Marking 35 years of documenting Diners!

bypass
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!

Star-4
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.

Carrolls-8-83
Carroll’s Diner, Medford, Mass. – August, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

victoria4
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-2
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!

Advertisements

Notes from the Hotline, 9-14-2013

A Brand-new book on New Hampshire Diners in the works

Littleton-Diner-5a
Littleton Diner – Littleton, NH, July 30, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

I have been fairly inactive for over a month, as far as posting anything new here. No excuses, just a little end of the summer laziness on my part. But not to worry….. I have been getting out on the road recently, mostly starting at the end of July right thru to Labor day Weekend, with a few trips to the Granite State (New Hampshire for those non-local readers).  The reason for this is that I was contacted by Katie Orlando, a Commissioning Editor for my publisher, The History Press. She inquired if I was interested in writing another book for them, this time on Diners of New Hampshire. I told her that I would need to think about it as well as talk it over with my wife Denise.

Plain-Jane's-Diner-6
Plain Jane’s Diner – Rumney, NH, July 30, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

After some consideration, I got back to Katie and told her I thought that this book was a possibility and she sent the “Authors Proposal” for me to fill out. I took my time filling it out as I needed to think about how this book would work, as opposed to my first one, Classic Diners of Massachusetts. I realized fairly quickly that the new book could not be set-up like the first. You see, Massachusetts has clearly defined regions with many diners. This approach would not be workable with New Hampshire’s geography and diner count.

Route-104-Diner-2
Route 104 Diner – New Hampton, NH, August 3, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

After coming to this conclusion, I started putting the proposal together which included a rough outline for the book. It was easier this time around because I did not have to include any writing samples. I just told them to refer to the first book!  I finally sent this proposal to Katie, within the last couple of weeks.  As of this Wednesday The History Press gave the project a green light.

Tilt'n-Diner-3a
Tilt’n Diner – Tilton, NH, August 3, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

In the meantime, in anticipation of the project I started taking some updated photos of New Hampshire diners. Some of my photos of them go back 30 years. I figured that I would get a jump while the good weather was here and try to hit some of the far-flung diners and meet the current owners, gathering new photos and info. My deadline is fairly long this time around (on purpose), that is part of the reason I took my time in getting the proposal in. So any photos I do not get in the next couple of months, I can surely make up for in the spring and early summer of 2014. So, here we go again!

Mt-Pisgah-2a_8-31-2013
Mt. Pisgah Diner – Winchester, NH, August 31, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

By the way, on a side note, the new book will not be titled “Classic Diners of New Hampshire” as I had hoped. I did want to continue the theme but Katie informed me that a guy named Bruce D. Heald, an historian and author of many books about New Hampshire is slated to bring a book with that title out in the spring (for Fonthill Media). I respect Mr. Heald’s credentials and would be interested to see what he comes up with but, he is not a known diner aficionado and to my knowledge, has not contacted anybody who could be described as an expert in this field of interest as of yet.

Hillsborough-2a_8-31-2013
Hillsborough Diner – Hillsborough, NH, August 31, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

I have not decided on a title yet but will be working on this in the near future.

The History Press to release 2 new “Diner” books this Fall

Speaking of “Diner” books, I am happy to report that my publisher is about to release 2 new titles this fall…. the second and third after my Massachusetts book. Toward the end of September, Michael Gabriele’s The History of Diners in New Jersey will be available. I believe I will be mentioned in this book as well as some photos of mine might actually show up in the book. I am anxious to see what he has put together.

History-of-Diners-in-NJ-cover

Following the NJ book, sometime in October, Garrison Leykam’s “Classic Diners of Connecticut” book will be out. I was surprised to see my name (along with Christopher Dobbs) on the cover. We both contributed Forewords to this book.

Classic-Diners-of-CT-cover

Iron Town Diner opens within walking distance of my house

I have been waiting all summer for the opening of a new diner located right around the corner from where I live. Toward the end of May, a sign went up on a vacant storefront in the Village Park Shopping Center that is situated on Main Street at the corner of the Lynn Fells Parkway in Saugus, Mass. This storefront had been occupied for years by J.Pace’s, an Italian Deli/specialty store. Pace’s moved down the street about a quarter mile to a new building that they built, leaving the storefront vacant for almost 2 years. The landlord has subdivided the location and Iron Town diner is in not quite half of Pace’s spot.

Iron-Town-Diner-sign-1
Iron Town Diner sign – Saugus, Mass., May 19, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

The owner of the Iron Town Diner is George Varelas and I actually stopped by back in August and spoke with Athena, George’s mother. She was gracious and gave me a little tour of the as yet unfinished diner. I was impressed with what they had done to essentially a blank canvas. The interior was well laid out with a small “L” shaped counter on the left side along with tables and chairs as well as booths. She mentioned the diner would hold upwards of 90 patrons, a pretty decent size! Athena said they were looking at an early September opening.

I met George last Sunday morning and he told me they were opening the next day (Sept. 9th). I told him we would stop by on bright and early on Saturday ! True to my word, Denise and I stopped in this morning and before we actually step a foot within the diner, I saw a familiar face….. Saadia Zraizaa was a waitress there! We became friendly with Saadia last year when she and her husband had been running the Medford Square Diner in my hometown of Medford. We had found out that Saadia had worked for 10 years at the Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown. I had heard thru the grapevine that she had sold the business in Medford a few months ago and was not surprised to see her here, as she lives in nearby Revere. She is very pleasant and during our conversation this morning, I realized that I had actually met her years ago when she worked for Judy’s Diner in Malden for 7 years in the late 1980’s and early 90’s.

Iron-Town-Diner-2a
Iron Town Diner –  Saugus, Mass., September 14, 2013 photo by Larry Cultrera

Anyway we had a very good breakfast at Iron Town Diner (named for the Historic Saugus Iron Works, a National Historic Site). The portions are pretty good sized and prices reasonable and the service is pleasant. I understand they have been doing a pretty decent business since they opened their doors! I know one thing, I could easily become a regular customer here for sure!

Prince Pizzeria’s Arthur Castraberti passes away


Arthur Castraberti at his 85th birthday party. Photo courtesy
Prince Pizzeria Facebook page.


Prince Restaurant, August, 1989 photo by Larry Cultrera

I am sad to report that Arthur O. Castraberti passed away on June 28, 2011. Arthur was basically the person responsible for owning and operating the Prince Pizzeria, a longtime roadside landmark located on U.S. Route 1 in Saugus, Mass. since 1961. It was originally part of a chain of restaurants started by the Prince Spaghetti Company of Lowell, Mass in the 1950’s, I believe. Other outlets of the chain were located in Somerville, Quincy and Hyannis, Mass. I have even seen an old photo of one in an existing building somewhere in downtown Boston. The outlets (other than Boston), including Saugus were notable for their “Leaning Tower of Pizza”, a painted metal sheathed structure attached to the buildings near the entrance, resembling the “Leaning Tower of Pisa (in Italy). The restaurants were known by the name “Prince Spaghetti House” when operated by Prince. The Saugus location is now the only one left!


Prince Restaurant, August, 1989 photo by Larry Cultrera


Prince Restaurant, August, 1989 photo by Larry Cultrera


Prince Restaurant, August, 1989 photo by Larry Cultrera


Prince Pizzeria, April, 2006 photo by Larry Cultrera

As related by the current restaurant’s website, Castraberti was employed by Prince in 1961 and was approached by the President of the company to help turn the 12 seat drive-in restaurant into a possible money-maker. Thinking about the offer made him realize he did not want to put all his efforts into just running the restaurant for the company, so Arthur and Prince made a deal. No money down, no interest. Arthur had to make good on the failed business’ debts in 10 years and the place was his. Well as time has told, the business has become a huge success and the building has grown considerably in the intervening years. Prince Restaurant currently offers seating for about 700 people. It is also home to the 177 seat Giggles Comedy Club (formerly the Princess Room). Check out the full history at the restaurant’s website…. http://www.princerestaurant.com/Story.cfm

In 2005, Arthur’s son, Steven, took over ownership of Prince Pizzeria and runs it with his wife, Trisha, who oversees finance, marketing and recently redesigned the Comedy Club and function Rooms. I personally spoke with Steve last Friday when I stopped in on the way home from work to grab a Pizza. I want to extend my condolences to Steve and the rest of the family on his fathers passing.