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.

Star-5
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.

Diners-by-Baeder

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.

American-Diner

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.

Diners-of-Northeast

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.

Diner Hotline weblog – 8 years old today!!!

Diner-Hotline-decal

October 31, 2015 is of course Halloween, but also the date marks the 8th anniversary of the creation of this blog! As some of my readers know, Diner Hotline started as the first regular column to ever appear in the publications of the Society for Commercial Archeology (SCA). It was suggested to me by Mike Jackson (then president of the SCA) in the Fall of 1988 during a phone conversation that I could possibly write a piece to appear in the SCA News Journal. The News Journal was the organization’s only regular publication at the time that was a combination newsletter/magazine.

When he suggested to me about writing a column, I first thought… I am not a writer, but then again I read a lot and could probably relate personal tales associated with diners and happen to have had some good info and sources at my disposal to possibly attempt something like this. I also thought that it was an opportunity to be one of the few “non-academic voices” (basically the average everyday roadside enthusiast) contributing to the publication. I even recall saying to Mike… I already have a name for the column, “Diner Hotline”, which had been a sort of inside joke between myself, David Hebb , Dick Gutman and John Baeder. I had been known to call any and all of these guys on the phone when I had some juicy tid-bits of news and other information about a diner. As soon as they answered the phone, I would preface by saying “DINER HOTLINE, DINER HOTLINE” and then impart the info!

Thus, Diner Hotline became a reality and the first short piece appeared in the Spring 1989 edition (Volume 10, Number 1) of the SCA News Journal continuing through to when the publication separated into two different entities, the SCA News (a newsletter) and the SCA Journal (a full fledged magazine) The News was published more frequently while the Journal was twice a year. I opted for Diner Hotline to continue in the Journal (only two deadlines a year). My Hotline contributions went though a whole host of Journal editors over the years and continued until  the Fall 2007 edition of the SCA Journal when I retired the column.

Shortly after I retired the column (almost immediately actually) my good friend Brian Butko mentioned to me in passing that I should start a blog! So I asked him some questions about how to go about doing this and by the last day of October of 2007, the blog was born!

a-road-well-taken

So I want to mention that coming up really soon, I will be reviewing the new book about my pal John Baeder (John Baeder’s Road Well Taken). Written by Jay Williams, it is an extremely heavy book (figuratively as well as literally). It is filled with many of his paintings (diner and non-diner) and delves into John’s psyche and how all the influences in his life lead him to become one of the internationally renowned artists of our time.

title-block-logo-1

Also, I have another Author event coming up on Friday evening, November 6th at Gibson’s Bookstore (Concord’s indie bookstore since 1898) in downtown Concord, NH. Starting at 5:30pm with a small slide presentation followed by a book signing for my New Hampshire Diners: Classic Granite State Eateries. Gibson’s Bookstore is located at 45 South Main St, Concord, NH 03301

http://www.gibsonsbookstore.com/event/nh-diners

Notes from the Hotline, 01-14-2012

Classic Diners of Massachusetts Slide Presentation
January 23rd in Medford, Mass.

I will be doing a slide presentation based on my Classic Diners of Massachusetts book at the Medford Public Library on January 23, 2012. The presentation will be similar to the one I did for the Somerville Public Library with some modifications. These will include some images of diners from Medford’s past.

Here is the blurb the Library posted on their website….

Classic Diners of Massachusetts A Lecture by Larry Cultrera

Monday, January 23 at 7:00 p.m.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts was the birthplace of “night lunch wagon” manufacturing industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These horse-drawn food carts eventually evolved into classic American diners. For many years, diner builders like the Worcester Lunch Car Company and J.B. Judkins Company operated in the Bay State, although few new diners opened for business after 1960. This left the state with a high concentration of some of the best-preserved diners built during the early to mid-twentieth century, including the Capitol Diner in Lynn, the Route 66 Diner in Springfield and Buddy’s Diner in Somerville.

Medford native Larry Cultrera is a diner historian and the author of the Diner Hotline blog. His new book Classic Diners of Massachusetts has just been released by the History Press.The Library is located at 111 High Street (Route 60) on-street parking as well as a small parking lot behind the building is available.

 

Rosebud Diner of Somerville, Mass. changing owners soon


Rosebud Diner postcard designed by Larry Cultrera

I got a phone call on January 1st from old friend Arthur Krim, a founding member of the Society for Commercial Archeology. It seems he was contacted by Kristi Chase of the Somerville Historical Comission who was concerned about the future of the Rosebud Diner. Arthur asked me if I had any knowledge of the possible sale of the diner, I told him that I had not heard anything. I last saw Bill Nichols (whose family owns the diner) back in November at my “Author Event” held at the Somerville Public Library and nothing was mentioned then. Arthur informed me that Kristi had heard from someone who stated he was in the process of purchasing the Rosebud and wanted to change or alter the neon sign on the roof. I told Arthur that I would look into the situation.

I called Bill Nichols shortly after talking with Arthur and asked him what was happening. He said everything was fine and that he knew nothing about any changes concerning the diner. So I thought, well maybe this was just a rumor. The next day I called Kristi Chase and she in turn reitierated what she told Arthur and the news sounded credible. Because the diner is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Historical Commission needs to be informed on possible changes to listed properties. Well I called Bill back and told him what was said. Needless to say he was surprised and a little upset, it seems his dad  was selling the diner and had not yet informed him.

I again contacted Bill this past week after he had spoken with his dad who told him that someone had approached him with an offer to by the building/business. Bill says he is not sure of the actual timeline but estimates the change in ownership will happen possibly within the next month or month and  half. I am sad for this change and hope that nothing drastic happens to this long-time landmark in my life.

 

Glenn Wells’s RoadsideFans website migrates to WordPress

Good friend, colleague and occasional road trip buddy Glenn Wells received a nice Christmas present from his stepson Ray Milstrey, an updated website/blog. Ray also created the old RoadsideFans website, but now that the site has migrated to WordPress, it will become interactive. Here is what Glenn says about the move……

The new RoadsideFans.com is a WordPress blog, and if that seems familiar, it’s because several other roadside-related web sites already use WordPress – Diner Hotline, Retro Roadmap, Diner Hunter, and Lincoln Highway News among them. As with the others, visitors to RoadsideFans will now have a chance to leave comments – simply click the arrow at the top right and scroll down to the bottom of the posting. There will probably be more new features yet to come as I become more familiar with WordPress.

You will find several features from the old web site on the new RoadsideFans.com. By clicking FEATURES on the bar above, you can access the Howard Johnson’s, barbecue chicken, and Taconic Parkway features from the old web site. However, the Online Diner Tours and some other photo features from the old site have been retired. Most of these were a decade or more old, and many of the places no longer exist or have changed names. I am considering uploading the pictures to a Flickr account to maintain the historical record. 

I want to congratulate Glenn on the updated website and wish him good luck. I know I have enjoyed using wordpress for Diner Hotline! You can find a link to RoadsideFans in my blogroll as well as here….
http://www.roadsidefans.com/

SCA South Jersey Diner Tour – Sept. 17, 2011

The Society for Commercial Archeology is sponsoring their first East Coast event in some time. Organized by Kevin Patrick, a professor of geography and regional planning at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and author of Diners of Pennsylvania (with Brian Butko and Kyle R. Weaver), Pennsylvania Caves and Other Rocky Roadside Wonders as well as the forthcoming Diners of New Jersey.

The event, to be held on Saturday, September 17, 2011, is described as a dawn-to-dusk bus tour along historic Jersey highways to feast in classic diners, ogle at roadside wonders, and plumb the mysteries of an ancient attraction as it is being rebuilt brick by brick, stone by stone – (Whatever that means). The tour runs from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm and there his a reserved block of rooms at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill, NJ which is the location where the tour will begin and end. For more info and a link to a pdf download of the brochure check out…. http://www.sca-roadside.org/

Unfortunately, I cannot attend as it is currently not convenient for me to travel down to the area (no vacation time left, etc.). But I would highly recommend this to anyone else who is a diner afficianado and can be in the area.  The event is limited capacity and  cost of the tour is (SCA member) $125 per person (non-member) $170 per person and includes a 1-year membership to the SCA. Registration deadline is Sept. 2, 2011.

Any other questions, contact Nancy at: President@SCA-roadside.org

Rare view of Medford, Mass., Circa 1950

I have been collecting postcards of Medford, Mass., the city I grew up in for somewhere around 32 years now. In that time, I have managed to amass quite a collection. Well, I was on Ebay earlier this week and checked all my usual categories and found an extremely rare view of Riverside Avenue in Medford Square, circa 1950. This black & white photocard showed an atypical view of this street. It was taken from the east looking toward the middle of Medford Square and it’s subject matter presumedly was to showcase the newly built Shopping Center along the south side of the street.

As noted in an article about the first shopping malls in the Bay State, (specifically about “Shopper’s World” in Framingham), written by Kathleen Kelly Broomer for the Society for Commercial Archeology’s Journal Magazine (Volume 13 –  Number 1, Fall-Winter, 1994-95 edition), it was mentioned that the Medford Square Shopping Center was one of the earliest developed in-town shopping centers that predated the suburban ones built in the following decades.


Riverside Avenue, Medford Square – circa 1950 postcard

Anyway, I was excited to see this card for a couple of reasons, the first was because I had never seen it before. The second reason was that I was able to date this pretty much because of what was shown in the scene. Chief among this was the shopping center on the left, next and very obvious was the large brick structure across the street with the blank wall. This was the old Square Theater which I personally do not remember in my lifetime (I was born in 1953). Although I do not know for sure when exactly this happened, the theater was redeveloped (I conjecture) within a few years from when this photo card was shot, to become more retail space. The top half of the building was removed and a new street-level facade was built to house a good 7 or 8 stores that are still in use today.


Close-up showing Howard Rust’s Radamat, a Valentine Diner
(under the Mobilgas sign)

Also seen in the post card at the base of the eastern end of the theater, just under the hanging Mobilgas sign, is a small box-like white building. This is as far as I know the only streetview that shows the legendary (in my opinion) Howard Rust’s Radamat. The Radamat was a 1948 or 49 vintage Valentine Diner that was extremely rare for this part of the country. Whoever Howard Rust was, he was kind of ahead of his time. He attempted to open a chain of small diners (all Valentine diners, built in Witchita, KS) that featured an early version of Microwave cooking.


Rare postcard image of Howard Rust’s Radamat, this was the one on Riverside Avenue in Medford Square. Courtesy of the Stephen Lintner collection

In doing some research in the early 1990’s, I found an old ad that featured Howard Rust’s Radamat. It was from the July 15, 1949 edition of the Medford Daily Mercury. The ad is frustrating as it tells of “Existing and Proposed Locations” without actually saying which were real and which never existed!


1949 advertisement for Howard Rust’s Radamat

I do know there were at least 2 of them, the one in Medford Square and the one on Boston Avenue (Medford Hillside). The Malden location sounds real as it gets specific about what was across the street. The chain reportedly went out of business fairly quickly. The Medford Square location became known as the Humpty Dumpty Diner before being torn down circa 1959 or 1960 when the current professional building was built there. The Medford Hillside location went under various names such as, the White House Cafe and the Jumbo Diner. I also recall it being called Pacigalupe’s or Bacigalupe’s before that was demolished in the 1970’s.

Jonathan Yonan asked me how a rare Valentine Diner made it so far afield from Witchita, Kansas after I posted the image of the postcard on Facebook. I told him that there had been a dealer based in Long Island, NY, basically, it was Valentine’s East Coast sales office, National Diner Sales in West Hampstead. (Thanks to Dick Gutman’s American Diner, Then & Now). It would be safe to assume that any Valentine Diner that made it into the New England market, as well as anywhere in the Northeast was sold by National Diner Sales.


Same view as the postcard, May 14, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera


Slightly closer view, May 14, 2011 photo by Larry Cultrera

Although things have changed a little in Medford Square since 1950, the view is still identifiable by the fact that Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church is visible in the distance on High Street at the other end of the Square.

Diner Hotline Weblog 2 years old today!

lac-yankee
From  a 1991 Yankee magazine article called “Devoted to Diners”

Today marks the 2 year anniversary of this blog being on the internet! The time has gone by so fast. Of course the blog follows just about 19 years of the hardcopy version of Diner Hotline featured as a regular column in  the SCA’s (Society for Commercial Archeology’s)  Journal magazine. In fact, if I think about it, towards the end of the coming month, I have been photographing diners 29 years.

Whoo!!!! Time really has flown! I was a mere 27 years old when I shot my first diner….  the Bypass Diner of Harrisburg, PA (now the American Dream Diner), see below……

bypass
The very first Diner photograph I ever shot!

Some stats from the blog since 10-31-07…

Total Views = 71, 727
Posts (including this one) = 190
Approved Comments = 481
Busiest Day = 511 views, 1-16-09

Thank you to everyone who are regular readers of this blog! I know I’m having fun writing it!

Larry Cultrera

The story of how I drove into an old postcard

Back in the early 1980’s, February of 1982 to be exact, I first had contact with John  Baeder. As many people know, John Baeder is considered along with Richard J.S. Gutman one of the founding fathers of this diner appreciation movement that dates to the late 1960’s to early 1970’s. Of course their respective books Diners (Baeder, 1978) and American Diner (Gutman, Kaufman, Slovic, 1979) helped lead the way for the rest of us.

I had already become friendly with Richard Gutman in early 1981 and it was not quite a year later that I finally got up the nerve to contact John. As I recall it was probably within a month or so of my dad’s passing away suddenly at the young age of 59. John & I talked (in that first phone call) for a while and started corresponding as well. He sent postcards of some of his prints as well as black & white xerox copies of some of his diner postcard collection. These copies usually were 8.5″ x 11″ sheets containing at least 6 postcard images.

One of the packages I received had about 3 of these letter size copies stapled together and had an image that depicted a street scene. The scene was entitled… Fort Dix Road, Wrightstown, NJ. In the scene the photographer was standing on the east side of the street looking across the street and back to the left. In the foreground of the shot was the Victory Diner, looking to be a late 1940’s to early 1950’s Master Diner. The diner was situated end-wise to the street with a parking lot in front. To the left of the diner was a business block housing 2 or 3 other establishments and toward the end of the block a neon sign was visible that said “Town Diner”. Beyond these businesses a small stone bridge spanned a waterway and the road sort of swung to the right, out of the photo.

Fort-Dix-Rd
postcard image from John Baeder collection

In reading John’s book (Diners) I recall him mentioning about doing a painting from an old postcard image of a street scene. How he had a fantasy of going into the image and say, walk down the street and maybe go into one of the stores or buildings in the scene. Well I had an experience that came close to what John had fantasized about. I should also mention that both John and I have talked about our shared belief in a sort of sixth sense.

Back in June of 1983, I attended the Society for Commercial Archeology’s meeting at Wildwood, NJ. I started the drive down on Thursday evening June 23, 1983 and got as far as a rest area on I-684, just north of White Plains, NY where I slept in my van for a few hours. The next morning I had breakfast at the Star Diner, a 1950 vintage Silk City diner in White Plains. Another highlight of that morning was visiting the Kullman Diner Company factory, then located in Avenel, NJ before proceeding down to the Wildwood area.

wildwood-cover-outside
Souvenir booklet from the SCA Wildwood meeting 6-25-83

On the 25th, I visited most of the diners in the Wildwood area and walked a little of the boardwalk before meeting up with the other attendees of the SCA meeting at the Wildwood Diner. When the initial meeting festivities were concluded, I decided to start the drive back, opting not to participate in the scavenger hunt they had planned.

By this time it was probably just past 2:00 pm and I started driving north. I went as far as Atlantic City, where I photographed the Columbus Diner and started to head west on Rte. 30. As I recall, I travelled Rte. 30 as far as Pomona, NJ, where I photographed the South China Restaurant, a stainless steel Jerry O’Mahony diner. This was on a side road just off Rte. 30. I decided to continue north on this road, I believe it was unmarked (no route number). I should probably mention that I had decided I would rely on my sense of direction and not use any roadmaps for this particular roadtrip thus having a heightened sense of adventure and discovery.

So, I drove for many miles into and through what I realized was the middle of the Pine Barrens. I started to get nervous as this area was sparsely settled with hardly any roadside businesses and I was getting extremely low on gasoline. I started talking to the van saying we could make it to the next town to get gas. I had no idea where I was, and in fact found out as most people do who drive through New Jersey, there are few signs telling you what particular town you are in, at any given time. Well finally I was approaching civilization, more and more houses and such were appearing along the road.

Then something strange happened, I started getting a feeling that I was approaching the town that I remembered from that postcard image that John Baeder had sent me previously. I don’t know why but it popped into my head and the feeling was extremely strong! Wouldn’t you know, the road went around a curve to the left and I crossed a stone bridge into a town. I was amazed! It WAS the same town as in the postcard! I pulled over to the side and looked and there it was, the former Victory Diner now called the Super Diner. It had gained a stucco facade under the windows and the parking lot in front of it was now a lawn. It also appeared to be not in operation.

Super-Diner-1-Wrightstown,NJ
Super Diner, Wrightstown, NJ

Super-Diner-2-Wrightstown,NJ
Super Diner, Wrightstown, NJ

This was one of the more interesting things that had ever happened to me on the road, in fact I do not believe any other experience comes close. After taking my photos of the diner I went down the street and got gas for the van. Then I continued on to the Mount Holly area and had dinner at the Crossroads Diner a late model brick Fodero diner with mansard roof. The rest of the trip consisted of staying at a motel adjacent to the Premium Diner on U.S. Rte. 1 in Avenel. I believe the next morning I had breakfast at the Avenel Diner up the road and drove home through New York and Connecticut arriving home in Medford, Mass. in the middle to late afternoon. What a trip!