Celebrating a major milestone – my 40 year anniversary of photographing Diners

This year November 29th falls on a Sunday. Who knew that a tentative single 35mm photo taken on this same date 40 years ago in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, would lead me into a multi-decade mission to document diners (at last count 875 in my database) throughout the Eastern United States with my photographs.

Now granted, I have always had a fascination with diners that goes back to my early childhood in Medford, Massachusetts in the late 50s and early 60s. I recall going with my dad to a few local diners like Bobbie’s Diner and the Star Lite Diner, both on Mystic Avenue in our hometown as well as the Victoria Diner in Boston.

Bobbie’s Diner, 33 Mystic Avenue – Medford, Massachusetts
colorized image of the Star Lite Diner,
383 Mystic Avenue – Medford, Massachusetts
Victoria Diner, 1024 Massachusetts Avenue – Boston, Massachusetts

I also recall after Easter Morning Mass going for breakfasts with my family to Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car on Main Street, a large “L” shaped diner delivered in the early 60s that was a brand new replacement for a smaller stainless steel diner that the Carroll family had operated previously in the city from 1948, that itself was a replacement for an even earlier diner started in 1929.

Carroll’s Diner, 101 Main Street – Medford, Massachusetts

Later on during high school as well as years after graduating, Carroll’s was the go-to meeting place that was open 24 hours a day. Myself and my friends could be found there, day or night! So I can safely say that diners became part of my DNA, a constant throughout my life and by 1979, I started thinking about them in an expanded view. My pal, Steve Repucci and I started taking Sunday morning road-trips around the area and the first stop along the way was a local diner for breakfast. Soon, the task of finding a diner to have breakfast determined the direction of the road-trip.

All through the 1970s, I had owned one or two Kodak Instamatic cameras and never seriously looked at photography as a hobby. As 1980 began, I had been toying with the idea of getting into photography after being exposed to it by Steve Repucci who had been shooting 35mm photos for a number of years. So the first of two key events leading me to take that first diner photo occurred sometime in the Summer of 1980, when I co-purchased my first 35mm camera along with my older brother Steve. My friend and former co-worker Scott Drown was selling a used Mamiya 1000 DTL that he had been shooting with for a few years. So my brother and I alternated using this camera for around 9 months before I decided I needed my own camera and sold him my half.

a camera similar to what I used to take that first Diner photograph

The first couple of months I tested my wings by shooting scenic photos, etc. It was just a month or so into using that first camera when the second key event happened. Steve Repucci had decided to try living outside of Massachusetts and moved to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This happened on Labor Day weekend. Because I owned a van, I of course offered my services in helping with the move. This was my first ever trip down to the Keystone State. During that first visit to Pennsylvania, I had taken notice of one or two diners driving around the Capitol region. After that first trip a second one was already planned for Thanksgiving weekend.

Thanksgiving fell on Thursday the 27th that year. If I remember correctly, my brother Rick and friend Scott Drown accompanied me on that trip. We left not long after midnight on the 28th and drove out through Connecticut and New York on Interstate 84. In fact we took I-84 all the way to Scranton, PA to access I-81 south to Harrisburg. I recall hitting some pretty bad fog through that stretch of highway between Scranton and Harrisburg, possibly the worst I have ever attempted to drive through in my life. After arriving we rested a bit and visited as well as probably going out to eat somewhere and probably called it a day fairly early. The next morning we went to breakfast at the nearby By Pass Diner on Herr Street, probably around four miles or so from where Steve was living on North Progress Avenue. This is when I snapped my first photo of a diner. Little did I know this would be the first in what has turned out to be a few thousand photos taken in the next four decades!

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My first diner photograph, By Pass Diner, 1933 Herr Street – Harrisburg, PA

Well, the dam was broken and after I came home from Harrisburg I started going around the Greater Boston area and shooting photos of all the diners I knew of. Unfortunately, in my inexperience, I was insisting on using a wide angle lens in a lot of these early photo excursions. The reason I say it was unfortunate was that I was usually across the street using the wide angle lens and it pushed the subject a little too far away. Now in hindsight this seemed to work out OK as anyone who sees these early photos can get the perspective of seeing the diner in relation to its surroundings. And seeing that I am currently in a multi-year endeavor of scanning all my archive of diner photos, I have developed a way to create new versions of these photos by zooming in and re-cropping the image to represent the photo it should have been (and keeping the original version intact).

Here are a few of those early shots after Harrisburg…

Viv’s Diner – Malden, Massachusetts_November, 1980
Boston Street Diner – Lynn, Massachusetts_November, 1980
White Way Grill – Lynn, Massachusetts_November, 1980 a rare
early close-up only because the truck was blocking the view.
Unfortunately, I never got another shot of this the way it looked
here as new owners renovated the diner totally and lost
the original classic look…
Rosebud Diner – Somerville, Massachusetts_December, 1980
Apple Tree Diner – Dedham, Massachusetts_January, 1981
Salem Diner – Salem, Massachusetts_March, 1981

Since those early days I have used quite a number of different cameras to shoot diner photos including some Kodak Brownie and Dual Lens Reflex cameras that I have collected. Also two Chinon 35mm cameras as well as some small digital cameras. Since 2008 when I changed totally to digital, I have used my trusty Pentax DSLR, a couple of Nikon Cool Pix and my newest an Olympus Pen mirror-less camera. After changing careers in 1996, I have become proficient in using Adobe Photoshop to digitize all of my 35mm slides and am currently working on the early 35mm prints. I hope to complete the digital archive of all the diner photos within the next year!

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

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…

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.

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.

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

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

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…

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.

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.

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

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.

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???



Worcester Lunch Car’s, No’s. 811 thru 819

Over the years I have photographed 812 diners. As I write this I see that number is ironic. It is ironic mainly because I wanted to show a series of Worcester Lunch Car built diners, No’s. 811 thru 819. All the diners in this group (except for one) represent the only example of diners known by any manufacturer to still exist enmasse as consecutive numbered output. These diners were delivered to their respective operating locations between June 1948 and March 1949. The exception to this is No. 817 which was only 20 years old in 1968 when it was sent to a scrap yard. All the others still exist and are currently operating as food establishments.

Shamrock Diner, WLC No. 811

Worcester Lunch Car No. 811, now operating as Beachmont Roast Beef
at its only operating location, 629 Winthrop Ave. Revere, Mass.

The Shamrock Diner was delivered on June 15th, 1948 and is the first Worcester with the new flat overhangs over the end walls. These overhangs acted as a sort of canopy providing some cover for the side entrances. This diner is probably the most disguised of this group, having been made more into a roast beef sandwich and fried food place around 30 years ago. The counter stools have been removed although the counter is still there. It now has a raised section to utilize it as more of a serving counter. The ceiling has been dropped and the original booths are gone. Below is how it looked not long after it became the current establishment.

Beachmont Roast Beef when you could still see the “diner”.

Miss Worcester Diner, WLC No. 812

Worcester Lunch Car No. 812, the Miss Worcester Diner at its only
operating location, 300 Southbridge St. Worcester, Mass.

The Miss Worcester is fairly original inside and out. The interior has generic booths (not original) and the outside porcelain panels have been repainted but other than that it is much the same as it was when it was moved across the street from the factory on June 14th, 1948.

Cape Ann Grill, WLC No. 813

Worcester Lunch Car No. 813, now operating as the Portside Diner,
2 River St., Danvers, Mass.

The Cape Ann Grill was delivered to 214 Main St. in Gloucester, Mass. on June 8th, 1948. It replaced the slightly smaller WLC No. 800 which had been delivered the year before (March 28th, 1947). Apparently business was so good with the first diner that owners Henry Schluter and Augustus Mulrenin decided to upgrade immediately to a larger diner. According to reports they did not do as well with this larger one. Eventually it was bought by Roland Michel who operated it from 1952 to 1959. He sold the diner in 1959 and it was moved to its current location where it has continued to operate under a few different owners.

Blue Belle Diner, WLC No. 814

Worcester Lunch Car No. 814, the Blue Belle Diner at Dinky’s Restaurant,
70 Clinton St., Shrewsbury

The Blue Belle Diner has spent all of its operating life in Worcester. It was delivered to its first location on 86 Chandler St., July of 1948. It reportedly moved to 47 Prescott St. in 1972 and operated there until 1998. It then made a series of moves to storage locations in Shrewsbury, Milford, Worcester and Princeton. Each time it landed, it was hoped to be put back into service but things never seemed to work out until May of 2009. That is when Bruce Trotto bought the diner and moved it to his “Dinky’s Restaurant” on Rte. 70, just over the Worcester town line in Shrewsbury. Look for a summer, 2010 opening for this diner.

Miss Toy Town Diner, WLC No. 815

Worcester Lunch Car No. 815 currently operating as the Blue Moon Diner
102 Main St., Gardner, Mass.

The Miss Toy Town Diner according to the Worcester Lunch Car Co.car drawings book, was delivered to Winchendon, Mass. at the corner of Spring & Lake Sts. on April 4, 1949. This is either a mistake or it was held back at the factory for almost a year. No’s. 814 and 816 were delivered in 1948. Something of a mystery! Anyway it was moved from Winchendon to Gardner (various sources say this happened in 1954 but a new friend of mine who has the Gardner Nostalgia Facebook page informed me it was moved in 1964 and this sounds credible as he himself witnessed it) to replace the Blue Moon Coffee Shop & Grill, an earlier Worcester Lunch Car. In the late 1980’s owner Skip Scipione contracted with Richard Gutman to have 3 new porcelain steel panels made with the name “Blue Moon” emblazened on them. Denise & I actually had breakfast there this morning and had a pleasant visit with owner Jamie Floyd who is carrying on the diner tradition in this old mill town. Check out their website at…. http://www.bluemoondinergardnerma.com/

Akins Diner, WLC No. 816

Worcester Lunch Car No. 816 currently operating as Charlie’s Diner at
32 W Main St, Spencer, Mass.

Akins Diner (or Aikens) was delivered to its location on the Cranberry Highway in Wareham, Mass. on August 26th, 1948. It remained in Wareham until either the late 1950’s or the early 1960’s when it was moved to Worcester to become the 2nd Charlie’s Diner. It operated at 244 Plantation St. until forced to move in April of 2003. It has since reopened at a new location in Spencer, Mass. It will soon have a bar & grill attached to the right side of the entryway/kitchen.

Star Lite Diner, WLC No. 817

Worcester Lunch car No. 817, the Star Lite Diner just after delivery to
383 Mystic Avenue in Medford, Mass.

The Star Lite Diner was delivered to 383 Mystic Ave. in Medford, Mass. on November 9th, 1948. I used to patronize this place with my Dad and brothers in the mid-1960’s. They closed for their usual 2 week vacation in the summer of 1968 and never reopened. It was reportedly moved to a scrap yard in Chelsea shortly after the closing and to my knowledge did not survive. The Portside in Danvers is the closest diner (style-wise and set-up-wise) to the Star Lite.

Miss Portland Diner, WLC No. 818

Worcester Lunch Car No. 818, the Miss Portland Diner

The Miss Portland Diner was the first model to receive the modified overhang, basically continuing the roofline which curves down on the ends. It was delivered to its first location on Forest Ave., February 17th, 1949. It was later moved in 1964 to 49 Marginal Way where it operated until March of 2004 when the land it was on was sold for development. The diner was donated to the City of Portland whose mission was to find someone to buy the diner and relocate it down the street to city owned property . In 2007 Portland native Tom Manning stepped in and set the diner up on its new location and opened it October 31, 2008 at 140 Marginal Way. Check out their website at…. http://www.missportlanddiner.com/Home_Page.html

Wilson’s Diner, WLC No. 819

Worcester Lunch car No. 819, Wilson’s Diner

Wilson’s Diner has always operated at this location, 507 Main St. (U.S. Rte. 20) in Waltham, Mass. It is probably 97% original on the inside and 100% original on the outside. It was delivered on March 24th, 1949.

And now that I think about it,  WLC No. 820, the Stadium Diner is gone but WLC No’s. 821 thru 828 are all still around as well,  (Miss Adams, 821), (Carmen’s Diner, 822), (Miss Newport, 823), (Ann’s, 824), (the Bluebonnet Diner, 825), (Jigger’s, 826), (Peterboro, 827) and (the Miss Beverly Diner, 828). Carmen’s is completely gutted and operating as The Computer Exchange store on U.S. Rte. 1 in Attleboro, Mass. the Miss Newport is now the Miss Mendon in Mendon, Mass. and Ann’s is now Pat’s Diner and the Miss Beverly is heavily altered as a Subway now.