Marking 38 years of documenting Diners with my photographs

bypass-diner_11-29-1980
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.

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

LAC-1981
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-3
Collin’s Diner – Canaan, Connecticut
Photo from October 3, 1982

Hightstown-Diner-2a
Hightstown Diner – Hightstown, New Jersey
Photo from May 31, 1982

Norm's-Diner-2
Norm’s Diner – Groton, Connecticut
Photo from September 18, 1982

Ruby's-Silver-Diner-3
Ruby’s Silver Diner – Schenectady, New York
Photo from October 2, 1982

Salem-Diner-5
Salem Diner – Salem, Massachusetts
Photo from May, 1982

Tom-Sawyer-Diner-1
Tom Sawyer Diner – Allentown, Pennsylvania
Photo from February 26, 1982

Ugly Mug Diner proposed for Salem, Mass.

My friends Diane and Lee Wolf, owners of the Lobster Shanty in downtown Salem, Mass. are planning to open a restaurant called the Ugly Mug Diner soon, right around the corner from the Lobster Shanty. Here is a press release about their efforts……

Local Restaurateurs Seek Crowd Funding to Bring Unique Diner to Salem

February 3, 2014, Salem, Mass. — Salem residents Diane and Lee Wolf are hoping to open a diner at 122 Washington Street, previous home of A Taste of Thyme Café. Since 2007, the couple has owned and operated the popular Lobster Shanty on Artists’ Row, which was featured in an episode of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The plan for the new eatery, dubbed The Ugly Mug Diner, is to create a fun, funky combination of old and new. The diner will offer handmade, fresh foods that are locally sourced when possible while maintaining a classic diner atmosphere with weekly specials and breakfast served all day.

All photos courtesy of Diane Wolf

Ugly-Mug-9
exterior of the building that will house the Ugly Mug Diner. It is going into the spot on the right-hand side of the building where the blue & white sign is in the window.

Ugly-Mug-9aA close-up showing the storefront for the new establishment

“Our laser-like focus on the food will set us apart from other breakfast spots,” said Ms. Wolf, a graduate of the Culinary Arts program at Johnson & Wales University.  “We’ll be a full-service diner with culinary professionals in the kitchen. We will cure our own bacon, serve farm-fresh eggs, smoke our own salmon for bagels, and whip our own cream.  We have fostered relationships with local farmers, including Maitland Mountain Farms here in Salem, to provide us with the best foods to offer our guests.” The Wolfs are sourcing capital from several places, including RocketHub, a crowd-funding website that recently garnered attention for its partnership with A&E Networks. The couple’s goal is to raise $50,000 through RocketHub by the end of February. Within the first 12 hours of the project going live, dozens of friends and several city leaders had contributed.

Ugly-Mug-3
Interior detail showing the counter and stools

Ugly-Mug-1
Here is another interior shot looking from behind the counter toward the dining area.

Hoping crowdsourcing will help turn their diner dream into a reality, the couple is offering incentives such as the contributor’s name engraved on a dining room chair, naming rights to a menu item, a VIP dinner for six at the diner, and an in-home cooking class for six. More information on the diner and the crowdsourcing plant is at http://www.rockethub.com/projects/38812-partner-with-the-ugly-mug-diner-launch-a-new-community-breakfast-joint https://www.facebook.com/uglymugsalem

http://lobstershantysalem.com/

Even though I tend to prefer a classic factory-built diner, that does not stop me from patronizing on-site/storefront diners. I am looking forward to checking this place out when they open! Diane informs me that it might happen next month and we’ll be there!

Another look back to the early 1980’s

I recently bought a new scanner to replace the one I had for almost 10 years. I was not happy with the results I was getting from the old one, especially when scanning slides. The new one seemed to be much better and the software was more advanced, which I certainly liked.

This past weekend I felt moved to scan an image from a negative as I had not tried this with the new scanner yet. When thinking of an image to scan I immediately thought of a photo I shot on Dec. 25, 1982 of the Agawam Diner in Rowley, Mass. It is without a doubt one of the better shots I have ever taken of that diner. I took the shot on Christmas because it is the only day during the year that the diner is closed and I could get a nice clean shot without cars being parked in front!

I wanted to scan this image as I did not have a print of it anymore. In fact I gave the one and only print I had to a producer from the short-lived Connie Chung Show (circa June, 1990). They were doing a show (or a segment of a show) on “Diners”. He had contacted me when he was researching the subject and utillized me as a sort of guide. Basically I brought him around to a whole slew of diners from Boston all the way to Northampton, Mass. and various places in between. They actually did some filming at the Agawam Diner (hence the reason he asked for a photo) where I was interviewed on camera. Unfortunately this show never aired.

So last Saturday, I checked my Diner Log database to find where I had the negative stored and got my hands on it in about a minute.  I brought out the adapter for 35mm negatives for the scanner and placed the negative in it. I checked the settings on this when the software turned on and found they were set up like I have it for slide scanning, so I went with it! Well I was pleasantly surprised to see the image come out exactly the way I remembered it! Check this out…..


Agawam Diner, Rowley, Mass. Dec. 25, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera

Since I scanned that, I was in the mood for scanning some other photos from that period as a trip back in time. All these other scans came from prints and some were cropped while most of them were enhanced slightly. Here they are in no particular order….

Lido Diner – Route. 22, Spingfield, NJ


Lido Diner, photo Nov. 29, 1981 by Larry Cultrera


Lido Diner, photo Nov. 29, 1981 by Larry Cultrera

The Lido Diner was a large 1960 vintage Paramount Diner. Back in 1987, I had the opportunity to stay at the Colonial Motel down the street one weekend and took at least 2 meals at this diner. I recall they had their own bakery and served freshly baked bread. Man that was good! I did a Bing street map search recently and it seems there is a 7-11 Store on that site now.

Shirl’s Cozy Diner – Champlain Avenue, Ticonderoga, NY


Shirl’s Cozy Diner, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Shirl’s Cozy Diner, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

Shirl’s was built on site (not factory-built) and was fairly small. It did not make it into the 1990’s. The lot is now used for parking for the Sunoco Station next door.

Henry’s Diner – Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, Mass.


Henry’s Diner, circa March, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Henry’s Diner, circa March, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

Henry’s Diner was another on-site built diner, in fact I believe it was almost triangular in shape to conform to the corner it sat on. According to my notes it was torn down by 1992. I also recall it had operated under the name of Steve’s Diner earlier. I believe I had breakfast with my dad here a couple of times in the late 60’s.

Colonial Kitchen – U.S. Route 11, Liverpool, PA


Colonial Kitchen, the former Lesher’s Diner.
Aug. 8, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Colonial Kitchen, the former Lesher’s Diner.
Aug. 8, 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

The Colonial Kitchen, as it was called when I photographed it was formerly Lesher’s Diner, this info is from a postcard I have in my collection. It was a 1940 vintage Jerry O’Mahony diner which according to my notes was replaced entirely by another building by the mid-1980’s.

Ted’s Diner – Route 28, Londonderry, NH


Ted’s Diner circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Ted’s Diner circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

I don’t know much about this place but I do recall seeing this in the mid-to-late 1960’s. It was actually just off exit 5 of I-93 and was visible from the highway. I do not know if this is built on-site or a completely redone factory-built place. It was torn down by the mid-1980’s and replaced with another building that currently houses Poor Boy’s Restaurant and Deli. When getting this post together I realized this diner did not make it into the Diner Log database and had to search the negative file to complete my info for this.

Burlington Diner – Route 130, Burlington, NJ


Burlington Diner, May 31, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera


Burlington Diner, May 31, 1982 photo by Larry Cultrera

The Burlington Diner looks like one very long building when in actuality, it is 2 diners grafted end to end. The section on the left is the original diner which is a barrel roof DeRaffele diner from the early 30’s. The right hand section was a newer DeRaffele that they grafted on and then changed the facade to look more modern as well as unified. The pylon and flared roof section on the extreme right was added, probably in the 1960’s. I do not know if it is operating currently but the building is still there and a google street map search shows it as Amy’s Omlette House, Burlington Diner.

Sam’s Lunch – 82 Lafayette Street, Salem, Mass.


Sam’s Lunch, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera


Sam’s Lunch, circa 1981 photo by Larry Cultrera

Sam’s Lunch was built by Teirney Diners and was reported to still have wheels attached to it. I never got to go inside but managed to shoot these two photos as well as one slightly later shot before it was torn down. It disappeared by the mid-1980’s.