Marking 38 years of documenting Diners with my photographs

My first attempt at photographing a diner. In this case, the By-Pass Diner of Harrisburg, PA – November 29, 1980

It is still amazing to me that the photo featured above would ever snowball into hundreds if not thousands of photos over a span of 38 years (and that’s just counting the diner photos). Truth be told, this was not my first 35mm photo as I had taken other scenic & miscellaneous shots in the 3 or 4 months prior to this one.  But the above photo represents various forces that had finally coalesced into a 38 year personal crusade to document not only the American Diner, but other roadside buildings and businesses before they disappeared.

To this day I will tell you that I am not a technically trained photographer, I still basically employ a point and shoot kind of approach. But I can say that I am a camera geek and own many cameras. From a collection of Kodak Brownies and Instamatics, as well as five or six 35mm film cameras and close to a half dozen digital cameras. This also is curious because I can recall my feelings were quite ambivalent about photography back in the mid-to late 1970s.

These feelings toward photography started to change after meeting my long-time friend and travel companion, Steve Repucci. Our paths crossed toward the end of 1976 when I started a new job at Analogic Corporation, a company I had previously worked for briefly when I was still in High School in the Spring of 1970. We did not connect right away as we were in different departments. In fact I first became friendly with Steve’s brother Scott (who also was employed there) before I eventually socialized with Steve.

Steve and I had bonded a little at work thru passing conversations in the coming months of 1977 into early 1978. This bond was sealed further during an impromptu  camping trip to Lake George, NY on June 24, 1978. We found out that we were kindred spirits who enjoyed taking road trips, etc. I learned that Steve had been an avid photographer using 35mm cameras since his time in the U.S. Air Force during the early 1970s. By 1980, I had seen quite a lot of his photographs and was totally inspired to get into it myself.

So by the Summer of 1980 I had heard that a friend was selling a used 35mm Mamiya 1000 DTL, (which coincidentally was Steve Repucci’s first 35mm camera). I actually went and bought the camera with my older brother Steve and we shared it for about 1/2 a year before I sold him my half and got a new camera. The Mamiya was the camera I used for all my diner photos from November 29, 1980 into the Spring of 1981 when I got the first of two Chinon 35mm cameras. I later graduated to owning two Pentax 35mm cameras, the last one was my go-to camera until 2008.

A Mamiya 1000DTL similar to my first 35mm camera .

A photo of yours truly standing in Medford Square (Medford, Mass.)
Possibly the only photo showing me with the Mamiya 1000 DTL 35mm SLR.
(1981 Photo by Joe Fortunato)

Since that first photo of the By-Pass Diner, I have gone on to document over 860 diners, most are factory-built classic diners while others were home-made or on-site establishments. I have photographed some old neon signs and various roadside buildings as well.

I started to experiment with digital photography circa 2000 or so while continuing with film cameras. Gradually I was taking more and more digital shots for a few years until the last roll of film came out of the Pentax with photos from 2005 thru 2008. I realized that it was not worth using the film cameras anymore and decided to make the switch totally when I bought the Pentax K200 Digital SLR at that point.

This brings me to 2018 and I now carry 3 digital cameras in my bag. The Pentax K200 DSLR, a Nikon Coolpix P7800 and the newest – a Olympus E-PL29. This last one is a brand-new retro version of an Olympus PEN model that was very popular for years, starting in 1959. I have yet to shoot any diners with this one as I have had a skin ulcer on my left foot since the end of July which has kept me in a cast. When the foot is healed I hope to get back out and take some photos.

Also, in the last 2 years or so I have been diligently scanning all of my 35mm slides and prints to create a digital archive. I have completed the slides and am now slogging thru the prints. The prints take more time to scan, clean and enhance. It helps to have patience to do this because it is very gratifying to see the finished image. This process has made me appreciate the early diner photos even more. I am pleasantly surprised at how decent a lot of these shots actually are. The following images are some of my early favorites….

Collin’s Diner – Canaan, Connecticut
Photo from October 3, 1982

Hightstown Diner – Hightstown, New Jersey
Photo from May 31, 1982

Norm’s Diner – Groton, Connecticut
Photo from September 18, 1982

Ruby’s Silver Diner – Schenectady, New York
Photo from October 2, 1982

Salem Diner – Salem, Massachusetts
Photo from May, 1982

Tom Sawyer Diner – Allentown, Pennsylvania
Photo from February 26, 1982

A tale of 2 Twins (Diners, that is)

Twin Bridge Diner, AKA Rosie’s Diner

Back in the early days of diner hunting I was down in the Groton, Connecticut area one day (July 10, 1983 to be specific) when I stumbled upon the Twin Bridge Diner, another later model Silk City diner very similar to Norm’s Diner also of Groton. I had already documented Norm’s on an earlier excursion the previous year (Sept. 18, 1982). The Twin Bridge Diner seemed to be doing a great business that day and I got the best photos I could considering all the vehicles parked around  the building.

I was coming out of the parking lot of the Twin Bridge Diner when I saw this across the side street from the diner. I could not resist taking this photo!
July 10, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

Twin Bridge Diner, Groton, CT – July 10, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

Twin Bridge Diner, Groton, CT – July 10, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

Twin Bridge Diner, Groton, CT – July 10, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

By 1988 or so, this diner changed owners as well as names becoming Rosie’s Diner and continued to operate until September of 2005. The owners decided to replace this diner with a brand-new diner built by Mike Risko’s Classic Diners out of Michigan (thanks to Mike Engle for clearing that up) and renamed the new place the “Oh Boy Diner”. Incidently, the new diner did not fare so well and closed within a fairly short time. I just read that 5 Guys Burgers & Fries were slated to take over the building as of April of 2011.

Meanwhile, the old diner was bought by Steve Harwin of Diversified Diners and was transported to his property in Cleveland, OH. Steve’s plan, as always was to eventually find a buyer who wanted a 1950’s vintage modern stainless-steel diner. When the prospective buyer would come forward, then Steve would have his team of workers do some needed updating and restoration/rehabbing prior to the new owners taking delivery of the diner.

Well fairly recently (late 2011) those new owners came into the picture. That would be Jeff and Vonnie Castree of Baraboo, Wisconsin. They are naming the new restaurant the Broadway Diner. Steve Harwin sent some photos along a couple of weeks ago showing the diner starting the trek from Cleveland to Baraboo in mid-April, 2012 …..

The former Rosie’s Diner/Twin Bridge Diner moving from Cleveland to Baraboo, WI to become the Broadway Diner.
April 2012 photo by Steve Harwin

The former Rosie’s Diner/Twin Bridge Diner moving from Cleveland to Baraboo, WI to become the Broadway Diner.
April 2012 photo by Steve Harwin

Interior of the soon to be Broadway Diner of Baraboo, WI
April, 2012 photo by Steve Harwin

I wish Jeff and Vonnie Castree good luck with their new endeavor!

Twin Diner, AKA Spicy’s Bar-B-Que

I first knew of the Twin Diner of Riverhead, Long Island from a John Baeder painting. The Twin Diner was apparently two 1920’s vintage barrel roof diners that were placed side-by-side, end-wise to the street. John’s painting was actually of an interesting detail that was part of the linoleum tiled floor on the inside of the left-hand section of the diner. It was a cool little graphic, (almost primitive) showing as John put it…. “the little frivolous chef dancing the diner boogie”!

Scanned with permission from Page 82 of John Baeder’s book “Diners”

Well on one of my early trips to document diners on Long Island (September 22, 1984), you can be sure I wanted to see if the Twin Diner was still there. It actually was….. sort of. It had become Spicy’s Bar-B-Que and was not actually operating as a diner. The right-hand side had what was left of the counter, now sans stools and being used as a serving counter. The left-hand side was now exclusively the dining area with chairs and tables.

Interior of right-hand side of Spicy’s Bar-B-Que of Riverhead, Long Island
September 22, 1984 photo by Larry Cultrera

Interior of left-hand side of Spicy’s Bar-B-Que of Riverhead, Long Island,
notice the inlaid graphics in the linoleum. Unfortunately, our little chef was missing! September 22, 1984 photo by Larry Cultrera

This configuration of 2 diners being attached has been termed a “Diner graft” and interestingly, it seems Kullman Diners came in circa the 1950’s and modernized the 2 1920’s vintage diners. This was done primarily by “wrapping” the street ends of both diners in a new stainless-steel facade making the the 2 diners look like one new diner as seen in this photo below.

Front view of Spicy’s Bar-B-Que of Riverhead, Long Island
September 22, 1984 photo by Larry Cultrera

Side view of Spicy’s Bar-B-Que of Riverhead, Long Island. Here you can see the back section of the untouched left-hand barrel roof structure.
September 22, 1984 photo by Larry Cultrera

Back view of Spicy’s Bar-B-Que of Riverhead, Long Island. Here you can see the 2 side-by-side diners. They actually have been extended back from the original cars. September 22, 1984 photo by Larry Cultrera

Recently I have heard from a friend of John Baeder by the name of Susan Walter. She contacted me to let me know of an Ebay auction she had of an old snapshot of the Twin Diner. I decided to bid on it and did actually get it. Below is the actual snapshot the way it looks, with blemishes and all….

Here is the same photo with some enhancement and cleaning up in photoshop…..