Kitchenette Diner aka The Diner on Wheels

Kitchenette Diner, First & Rogers Streets, Cambridge, Mass.
Photo by Doug Yorke from March 1977 Yankee Magazine

I recently purchased a book entitled Big Screen Boston (subtitled From Mystery Street to The Departed and Beyond), written by my new friend Paul Sherman. In this book Paul lists all the movies that were filmed either totally or partially on location in the Boston area. He details subjects like cities and towns that were used for locations, whether authentic  “Boston accents” were used and how much “Local Color” was seen. Check out his website at….

Cover of Paul Sherman’s Big Screen Boston

Some of the movies are documentary-type while others were filmed by major studio production companies. One of the movies mentioned is The Brink’s Job, a 1978 film directed by William Friedkin and starring Peter Falk, Peter Boyle, Allen Goorwitz, Warren Oates, Gena Rowlands and Paul Sorvino. Paul does a good job detailing this film in the book but failed to mention an appearance by the former Kitchenette Diner of Cambridge, Mass.

The diner was operated at the corner of First & Rogers Streets in the Lechmere area of East Cambridge by Russ Young from 1934 until he lost the lease to the property in 1978.  The diner was a late 1920’s vintage Worcester Lunch Car, No. 594 that originally operated on Ipswich Street in Boston as the A&M Diner prior to being moved to East Cambridge. I recall going by the diner in the 1970’s. I always thought it was not operating, there was no signage per se and with all the trees growing up around it, it really looked abandoned.

When it was announced back in 1978 that the diner would have to close and might be demolished, a man named Tony Bosco (owner of the unique House Restaurant in Allston, Mass. heard about this and offered to buy the old diner and move it out of harms way. When he started the process of extracting the old lunch wagon from the site, he discovered the building was not on a foundation per se but it was actually sitting on the wooden and steel wheels it was manufactured with!

When Bosco saw the wheels still attached to the diner, he went for a photo-op and hired a team of horses to move the diner. This proved almost unworkable as the wheels had rotted somewhat (after being embedded in the sandy soil for decades) and did not roll well, not to mention the horses could not handle the load. I believe they only moved it a few blocks in this fashion before they realized a truck was the way to transport it.

Meanwhile with all the publicity generated by the move, the producers of the Brink’s Job movie saw an opportunity and contacted Bosco. They wanted to use the diner in a scene for the movie! The movie company paid for having the diner transported to an empty lot off Birch Meadow Drive/John Carver Road near Reading Memorial High School in Reading, Mass.  (I drove by this site yesterday and believe it is now fairly grown over and currently marked by a sign for town conservation land). After the diner was on the location, the movie company painted the diner white and then dirtied it up a little with oil and dirt to make it look like it had been there forever.

photo shot off of a TV screen showing the diner located temporarily in Reading, Mass. for its scene in the Brink’s Job movie.

After the diner was done with its star turn it was transported back to Allston on property adjacent to the House Restaurant. Over the next few months Bosco did a thorough cleaning of the diner and partial restoration. He then used it to serve Emack & Bolio’s Ice Cream out of the now renamed “The Diner on Wheels”.

The Diner on Wheels sitting next to the entrance to the House Restaurant in Allston, circa 1981

One day not too long after I shot the photograph above, I was driving past the diner on Cambridge Street and saw that they had a tow truck attached to the diner and were about to move it. These next few shots show the move….

Diner being moved to a different spot on the Allston site April of 1981

They were moving it to a different spot on the property for whatever reason. I stopped to get a bunch of photos of it.

Diner being moved to a different spot on the Allston site April of 1981

Diner being moved onto Cambridge St., April of 1981

Diner being moved onto Cambridge St., April of 1981

During the move, traffic had to be stopped as the truck with diner came out onto busy Cambridge Street. When they moved the diner back into the lot they hit a soft spot in the gravel base and the diner lurched and fell off the tow truck.

The diner sitting on the ground after falling off the truck.

Workman preparing to get the end of the diner hoisted back up to continue the move.

Finally moving the diner into its new spot on the property.

Settled again!

Well the diner only stayed there a few months and was moved again, this time to New York City!

 The Diner on Wheels at the corner of 39th Street and 9th Avenue, NYC

Here is the Diner on Wheels at the corner of 39th Street and 9th Avenue in NYC, May 31, 1982. Notice the sort of mural on the wall of the building behind the diner. That was actually one of the props used in the Brink’s Job movie when they were filming in Boston.

On a side note, this is the day I met John Baeder face to face for the first time. He was in New York City to do a major re-write for his upcoming “Gas, Food and Lodging” book on that long holiday weekend 28 years ago and Steve Repucci and I were passing thru NYC from Harrisburg, PA. I called John from Rosie’s Diner in Little Ferry, NJ and told him we would be in the city shortly. He met us at The Diner on Wheels where we talked diners. I showed him my photo albums that I had with me and we had a great visit before I gave him a ride back to where the re-write was happening.

 The Diner on Wheels at the corner of 39th Street and 9th Avenue, NYC

It was moved twice again within Manhattan in the next 2 years. I found it abandoned at its last location in 1984, completely trashed, it was later demolished.

The Diner on Wheels, NYC just prior to demolition, 1984

I am not sure what happened in New York City to Tony Bosco or the Diner but it did unfortunately end up in the scrap heap. The diner did get some recognition again in the mid 1990’s when the independent film produced by David Sutherland,  “Down Around Here” was shown on WGBH-Boston for PBS. 

Here is a quote from Matt Ashare of the Boston Phoenix…. 
It’s been 20 years since documentary filmmaker David Sutherland took his Super-8 camera into East Cambridge’s Kitchenette Diner and began work on his first project. But it wasn’t until earlier this year that the footage he shot over a two-year period was restored and edited into the 27-minute Down Around Here. Sutherland’s film … for all its grit, succeeds as a poignant and remarkably resonant sketch of Boston’s rapidly fading past.

This little film won some awards as well…

* First Prize, Super-8/Film Award, New England Film and Video Festival, 1996
* Finalist, USA Film Festival, 1996
* Taos Talking Picture Festival, 1996
* Metropolitan Film Festival, Detroit, MI, 1996
* Big Muddy Film Festival, 1996

Check it out at David Sutherland’s website….

Thanks to Paul Sherman for jogging my memory on this almost long forgotten diner!