Down & Out Worcester Streamliner comes back to life!

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I am happy to report that it is not all bad news with diners closing and or being demolished lately. There is good news coming out of Pawtucket, Rhode Island that happens to be a long time in coming to fruition.  A diner last operated in Middletown, Connecticut (closed in 1997) has been restored and re-opened as the Miss Lorraine Diner. Built as Worcester Lunch Car # 774, it was delivered to its first operating location, 357 Asylum Street in Hartford, Connecticut on August 12, 1941 and operated as Donwells Diner-Restaurant.

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a newspaper ad announcing the opening of Donwells Diner

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an old matchbook cover for Donwells Diner

According to Richard Gutman, the name of the diner came from the combining of the original owner’s names, J. Edward & Edith Donnellan and Chester L. Wells… hence the contraction, Donwells. I am not sure when the diner was moved to Middletown from Hartford, but I had heard stories that the original owners may have gotten into debt with some unsavory people who came and basically stripped the diner of any pieces of equipment that were moveable, including all the booths and tables.

Be that as it may, by the time WLC # 774 got to 200 E. Main Street in Middletown, the diner was a ghost of its former self. It was purchased by Stanley “Squeak” Zawisa to replace an older barrel-roofed diner he operated across the street as the South Farms Lunch, described as a 10 stool Worcester Lunch Car. I first came across Squeak’s Diner on a dreary Sunday afternoon diner road-trip with Steve Repucci and David Hebb on October 4, 1987. We had stopped at O’Rourke’s Diner (in Middletown) and were told of this other diner being in town.

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Squeak’s Diner, October 4, 1987 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Squeak’s Diner, October 4, 1987 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Squeak’s Diner, October 4, 1987 photo by Larry Cultrera

We found out that it was not open on Sundays when we stopped to check it out, but on a subsequent visit on a weekday during another road-trip, I did get to eat breakfast there. I will say that I can recall that the interior was in sad shape and I never thought that this diner would ever survive.

Ironically, in November of 1987, I met Colin Strayer a documentary film-maker based in Toronto, Canada, at the opening of the new exhibit of “The Automobile in American Life” at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Colin eventually became the person who saved Squeak’s Diner after it closed. I contacted Colin Strayer in a recent email to verify when he moved # 774 and he related the next information…

Your recollection of when I moved Squeak’s is correct. I rigged it out by hand throughout September, 2003.  Moving took place on Columbus Day, 2003. I believe Stanley Zawisa finally closed Squeak’s Diner (WLC #774) in 1997.  I’m not where my paper file on it is.  But if memory serves me it was 1997. Stanley had gone through something like 4 realtors in the 4 preceding years, without any success.

As I recall, Stanley tried to sell “the business” for $175,000. for several years.  In the end, I acquired just the diner, plus a provision I fill in the hole and grade to ground elevation, as well as clear away all the debris. There was a lot of old equipment in the basement, as well as a few pieces from the South Farms Lunch, a 1920s 10-stool WLC diner that had been located across the street. (The following photos were courtesy of Colin Strayer and depict Squeak’s Diner being moved from Middletown to a storage site in 2003.)

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

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2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer

WLC 774 was a project I really wanted to do myself.  I had first come across WLC 774 in 1986. I accidentally stumbled upon Squeak’s one day 33-1/2 years ago while trying to locate diners painted in John Baeder’s 1978 book “Diners”.

It was diner love at first sight. 774 was one of the largest of its type ever made by Worcester Lunch Car Co. I hounded Stanley Zawisa for 17 years.  I really wanted to restore 774 — to be a part of it.  My enthusiasm got the better of me.  I sold it to Jon Savage for less than I’d spent on it to date.  I did so, because Savage impressed upon me he had the resources to restore it to the level of Lamy’s at Henry Ford Museum.

 Going back to spring, 2010, I’d proposed restoration would take 3 years.  Savage thought it could be done faster. It’s now been 9 years.  I also proposed the name Miss Lorraine Diner, which I understand Savage adopted.

From time to time I understand there’s talk about 774 finally opening in Pawtucket. I would be interested to hear about any developments.  I talked to / communicated with Dick Gutman several years ago about it a couple of times. I believe Dick was involved doing some consultation.  Dick kindly informed me of this as a professional courtesy, which I much appreciated. I told him what had happened and gave him my blessings.

I tip my hat to the gentlemen who worked on it in Pawtucket from circa 2012-2014. He was an older guy Jon Savage knew. I stopped by several times back then to look at the progress. My view was this gentleman had done some really good foundational restoration work.  The structure was stripped and really straight back then. But his work was very slow-going and he eventually stopped work on it. By 2012,  I’d done $10,000. in (unpaid) consultation work.  Savage made a lot of promises,  but never paid me for my work.  Never understood that. The math makes no sense. 774 could have been running by 2015. By now, been running for 5 years. Not being involved in 774 restoration has been one of my life’s great disappointments.

So, the restoration of WLC #774 continued with some consultation/expertise provided by Richard Gutman along with another contractor who came on board by the name of  Joe Pacheco of Abby Road Construction. Pacheco along with his crew worked on site off and on for the next few years and the outcome came fairly close to bringing the diner back to the way it might have looked when it was brand-new. The restoration included all new recreated Worcester Lunch Car style booths and tables as well as the re-chromed stools. Also, Dick Gutman provided 6 stainless steel ceiling light fixtures that had once graced the interior of the Black & Gold Diner of Roslindale, Massachusetts. Unfortunately the larger #774 needed 8 ceiling lights so 2 more were recreated  and you cannot tell which are the old fixtures and which are the new ones.

Back in November of 2019 it was announced to the press that the Miss Lorraine Diner was being readied to start serving customers in a fairly short amount of time, I guess good things are worth the wait! Denise and I took a drive down to Pawtucket on December 29, 2019 where I got my first look at the place which was 98% done. Workers were finishing up the parking area around the diner in preparation for paving. The interior still needed the restored stools installed by the counter and the completely recreated booths/tables had not been brought in. Then the news came of the diner opening on January 28, 2020 and I made plans to check it out, that happened on Monday, February 17th when myself along with my brothers Rick & Don went down for breakfast. We met Mike Arena who had signed on to operate the diner, becoming  one of five diners and restaurants that he’s currently running. The other places include the West Side Diner, Broadway Diner, the Lighthouse Restaurant and Amanda’s Kitchen, open for twenty-four years and named after his daughter.

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Exterior view of the newly opened Miss Lorraine Diner.
February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera

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Exterior view of the newly opened Miss Lorraine Diner.
February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera

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Interior view of the newly opened Miss Lorraine Diner.
February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera

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Interior view of the newly opened Miss Lorraine Diner.
February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera

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Interior view of the bar/dining room of the newly opened
Miss Lorraine Diner. February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera

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Interior view of the bar/dining room of the newly opened
Miss Lorraine Diner. February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera

It seems that lately, good news is hard to come by on the Diner front, but here is one that finally seems to have a happy re-birth! I will be back to try some other meals, hopefully in the near future and for years to come…

 

Marking 38 years of documenting Diners with my photographs

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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.

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

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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….

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

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Hightstown Diner – Hightstown, New Jersey
Photo from May 31, 1982

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

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

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Salem Diner – Salem, Massachusetts
Photo from May, 1982

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

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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…

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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???

 

 

Today marks 36 years since shooting my first “Diner” photograph!

November 29, 1980 is a very significant date in my life. I was visiting my pal Steve Repucci in Harrisburg, PA on the long Thanksgiving Day weekend. We had moved Steve down to Harrisburg on the previous Labor Day Weekend, which happened to be my first trip to that city and Pennsylvania as well. On the previous visit I noticed there were quite a few diners although I do not recall eating at one then. So this Thanksgiving trip was purely more of a pleasure trip. We arrived on the Friday after Thanksgiving (November 28th) and probably mellowed out after the 8 (or more) hour trip, which had been very tiring due to the heavy fog we encountered on I-81 between Scranton and Harrisburg. The next morning we drove over to the Bypass Diner which was fairly close to where Steve lived. I am not sure when I actually took this first tentative photo of the diner but am inclined to think it was after we had breakfast.

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The Bypass Diner, Herr Street, Harrisburg, PA
November 29, 1980 photo by Larry Cultrera

With this one photo, I started a 36 year trek that has continued for many miles and quite a few vehicles. In the process, I have made countless friends along the way and by my estimate photographed over 860 diners! This process eventually included the creation of my long running regular column for the Society for Commercial Archeology Journal magazine (Diner Hotline) and this blog of the same name after I retired the column. The blog led me to the authoring of my two books… Classic Diners of Massachusetts and New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries, both published by The History Press.  I am currently attempting to scan all the 35mm prints and slides of diners I shot from November of 1980 until 2008 when I stopped using 35mm film and went totally digital with the purchase of my Pentax digital SLR.

Ralph A. Corrado Jr, long-time owner of Rosie’s Diner passes away

Throughout the last almost 35 years of documenting diners with my photographs, I have made a lot of friends. A huge portion of those friends are kindred spirits who are also traveling the great American roadside documenting with their own photographs the commercial-built environment that developed and grew with the advent of the automobile. A smaller but no less cherished group of friends I’ve met have been various diner owners from quite a few states in the northeast region of the country. I am honored to say that a couple of those friends include the father & son team of Ralph & Arnie Corrado, who were the long-time owners of Rosie’s Farmland Diner (AKA Rosie’s Diner), formerly of Little Ferry, NJ. I became friendly with them in January of 1990, in fact the last weekend that the diner was open for business in New Jersey (more about that later in the post)!
I am sorry to report that Ralph Corrado has just passed away this past Thursday, August 6, 2015.

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Ralph A. Corrado standing in front of Rosie’s Diner
Photo courtesy of the Corrado family.

A brief history about the diner that became known as Rosie’s… At one time, this diner was arguably one of the most viewed diners in the USA, if not the world! Rosie’s had been used as the location for many commercials over the years including quite a few for New Jersey Bell, which usually had the famous actor James Earl Jones featured! The most famous commercials shot at the diner were for Bounty Paper Towels. These commercials featured the late actress Nancy Walker as “Rosie the waitress”  who was forever cleaning up spills made by her clumsy customers with Bounty – The Quicker Picker-Upper!!!!

Well this sort of all began back when Ralph was a little boy in Hoboken, NJ. His dad Raphael (Tex) Corrado operated a small Kullman Diner as Ralph recalled. He also recalls when his dad decided to upgrade with a brand-new 1946 Paramount deluxe stainless steel model that was built in 2 large sections and placed at the Traffic Circle on Route 46 in Little Ferry. The new diner was named the Silver Dollar Diner. Tex continued to operate the diner until the early 1960s with Ralph Jr. working along side him and learning the ropes! Ralph took the diner over and eventually renamed it the Farmland Diner. Ralph’s son Arnie who had a short recording career as a pop singer in the mid-to-late 1960s also worked at the diner, eventually becoming Ralph’s right hand man. The diner started becoming noticed by art directors for major New York City ad agencies who noted that this quintessential  stainless steel diner was perfect for shooting commercials and print ads, inside and out! After the Bounty Paper Towel commercials put the diner on the map (so to speak) Ralph decided to take advantage of the publicity and renamed the place “Rosie’s Farmland Diner, Home of the Quicker Picker-Upper”!

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Ralph Corrado with Nancy Walker and Arnie Corrado
Photo Courtesy of Arnie Corrado

I originally learned about Rosie’s Diner through the wonderful 1980 book “Diners of The Northeast” authored by Allyson Bellink and Donald Kaplan and published by the Berkshire Traveller Press. In this book they visited a whole slew of diners from New Jersey, New York and New England! This was the catalyst for my burgeoning interest to take hold! They featured Rosie’s in the New Jersey section and I finally got to visit the diner on Memorial Day – May 31, 1982. Steve Repucci and I were on the way back home from a visit to Harrisburg, PA via Baltimore! We stopped at Rosie’s in the early afternoon for some photos and a quick break from the road. Another reason was to use the public telephone at the diner to call John Baeder who was actually in New York City to do a massive rewrite for his upcoming book “Gas, Food & Lodging”. I had become friends with John earlier that year through correspondence and phone conversations. During a conversation just before the Memorial Day Weekend I mentioned to John that we would be coming through New York on the way home and that maybe we could hook-up briefly!

Well, I called John from Rosie’s and he said to give him another call when we got to another diner in Manhattan, this was the Kitchenette Diner that had been moved from Boston not too long before. So when we got to the Kitchenette, I again called John who was ready for a quick break. He cabbed it over to where we were and we spent a good hour or so together before he needed to get back to work! We gave him a lift to where he needed to be and headed home to Boston!

I also revisited Rosie’s a few times over the years including a little over a year later on the way to a meeting of the Society For Commercial Archeology in Wildwood, NJ. The following photo is from that visit.

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Rosie’s Farmland Diner at the Route 46 Traffic Circle in Little Ferry, NJ
June, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

Fast forward to late 1989 – I received a phone call from my new friend, ceramic sculpture artist Jerry Berta who told me he was buying Rosie’s Diner and was going to move it to Rockford, Michigan next door to his Art Studio/Showroom “The Diner Store”. The Diner Store was housed in the former Uncle Bob’s Diner, formerly of Flint, MI. Jerry saved that one from the wrecker’s ball and moved it to some property he had in his hometown. To make a long story short (sort of) I arranged to meet Jerry and his pal Fred Tiensivu in New Jersey in mid-January of 1990 for the last 3 or 4 days that Rosie’s Diner was open. It was quite the experience as the place was completely bombed with customers. We all lent a hand where it was needed – I recall giving people directions on how to get to the diner when they called on the phone and even bussed tables! I had showed up early for breakfast on that last Sunday morning and Ralph asked me if I would do him a favor, it seems a lady (who did not speak much English) was stranded earlier that morning, being basically “dumped” by the guy she was with near the diner. Ralph asked me if I would give her a ride to her neighborhood in the Bronx, which I did – my good deed for the day!

The following text was written by me for the original “hard copy” version of Diner Hotline
that appeared in the summer 1990, volume 11, no. 2 edition of the Society for Commercial Archeology’s News Journal. This piece told the story about the last weekend that Rosie’s Diner was open for business in New Jersey and the subsequent move to Michigan (I have also included the original photos that ran with it in full color here)….

Rosie’s Diner Saved by SCA Member

Jerry Berta of Rockford, Michigan, has accomplished something that few preservationists can claim. He has saved not one, but two classic diners from destruction. Berta, who first created a name for himself by fashioning ceramic and neon replicas of his favorite subject — diners – moved Uncle Bob’s Diner of Flint, Michigan, to Rockford in 1987 and restored it to its original appearance. But instead of selling food, he converted it into a combination gallery and studio, called “The Diner Store.” After opening for business, the Diner Store proved to be a big success, but frequently people driving by would stop, thinking it was a restaurant. Jerry was forced to put a new sign in his window proclaiming: No FOOD, JUST ART. Due to the number of people who stopped to seek food and the lack of functioning diners in the state of Michigan, Jerry started thinking about finding another diner and setting it next to his store, where he could lease it to someone who would run it as a classic diner. In November 1989, Jerry was attending a crafts show in New York City, and decided to drive across the George Washington Bridge and revisit Rosie’s Diner in Little Ferry, New Jersey. He had visited this diner years before, and describes it as a pivotal moment in his awakening interest in these classic eateries. After shooting some photographs and videos of the diner, he began talking to the owner, Ralph Corrado, about diners and Jerry’s connection with them. Corrado informed Jerry that Rosie’s was for sale, and that if no one bought the diner, it would be tom down. Jerry and Ralph negotiated for approximately ten minutes, and made a hand-shake deal that was finalized by Christmas. Rosie’s is a vintage 1945 Paramount Diner, which was purchased brand new by “Tex” Corrado, Ralph’s father. It was originally named the Silver Dollar; when Ralph took over operations about 1960, he renamed it the Farmland Diner. Around 1970, Ralph was approached by Proctor & Gamble, which was interested in using the diner as a location for a series of commercials for Bounty paper towels. These commercials featured the actress Nancy Walker as Rosie, a street-smart waitress who was forever wiping up spills with “The quicker picker-upper.” Ralph decided to take advantage of the publicity, and renamed the diner “Rosie’s,” the home of the “Quicker Picker-Upper.” Ralph and his family decided to sell the diner when Ralph retired and his son, Arnie, needed to spend more time with his wife and young children. Ralph was able to sell the land and diner to his next-door neighbor, an auto-glass company. 

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Rosie’s Diner in Little Ferry, New Jersey
June, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

Unfortunately, the diner itself did not fit into the new owner’s plans. When Jerry appeared on the scene, Ralph was delighted to know that the diner would have a new home with someone who loved it as much as he did. Both Jerry and Ralph used all their contacts in the media, and they created a publicity blitz from coast to coast. Both Cable News Network and the Associated Press ran stories on the closing, which took place January 13-15, 1990. Hundreds of people came by to have one last meal at the famous diner, including several SCA members. With the Massachusetts contingent were Dave Hebb from Cambridge, Gail Rosen from Newton, and myself. Steve Lintner and Christine Guedon from Gloucester City, New Jersey, were there on Saturday, and Bill McLaughlin came up from Paoli, Pennsylvania on Sunday morning. There were also many diner aficionados in attendance. I returned to Rosie’s the following weekend to assist in and to document the move. I watched with interest while the diner was split in to two sections and placed on flat-bed trucks for the move to Michigan. Rosie’s arrived safely in Rockford three days later. Special thanks go to the crew who helped in the move: Fred Tiensivu, Ian McCartney, John Boucher, and Charlie Green, along with the guys from Superior Transit. If things go according to schedule, the diner should be re-opening at the end of the summer. We’ll keep you posted. For more information about the Diner Store or Rosie’s, call Jerry Berta at 616/696- CLAY.  

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SCA members pay a farewell visit to Rosie’s in January, 1990
(left to right – David Hebb, Christine Guedon and Steve Lintner)

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Jerry Berta, Bill McLaughlin and June Roberts at Rosie’s

I had managed to maintain contact with Arnie and his wife Jeanne for a few years but eventually we lost touch as our lives got busy after 1993 or so. I am happy to say I got back in touch with Arnie & Jeanne within the last 2 years and we talk to each other at least twice a month! I also spoke with Ralph once since Arnie and I resumed our friendship and I knew that Ralph’s health was in decline.  So I was not surprised when Arnie contacted me this past weekend to let me know that his dad had passed away! If the wake had been on Saturday and not Sunday, I would have made every effort to be there for the family! Ralph was a true gentlemen of the old school and I can still hear his soft voice with that great New Jersey accent in my mind! Rest in Peace my friend, you are certainly missed!
Here is the obituary for my friend Ralph Corrado…

Ralph Corrado Jr. of Hoboken, NJ passed away Thursday, August 6th.  Ralph was the proprietor of Rosie’s Farmland Diner in Little Ferry, NJ, which operated from 1946-1990.  Ralph was extremely proud of his Italian-American heritage and Hoboken roots.  He loved the Yankees, Joe DiMaggio, and Frank Sinatra whom he personally assisted backstage at the Paramount Theater in New York in 1943.  Known for his quick-witted sense of humor and street-smart mentality, Ralph’s greatest legacy is the unwavering love and devotion that he possessed for his family members and close friends (especially his life-long friend who pre-deceased him, Alfred Avitable).

He will be fondly remembered by his devoted wife, Bonnie Corrado (nee
Bittner); faithful sons, Arnold Corrado and Marc Antonuccio; loving daughter-
in-law, Jeanne’ Corrado (nee LaForte); cherished grandchildren, Matthew Corrado,
Jenna Corrado, and Rowan Antonuccio; and admiring nieces and nephews,
including Lucille Corrado.
Ralph is rennited with his parents, Raphael “Tex” and Carmella
“Milly” Corrado; sister, Mildred Casella; and brothers, James “J.J.”, Johnny, and
Carmen “Sonny” Corrado.

A Funeral Mass was offered on Monday August 10, 2015 – 11:00 AM at St.
Ann’s Roman Catholic Church, Hoboken. Entombment will follow at Holy Cross Chapel
Mausoleum, North Arlington, NJ. Continuous visitation was held on Sunday
August 9, 2015 beginning at 4:00 PM and concluding at 8:00 PM. There was to be no
gathering at the funeral home prior to the Funeral Mass. Relatives and friends were
asked to gather directly at St. Ann’s Church no later than 10:45 AM. Valet parking
was available in rear of memorial home off Sixth Street. Arrangements by Failla
Memorial Home, 533 Willow Avenue, Hoboken, NJ 07030

Another Diner Road Trip – 27 years ago this weekend

I have been rather delinquent in posting recently. In part due to laziness and also because I have been contemplating this post, I just needed to scan a bunch of slides for it. A few months ago I scanned some slides for Michael Gabriele that he may or may not end up using in his forthcoming book – The History of Diners in New Jersey for my publisher, The History Press. Two of the slide boxes I left out purposely to remind me about this post and get busy scanning.

Well that really did not spur me into action and they sat (and sat). Finally a little over a week ago I got off my rear end and started scanning because Memorial Day Weekend was fast approaching and the post I wanted to write was about a Diner road trip I took on Memorial Day Weekend in 1986!

When I had scanned the slides of Paul’s Diner of Kearny, NJ for Mike G., I looked at the other slides in the box and remembered that trip. I also realized there was one other box of slides (as well as 5 slides in yet a third box) that were associated with that trip. So today I completed the scanning process and decided to get on with this post before the weekend is over!

Memorial Day Weekend in 1986 was May 24th thru 26th (Saturday to Monday). These road trips were usually taken with either Steve Repucci or David Hebb (or both). I believe this was a Dave Hebb trip….. well anyway, we more than likely took off early as I usually liked to do on Saturday, May 24th and made it down to Fairfield, CT and Larry’s Diner, as it was the first one photographed on this trip. That Saturday was pretty overcast, weather-wise as the photos will show.

I had already been to Larry’s 3 years earlier according to my Diner Log, so it was not listed in the log on this trip in 1986. We may even have had breakfast here but more than likely it was at the very least a coffee stop and photo op. This diner was built by the Jerry O’Mahony Co. in the early 1930’s and was still in extremely original condition at this point.

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Larry’s Diner, U.S. Rte. 1 in Fairfield, CT  –  Right Front corner
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Larry’s Diner, U.S. Rte. 1 in Fairfield, CT   –  Left Front corner
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Larry’s Diner, U.S. Rte. 1 in Fairfield, CT  – Left front showing the interesting
addition to the diner – a lunch wagon sized annex with a frosted window!
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Larry’s Diner, was moved around the corner from this location in the 1990’s and completely gutted on the interior to become the front of another restaurant. The outside was also changed.

Our next stop was George’s Diner at 71 Main Street in Norwalk, CT. This was a Mountain View Diner that was also fairly original inside and out with one exception, there was a brick facade under the windows facing Main St. and on the entryway. The rest of the facade was intact. The diner is still there and operating under the name “Family Diner” now.

George's-Diner-1George’s Diner, 71 Main St.  in Norwalk, CT
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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George’s Diner, 71 Main St.  in Norwalk, CT
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Down the road a piece just off U.S. Rte. 1 in Cos Cob, CT was a small 1920’s vintage barrel-roofed diner called Thanh’s Diner. It had formerly been known as Pal Joey’s Diner. This was believed to be an old Tierney diner built down the road in New Rochelle. This diner does not exist anymore.

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Thanh’s Diner, just off U.S. Rte. 1  in Cos Cob, CT
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Thanh’s Diner, just off U.S. Rte. 1  in Cos Cob, CT
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

A diner I had first read about in the book Diners of the Northeast by Donald Kaplan and Allison Bellink was the Chinatown Diner, a late 1940’s vintage diner (could be a Kullman but more than likely DeRaffele) located at 301 Halstead Ave. in Harrison, NY. It had been serving primarily Chinese food as well as an American breakfast menu when Don and Allison had visited it. By the time I finally got there in 1986, it had become an upscale bistro called the Silver Spoon Cafe.

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Silver Spoon Cafe, 301 Halstead Ave.  in Harrison, NY
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Silver Spoon Cafe, 301 Halstead Ave.  in Harrison, NY
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

When I originally wrote this post I thought the Silver Spoon Cafe was the final photo op of the day. But alas, it turns out I missed a couple of images of yet another diner that was previously logged (it did not show up in the May of 1986 section of the log, that is why I forgot to upload these). It seems we got over to the northwest corner of the Garden State and checked out Prout’s Diner in Sussex by late afternoon.

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Prout’s Diner, Main Street.  in Sussex, NJ
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Prout’s Diner, Main Street.  in Sussex, NJ
May 24, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

It looked like the weather was finally turning for the better before night came on and sure enough, bright and early on the morning of May 25th (my 33rd birthday), it was a very sunny day which made for a great breakfast and even better photos at Pal’s Diner on Rte. 17 in Mahwah, NJ.

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Pal’s Diner, Rte. 17  in Mahwah, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Pal’s Diner, Rte. 17  in Mahwah, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Pal’s Diner is one of a very few diners I have photographed that was built by Manno Diners. It was moved in the 1990’s to Grand Rapids, Michigan where it continues to operate to this day!

The next diner photographed that morning (according to the order of slides in the box) was in fact another diner I had previously visited, the White Manna on River Street in Hackensack, NJ. This was the first of several “small” diners we documented on this trip. All of these particular small diners were built dating from the late 1930’s to early 1950’s. Most offered limited menus offering hamburgers, etc. Being that it was Sunday morning, it was not open at the point in time that I stopped. I was able to document it pretty well on the exterior but the fact that it was closed offered me a great opportunity to get some great interior “thru-the-window” shots as well.

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 exterior photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 exterior photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 interior photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 interior photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 interior photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 interior photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Manna, 358 River St.  in Hackensack, NJ
May 25, 1986 interior photo by Larry Cultrera

Next up was another small diner….. the White Diamond on St. Georges Ave. (Rte. 27) in Linden, NJ. This looks to be built by Mountain View diners and I believe it was moved to another location not too far away within the intervening years since I documented it.

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White Diamond, St. Georges Ave.  in Linden, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Diamond, St. Georges Ave.  in Linden, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Another small diner and possibly the jewel of the bunch was the Short Stop located at 26 Washington Ave. in Belleville, NJ. One of the cutest diners I have ever photographed, this diner was bought quite a few years ago by Steve Harwin of Cleveland, Ohio’s Diversified Diners. As far as I know, Steve still has this one in storage.

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Short Stop Diner, 26 Washington Ave.  in Belleville, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Short-Stop-5
Short Stop Diner, 26 Washington Ave.  in Belleville, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

We made it over to the Harrison/Kearny area after this and saw Max’s Grill, but probably due to the morning light and Max’s being on the wrong side of the street… I did not shoot any photos of it. Just up the street from Max’s on the opposite side just over the line in Kearny we came across another small diner, the Blue Castle System. This diner has since disappeared. There is a Shell Gas Station on the sight now according to Google street view.

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Blue Castle System Diner, 829 Harrison Ave.  in Kearny, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Blue Castle System Diner, 829 Harrison Ave.  in Kearny, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Just down the street from the Blue Castle was Paul’s Diner, a 1940’s vintage Fodero. I have recently found out the diner is still there and operating as the Cardinal Diner. The only visible change I could determine was that it now sports a mansard roof that covers the original monitor style roof.

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Paul’s Diner, 1002 Harrison Ave.  in Kearny, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Paul’s Diner, 1002 Harrison Ave.  in Kearny, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

We got over to the Orange, NJ area shortly after and located the closed (taken for back taxes) Orange Diner on Lincoln Ave. behind the U.S. Post Office. This was a nice looking Mountain View diner. I do not know what happened to this diner other than the fact that the space is currently occupied by a parking lot.

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Orange Diner, Lincoln Ave.  in Orange, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Orange Diner, Lincoln Ave.  in Orange, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Also in Orange we found the State Diner over on Valley Road. This 1950’s Kullman diner as far as I know is still there, although I do not know if it is currently in operation.

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State Diner, Valley Rd.  in Orange, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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State Diner, Valley Rd.  in Orange, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Next up was the nicely preserved 1930’s vintage Summit Diner located at the corner of Summit Ave. and Union Place in downtown Summit, NJ. This was typical of what the Jerry O’Mahony diner company was building by the late 30’s. The diner is still there and operating.

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Summit Diner, Summit Ave. & Union Pl.  in Summit, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Summit Diner, Summit Ave. & Union Pl.  in Summit, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

Here is the last small diner we saw that day… the 2nd of 3 White Diamond Hamburger places (we did not see the 3rd one located in Clark, NJ on this trip). This one was located at the corner of Bayway Ave. and Thomas St. in Elizabeth, NJ. I just checked Google street view and there is a Dunkin Donuts on the same location now.

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White Diamond, Bayway Ave. & Thomas St.  in Elizabeth, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Diamond, Bayway Ave. & Thomas St.  in Elizabeth, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

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White Diamond, Bayway Ave. & Thomas St.  in Elizabeth, NJ
May 25, 1986 photo by Larry Cultrera

After Elizabeth, NJ we were back on the road for home and made one last stop for a photo op back in Norwalk, CT. This was for the former Norwalk Diner at that time operating as Cafe Osman. This looks to be a 1940 vintage DeRaffele diner, the type that resembled what Fodero was building at the same point in time. This diner had been altered by bricking up the facade under the windows. In fact the diner which was situated end-wise to the street had a door that was in the center of the facade facing the driveway/parking area that apparently was not used anymore. This door had been “bricked-up” as well with only the top half of the window showing. I do not know if this is still there.

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Cafe Osman, Main St.  in Norwalk, CT
May 25, 1986 exterior photo by Larry Cultrera

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Cafe Osman, Main St.  in Norwalk, CT
May 25, 1986 exterior photo by Larry Cultrera

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Cafe Osman, Main St.  in Norwalk, CT
May 25, 1986 interior photo by Larry Cultrera

The next road trip was not until August 1st of 1986when Dave Hebb and I photographed a couple of diners in Verbank and Millbrook… in eastern upstate New York.