The very first photo I ever shot of a diner… The Bypass Diner of Harrisburg, PA
(now known as the American Dream Diner).
November 29, 1980 photo by Larry Cultrera
Well, it’s Thanksgiving weekend, 2015. This means I am marking 35 years of documenting Diners with my photographs! The date of the first diner photograph I shot was November 29, 1980 when I was 27 years old. What led me up to that point started when I was very young, probably when I was around 5 or 6 years old. I was very observant as a child whenever my parents would be driving around our hometown of Medford, Massachusetts as well as the Greater Boston area, I noticed the different buildings and signs located along the roadside, whether it was in the city or out in the more rural areas. I certainly knew some things by sight such as Howard Johnson’s Restaurants with their cupolas and bright orange roofs (The Landmark for Hungry Americans, like the commercials said). Gas stations also stood out but what really ended up catching my eye was the abundance of these small buildings that looked somewhat like railroad cars. In fact I distinctly recall driving down Mystic Avenue in Medford with my dad and I asked him about this bright blue building sporting a rounded roof set back from the street. I asked him what the place was, remarking that it looked like a railroad car. Dad said that it was a diner, a type of restaurant that was built in a factory and was in fact designed to look like a railroad car. I later learned that the diner in question was in fact Worcester Lunch Car No. 817, the Star Lite Diner. This diner was delivered to its site at 383 Mystic Avenue on November 9, 1948. Its only owner operator was James S. Theodore (I knew him as Jim). I recall both Jim and his son Richie running the place when I first started going there with my dad and brothers when I was around 12 years old. In the summer of 1968 I recall the diner closed for their usual 2 week vacation and unfortunately never reopened! I was totally disappointed by this situation! I know the diner stayed closed for a short while and then was moved. I never exactly knew what happened but the rumor is that it was brought to a scrap-yard in nearby Chelsea, Mass. and to my knowledge was never put back into service!
The Star Lite Diner, 383 Mystic Avenue, Medford, Massachusetts
December , 1948 photo courtesy of the Medford Police Dept. archives
I always noticed diners in my later travels and in fact continued to visit some including the Victoria Diner in Boston and Carroll’s Diner in Medford. In fact I used to hang-out at Carroll’s with a bunch of my friends in the early to mid 1970s. Both Carroll’s and the Victoria were more modern diners (in fact the most modern in the Boston area). Both of them were built by Swingle Diner Company out of Middlesex, NJ.
Carroll’s Diner, Medford, Mass. – August, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera
Victoria Diner, Boston, Mass. – July, 2004 photo by Larry Cultrera
Carroll’s closed in 1986 and was torn down in June of 1987 but the Victoria Diner is still operating!
Since 1980 I have personally photographed approximately 851 Diners! Not all are classic factory-built diners though. When I first started, I was sort of what I call a “Diner-Snob”. I only wanted to photograph the older ones that dated from the 1920s thru the 1950s or 60s. I know I may have passed up quite a few newer ones in my travels but that changed over time. I now document non-factory-built diners (built on-site) as well as the prefab ones! In fact, the last “new ” diner photo I shot recently was of a place I have been a patron of for quite a few years, The Hammersmith Family Restaurant in my current hometown of Saugus.
Hammersmith Family Restaurant, Saugus, Mass.
April 22, 2015 photo by Larry Cultrera
Hammermith is not diner-like in appearance and the place never had a counter or stools but the food, service and friendly atmosphere is very much like any local diner and has become a favorite stop for both myself and my wife Denise! Anyway, sometimes I cannot believe it has been 35 years since that first photo of the Bypass Diner! On my bucket list is a road-trip back to H’burg to visit friends and some of the diners I was going to back in the 1980s, hopefully on a Thanksgiving weekend again!