometown), Carroll’s central location and 24 hour service was a huge draw, especially in the early morning hours after the clubs and bars closed. Between 1978 and 1980, I had been noticing a few newspaper articles and stories about a fairly new trend at that time of diners being moved from long-time business locations. One such example – the Englewood Diner in Dorchester (a section of Boston) was forced to move due to the property under the diner being sold. Another example, the owners of the Kitchenette Diner of nearby Cambridge retired and the diner was closed and subsequently moved, are two of the stories that I recall. There was also a feature story about diners written by Richard J.S. Gutman, then the co-author of the newly published American Diner book (Harper & Rowe). Gutman’s co-author of this book was Elliot Kaufman (and it was written in collaboration with David Slovic). This was the first comprehensive history ever published on the history of diners.  There was another news story featuring Alan Bellink and Donald Kaplan talking about their book Diners of the Northeast (The Berkshire Traveller Press), a guide to diners in New York, New Jersey and New England.

Along with these news articles there also was my own sense of recognizing that a lot of the diners I recalled seeing as a youngster in and around the greater Boston area seemed to be swiftly disappearing from the urban and suburban landscape. Around this time I had started a weekly ritual of taking short Sunday morning road trips with my buddy Steve Repucci, which usually started off at a local diner. This expanded into picking a different diner every week to determine which direction to take the morning excursion. I was just getting into 35mm photography and in the back of my mind I thought I might start photographing the diners I visited on these little trips. But I confess I was a little hesitant and self conscious about standing in front of a packed diner and shooting one or two photos. I finally broke the barrier after Steve Repucci moved to Harrisburg, PA. He moved there in Labor Day Weekend of 1980 and a little over two months later on November 29th, I shot one photo of the Bypass Diner (in Harrisburg). Since that date I have photographed over 820 diners.

After Steve moved to Harrisburg, I did not have my regular road trip companion on Sunday mornings anymore, at least for a year and a half. But I did continue to go to diners by myself or with my brother Rick, among other people. One of the diners high on my list to visit was the Apple Tree Diner of Dedham, Massachusetts. As a little background, the diner was built in 1929 by the Worcester Lunch Car Company as car number 641 for William F. Schroeder who operated it as Bill’s Diner. It continued to operate as Bill’s Diner after Schroeder sold it to William Cogan who ran it for 43 years according to Richard Gutman. It has not been determined when the diner acquired the “Apple Tree” name but we know it had it by the early 1970’s or so.


Top of Apple Tree Diner Guest Check)

Proclaimed as “The Famous Apple Tree Diner” by 1980, this was printed on their guest checks as well as the T-shirts they were selling at that time. This description was certainly one of the draws for me, how could I not check this place out? I had read about this diner in one or two of the news articles as well as my newly bought copy of Diners of the Northeast. It was early November as I recall, just prior to photographing the above mentioned Bypass Diner in Harrisburg, PA. I had made plans to drive down to Dedham from my home in Medford. I knew that the diner was located at 702 WashingtonSt. which was designated State Route 1A and that it was the continuation of the same Washington St. that started in downtown Boston.

So I basically decided to start my journey in Boston and drove all the way through the neighborhoods of the South End, Roxbury, Jamaica Plain and Roslindale on Washington St. before leaving the City of Boston. I was now in Dedham and knew the diner was south of the downtown area. Anticipation was very high and when I got to the point where Court Street comes into Washington St. from the right, I looked up ahead to the left and saw this bright red monitor-roofed Worcester diner sitting in the middle of a dirt parking lot surrounded by all forms of car and truck!

I was truly excited! Even after patronizing quite a few diners up to this point, this place was a completely unaltered piece of roadside Americana! I could tell already and I had not even stepped foot inside yet! I hurriedly parked my Chevy Van and literally ran from the parking lot and slid open the sliding door. The place was packed! There was one stool open right by the door…. I immediately sat down and soaked in the atmosphere of the bustling lunch car! I recall thinking…. this is the way a diner should be! Unbeknownst to me and probably a lot of other people, the diner would only be serving customers for another eight months or so.

The diner was being operated at that time by Warren Jones and his friend Joanne Dummeling as well as a very capable staff. In fact during that first visit, with all the rushing back and forth by the staff, it almost seemed like there were as many people working behind the counter as there were customers on the other side (there was probably only four people behind the counter). I subsequently ordered a cup of coffee and more than likely pancakes and bacon (my go-to breakfast at that time) and even with the diner being fully packed with customers, I can recall the food came to me fairly quick. The overall feeling of that first visit to the Apple Tree Diner was to me one of the purest diner experiences I can ever remember. In fact it might be safe to say that of the hundreds of diners I have visited since 1979, I have never experienced the same strong feeling that I did walking into the Apple Tree Diner on that Saturday in early November of 1980.

I finally shot my first two photos of the Apple Tree Diner on my second visit in January of 1981. That date and the date of my first visit unfortunately are somewhat lost to obscurity. You see I started my Diner Log book on July 28, 1981. After that date, whenever I documented a diner with photographs from then on, it got listed in the log. This meant first visits only, not subsequent later visits unless a particular diner was moved and reopened. Now I actually photographed over one hundred diners between Nov. 29, 1980 and July 28, 1981 and none of those hundred plus diners are logged properly with a specific date.


My first photo of the Apple Tree Diner, January, 1981)


My second photo of the Apple Tree Diner, January, 1981)

Back to the Apple Tree Diner….. It was during this second visit that I made the acquaintance of Warren Jones. Warren was two or three years older than I and we hit it off right from the start. He was very personable and friendly. I told him of my interest in diners and we conversed briefly as he was actually going into the house behind the diner for some supplies he needed, so he had to get back to work. I managed to get back to the diner again soon after that second visit for lunch, possibly the only non-breakfast visit I ever had there. Warren and I spoke a little more about my diner obsession and he mentioned knowing Dick Gutman. I informed Warren that I had come down that afternoon with the hopes of obtaining some contact info for Mr. Gutman and I asked him if he had a phone number so I could get in touch, Warren gladly wrote it out on a guest check for me. Soon thereafter I did phone Dick Gutman and introduced myself as a “Diner Freak” and as I recall he stated “join the club”! So it was on February 28, 1981 during my fourth visit to the Apple Tree Diner that I met Dick & Kellie Gutman for the first time.

I cannot recall how many times I got to the Apple Tree after that visit with Dick Gutman but I do know I was there on July 4th of that year. I had been raving to Steve Repucci about how he needed to check the place out the next time he was back to visit family and friends. So Steve had driven up from Pennsylvania for the long weekend and we went to the diner which was jammed as usual. It was all decked out in red, white & blue bunting with an American Flag hanging over the front door. Seeing the diner being so busy that weekend made it extremely hard to envision that by the end of that month the diner was closed and getting ready to be moved off the site!


My final photo of the Apple Tree Diner in operation, July 4, 1981)

You see, like a lot of older diners, the Apple Tree was operating on leased property and that the owner of the property sold the lot for development. The reason the diner got moved was that Warren Jones owned the building. He had put together a plan to sell shares in an attempt to help fund the relocation to another operating site. He found a pad site in a shopping center on Route 140 in Foxboro, Mass. and by the end of July, it was moved to Foxboro.


Apple Tree Diner, prepared to move – July, 1981


Apple Tree Diner leaving old site, July, 1981, That is Warren Jones
(back to the camera) in the red T-shirt.


Apple Tree Diner on the approach to I-95 from U.S.Rte. 1, July, 1981


Apple Tree Diner arriving in Foxboro, July, 1981

After the move to Foxboro, Warren then began the process of stripping years of paint from the body of the diner and removing all the roof shingles. He sand blasted the metal panels and primed and repainted it as well as installing a brand new roof covering. This was all in preparation for setting the diner on a new foundation. The next is a series of photos showing the stripping and repainting of the diner while still in Foxboro, photos circa 1981

Another part of his plan was possibly obtaining another old diner to include at the new site for expanded seating. Both diners would be placed at 90 degrees sitting in an “L” shape surrounding a new building with kitchen and restrooms. Unfortunately, the project lingered for a few months and never got close to being completed. Warren had to relinquish his claim to the pad site at the shopping center and soon had the diner moved to a storage site in nearby Mansfield.


Apple Tree Diner in Mansfield storage location, photo circa Dec., 1982

Warren was then looking at the possibility of obtaining a new site in Mansfield that was going to be located on a corner of the then new iteration of a re-routed Route 140. That plan also never came to fruition and eventually the Apple Tree Diner was moved to Paul J. Dias’ yard in Hanson, Mass. in 1985. Dias was an auctioneer who was contacted by Warren Jones’ parents (Richard and Ona) who now had control of the diner.


Apple Tree Diner at Paul Dias’s yard in Hanson, sometime between
1985 & 1988


Interior view of Apple Tree Diner at Paul Dias’s yard in Hanson, sometime
between 1985 & 1988

The Jones’ (with help from Dias), eventually sold the diner to Lawrence Shevick of Boston, in May of 1988 to be precise. Mr. Shevick did not keep the diner long as he resold it to Dave Waller also of Boston by November of that same year. Dave Waller had just started on his now long-time hobby of rescuing old neon signs at that point and the reason that he decided to buy the diner when Shevick told him about it was because of his grandfather, Jack Hines. Hines used to own and operate a similar Worcester Lunch Car known as the Flying Yankee Dining Car in Lynn, Mass. So after purchasing the diner, Waller had the structure relocated to some family property up in New Hampshire where he proceeded to have the diner repainted closer to the color scheme of his grandfather’s diner.

By 1992, Dave Waller and his new bride Lynn had purchased a building that would ultimately be their home as well as a home to the Apple Tree Dining Car (the new name given to the place by Waller). It was a unique idea because the building they bought was a former fire station that had been decommissioned. It was sitting unused and deteriorating after being damaged by a fire. The city still owned the property and was debating as to what they would do with the structure. Along came the Wallers with a proposal for the ultimate reuse of the damaged building. This turned out to be a win-win situation as the city got a reasonable purchase price for a property that they (the city) could now collect property tax on.

After the purchase, the Waller’s started to rehabilitate the building. The first thing they did was to rebuild the fire damaged roof and started to clean up the interior. It still was no where close to being ready for habitation, but was basically ready to move in their largest possession, the diner! So on November 10, 1992, Bryant Hill of O.B. Hill Trucking Co. and his capable crew installed the diner into its new home. To get the diner into the building, the “Apparatus” doorway on the left-front elevation of the structure had to be altered temporarily. This was accomplished by removing quite a lot of the brickwork on the left side of the entry enough to allow the diner to be inched in on low-profile rollers. What a sight it was to see! It took at least two or three hours to get the diner inside the building. When this was accomplished, the Waller’s then had to have the brickwork restored. From the outside, one would never know what was just inside the doorway. To this day that is where the Apple Tree Diner lives, ironically within two miles from where I was living in 1980 when I first drove down to Dedham to experience this diner for the first time.


Apple Tree Diner in Malden awaiting the installation into its new home,
November 10, 1992


Apple Tree Diner in Malden being installed into its new home, November 10, 1992


Apple Tree Diner in Malden being installed into its new home, November 10, 1992)

I remained good friends with Warren Jones from 1981 to the late 1980’s when. he and his family moved to North Carolina. I actually never saw him again after that point, but we did remain in touch until his untimely passing away within the last 6 years from cancer. I am glad I got to eat in the diner at least a few times in its final months in actual operation and I am also happy that it remains in good hands. At the very least we know that the diner is well protected, being inside a building and that it will remain so for some time to come.


Apple Tree Diner in Malden during a get together by SCA members in August, 1995


Apple Tree Diner in Malden during a get together by SCA members in August, 1995