A Tribute to Michael Paul Smith, a true artist in Forced Perspective Photography

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Michael Paul Smith with a diorama set up of Elgin Park
courtesy of Michael Paul Smith archives

I was saddened to hear the news that Michael Paul Smith had passed away on November 19, 2018. I will go into a little more detail below, but as an intro; Smith , who described himself as a recluse, became well known world-wide for his unbelievably detailed forced perspective digital photos of diorama scenes utilizing his rather large collection of 1/24 scale die-cast car & truck models along with scratch-built model buildings combined with actual outdoor scenes.

There was no formal obituary at the time of his death, but within a week or so I was “tagged” by my long-time Society for Commercial Archeology friend, Brian Butko in a Facebook post he wrote that alerted his followers and Facebook friends about this. I believe there was a link to a piece from Hemmings Motor News which effectively became a default obituary for Michael. Here is that link… https://www.hemmings.com/blog/2018/11/27/modeler-michael-paul-smith-permanently-moves-to-elgin-park-at-age-67/ .

For those who do not know of Michael Paul Smith, he lived for many years on the edge of downtown Winchester, Massachusetts in the third floor of a large Victorian house. He had a pleasant soft-spoken personality and described himself as a recluse, although he did not actually avoid making contact with other people, he just kept to himself for the most part. He grew up near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the small town of Sewickley.

According to his Bio, his family moved to Massachusetts where he graduated from high school and eventually ended up studying at the Worcester Art Museum as well as UMass Amherst. Michael had bounced around “employment-wise” in the early years after college, trying out various professions including working for a cabinet maker, a short-lived (one day) stint as a mail carrier, a bartender, and an art director for an advertising agency. He also started a wallpaper and painting business and in another career move, made models for an architectural firm.

Smith was an avid modeller from an early age and the skills he developed over his life helped him to become one of the most widely known artists using a small point and shoot digital camera to create forced perspective photographs that truly fooled his many fans world-wide. The seeds of this began in the 1990s when he started collecting super detailed die-cast car and truck models produced by companies like Danbury Mint and Franklin Mint, as well as others.

Smith’s fondness for classic automobile design from the 1920s thru the 50s inspired him to eventually start an over two decade-long endeavor of utilizing his skills (learned from building architectural models) to create 1/24th scale buildings to be used as a set-up for photographing his die cast models of cars and trucks. His first dioramas were mostly shot inside. He eventually moved his dioramas outside and used actual street backdrops to line-up his model buildings and cars in naturally lighted situations where the viewer was hard pressed to see where the diorama ended and the real background started…

The photos were eventually posted on a Flickr page he developed that he dubbed “Elgin Park” https://www.flickr.com/photos/24796741@N05/ . Elgin Park was a fictionalized (and certainly idealized) place based on his boyhood hometown of Sewickley, PA. After some publicity from a British website, Smith’s viewership of his Flickr page mushroomed and went viral with millions of hits almost over night. I myself saw some of these a number of years ago through postings on Facebook and other places. I was totally amazed at the photographs and skill it took to create these images. Here are some of my favorites….

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The Flickr page eventually led to 2 books Smith co-authored with his friend Gail K. Ellison. The first was Elgin Park, An Ideal American town published in 2011…

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This first book was in a way an extension of his Flickr page with loads of photos of the dioramas. He did not go into too much detail as to his process that created the images.

This book was followed by Elgin Park, The 1/24th-scale creation of a fictitious mid 20th century American town published in 2015…

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The second book was physically quite large and possibly the most expensive book I ever purchased. After hearing of Michael’s passing, I dug out both this and the first book from my personal library to prepare to write this blog post. This second book went into extreme detail to describe the process involved in creating his scenes. All the little tricks of the trade (so to speak) to create scratch-built model buildings, back drops and miscellaneous detailed equipment/pieces to enhance the individual scenes were spelled out. There were also select comments from his legion of world-wide on-line fans as well as his responses to them.

It was not until I read a Boston Globe article about Michael Paul Smith and his Elgin Park project close after the time that the second book was published that I realized we had met back in 1995. I have been associated with the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA), becoming a member in 1981, I had attended many of the organizations events held in the northeast since that time. In late 1988, I had started contributing by authoring the first-ever regular column in the SCA’s News Journal (later to be known as the Journal magazine). I named it Diner Hotline (surprise) and wrote for the Journal for over 18 years before retiring the column and starting this blog.

The last event the SCA held in the Boston area (and in fact, New England) occurred on June 23-24, 1995, dubbed the “New England Diner Weekend”, this event was organized locally by myself and Richard J. S. Gutman on the Massachusetts part and Daniel Zilka on the Rhode Island part, along with national assistance by SCA’ers Tania Werbizky, Pete Phillips and Mike Bennett. The event centered on visiting two major exhibits celebrating the American Diner, the first exhibit was at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts curated by Richard Gutman and named after his landmark book, “American Diner Then & Now”.

The second was a smaller exhibit at the Rhode Island Historical Society  which noted the Ocean State’s place in diner history as the birthplace of the horse-drawn lunch wagon. Starting in Lexington at a Friday night reception and continuing the next day with a bus tour going from Lexington to Worcester, Mass. and then on to Providence, RI. The weather cooperated and it was a huge success. We had a large attendance including many locals from Massachusetts and New England as well as people from around the country. Michael Paul Smith was one of those attending.

During the event, I had brought along a handful of photos to show interested people of a diner-related personal project I had started around January of 1995. This project was a completely new thing for me, a scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner, Worcester Lunch Car No. 817 which was located in my hometown of Medford, Massachusetts from 1948 to 1968. I had some H.O. scale plastic models of diners in my collection, some built primarily as they came, others I had “kit-bashed” to look different. This new model was the first attempt at doing something on this scale (so to speak). The Star Lite was a diner that I actually patronized as a kid and was hugely disappointed when they closed for their usual vacation in the summer of 1968 and never reopened. The diner was reportedly moved to a salvage yard and never survived.

The model was not built to any particular scale such as 1/24, etc. I just used graph paper to draw a representational plan that was in perspective and looked right to me. The model ended up being approximately 30 inches long. At the time of the SCA event in June of 95, the exterior had been completed. I had accomplished this level of completion in a few short weeks and took the photos which were processed in February of 95.

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My large, scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner from the group of photos I brought along to the SCA New England Diner Weekend to show interested people. By the way it is sitting on an actual Worcester Lunch Car table….

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Second view of the scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner

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Third view of the scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner

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Fourth view of the scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner

As I said, Michael and I met sometime during the New England Diner weekend, in fact it may have been at the stop we made to the Modern Diner in Pawtucket, RI. I showed him the photos of my Star Lite Diner model and he immediately was enthusiastic about what I had accomplished. I do recall he asked about the scale of it and told him I did not use any particular scale. We quickly found out that we lived about 7 minutes or so (by car) from each other. I was living on Osborne Road in Medford, about 2 blocks from the town line with Winchester. He lived about a mile and a half from there near the center of town. We made arrangements for me to visit with him soon after and I brought the model with me. We visited at his home for an hour or so and he was impressed with my diner model and how improvised it was with little or no materials other than balsa and bass wood and other items I used to create it. Now don’t get me wrong, I think I did pretty well for this attempt to build the model but my expertise was nowhere in the same ballpark as Michael’s modelling experience. Be that as it may, little did I know that this chance encounter may have actually led to Michael’s near future project of creating Elgin Park….

During that early  visit, Michael dragged out a paper bag filled with advertising match books when he found out I collected those. In that whole bag, there was one match book from Duffs Diner & Dining Room in Winchester, VA. It was a very odd size, overly large (4.25″ long x 3.35″ wide, closed) but a real beauty. He donated it to my collection…

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Front view of Duff’s Diner Matchbook

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Back view of Duff’s Diner Matchbook

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Inside view of Duff’s Diner Matchbook with only a small amount of matches

After we visited that day in 1995 we did not keep in touch and I certainly had no clue that this whole “Elgin Park” project would evolve within the next few years. Fast Forward 20 plus years later after I discovered that it was he who had been behind all those wonderful diorama photos, I decided to contact him through his Flickr page and he responded. I asked if he remembered me and he said, yes, of course. So we made arrangements for myself and my wife Denise to visit him on Sunday, June 26, 2016. I brought a copy of each of my Diner books which I signed for him as well as my copy of his 2015 Elgin Park book (for him to sign for me).

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He also gave me a copy of his first Elgin Park book from 2011, which he signed as well. I noticed when he signed my copy of the 2015 Elgin Park book, he also left an inscription that totally floored me and took me by surprise…

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After seeing the inscription, it dawned on me that he considered our 1995 meeting pivotal in his process of going down the road he would travel to end up creating Elgin Park and thus, become internationally known for this endeavor. I was floored by this knowledge as well as humbled. I certainly do not give myself any credit for what Michael accomplished as it was all him and his talent as well as ability to create these lasting images which legions of fans world-wide have enjoyed for years.

Rest In Peace my friend…..

 

11th Anniversary for Diner Hotline blog

Well, another year has rolled around. October 31st marks the 11th year this blog has been up and running. Granted, I have not posted much for most of this year as I have been feverishly scanning the photo archives, 35mm slides and prints (this scanning process started in earnest in the last year and a half).  I started shooting 35mm photos in the summer of 1980 and documented the first diner on November 29, 1980. The slides are all scanned (diner & non-diner shots) effectively covering a span of 35 years, (I switched from 35mm print film to slide film circa March of 1983).

Most Diner Hotline readers know, but for those who do not, my obsession with diners started  when I was very young. I had been very observant as a child, whenever we were going on errands around town or just little road trips in and around the Bay State, I always noticed places along the roadside. Diners seem to always catch my eye and in the late 1950s into the early 1960s, there were still plenty of them here in New England. The seed of knowledge was planted when I was approximately 5 or 6 years old when I asked my dad about this building we used to pass on Mystic Avenue in South Medford near the Somerville town line.

It was a blue colored building with a rounded roof that featured “Old English” lettering on it that said Star (left side of the center entrance) and Lite (to the right of the entrance). My question to my dad was, is that a railroad car? He answered no, it is a restaurant called a diner. He went on to explain that diners were built in factories and were designed to resemble railroad cars. The Star Lite Diner was a 1948 vintage Worcester Lunch Car and a huge amount of the diners in our area looked similar to the Star Lite as Worcester Lunch Car Company was the local diner builder.

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There is only one photo that exists of the Star Lite Diner
the above is my colorized version. Note: the trim along the
roof and overhang should actually be yellow…

So basically my obsession was intact very early and I have memories of eating at quite a few diners when I was a kid including the Star Lite, Bobbie’s Diner and Carroll’s Colonial Diner, all in my hometown of Medford as well as others in the area. In fact I hung out at Carroll’s for a few years after graduating from high school in 1979. The diner was a large “L” shaped structure with huge windows and an additional dining room addition that was open 24-7 through the 1970s.

After purchasing my first “new” vehicle (as opposed to a used vehicle), a 1979 Chevy van, I was able to increase the area of my own little road trips without the worry of a vehicle breakdown. I started going on Sunday morning road trips with my good friend Steve Repucci which always started at a diner, originally Genia’s Diner in North Woburn, Mass. We eventually decided to start visiting other diners that we either knew about or just drove in search of a diner thus determining the direction to drive in.

The late 1970s saw the publication of two watershed books on Diners. The first was the 1978 Diners by artist John Baeder. This featured paintings and sketches  in color and black & white along with some wonderful text in John Baeder’s distinctive style of story telling.

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The second book was American Diner by Richard Gutman and Elliot Kaufman (in collaboration with David Slovic) published in 1979. This became the first book ever to delve into the history of diners.

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In 1980, another book was published called Diners of The Northeast by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink. This was a guide to a selection of diners in New Jersey, New York and New England. This was actually the first book that I bought and it became the catalyst that sparked my interest in diners to a fever pitch.

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The diner obsession lead to my photographing over 860 diners in almost 38 years. I became a member of the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA) in 1981 which eventually lead to me contributing to the SCA publications in the form of the first ever regular column called Diner Hotline (1989-2007). I retired the SCA Diner Hotline column in 2007 and began the Diner Hotline weblog as stated on October 31, 2007. The blog also lead to the publishing of my own two books, Classic Diners of Massachusetts (2011) and New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries (2014).

I hope to be increasing the amount of blog posts soon as the digital archive of my photos and slides are now closer to completion.

37 years down the road…

It is still hard to even wrap my brain around the fact that I took my very first “Diner” photograph 37 years ago on November 29, 1980! Although my interest in Diners goes back to the 1950s when I was around 5 or 6 years old, the groundwork for this first “Diner” photo op was a few months in the making. I had purchased a used 35mm camera in the summer of 1980 and started taking some scenic photos after being inspired by my pal Steve Repucci.

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The Bypass Diner, Herr Street in Harrisburg, PA. The first “Diner”
photograph featuring my blue 1979 Chevy Van parked in front!

To backtrack a little, Steve and I crossed paths after I had started a new job in September of 1976 at Analogic Corporation in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Steve had been employed there since 1974. We became acquainted through our shared employment between 1976 and all thru 1977, but did not socialize much outside of work until June 24, 1978, when we had gone on a camping trip to the Lake George, NY area for a weekend.

After that weekend, we became fast friends and I soon learned of Steve’s passion for 35mm photography! At that time I had always had a Kodak Instamatic camera around just for taking snapshots. I was not an avid photographer at all. But seeing some of the photos that Steve shot inspired me to look at photography seriously as a new hobby.

In April of 1979, another critical high point came when I purchased my first brand-new vehicle, a 1979 Chevy Van. From 1971 until that April, I had always owned used vehicles which got me around adequately enough, but there was always that looming cloud of possible mechanical problems which could hinder long distance travel. In purchasing the new van, this cloud had finally dissipated! In fact during that year, Steve and I had started our weekly Sunday morning short road trips, usually stopping for breakfast at local diners. This got our heads wrapped around the idea of tailoring the Sunday morning ride destinations either driving to already known diners to just flat out exploring to find new places to have breakfast.

So with the purchase of the new van in 1979, this allowed me the opportunity to increase the scope of my traveling. And then with the subsequent purchase of my first 35mm camera, the stage was set that led me to that first “Diner” photo! September of 1980, Steve had realized his plans of moving to Harrisburg, PA for a change of scene. A good friend of his from the U.S. Air Force, Ed Womer, lived there and gave Steve the incentive to relocate.

I was one of the people who helped in getting Steve moved (owning a van back then, I was always being asked to help people move). So this was my first time traveling to Pennsylvania. On that initial trip, I noticed a few diners while I was there, although I do not recall eating in any on that trip. It was the next time down over the long Thanksgiving Day weekend when I took that first shot of the Bypass Diner which was a mile or so from where Steve and Ed had their shared apartment. Nowadays, the Bypass Diner still exists although it has been operated as the American Dream Diner for many years.

Now that 37 years have elapsed and I have photographed over 860 diners in that time. I can’t help but think back on this personal trip, especially since I have been scanning all my slides and photos in earnest for the last 2 and 1/2 years, (I stopped using 35mm film and went fully digital in 2008). With this scanning project, I am building up my digital archive of photos. It seems that whenever I scan any particular photo, be that of a diner or any other miscellaneous subject, I tend to relive those days.

But really, it all started when I was a kid, living in Medford, Massachusetts. My dad Sebastian “Sam” Cultrera loved diners and was the guy who first told me about them. He brought me out to breakfast to places like the Star Lite Diner, on Mystic Ave. in Medford…

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The one and only photo of the Star Lite Diner known to exist.
This is my colorized version (using Photoshop).

The Star Lite was fairly close to my family’s meat market and I also used to ride the delivery bike from the store down to the diner for lunch. I recall playing tunes on the juke box and kibitzing with the owner Jim and his son Richie. They closed for their usual 2 week vacation in the summer of 1968 but unfortunately never reopened. The diner reportedly was moved to a salvage yard in nearby Chelsea, Massachusetts.

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My large scale scratch-built model of the Star Lite Diner.

We also frequented Bobbie’s Diner, also located on Mystic Ave. in Medford. My dad actually supplied hamburger meat and Italian Sausage to Bobbie’s Diner from our family meat market, the Blue Eagle Market.

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My one and only photo of Bobbie’s Diner, not long before it
was demolished.

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I was driving by one morning and saw that the diner had been
dismantled and placed in a dumpster.

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The next day it was almost completely gone…

Later, when I became friends with David Hebb, he gave me one of his definitive photos of Bobbie’s Diner for my collection…

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David Hebb’s photo of Bobbie’s Diner from circa 1980 or so.

I have since learned a bit of the history of this diner and that it was located prior to World War II in Haines Square a commercial center just off the Fellsway in Medford.
It was originally known as Jack’s Diner. The family that owned it moved it in the early 1940s to the yard adjacent to their home for a few years before relocating it to Mystic Avenue where it again operated as Jack’s before being sold.

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Jack’s Diner being moved from Haines Square.

The last diner to operate in Medford was Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car, a circa 1961 vintage Swingle Diner. This replaced 2 earlier diners at its location on Main Street. I recall my family going for breakfast on Easter morning after church for a couple of years when this diner was brand new. Later, after graduating from high school, Carroll’s became the go-to hang out for my friends and I for quite a few years.

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A night-time photo I shot in the winter of 1982

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Carroll’s Diner, from a photo I shot in 1983.

Carroll’s closed in 1986 and was demolished to make way for a new office building. More recently the Carroll family opened a new restaurant a couple of blocks away just off Medford Square called Carroll’s Bar & Grill.

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Carroll’s Bar & Grill on Main Street in Medford Square.
May 5, 2012 photo by Larry Cultrera

When I started this trip 37 years ago, little did I know that it would eventually lead to me writing this blog as well as 2 books. I want to give a shout-out to all the friends I have made during this journey, chief among them, Richard J.S. Gutman, John Baeder, David Hebb and all the diner owners I have come to know personally. I wonder what the next decade or two might have in store???

 

 

Contrary to popular belief, Diners in the Bay State did enter the modern era…

I recently posted a group of photos on my Facebook page which gave me the idea for this Diner Hotline blog post! Back in the late 1950s, the designs and size of diners were evolving past the railroad car imagery of the previous decades. The manufacturers were highly influenced by modern design and quite possibly zoning regulations that may have restricted what type of building the cities or towns would allow.  Some of the newer diners were being designed with larger windows, flared-out or folded plate roof lines similar to the modern California Coffee Shops and even fast food restaurants. Other designs were looking back to “colonial revival-influenced” and other historical adaptations using brick or form-stone  for exterior surfaces with less stainless steel.

As history has shown, the central and northern New England region is known more for their classic smaller diners dating from the 1920s thru the 1950s. These states including Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont & Maine seemed to have held onto their older diners a lot longer then other places. Connecticut is basically the only state in the region that managed to continually get newer diners over the decades and the reason for this was that it was closer to the existing diner builders in New York and New Jersey. For the most part, people here in this region are not familiar with the post modern diners that were being built by the diner manufacturers at the end of the 1950s thru the 1970s and right up to the present.

These style of diners were prevalent in the mid-Atlantic region more so than central & northern New England as the price for building the larger diner-restaurants and transporting them to the area became pretty much restrictive to the conservative New Englanders. We were used to seeing the smaller older diners built by local manufacturers like the Worcester Lunch Car Company and J.B. Judkins (Sterling Diners), with product from the occasional mid-Atlantic builders like O’Mahony, Tierney, Fodero or Mountain View diners thrown into the mix. Once the local manufacturers went out of business, the purchasing and transporting of diners dwindled considerably.

Well, this post will prove that Massachusetts actually did not quite stay with the status quo and in fact did receive more than a handful (although scattered throughout the state) of these more modern diners and I will attempt to show these chronologically to give an idea about these standout examples of modern diners in the Bay State!

Whately Diner Fillin’ Station, 372 State Road, Routes 5 & 10,
exit 24 off I-91,
Whately, Massachusetts
circa 1960 Kullman Diner

The diner currently operating in the town of Whately known as the Whately Diner Fillin’ Station was delivered to Chicopee, Massachusetts circa 1960 (although the website says it was built in 1958). Built by the Kullman Dining Car Company as a showcase Princess model, its first operating name was in fact the Princess Diner. In the early 1970s, the diner was bought by F.L. Roberts, a local company that had convenience stores, car washes and gas stations in the area. They moved the diner to the current location where it became part of a 24 hour truck-stop. The diner was operated here originally as the Maverick Diner prior to the current name.

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Exterior view of the Whately Diner Fillin’ Station
April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

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another exterior view of the Whately Diner Fillin’ Station
April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

This diner was undoubtedly a great example of the space-age influenced designs the manufacturers were using at the dawn of the 1960s. The large canted-up-& out windows with a flared out roof-line along with the shallow wall below the windows was cutting edge for its time!

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Interior view of the Fillin’ Station Diner
April 18, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

The interior of this place still evokes a beautifully appointed modern feeling and those light fixtures that looked like flying saucers (I refer to them as “George Jetson” light fixtures) are totally fantastic and one of my favorite features! This place has been operating for decades and serves the local area residents as well as long-distance truckers. I read a report just last week that stated the Roberts company recently divested itself of some of its businesses and the diner/truck-stop is in fact one of them. Hopefully the new operators can see the value in maintaining the integrity of this diner and not make any drastic changes!

Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car, 101 Main Street,
Medford, Massachusetts
1961 Swingle Diner

This is one diner that I basically grew up with since I was 8 years old and frequented it right up until it closed and was demolished in the late 1980s. Growing up in the city of Medford, I recall the diners we had in the late 1950s through to the 1980s. We had the Star Lite Diner (a 1948 Worcester Lunch Car – #817), Bobbie’s Diner (circa 1925 Jerry O’Mahony) and just barely, Howard Rust’s Rad-a-Mat (two 1948 or 49 Valentine Diners, part of a short lived chain). We were also lucky to have Carroll’s Diner, located just outside Medford Square – the first Carroll’s Diner was a late 1920s vintage Brill Diner that Maurice Carroll Sr. bought used circa 1930 to add to his Main Street business, The Medford Battery Company and adjacent gas station. A new generation of the Carroll family, brothers Maurice Jr. and Jack, Maurice Sr’s sons just back from WWII took over operation of the diner in the late 1940s and decided to upgrade the diner at this time. The Brill was superseded in 1948 by an up-to-date modern streamlined Jerry O’Mahony Diner with a stainless steel and red striped exterior. The Brill diner was retained as a kitchen for the newer diner. Business was booming by the end of the 1950s and the Carroll brothers again decided to upgrade. In the years between 1948 and 1960, they had acquired adjacent parcels of land giving them room to expand to an even larger diner. This is when they brought in the 3 section colonial style Swingle Diner in August of 1961.

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Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car – 1962 post card exterior view

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Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car – 1962 post card interior view

I can recall the 3 sections of the new diner sitting in what would be the new parking lot adjacent to the 1948 O’Mahony Diner awaiting installation on the new foundation. After the diner opened I recall going there with my family after Easter Church services for breakfast at least a couple of years in a row. During and after my high school years, I started frequenting Carroll’s and for a while it was a hang-out for myself and my friends. This place was great for being a meeting place as it was open 24 hours a day as well as centrally located. Not long after I started photographing diners in the early 1980s, I started shooting the occasional image of this place. The following photo is quite possibly my favorite!

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Carroll’s Restaurant – August, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

By the mid 1980s, Carroll’s was the lone survivor in the city as Howard Rust’s Medford Square location (at the end known as the Humpty Dumpty Diner) was gone by 1960, and their Hillside location (later known as the White House Cafe & at the end Bacigalupe’s Diner) near Tufts University lasted until the early 1970s. The Star Lite was gone in 1968 and Bobbie’s demolished circa 1981 or 82. Carroll’s Restaurant closed in December of 1986 when the large parcel of land it occupied was sold for redevelopment. The restaurant was demolished in June of 1987 to make way for a large professional building with an underground parking garage. I wrote a more detailed history of Carroll’s  a few years ago when the next generation of Carroll’s opened a new place 2 blocks away from the old location of the diner in 2012. That history can be found at this link… https://dinerhotline.wordpress.com/2012/02/23/carrolls-bar-grille-looking-at-spring-opening-in-medford-mass/

Olympian Diner – 38 Hancock Street
South Braintree, Massachusetts
1964 Fodero Diner

When I started photographing diners in November of 1980, I was aware of many of the existing diners from earlier explorations around the Boston area. I also knew of other places from word of mouth, my own memory, as well as newspaper articles  and books that had appeared around that time. But the Olympian Diner was one I just happened to stumble across one Saturday afternoon driving from Quincy through Braintree.

Not knowing anything about its existence, I was very excited to come across this place in May of 1981. I do not have the exact date as I had not started documenting the places in what became my Diner Log book. That log book came into existence a little over 2 months later at the end of July. (I converted the log into a computerized data base to help in the organizing of my 35mm slides & negatives archive of diner images in the early 2000s).

As I said I was very excited to see this example of a newer diner located on the South Shore and immediately parked my van and shot two or three photos. The following two photos are from that day…

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The Olympian Diner, South Braintree, Mass.
May, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

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The Olympian Diner, South Braintree, Mass.
May, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

I have since learned that the diner was originally bought and operated by Angelo & Mary Fasano who appropriately called it Fasano’s Diner. They operated it from 1963 until 1975 when it was sold to another couple, Paul and Collette Ricciarelli who ran it for 5 years as Collette’s Diner. The Ricciarelli’s in turn sold the diner in 1980 to Paul and Helen Margetis who renamed it the Olympian.

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a matchbook cover advertising Fasano’s Diner from when the diner was brand new

The Olympian Diner operated until 1998 when the owners of some adjacent parcels of property decided to sell out to a chain pharmacy. The Margetis family was left with little choice but to do the same. They attempted to find another location nearby to relocate the diner to, but were unsuccessful. Seeing that the fate of the diner was in limbo, Ralph Fasano, a member of Angelo & Mary’s family offered to buy and move the diner. The Margetis’ in turn gave it to him as they knew it would be in good hands. The diner was moved and placed in storage by Fasano and eventually was purchased a few years later by Dave Pritchard of Aran Trading Ltd. of Salisbury who stored it on his property until 2014 when he sold it to a man who moved it to Leominster, where it sits today on private property. The Olympian Diner as a business was resurrected a few years after the diner closed when the Margetis family rehabbed a storefront almost across the street from the old site to become the new Olympian Diner, still in business today.

Victoria Diner-Restaurant – 1024 Massachusetts Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts
1965 Swingle Diner

I was 12 years old in the summer of 1965 and one day I was enjoying my summer vacation from school. The next day I was drafted into helping out at the family business, a small meat market and grocery store. My job was primarily to deliver orders to customers using an old bicycle with a large basket. I also waited on customers and sliced deli meat/cold cuts as well as stocking shelves, sweeping floors and whatever else my dad wanted me to do. Bye bye summer vacations! It was an adventure to work with my dad and my grandfather (Papa) who was still alive at that point. Papa passed away suddenly that fall at the young age of 66.

Anyway, from the first day I got to go with dad to work, I learned that his morning ritual was to stop for breakfast at a local diner on the way to the wholesale meat markets in Boston to get some needed supplies prior to going to the store to work. Papa was the one who would open the store and greet the first customers before we got back from Boston. Around noon time Papa would go home for the day and my dad & I would stay until closing time, usually by 5:00 pm or 5:30 pm.

I am telling you this as a prelude to talking about the Victoria Diner-Restaurant. As the early days of my new working life progressed, I soon found out that dad did not always stop at the same place for breakfast. One day it might be the Star Lite Diner and the next it might be Bobbie’s Diner (both in Medford). Other times he might stop at the White Tower in nearby Somerville or one or two places near Faneuil Hall Market/Quincy Market when that place was in fact the old location for these wholesale meat purveying establishments, prior to it being cleaned up and made into a tourist destination.

The one place that dad stopped for breakfast that is still in existence today is the Victoria Diner-Restaurant. Now known as Victoria’s Diner and under new ownership. The place was brand-new in 1965, owned and operated by brothers Charles & Nicholas Georgenes, it replaced a 1949 vintage Jerry O’Mahony diner that their dad George had bought brand-new. So, I got to experience the Victoria  when it was newly delivered and have been going there ever since.

Richard Gutman noted in his book, American Diner Then & Now, that when the Georgenes’ were looking to buy a new diner, they were lobbied hard by Fodero Diners but opted to go with Swingle Diners. In fact they especially liked a particular “Colonial style” that Fodero offered, so Joe Swingle said that he in fact could manufacture a similar diner for them.

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a publicity still from Swingle Diners featuring the Victoria Diner-Restaurant at the factory
courtesy of Richard J.S. Gutman collection

The diner came from the factory with white form stone  “posts” on the exterior with beach pebble panels under each window. The diner also had two small decorative cupolas which were removed in the late 1980s when some new heating & ventilation duct-work was installed on the roof. The white form stone was replaced by red brick possibly in the 1970s and the roof-line stainless steel trim was covered with a brown standing-seam treatment possibly at the same time.

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Victoria’s Diner, Boston, Massachusetts
June 26, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Victoria’s Diner, Boston, Massachusetts
June 26, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

The Georgenes family sold the diner in the early 2000s and the current operators are in fact the third to do so since the Georgenes’ sold out. The diner is still popular and does a decent business from all acounts!

K’s Diner D.B.A. Pizza Pub, – 2391 Boston Road,  U.S. Rte. 20
Wilbraham, Massachusetts
circa 1965 vintage DeRaffele Diner

I am not exactly sure when this diner was delivered to this location personally, but have heard recently from Jen of the Dinerville website and Facebook page… https://www.dinerville.info spoke with the owners of Gregory’s Restaurant (current name) who claim the diner is from 1965. I would have guessed earlier myself. Be that as it may, this is the only example of this far-out space-age diner with a zig-zag roof-line (AKA folded plate) that made it this far north. Built by DeRaffele Diners out of New Rochelle, NY, this place was still snazzy looking until the mid-to-late 1980s when it was expanded and covered over. I have been told that not much of the original diner exists today and I believe it. I am happy that I got the photos I did shoot before it was completely redone.

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Known as K’s Diner, D.B.A. Pizza Pub back in the early 1980s.
September 5, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

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another view of K’s Diner, D.B.A. Pizza Pub, Wilbraham, Mass.
September 5, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

New Market Steak House, 274 Southampton Street
Boston, Massachusetts
1971 Fodero Diner

This is another diner-restaurant that I also was pretty much unaware of when I started photographing diners circa 1980. Even though it was within walking distance of the Victoria Diner, I guess I never knew it was there because I never drove down that section of Southampton Street. Also, I might not have recognized the brick building as being a late model, factory-built diner. Originally called the Supreme III Diner-Restaurant, it was owned and operated by the Passanisi family. This large “colonial style” diner is the third diner on this site. I do know the first one was in fact a Fodero from around 1940 or so but have no idea what the second diner was (I am guessing Fodero as well) as to my knowledge, no photos exist of the second one. Sometime before I first photographed it, the name had been changed to the New Market Steak House, probably by the end of the 1970s. It continued to be operated under this name until it closed in 1984.

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New Market Steak House, Boston, Massachusetts
June, 1984 photo by Larry Cultrera

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New Market Steak House, Boston, Massachusetts
June, 1984 photo by Larry Cultrera

The building still exists but has been altered somewhat and has not been used as a restaurant since it closed. For many years it housed the Beckwith Elevator Company. It is currently being used for other purposes.

Bickfords Grille, 37 Oak Street Extension
Brockton, Massachusetts
1970s vintage Kullman Diner

And yet another newer diner I did not know existed until my friend David Hebb informed me about it. I believe I may not have been moved to photograph it the first time I saw it in the early 1980s. I recall it did not have a mansard roof like it has now and I know I do not have photos of it that way. I think it had the wooden railing on the top edge of the slightly flared-out roof-line that Kullman usually used on this design. I also recall that the foundation under the building was not finished off with brick at that point. According to my records I managed to photograph it on March 1, 1984 which may have been my second visit there and actually had a meal. I do recall it still had a counter and stools that first time I went in. By the next visit, they had been removed. I understand the building had a fire within the last 20 years and the interior has changed more. These group of four photos will demonstrate how the building has looked over the years…

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Bickford’s Restaurant, Brockton, Massachusetts
March 1, 1984 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Bickford’s Restaurant, Brockton, Massachusetts
February, 1991 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Bickford’s Restaurant, Brockton, Massachusetts
June,1998 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Bickfords Grille, Brockton, Massachusetts
October 10, 2016 photo by Larry Cultrera

The Bickford’s chain started out with cafeteria style restaurants and was known for years as Hayes & Bickford’s. They even had a small chain of diners from the late 1920s thru the 1970s in Boston. Denise and I recently visited this place for lunch back on Columbus Day and as evidenced by my new photo, the exterior has been updated again. The whole chain has been upgrading the menu and look of the restaurants and the name has changed to reflect this. They dropped the “apostrophy” in Bickfords and it is now called a “Grille”. This ouitlet has the distinction of housing their corporate offices. I hope to find out sometime in the future waht the original name for this diner was and when it first got here…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Roadside related books in my library…

I have recently added 3 new (to me) books to my ever increasing personal “Roadside related” library that I highly recommend to anyone who has an interest, whether in passing or as an avid aficionado!

The first title I want to recommend is…

Remembering Roadside America

I came across this one by happenstance two or three months ago. I happened to “Google” my name and clicked on “books” and a reference came up to this new book with the subtitle “Preserving the Recent Past as Landscape and Place”  published by the University of Tennessee Press (Knoxville, TN) and written by coauthors John A. Jakle, Emeritus Professor of Geography at the University of Illinois, Urbana- Champaign and Keith A. Sculle, the former head of research and education at the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. They have coauthored other roadside related titles already in my personal library such as; Fast Food: Roadside Restaurants in the Automobile AgeThe Motel in America and The Gas Station in America. Being familiar with these past titles and the scholarly approach the authors used, I was spurred on to purchase this book and see for myself how I ended up being mentioned within the context of this book, (I was definitely curious, to say the least)!

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Cover of John A. Jakle and Keith Sculle’s book, Remembering
Roadside America

The blurb on the back cover on the book is a good synopsis describing the content…

The use of cars and trucks over the past century has remade American geography-pushing big cities ever outward toward suburbanization, spurring the growth of some small towns while hastening the decline of others, and spawning a new kind of commercial landscape marked by gas stations, drive-in restaurants, motels, tourist attractions, and other retail entities that express our national love affair with the open road. By its very nature, this landscape is ever changing, indeed ephemeral. What is new quickly becomes old and is soon forgotten.

 In this book, a summation in many ways of the authors’ decades of combined research, John JakIe and Keith Sculle ponder how “Roadside America” might be remembered, especially since so little physical evidence of its earliest years survives. In lively prose supplemented by copious illustrations, they survey the ways in which automobility has transformed life in the United States. Asking how we might best commemorate this part of our past-which has been so vital economically and politically, so significant to Americans’ cultural aspirations, yet so often ignored by scholars who dismiss it as kitsch-they propose the development of an outdoor museum that would treat seriously the themes of our roadside history.

 Museums have been created for frontier pioneering, the rise of commercial agriculture, and the coming of water- and steam-powered industrialization and transportation, especially the railroad. Is now not the time, the authors ask, for a museum forcefully exploring the automobile’s emergence and the changes it has brought to place and landscape?

OK, so this is in keeping with their particular style of writing and gives you a good idea about what the book is like. Upon receiving my copy of the book I found the mention pertaining to me in the “Preserving Roads and Roadsides” chapter! It turns out that I was not mentioned here by name but I was referred to in the text on Page 122…  “one aficionado who wrote and illustrated a column on diners for the Society for Commercial Archeology’s publications for 19 years recalled how he first became interested in diners when he was six years old and how he had continued this interest throughout his life” (Index note 70). That was a mind blower for sure, so I turned to the Index notes on Page 258 for that chapter and here is where I was mentioned by name along with “Diner Hotline” (the original print version that preceded this blog)…
70. Larry Cultrera, “Diner Hotline”, SCA Journal 25 (Fall 2007): 36; and Larry Cultrera, “Diner Hotline”, SCA Journal 21 (Fall 2003): 24-25.

I spoke with Keith Sculle after reading the book and conveyed my gratitude for he and John Jakle mentioning myself and Diner Hotline in their book! I told him that I felt extremely honored by the gesture! He expressed his personal disappointment in my discontinuing the Diner Hotline column in the SCA Journal back in 2007 and often wondered as to why I did that. I told him that I thought I felt that I had brought the column to a point where I was not enjoying the writing and the deadlines any longer and needed a change. I also said that this event gave birth to this Weblog shortly thereafter and it became the Diner Hotline it was finally meant to be (in my mind).

Coauthors Jakle & Sculle also went on to mention my friend Brian Butko and his efforts with the Lincoln Highway in the same way on Page 125 (same chapter)… “The Lincoln Motor Court, astride the Lincoln Highway at Tulls Hill, PA, enables one to peer over a long time into the time travelers’ transcendent quest. Built in 1944, the Lincoln Motor Court was off the beaten path by the 1970s. Jakle & Sculle mention that the current owners Bob & Debbie Altizer had purchased the motel in 1983. By 1993, nostalgic yearnings and boosterism amid the nationwide culture of leisure gave birth to a new Lincoln Highway Association. This is where the authors refer to Brian Butko – “A historian and photographer engrossed in his work on a travel guide of the (Lincoln) highway in Pennsylvania and an eager proponent for combining heritage tourism and road and roadside preservation counseled the owners of the Lincoln Motor Court on the possibility of reviving their business by appealing to travelers seeking to re-enact a trip on the Lincoln Highway. Advertising its historical qualities made the retro business profitable, and other entrepreneurs near the Altizers also successfully adopted the strategy” (Index note 76). Turning to the Index notes on Page 258 … 76. Ibid., 8-9; Brian A. Butko, “Historic Highway Preservation: Not a Dead End Street!” CRM16 (1993): 36; and Brian A. Butko, Pennsylvania Travelers’ Guide: The Lincoln Highway (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1996), 188-90.

I will say that Jakle and Sculle’s books are not your typical “coffee table” variety of roadside history tomes and are fairly heavy reading owing to both of the author’s educational/historic preservation backgrounds. But they certainly have a wealth of information within their books and that those readers willing to read thru them will be rewarded with a new perspective in how they look at preserving or at the very least documenting the American Roadside which in the long run will benefit future generations!

The second book I acquired was a book with a much more local focus…

New England Notebook: One Reporter, Six States, Uncommon Stories

This book was published in 2013 by Globe Pequot Press and written by Ted Reinstein. For those who might not be familiar with Mr. Reinstein, he is best known around New England as a longtime correspondent for “Chronicle,” the equally longtime and celebrated nightly newsmagazine which airs on Boston’s ABC affiliate, WCVB-TV. I have been watching Chronicle from its inception in the early 1980s and have always enjoyed the show. In fact, I was actually on a Chronicle show back in the July 25, 1991 along with Richard Gutman and Randy Garbin among others in a show called “Devoted to Diners.  More recently I was featured in a segment of New Hampshire Chronicle (WMUR-TV’s version of the show) highlighting my latest book “New Hampshire Diners: Classic Granite State Eateries”. Anyway, to get back to Ted Reinstein, he signed on to Chronicle as a correspondent in the late 90s and he quickly became one of my favorite people to watch as his segments seem to be among the most enjoyable to me. I was certainly aware that his book had been published and had actually thumbed thru it once or twice at the local Barnes & Noble but did not purchase it until he came to do a slide lecture/author event at the Saugus Public Library March 30, 2015!

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Cover of Ted Reinstein’s book New England Notebook

I met Ted at his author event and immediately found him to be as entertaining in person as he comes across on television! He engages his audience thru the TV show or in the book as well as at one of his author appearances, and when he talks about a person, place or thing, you know he has done his homework. Not only because it is his job, but because he has a genuine interest and therefor keeps his audience interested in the subject at hand! I was informed about his upcoming event at the Saugus Public Library by a friend Bob Teal back in mid-March. Ironically, Ironically Ted’s Saugus event followed another author event/lecture he did for the Parker Lecture Series up in Lowell, Massachusetts on March 19th as well – exactly one month before I did one ending the season for that series!

New England Notebook features some of Ted’s favorite stories that he has covered over the years… the people and places that stood out in his and respectively, the viewers minds! Just from watching him on the show I knew he was a kindred spirit and has a love of diners. He has a better than average grasp of New England diner history which gives his reporting on the subject a huge amount of credibility! In the final chapter of this book (Chapter 10 – The Foods) there is a section called “Diners: A New England Specialty” and features the late lamented Rosebud Diner of Somerville with a great night-time photo by my friend Elizabeth Thomsen (OK, I know the Rosebud building is still there but the classic interior is completely gone and the menu offered is not even close to a diner).  Other diners included are Becky’s Diner of Portland, ME, the Boulevard Diner and Miss Worcester Diner of Worcester, Mass., the Deluxe Town Diner of Watertown, Mass., and Agawam Diner of Rowley, Mass., as well as the Main Street Station Diner of Plymouth, NH and the Red Arrow Diner of Manchester, NH. I hope to someday join Ted for a decent Diner “Breakfast” in the near future, maybe even at Tim’s Diner in Leominster, I know Ted has not been there yet! This book is filled with other entertaining stories flavored with Ted Reinstein’s wit & wisdom and well worth the read!

So if you are ever in the Boston area, check out Chronicle on WCVB-TV (Channel 5), it is on Monday thru Friday at 7:30pm. Even if Ted is not on, it is an award winning show that always seems to offer something for the discerning viewer!

The third book I purchased and read was recommended to me by Debra Jane Seltzer…

Road Trip: Roadside America From Custard’s Last Stand
to the Wigwam Restaurant

Published by Universal Publishing – this book is written & illustrated by Richard Longstreth, an architectural historian and professor at George Washington University. Longstreth directs the graduate program in historic preservation at the university and is the author of numerous books and articles including “The American Department Store Transformed 1920-1960″ and Looking Beyond the Icons: Midcentury Architecture, Landscape and Urbanism”. In fact Mr. Longstreth is quoted quite a bit by John Jakle & Kieth Sculle in pretty much all their books on the American Roadside, so I was certainly familiar with his name over the years but this is the first book of his that I have actually bought! This book is chock-full of color photos that he shot from the late 1960s into the 1980s in his travels!

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Cover of Richard Longstreth’s book, Road Trip, from Custard’s
Last Stand to the Wigwam Restaurant

A lot of these places in Longstreth’s photos are either long gone or partially to extremely altered at the time of this books publishing. But we are certainly the lucky recipients of his foresightedness in his documenting these roadside treasures that are somewhat reminiscent of John Margolies best work. The difference is that Margolies has been known to remove litter and debris from his subject matter prior to shooting the photos and Longstreth, like most of us, does not! The one thing he does like Margolies is wait for the right “light” to take the shots of his subject (in most cases, but not all), something I always wished I had the luxury of doing back in the 1980s!

The places he photographed are from pretty much all over the country! From motels, to gas stations, to diners – Mr. Longstreth covers it all! There are period supermarkets, Drive-In Movie Theaters and other roadside attractions. The one drawback to the book is the choice of small type/font that was used for the text as well as captions (kind of small in my opinion) but in fact, the photos are what truly shine in this book and I can certainly overlook that little drawback! This is the kind of book that makes me wish that I should have started taking my own roadside photos much earlier than 1980! I sort of wish that there was such a thing as time travel, I would take my camera and go back in time to take the photos I never had a chance to!

Well, be that as it may, Mr. Longstreth did take all these shots and we can certainly appreciate and admire them!

Fred Casey, owner of Natick, Massachusetts diner passes away

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Casey’s Diner, Natick, Massachusetts September 5, 2009 photo by Larry Cultrera

I got a message yesterday (Saturday the 7th of February) from Facebook friend Timothy Wood with a link to an obituary for Fred Casey, the long-time owner of Casey’s Diner in Natick, Massachusetts. Fred was only 63 years of age (a year older than me). I had not heard if he had been sick, in fact I have not seen Fred for quite a while as every time I have been to the diner in recent years, his son Patrick was running things. Fred was the third generation of the Casey family operating the current 1922 vintage Worcester Lunch Car. His grandfather (also Fred Casey) opened it in 1927, buying it as a used diner from from where it had operated in nearby Framingham. Fred’s late father Joe had been running the diner since 1952 and Fred took over the reigns in the 1980s. Here is the article from Wicked Local online about Fred’s passing…

Natick: Customers remember Casey’s Diner owner

By Brian Benson/Daily News Staff
Posted Feb. 6, 2015 at 3:42 PM

NATICK – Amid the hustle and bustle of lunchtime at Casey’s Diner, customers remembered Friday owner Fred Casey for his friendly demeanor and the family-style atmosphere he maintained in the historic eatery. “It’s a sad day,” said Rick MacDonald of Framingham as he munched on a burger.  “You don’t talk about Natick and not mention Casey’s Diner.” Casey, 63, of Natick, died Thursday at Oak Knoll Healthcare Center of Framingham. He started working at Casey’s Diner when he was 10 years old and carried on a family tradition that dates to the 1890s. Vin Kerrigan, 66, of Natick, said he has been coming to the diner since he was in high school. “You always feel welcome,” he said of the atmosphere Casey fostered.

Elaine Griffin, who lives in Medway and estimated she has been coming to Casey’s Diner for four decades said Casey “was a great jovial man.” While the diner was bustling Friday, it will be closed Monday when Casey’s funeral is scheduled to take place. A funeral Mass will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Patrick Church, 44 E. Central St., Natick. Visiting hours will be from from 4 to 7 p.m. Sunday at John Everett & Sons Funeral Home, 4 Park St. – See more at: http://natick.wickedlocal.com/article/20150206/NEWS/150207503#sthash.50MNtt3t.AabuA2a6.dpuf

I recall my first visit to Casey’s Diner back in early 1981. I had just had breakfast at the Apple Tree Diner in Dedham and met the owner Warren Jones for the first time. I told him I was going over to photograph Casey’s (I knew they were not open for the day). I got over there and parked the Chevy Van outside just past the diner and got out, leaving the engine running to take a few photos. While I was shooting the diner Fred’s dad Joe came out and invited me in. I must have spent a good 20 minutes talking with him about diners while my van was still running outside!
In fact I remember that Joe showed me his copy of John Baeder’s book “Diners”. Up until that point I had “American Diner” by Dick Gutman and “Diners of the Northeast” by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink in my personal library but I had not yet acquired a copy of John Baeder’s book. Needless to say the very next day I bought one at the old Wordsworth Bookstore in Harvard Square after seeing Joe Casey’s copy!
Below is a photo by Richard Howard that appeared in an article written by the talented late Donald Dale Jackson entitled “The American diner is in decline, yet more chic than ever! This was in the November, 1986 issue of Smithsonian Magazine and it gave national exposure to myself and Dick Gutman among other people including another native of my home town of Medford, John Carroll, Jr. If you can locate a copy of the mag, it still is a pretty good read! The photo shows Dick Gutman standing with Fred Casey in front of Casey’s Diner!

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Richard Howard photo from November 1986 Smithsonian Magazine

Casey’s Diner will be still be operated by Patrick Casey (and I believe his son) who will continue the tradition of serving the town of Natick and vicinity from this old-time diner that has been in their family for well over 80 years. Rest in Peace Fred!

The Dining Car of Philadelphia, a family tradition!

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Close-up of the fantastic sign for The Dining Car in Philadelphia,
July 1, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera

Growing up in the Boston area, I recall all the various diners we had around thru the 1950’s and 1960’s. Most were built by the local Worcester Lunch Car Company (Worcester, Mass.) as well as more than a few Sterling Diners that were built in nearby Merrimac, Mass. by the J.B. Judkins Company. We also had a handful of  Fodero’s, Mountain Views and O’Mahony’s from New Jersey. There were quite a few Brill diners built in Springfield, Mass. for the J.G. Brill Company based in Philadelphia, PA as well as a couple of Valentine diners out of Witchita, KS.  I personally was also familiar with Swingle diners (another New Jersey company, 1957-1988) having grown up with two of their diners here, Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car of my hometown of Medford (1961) and the Victoria Diner of Boston (1965). These two diners were the most modern diners in the Greater Boston area.

After starting my documentation of existing diners in the early 1980’s, I made the acquaintance of Richard Gutman, a native of Allentown, PA who had relocated to the Boston area in the early 1970’s after graduating from Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning. Dick had authored the first real history book on this truly unique type of restaurant known as a diner. The book was titled Amercian Diner (this later was updated to a more comprehensive volume entitled Amercian Diner Then & Now).  From reading his book, I learned that the evolution of diners was an on-going process. Basically from the horse-drawn lunch wagons of the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, to the barrel-roofed and monitor-roofed railroad car inspired designs of the 1920’s, 1930’s and early 1940’s as well as the modern stainless steel streamlined diners of the late 1940’s thru the 1950’s. But from the early 1960’s into the early 1980’s the diner manufacturers had drifted away from the traditional “railroad car” styled diners to the larger multi-section diner-restaurants with their more updated Colonial and Mediterranean influenced designs.

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View of the left side front elevation of The Dining Car,
July 1, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera

I would guess it was from Richard Gutman, that I had heard (not too long after I met him) of a new diner being built by Swingle Diners… the first ever retro-styled diner called The Dining Car of Philadelphia, PA. So in my travels on the diner trail, I planned on someday checking this new old-style diner out. I had heard that Swingle in collaboration with the Morozin family (owners of The Dining Car) had loosely based the design of the new Dining Car on the old Monarch model that the Jerry O’Mahony Dining Car Company had built back in the mid-to-late 1930’s. It featured a metal-sheathed monitor roof, not used since the 1950’s as well as a black enameled body (with the name of the diner lettered on) under the windows. It also included stainless steel trim on the corners of the building as well as the window sills. So it was in the middle of  a diner road-trip, July 17, 1984 to be precise that myself and Steve Repucci visited the Swingle Diner factory in Middlesex, NJ. We were given a tour of the plant by Eric Swingle, a nephew of owner Joe Swingle. We met Joe along with his chief designer Joe Montano. I asked Joe Montano about The Dining Car and he actually pulled out the blue prints to show us what it looked like! It wasn’t until July 1, 1985 that we actually set foot in the diner on a subsequent road-trip. We had lunch as I recall and I took quite a few exterior shots of this huge diner (which can be seen here). I found myself at The Dining Car one other time since then…. June 19, 1993 during the Delaware Valley Diner Tour which was part of the Diner Experience, a symposium conducted by the Society for Commercial Archeology. But going through my slide archive, it seems I did not photograph it that time.

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View of the full front elevation of The Dining Car,
July 1, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera

To help with some background for this post, I recently spoke with Nancy Morozin, a friend of mine from Facebook who is the current general manager of the diner started by her dad, Joe Morozin Sr. Nancy runs the business along with her brother Joe Jr. and sister Judy. Joe Jr. oversees all back-of-the-house functions while Judy is responsible for the training of all front-of-the-house personnel. The Dining Car story goes back to Joe Sr’s. early days, basically from a teenager on – running various eateries with names such as the GI Inn, and another called the White Way among others. Jump to the year 1961 when Joe was ready for something new and larger, this is when he bought a brand-new Swingle Diner. Nancy describes it as an “L-Shaped” Colonial-styled diner with large windows and hammered copper hood. From the sounds of it, this would have made it a contemporary of Carroll’s Diner in Medford (the one I grew up with). This diner was known as the Torresdale Diner from 1961 – 1976. In 1976, the family updated the diner with a slight renovation that included some new victorian-styled decorations salvaged from an old Atlantic City hotel and decided to change the name to The Dining Car. It operated as  such until they approached Swingle Diners about building them the new larger diner in 1981. Contrary to some reports I have read (as well as being mentioned by Nancy), The Dining Car was not the last brand-new diner built by Swingle Diners. I know this for a fact because when I visited the factory in 1984, they were just completing the final sections of the Penny II Diner of Norwalk, CT. Ironically while we were there, they received a phone call that the first two sections of the diner, which had left the factory on the previous day, had arrived on site that morning! Also, according to Mike Engle (co-author of Diners of New York), the Country View Diner of  Brunswick, NY was possibly the last diner out of the factory. It was built in 1988 and opened in 1989 as the Stagecoach Inn.

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View of the right side front elevation of The Dining Car,
July 1, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera

In the late 1980’s Bob Giaimo and Chef Ype Von Hengst of the proposed Silver Diner chain out of the Washington, DC area actually trained at The Dining Car to see how a large upscale diner operated. Giaimo and the Morozins remained friendy since then. In 1989, the Morozins decided they need to do something as the customers queuing up to purchase their baked goods from their in-house bakery were interfering with the other clientele who were attempting to pay for their meals. You see as Nancy explains it, the diner’s bakery is famous for its Apple Walnut Pie, which is similar to a cheesecake, baked in a pie shell with sweet apples folded inside and topped with walnuts rolled in brown sugar and cinnamon. Another popular item is the Jewish Apple Cake which is a European coffee cake baked with apples and cinnamon sugar. The diner received the “Best of Philadelphia” for that. So a new addition was planned to house and sell the baked goods. Looking for advice, Nancy approached Bob Giaimo to consult with as he previously had operated a chain of upscale bakery/cafés (American Café Restaurants). She hoped to get idea’s for the proposed “Market” addition. When all was said and done the new addition was grafted onto the front of the diner’s entryway. It was designed by the noted restaurant designer, Charles Morris Mount who also consulted along with Richard Gutman and Kullman Diners to design the first Silver Diner for Giaimo, located in Rockville, MD. As Nancy went on to tell me…. There are also a few food items that are uber popular that we sell in the “market” which is why she opted to call the new addition a “market” vs a “bakery”.

Joe-Sr.-&-Nancy-Morizon(1)
Joe Morozin Sr. and Nancy Morozin holding a copy of the revised Edition of
Diners of Pennsylvania by Brian Butko, Kevin Patrick and Kyle Weaver
photo courtesy of Kyle R. Weaver

The diner employs a staff of around 130 and with later additions currently seats 260 patrons. Many of the staff have been working at the diner for years and even decades. This is because the staff is treated like family and the same can be said about the regular customers!

Another interesting story Nancy related to me about the regular customers was when the new diner was installed back in 1981, it was placed on the property adjacent to the old diner. They were basically sitting back to back with a fence between the back walls of both the buildings. Apparently there were a handful of these regular customers who wanted to have the official last meal in the older diner and the first one in the newer diner. So to help facilitate this, an opening was made in the fence between the two diners and the customers in the old diner picked up their plates and coffee cups and proceeded to walk thru the kitchen of that diner, out the back door, thru the opening in the fence and into the back door of the new diner. They went thru that kitchen and into the main part of this diner to finish their meals! What a delightful story, to say the least!

Up until a few years ago The Dining Car was one of a handful of family-run diners that had operated under 2 or 3 generations. There was the Melrose Diner operated by the Kubach family, the Mayfair Diner operated by members of the Morrison, Struhm and Mulholland families as well as the Country Club Diner operated by the Perloff family. Within the last 6 years or so all of those diners with the exception of The Dining Car were bought by Michael Petrogiannis.  In fact Nancy says they too were approached by at least two or three parties who were inquiring whether they wanted to sell their diner a number of years ago, but the Morozins were not interested in selling. As far as I’m concerned, I believe I speak for all their regular customers as well as myself when I say that I am glad as well as relieved to know that the Morozin family will continue to operate this long-time Philadelphia institution for many years to come!

The-Dining-Car_Kyle-R-Weaver
More recent view of the left side front elevation of The Dining Car, showing
the 1989 addition of the “Market” off the front of the entryway designed by
the late Charles Morris Mount, photo by Kyle R. Weaver

If you are ever in the Philadelphia area I highly recommend you visit The Dining Car, it is located at 8826 Frankford Avenue. Telephone is 215-338-5113 and you can also check out The Dining Car’s website at… http://www.thediningcar.com/

If you go, tell them Diner Hotline sent you!