Down & Out Worcester Streamliner comes back to life!

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I am happy to report that it is not all bad news with diners closing and or being demolished lately. There is good news coming out of Pawtucket, Rhode Island that happens to be a long time in coming to fruition.  A diner last operated in Middletown, Connecticut (closed in 1997) has been restored and re-opened as the Miss Lorraine Diner. Built as Worcester Lunch Car # 774, it was delivered to its first operating location, 357 Asylum Street in Hartford, Connecticut on August 12, 1941 and operated as Donwells Diner-Restaurant.

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a newspaper ad announcing the opening of Donwells Diner

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an old matchbook cover for Donwells Diner

According to Richard Gutman, the name of the diner came from the combining of the original owner’s names, J. Edward & Edith Donnellan and Chester L. Wells… hence the contraction, Donwells. I am not sure when the diner was moved to Middletown from Hartford, but I had heard stories that the original owners may have gotten into debt with some unsavory people who came and basically stripped the diner of any pieces of equipment that were moveable, including all the booths and tables.

Be that as it may, by the time WLC # 774 got to 200 E. Main Street in Middletown, the diner was a ghost of its former self. It was purchased by Stanley “Squeak” Zawisa to replace an older barrel-roofed diner he operated across the street as the South Farms Lunch, described as a 10 stool Worcester Lunch Car. I first came across Squeak’s Diner on a dreary Sunday afternoon diner road-trip with Steve Repucci and David Hebb on October 4, 1987. We had stopped at O’Rourke’s Diner (in Middletown) and were told of this other diner being in town.

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Squeak’s Diner, October 4, 1987 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Squeak’s Diner, October 4, 1987 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Squeak’s Diner, October 4, 1987 photo by Larry Cultrera

We found out that it was not open on Sundays when we stopped to check it out, but on a subsequent visit on a weekday during another road-trip, I did get to eat breakfast there. I will say that I can recall that the interior was in sad shape and I never thought that this diner would ever survive.

Ironically, in November of 1987, I met Colin Strayer a documentary film-maker based in Toronto, Canada, at the opening of the new exhibit of “The Automobile in American Life” at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Colin eventually became the person who saved Squeak’s Diner after it closed. I contacted Colin Strayer in a recent email to verify when he moved # 774 and he related the next information…

Your recollection of when I moved Squeak’s is correct. I rigged it out by hand throughout September, 2003.  Moving took place on Columbus Day, 2003. I believe Stanley Zawisa finally closed Squeak’s Diner (WLC #774) in 1997.  I’m not where my paper file on it is.  But if memory serves me it was 1997. Stanley had gone through something like 4 realtors in the 4 preceding years, without any success.

As I recall, Stanley tried to sell “the business” for $175,000. for several years.  In the end, I acquired just the diner, plus a provision I fill in the hole and grade to ground elevation, as well as clear away all the debris. There was a lot of old equipment in the basement, as well as a few pieces from the South Farms Lunch, a 1920s 10-stool WLC diner that had been located across the street. (The following photos were courtesy of Colin Strayer and depict Squeak’s Diner being moved from Middletown to a storage site in 2003.)

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

WLC 774 was a project I really wanted to do myself.  I had first come across WLC 774 in 1986. I accidentally stumbled upon Squeak’s one day 33-1/2 years ago while trying to locate diners painted in John Baeder’s 1978 book “Diners”.

It was diner love at first sight. 774 was one of the largest of its type ever made by Worcester Lunch Car Co. I hounded Stanley Zawisa for 17 years.  I really wanted to restore 774 — to be a part of it.  My enthusiasm got the better of me.  I sold it to Jon Savage for less than I’d spent on it to date.  I did so, because Savage impressed upon me he had the resources to restore it to the level of Lamy’s at Henry Ford Museum.

 Going back to spring, 2010, I’d proposed restoration would take 3 years.  Savage thought it could be done faster. It’s now been 9 years.  I also proposed the name Miss Lorraine Diner, which I understand Savage adopted.

From time to time I understand there’s talk about 774 finally opening in Pawtucket. I would be interested to hear about any developments.  I talked to / communicated with Dick Gutman several years ago about it a couple of times. I believe Dick was involved doing some consultation.  Dick kindly informed me of this as a professional courtesy, which I much appreciated. I told him what had happened and gave him my blessings.

I tip my hat to the gentlemen who worked on it in Pawtucket from circa 2012-2014. He was an older guy Jon Savage knew. I stopped by several times back then to look at the progress. My view was this gentleman had done some really good foundational restoration work.  The structure was stripped and really straight back then. But his work was very slow-going and he eventually stopped work on it. By 2012,  I’d done $10,000. in (unpaid) consultation work.  Savage made a lot of promises,  but never paid me for my work.  Never understood that. The math makes no sense. 774 could have been running by 2015. By now, been running for 5 years. Not being involved in 774 restoration has been one of my life’s great disappointments.

So, the restoration of WLC #774 continued with some consultation/expertise provided by Richard Gutman along with another contractor who came on board by the name of  Joe Pacheco of Abby Road Construction. Pacheco along with his crew worked on site off and on for the next few years and the outcome came fairly close to bringing the diner back to the way it might have looked when it was brand-new. The restoration included all new recreated Worcester Lunch Car style booths and tables as well as the re-chromed stools. Also, Dick Gutman provided 6 stainless steel ceiling light fixtures that had once graced the interior of the Black & Gold Diner of Roslindale, Massachusetts. Unfortunately the larger #774 needed 8 ceiling lights so 2 more were recreated  and you cannot tell which are the old fixtures and which are the new ones.

Back in November of 2019 it was announced to the press that the Miss Lorraine Diner was being readied to start serving customers in a fairly short amount of time, I guess good things are worth the wait! Denise and I took a drive down to Pawtucket on December 29, 2019 where I got my first look at the place which was 98% done. Workers were finishing up the parking area around the diner in preparation for paving. The interior still needed the restored stools installed by the counter and the completely recreated booths/tables had not been brought in. Then the news came of the diner opening on January 28, 2020 and I made plans to check it out, that happened on Monday, February 17th when myself along with my brothers Rick & Don went down for breakfast. We met Mike Arena who had signed on to operate the diner, becoming  one of five diners and restaurants that he’s currently running. The other places include the West Side Diner, Broadway Diner, the Lighthouse Restaurant and Amanda’s Kitchen, open for twenty-four years and named after his daughter.

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Exterior view of the newly opened Miss Lorraine Diner.
February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera

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Exterior view of the newly opened Miss Lorraine Diner.
February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera

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Interior view of the newly opened Miss Lorraine Diner.
February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera

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Interior view of the newly opened Miss Lorraine Diner.
February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera

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Interior view of the bar/dining room of the newly opened
Miss Lorraine Diner. February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera

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Interior view of the bar/dining room of the newly opened
Miss Lorraine Diner. February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera

It seems that lately, good news is hard to come by on the Diner front, but here is one that finally seems to have a happy re-birth! I will be back to try some other meals, hopefully in the near future and for years to come…

 

SRO in Somerville, next up… North Dartmouth!

The Author Event at the Somerville Public Library was a success! It became a standing room only crowd! There were more than quite a few books sold.


Some of my family showed up in Somerville, left to right, my brother Don and his wife  Jane, my brother Steve, me and my brother Rick.
photo by Denise Cultrera

This was billed as the first “Meet, Mingle and Read” event at the Library and Library Director Maria Carpenter was very gracious and pleasant to work with. My new slide presentation was well received and there were quite a few members of the audience that participated in the question and answer part after the presentation. The library had some catered “diner-like” food for people to partake of (it was from the local “Sound Bites” restaurant, none of the 3 diners in Somerville could accomodate the request for food).

Some members of my family showed up for this including my brothers Steve, Rick and Don and Don’s wife Jane, as well as Denise’s cousin Maryann Bancroft and her husband Rick. Another old friend, Vinny Bordonaro stopped by as well as a former co-worker of mine Ed Lecaroz and his friend Beth. Old friend and owner of the Rosebud Diner, Bill Nichols was there along with David Hebb, one of my long-time diner roadtrip buddies as well as newer friends Glenn Wells and Mike Engle. Glenn and Mike get the long distance award for driving all the way from the Albany, NY area to attend! Many thanks to my wife Denise for all her help including the photos she shot. I think she is getting pretty good with the Nikon Cool Pix camera.


left to right, David Hebb, Mike Engle, Glenn Wells and myself.
photo by Denise Cultrera

This coming Saturday at 11:00 am, it is on to Baker Books in North Dartmouth, Mass. as well as a radio interview with New Bedford’s Shawmut Diner owner and local radio personality Phil Paleologos at 10:15 am on Tuesday, November 22 (WBSM-AM). Here is a link to the event page at Baker Books….
http://www.bakerbooks.net/events.asp