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.
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”!
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.
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.
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.
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