Forty one years since I shot that first photo of a diner in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania………

By-Pass Diner, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. November 29, 1980 – My first Diner photo

Monday, November 29, 2021 marks the anniversary of me shooting the first of thousands of “Diner” photographs. Most regular readers probably know I always acknowledge this date every year on the Diner Hotline blog. A couple of things have come together in recent months that sort of underline the importance to my life that this seemingly innocuous event that happened forty one years ago has loomed large in the scheme of things, at least to me.

Number one: I have completed the digitizing of all my 35mm prints and slides of “Diners”. This task in itself took all told at least 4 years to complete. I have also updated my database (digital Diner Log) to reflect the location of the original slides and negatives of those images as well as included two photos of each diner entry into the log. I am currently revamping the 35mm slide archive of “Diner” images to be housed in new archival boxes. This task is being done to get all images into a semblance of order to possibly facilitate the eventual donation of these slides to an institution that might want them as part of an historical record. Doing something like this to the 35mm prints (and negatives) might actually be a little more daunting. Not so much for the prints more than the negatives as other non-diner images are mixed in with the diner images. That is a problem to be attacked at another time.

new Archival Methods 35mm slide storage boxes for my Diner slides

Number two: the future of diners in general is still precarious and to place a spotlight on this fact, that first diner I documented with my photos, the By-Pass Diner of Harrisburg, PA is currently in limbo. The diner had changed hands in the 1990s and been operated as the American Dream Diner right up until the last year or so. It changed hands again earlier this year to become Harry’s Bistro. If you check it out online, it has gotten some great reviews and it gives the impression that it is still in operation. But someone I know recently stopped by and found it closed with an ominous notice taped to the window that says there were problems that have shut down the business. For how long, I do not know but the person who reported this fact said it looked like it had been closed for some time.

It turns out there are other diners I have documented over the last four decades that are also in jeopardy, including another Harrisburg diner, the East Shore Diner. The East Shore Diner is being threatened with possible demolition or at least in the best scenario moved to a new location because of a planned construction project to revamp highway on/off ramps adjacent to the property where the diner has been since the early 1950s when it was first installed as Seybold’s Diner.

Harrisburg, PA’s East Shore Diner is currently threatened with removal, either by demolition or hopefully moved to a new operating location.

Another diner threatened with demolition is Bishop’s Fourth Street Diner of Newport, Rhode Island as the property owner wants it gone to expand an adjacent business.

Newport, RI’s Bishop’s 4th Street Diner also threatened with demolition

Back at the end of July, 2021, it was reported that the Daddypop’s Tumble Inn Diner of Claremont, New Hampshire had suffered a suspected arson fire. They were reported to start repairs on the damage which affected the basement and electrical equipment. Unfortunately this may be complicated by the fact that Deborah Ann Kirby, the owner of the Tumble Inn passed away suddenly towards the end of October, putting the fate of this diner in limbo.

Claremont, NH’s Daddypop’s Tumble Inn Diner is in limbo after an arson fire and passing of owner Deborah Kirby

Another diner is also in limbo and slated for demolition is the former Ann’s Diner, operated more recently as Pat’s Diner of Salisbury, Massachusetts. Pat Archambault the owner for many years has had the diner up for sale for quite some time. She finally sold it at the end of July and unfortunately the owner of the gas station next door to the diner bought the property and has no intention of utilizing the diner. Ironically as I write this I just found out that Pat Archambault just passed away herself.

Salisbury, MA’s Pat’s Diner (when it was still Ann’s, circa 1989) is threatened also…

Two other Massachusetts diners future are questionable, the first is the Salem Diner which is currently owned by Salem State University. The university stopped using it as a food option within the last two years and is trying to get someone to buy and move the diner. As far as I know, no one has come forward with a likely proposal to move and reuse this very rare Sterling Streamliner.

The Salem Diner circa May, 1982

The second Massachusetts diner is a late model Worcester Lunch Car currently operating as the Breakfast Club in Allston, Mass. The diner sits on leased property which is slated to be redeveloped. The future of this diner is not looking good at this point.

The Breakfast Club Diner with a brand-new addition circa, 2012.

Within the last week or so we have heard that the 29 Diner in Fairfax, Virginia has had a very bad kitchen fire that miraculously has spared the diner in front but closed the business for at least 6 months.

Fairfax, VA’s The 29 Diner (when it was known as the Tastee 29 Diner circa 1990).

It’s not all bad news as the Edgemere Diner of Shrewsbury, Massachusetts which has been closed fairly recently was sold at auction within the last two weeks. The diner had been owned since 1995 by the town of Shrewsbury when the diner and property was taken for back taxes owed by the owner of the business. Since then the town has leased the diner out to numerous operators until now. The town finally decided that they did not want to be landlords anymore. The good news is that Michael Cioffi bought the diner and said he plans to move it from its location on U.S. Route 20 – which was a stipulation of the sale – to New York’s Catskills, where he already owns and operates the Phoenicia Diner.

Shrewsbury, MA’s Edgemere Diner is being moved to upstate New York.

So this post not only highlights that first photo of the By-Pass Diner but also sheds some light on the fragility of the American diner and the diner business in general. It points to the fact that my photos are my contribution to documenting diner history over the last forty one years….

Pet peeve time – It truly has always bothered me when people use the term “Greasy Spoon” or “railroad car” in relation to writing about diners….

1st pet peeve – Writers and or reporters referring to Diners as Greasy Spoons

greasy-spoon

Back on March 25, 2020, Jeremy Ebersole – a current Vice President of the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) who makes frequent contributions/posts to the SCA Facebook page posted a photo album to that page entitled “Greasy Spoons from sea to shining sea”. Now I had no problem with the photos per se, but I have always bristled at the term “Greasy Spoon”. In fact being a member of the SCA myself since 1981, I was somewhat shocked to see the term used by someone affiliated with the world’s premier organization that deals with documenting and preserving the businesses and sociological aspects of the American Roadside. Especially since the origins of this blog came out of the first ever regular column (Diner Hotline) that was featured in SCA publications.

Because I personally believe the use of this term in regards to Diners is derogatory… shortly after reading the post by Jeremy Eborsole, I decided to hold an informal poll and ask a few people I know and respect, what their feelings are on the use of the term “Greasy Spoon” in reference to diners?

Glenn Wells, diner aficionado, Roadsidefans.com

Glenn-Wells

Glenn Wells: I agree. I think the term is used more by people who dislike diners to put them down, rather than embraced by people who like diners. As you saw I was VERY surprised to see SCA use that term the way they did Also found something I wrote around 2001 on my web site (not updated for a long time) under Diner FAQs: Some people refer to a diner as a “hash house” or a “greasy spoon.” Does this mean the food is bad? Let’s be honest for a minute. If every diner from the beginning of time had been spotlessly clean and served delicious food, such terms never would have entered the vocabulary. Some diners DO serve food deserving of the epithets that some people hurl at ALL diners. But diners are hardly alone in serving sub-par food. Even some very high priced restaurants can turn out some meals that are less than satisfactory. Then, of course, there are the fast food chains, where the fare is more consistent from location to location, but that does not mean that it is good.

Richard J.S. Gutman, preeminent Diner Scholar

Dick-Gutman-2

Richard J.S. Gutman: I hate the phrase! Glad you are doing this. I can’t believe that the SCA used it recently…several times.

Ron Dylewski, diner aficionado, writer,
designer, commercial director and editor

Ron-Dylewski

Ron Dylewski: We often hear people refer to classic diners as “greasy spoons.” To many this might seem like an innocuous term, even a term of endearment. It is perhaps a more visual nickname than simply, diner. It can appear more evocative, denoting a certain je ne sais quoi or an ineffable quality that can’t be captured by simply saying “diner”. But none of that matters. The phrase is pejorative and should be stricken from any journalistic or scholarly writing, unless the phrase is called out for what it is; a slur. Similar names, such as grease pit, hash house and beanery are similarly used to denigrate diners. Writers are often encouraged to spice up their writing by using these terms. It just seems to add flavor to their prose, but in this case the flavor is all off. It actually distracts from the reality of what diners are and were. Now, don’t get me wrong. Not every diner is spic and span and not every one serves wonderful home-cooked meals. But that’s a decisionthat a writer would have to make on a case-by-case basis, not as a blanket statement about all diners.

Bill Katsifis, owner/operator of the East Shore Diner, Harrisburg, PA

Bill-Katsifis

East-Shore-Diner-1
East Shore Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera, January 1, 1985

Bill Katsifis, East Shore Diner: I do think the term greasy spoon is a degrading adjective. Makes it feel dirty. Yes, Greasy spoon, makes a diner/restaurant sound like a less than desirable place to eat. Thanks for the diner work you do….

Alexis Lekkas, owner/operator of Alexis Diner, Troy, NY

Alexis-photo

Alexis1
Alexis Diner, photo by Larry Cultrera, August 8, 2002

Alexis Lekkas, Alexis Diner: I agree with you. Only greasy spoon diners consider that a compliment and there are not many of them. By the way I am still in business even with all the Covid-19 issues…

Alex Panko, former owner of Peter Pank Diner

LAC_Alex-Panko_Les-Cooper
Larry Cultrera, Alex Panko and Les Cooper. Alex Panko is
the former owner of the Peter Pank Diner, Sayersville, NJ

Peter-Pank-Diner
Peter Pank Diner, photo courtesy of Alex Panko

Alex Panko, former owner of Peter Pank Diner: Hey Larry I am with, you, greasy spoon is derogatory. But I would always make a joke and made the people who referred to the diner in that way look stupid if they said that to me. LOL !!!!

Maria Pagelos Wall, co-owner of the Village Diner, Milford, PA

Maria-Wall

Village-Diner-2
Village Diner, photo from Larry Cultrera, November 27, 1981

Maria Pagelos Wall, Village Diner: I don’t like it. To me, it makes it sound like a place is dirty with low quality food.

Michael Engle, diner aficionado/author

Mike-Engle

Michael Engle: I think for anyone who has put the time, passion, energy, and back breaking labor into running their diner or restaurant, that is the last thing they want to hear.  There are a number of people who are so far removed from the food industry. Many of these same people, especially the ones who find a diner “cute,” like they would a puppy, these are the people who are perfectly fine with the term.  They don’t mean any harm by the term.  And these people are validated by the few restaurant owners who adore the term.

Brian Butko, diner aficionado/author

Brian-Butko

Brian Butko: I agree, we’ve always avoided that term. I recall old diner industry mags discussing the term, and always talking about how diners should help themselves by paying attention to details, paving parking lots, lifting the industry, acting like “real restaurants,” that could be a fun angle.

Jeremy Ebersole, current Vice President of
the Society for Commercial Archeology

Jeremy-Ebersole

Jeremy Ebersole: Thanks so much for letting me know, Larry. I certainly didn’t mean to offend. I’ve used the term my whole life and never thought of it as derogatory, and that photo album has been up for years without any negative feedback. However, I certainly do not want to offend or imply that the SCA does not hold diners in the highest esteem. I love diners with every fiber of my being and just had no idea that term was contentious. I’ve been going back through all the old SCA publications and reading them. They’re just so great, and I always really enjoy your column! Please let me know when your blog is published and I will make sure we promote it on the SCA Facebook page!
P.S.: Jeremy changed the title of the post to “Awesome eateries from sea to shining sea”.

2nd pet peeve – Writers and or reporters mentioning railroad cars/trolley cars when writing about Diners

Another thing happened recently which tends to cause me to freak out. In fact it is something that I have been calling out newspaper reporters on for the better part of 40 years. Around the beginning of June, 2020, reports came out of Maine about the resurrection of the Farmington Diner of Farmington, Maine.

A number of years ago (2008), Rachel Jackson decided to embark on a risky adventure and save the Farmington Diner when the land it was on was sold to a national pharmacy chain. She had the diner transported to property she owned a few miles away where it has sat in storage since. Within the last couple of years, Ms. Jackson actually bought another old diner that had operated in Pennsylvania and Connecticut under various names. Her plan was to use parts of each to restore  (the one out of Connecticut) and return it to operation under the Farmington Diner name.

The reporter , Donna M. Perry of the Sun Journal wrote the first recent report I read on the Farmington Diner, kept referring to both diners as railroad cars. I immediately sent off an email to this reporter:

 I just read the piece you wrote on the Farmington Diner. Thanks for the update as I was wondering what was happening up there. I write a blog on diners (www.dinerhotline.com) and have written 2 books for The History Press, (Classic Diners of Massachusetts, 2011) (New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries, 2014). I have been conducting a personal research project on diners since 1980. I have photographed approximately 870 plus diners since November 29th of that year. I just want to point out that writers/journalists like yourself have periodically perpetuated a common misconception that diners are rail cars or trolleys. That is far from accurate. Diners are custom built buildings, usually built by a Diner manufacturer and shipped to a specific (or more than one) location. The diners in question are both Mountain View Diners, manufactured in Singac, New Jersey.

Donna Perry responded to my email and told me she had used railcar diner in her piece because Rachel Jackson thought that it was a commonly used generic term. Perry went on to say that she would amend her online piece to just say diner.

The second report I read was from Maureen Milliken of Maine Business News (www.mainebiz.biz) and I was very happy to see that Ms. Milliken, a seasoned reporter had done her homework. Her piece was well researched and mentioned Mountain View Diners. Not only that, she found a blog post I wrote from 2010 on The Silver Diner of Waterbury CT being closed and in jeopardy, (this became the second diner rescued by Rachel Jackson). The link to my bog post is here… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/tag/the-new-lafayette-diner/
So I immediately wrote Maureen Milliken and thanked her for referring to my blog as well as doing her diligent research.

Just to give a quick primer, here are exterior and interior views of an old Dining Car from the Boston & Maine Railroad…

B&M-RR-Dining-Car-extB&M-RR-Dining-Car-int

That being said, let me say that there were and are still examples of diners that had been created from converted train and trolley cars. Here are a few examples…

Leona-Hillier's-Diner
an old Postcard of Leona Hillier’s Dinette from my collection.
This is a converted railroad car…

The-Club-Car-Restaurant-6
The Club Car Restaurant, a converted railroad car,
located in Nantucket, Massachusetts

Sisson's-Diner-16
exterior view of Sisson’s Diner, a converted trolley located
in South Middleboro, Massachusetts

Sisson's-Diner-12
interior view of Sisson’s Diner, a converted trolley located
in South Middleboro, Massachusetts

Bill-Gates'-Diner-10
exterior view of Bill Gates’ Diner, a converted trolley formerly
located in Bolton Landing, New York

Bill-Gates'-Diner-11
interior view of Bill Gates’ Diner, a converted trolley formerly
located in Bolton Landing, New York

The following photos are examples of factory-built diners that had the railroad car resemblance in their details…

Chadwick-Square-Diner-4
Chadwick Square Diner, Worcester, Massachusetts

The-Sparky-Diner-2
The Sparky Diner, formerly of Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Capitol-3_6-5-11
The Capitol Diner, Lynn, Massachusetts

Casey's-Diner-15
Casey’s Diner, Natick, Massachusetts (looking like a caboose)