It had been reported within the last year or so that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced the I-83 Capital Beltway interchange project and the possibility of displacing businesses in the process. One of the redesigned interchanges includes some land taking along the area where the highway intersects with Cameron Street exactly where the East Shore Diner, a vintage Jerry O’Mahony diner has operated since the early 1950s.
The current owner Bill Katsifis, who bought the former Ray’s Diner in the early 1980s after it had been closed for a time, co-owns the business with his wife, Dorothy Katsifis, said they want to move the diner to another location in Harrisburg. In an article reported by Sue Gleiter of Pennlive.com on November 01, 2021, according to Katsifis, negotiations had stalled over the amount of financial compensation PennDOT is willing to pay and whether the agency will cover upfront expenses to relocate the diner.
He said he has no intention of blocking PennDOT’s acquisition of the diner’s 3/4-acre property and just wants to be fairly compensated and not be left with debt, especially when the diner’s mortgage is already paid off. “It’s so sad. I’m 61 years old and I have a diner. I have a business. I have it all. I told them I’m begging you to let me keep what I have,” Katsifis said.
PennDOT District 8 spokesman David Thompson said the diner is considered a dislocated business and the owner entitled to compensation for the value of the real estate, as well as business relocation assistance and benefits. PennDOT’s multi-year, multi-contract project is intended to widen an eight-mile stretch of I-83 from four to eight lanes. Recently, the rebuild of a northbound portion of I-83 between I-81 and just south of the Union Deposit Road interchange reopened with final improvements scheduled to be completed by next spring.
I was contacted right after re-posting the news on my personal Facebook page by my old friend Ed Womer who lives in the area. He offered to go over and take some current photos of the diner for me….
Earlier this spring, the diner was offering a new t-shirt announcing their Farewell Tour. My friend Wendy Van Hove was gracious enough to send me one of which I wear proudly…
On August 17, 2022, the diner posted this announcement on their Facebook page to officially announce the following statement…
Change is never easy and as many of you may know, our family business – our East Shore Diner is being forced to relocate by PennDOT’s I-83 Expansion Project. Therefor we are making adjustments to our family business and have some news to share.Given the tough circumstances, we have stayed open as long as possible. So it is with a heavy heart that we must first announce the closing of the East Shore Diner. Our last day will be September 1, 2022.
We have been a part of the community for 38 years and we are saddened to have to close our current operations. Bill Katsifis started this business with his Dad in the fall of 1984 and worked tirelessly and passionately to make this Diner the best it could be for his family, his employees and his customers. Throughout the many years, everyone who walked in for their shift or a bite to eat, has become friends and in many ways, turned into an extension of our family! Together we have been through quite the journey of both Covid and tough times as the East Shore Diner family. We want to deeply thank all of the employees and customers we’ve had throughout the years. We wouldn’t be where we are today without each and every one of you!
We will be moving our historic O’Mahony diner building to a new location. While due to our changes, we will no longer be called the “East Shore Diner”, the heart and soul we all created will remain. We are excited for our new journey to officially begin and sincerely hope to continue to see familiar faces visit us in our new venture. We cannot thank our wonderful staff enough and all our East Shore Diner family for your support and love and friendship. We are forever grateful, keep checking our Facebook page for more updates on the exciting future of our family business!
Shortly after this, I contacted Bill Katsifis and our conversation went like this… (LAC)Hi Bill, I understand that the diner is closing on September 1st. I heard you will be moving it to Mechanicsburg…. (BK)Hi Larry, how are you? Yes, September 1st is our last work day. We’re moving the diner sometime in October to Mechanicsburg, I’m happy that we get to keep it in the family. We purchased the property and had the foundation permit approved so everything looks good I’ll message you when we’re getting closer to the move thanks again. We have to save as many of these diners as we can.
This is great news when another vintage diner will get to live and operate again in a new location! When this diner was installed in the early 1950s, it operated as Seybold’s Diner…. It has a somewhat unique set-up as it was built as an “L” shaped unit with two sections. These sections comprised of a large front section that faced Cameron Street and a smaller section that was attached to the right rear of the front section. Both of these pieces wrapped around the front and right side of an on-site constructed cinder block building that housed the kitchen and rest rooms. This configuration fooled me as there was a similar diner in the Harrisburg area, the Decoven Diner, that was approximately the same age and had an “L” shaped dining area. The difference between the Decoven and Seybold’s was the rear section of the Decoven was the same length as the front section. So that diner had a factory kitchen and rest rooms instead of an on-site addition.
My own personal history with this diner goes back to early in 1981 when I was visiting my friends, Steve Repucci and Ed Womer in the Harrisburg area. It was called Ray’s Diner at that point but was closed. It had “Sheriff’s Sale posters in a few of the windows but was completely intact on the interior, (FYI, a Sheriff’s sale is basically an auction to sell equipment and other property to help get money from a mortgage foreclosure). Later on, probably when I first photographed it on November 27, 1981, Ed Womer (who took the recent photos last December, see above) drove me over from his place so I could take my first two photos of Ray’s Diner, months after the Sheriff’s sale. I took a look inside and saw the interior of the diner was completely stripped! No counter, stools, booths or back-bar equipment, the place was completely bare.
Seeing the interior completely bare, I thought this diner would never survive. Luckily, I was wrong – as stated above, the Katsifis family eventually purchased the empty diner in 1984 and spent some time, effort and money into replacing the gutted interior with new counters, stools, etc and re-opened the diner in 1985.
I wish the Katsifis family well on the up-coming transition and will be following up with the progress. I am also curious as to what the new operating name will be once it opens in Mechanicsburg.
When I first started documenting Diners with my photographs, I was influenced by the purchase of a book that was published in the Fall of 1980, entitled Diners Of The Northeast by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink. Now granted, I had been a fan of Diners all my life and after I graduated high school, I actually used to hang out with a group of friends at Carroll’s Colonial DIning Car, a 1961 vintage Swingle Diner in my hometown of Medford, Massachusetts. But after I purchased a brand-new Chevy Van in April of 1979, I started increasing the range of my travels and also commenced Sunday morning road trips by the end of that year with my pal, Steve Repucci. These road trips usually started with a stop at a local diner. In the Summer of 1980 I had purchased a used 35mm camera and started shooting photos, primarily scenic shots, etc. But in the back of my mind I was already thinking of also taking photos of the diners I went to. Buying that book by Donald Kaplan and Alan Bellink finally pushed me over the edge and I took my first tentative photo of the By-Pass Diner in Harrisburg, PA on November 29, 1980.
Sonny Monroe stepped away from the day to day operation of the Blue Benn Diner a number of years ago due to health problems, while Mary Lou continued to operate the diner along with their daughter, Lisa LaFlamme as well as the seasoned wait-staff and cooks. Franklin E. “Sonny” Monroe was 78 when he passed away on Monday December 30, 2019 at his residence following a long illness. Within three months The Blue Benn Diner closed due to the Covid pandemic and was never re-opened by the Monroe family. By July of 2020, Mary Lou put the diner up for sale and was eventually purchased by John Getchell, a former customer and graduate of Bennington College. The diner re-opened by March, 2021.
Back in April, 2021, I was contacted by Peter Crabtree of North Bennington, Vermont. Peter and his business partner Caitlin Randall together operate The Story Project. The Story Project creates commissioned books of all kinds for individuals, families and institutions. Peter had seen some photos I shot of Sonny’s Blue Benn Diner of Bennington, VT back in 1982 (probably the blog post from 2011) and asked if he could use one of them for a tribute book he and Caitlin were putting together. We spoke about the project and I told him I had no problem with him using the photo, which by the way is my favorite from that visit which was the one and only time I ate at the diner. To explain a little about the book, I have included the copy they included on the inside dust jacket….
Sonny Monroe was a short-order chef with big ambitions. A born culinary talent, he dreamed of a restaurant where he could create recipes that sparked his imagination. In 1974, Sonny and his wife (Marylou) acquired a scrappy diner in southwestern Vermont. It wasn’t very long before Sonny’s Blue Benn was a Bennington landmark, as much for free-flowing conversation as the mouth-watering food. This is a book about a legendary diner and the family that created it. It’s also a celebration of a community hangout, a place that gave townspeople a chance to forge connections with their neighbors no matter what side of the political or economic divide they found themselves. In the tradition of Studs Terkel’s Working, the story is told by the people that made the Blue Benn a renowned Vermont institution: the regulars who ate there and the staff that served them. Sonny’s Blue Benn: Feeding the Soul of a Vermont Town celebrates the importance of small-town life and the value of local gathering places. These are stories of a Vermont community and an iconic diner that magically brought it together.
Within the last two weeks, I had received a text from Peter Crabtree saying the book had been completed and published and he asked for my mailing address so he could send me a copy. The book came in the mail this past Saturday, August 13th and I was surprised to see my photo big as life on the front of the dust jacket! I truly felt honored to see it used that way!
I immediately started reading the book and was completely moved by the feelings it elicited within me. The way the diner had played a part in bringing people together, acting as a community gathering place and the way that the patrons as well as the diner staff became an extended family through the decades since the Monroe family took over the operation of the diner. It also evoked a slight feeling of sadness to me as I now kick myself because I only ate there on that first visit in 1982. Now granted, I did photograph it two more times – once in 1983 and again in 1986, but I was probably within close proximity to Bennington, more than likely coming from someplace else on the way home.
Finishing the reading of this tribute book spurred me to contact Mary Lou Monroe. I actually had a great 25 minute or so conversation with her this week. I told her how much this book moved me and that I felt honored to have my photo of the diner featured on the front of the dust sleeve!
Peter Crabtree mentioned that Sonny’s Blue Benn – Feeding The Soul Of A Vermont Town can be purchased thru the Bennington Bookshop located at 109 South Street Bennington, VT 05201 and you can find them online at https://www.benningtonbookshop.com/about-us, purchase price is $40.00. Because their website does not link to the book, you can email them to inquire about it at firstname.lastname@example.org …
I have not done a “Notes from the Hotline” in quite some time and while starting to write this, I decided this format would be right for this particular post. First up on the agenda is news from my friend Roger Elkus, owner of Roger’s Redliner Diner in Portsmouth, New Hampshire…
Roger’s Redliner Diner of Portsmouth, New Hampshire closes due to end of lease…
Roger Elkus posted an announcement on his diner’s Facebook page that as of April 4, 2022 the diner was officially closed due to the end of the lease where the diner has operated since February of 2014. Roger told me it was a good run for the diner and even though it was a labor of love for him, he decided to concentrate on operating his other business – Me & Oliie’s Bakery Cafe in Exeter, New Hampshire, the remaining outlet for his original chain of bakery cafes.
Roger’s Redliner Diner has been the subject of a previous post or two and was featured in my New Hampshire Diners, Classic Granite State Eateries book (The History Press, 2014)… I will re-tell the story here about the history of this classic 1950 vintage diner….
Roger’s Redliner was originally named the Monarch Diner and was part of a “chain” started by the Decola brothers based in Waltham, Mass. The chain consisted of quite a few diners that traded under the “Monarch” name including several Massachusetts locations… the flagship Monarch was on Main Street in Waltham, Mass. (it is currently the Tilt’n Diner in Tilton, NH). There were other Monarch Diners located in Saugus, Mass. (now Martha’s Coventry Diner, Coventry, VT), Arlington, Billerica, Littleton and Woburn (all gone). The other Monarch Diners were located in Dover, NH (more recently Roger’s Redliner Diner), as well as Milford, NH (now gone). Other diners in this chain had traded under names such as the Bedford Diner of Bedford, Mass., as well as one (or both) of the Paradise Diners of Lowell, Mass. I first became aware of the Monarch Diners collecting diner postcards in the early 1980s. I obtained one for the Monarch Diner of Waltham and the image depicted that diner but also mentioned the Dover, NH location. As far as I knew, the Dover location was defunct by the time I obtained the postcard and I figured it did not exist anymore. I later learned that both diners were built in 1950 by the Jerry O’Mahony Diner Company and were very similar, pretty much the same size though the configuration on the interior was slightly different. The Monarch in Dover was serial number 2163-50 while the Monarch in Waltham was serial number 2179-50. Serial numbers for Jerry O’Mahony diners (when found) will always be 4 digits then a “dash” with the last 2 digits representing the production year. It seems the Decola’s leased or eventually sold their places to other people to run. The known operators that were associated with the Monarch in Dover were Fred & Irene Jewell.
By the time I started documenting diners, the only diner left in Dover to my knowledge was Stoney’s Diner (more recently the Sunny Day Diner, now operating as Arnold’s Wayside Diner in Lincoln, NH). It was not until March 12, 1989, on a surprise visit to an old friend Rick Clauson, who was living in Acton, Maine, that I found out the fate of the Monarch Diner from Dover. When my friend Steve Repucci and I showed up early on that Sunday afternoon, we talked for a while with Rick and his wife Dawn. After a period of time, Rick said “c’mon let’s take a ride, I have something to show you”. So we proceeded to drive heading east away from his house on a side road that was used by locals as a short cut into nearby Sanford. As we rounded a curve on Twombley Road, this large stainless steel diner sitting up on timbers came into view. We stopped to check the place out and I snapped a few photos.
The owner, Phyllis Neal, who lived in the house on the property where the diner was being stored was there and I approached her to ask about the diner. She proceeded to tell me that the diner had originally been located in Dover. I asked, was this the Monarch Diner? She answered in the affirmative and she invited us to take a look at the interior, which was accessed by a set of temporary stairs. We discovered that aside from it being used for storage in conjunction with her greenhouse business, the diner was surprisingly intact. Mrs. Neal told us that her husband had purchased the diner in 1968 after it had closed in Dover and moved it to downtown North Berwick, Maine. I have since found out through information gathered by the late Will Anderson for his 1995 self-published book “More Good Old Maine” that although they had originally thought about using the diner to sell flowers out of, the Neal’s changed their mind and decided to set it up and lease the diner to a lady named Lois Griffin who operated it as Lois’ Diner until late 1973.
The diner remained closed and vacant at the North Berwick location until the Neal family relocated it to their property in Sanford at 604 Twombley Rd. in 1986, where they began using it for storage. Even though I had been documenting diners with my photographs since 1980 and made quite a few friends who had been doing the same thing even longer, I found the fact interesting that none of us who followed diners were aware of this diner being in North Berwick. The only reason it may have been under the “diner radar” is the fact that it had been closed there since 1973.
A number of years later, Dave Pritchard of Salisbury, Mass. convinced Mrs. Neal to sell the diner to him. Pritchard already had the former Fasano’s Diner (aka, the Olympian Diner) from South Braintree, Mass. along with the Miss Newport Diner from Newport, VT and the Englewood Diner of Dorchester, Mass. being stored at his Aran Trading Co. Ltd., a Container, Truck and Trailer sales yard, in Salisbury. This would have been around the summer of 2004. In fact I was traveling back from seeing the newly installed Blast From The Past Diner in Waterboro, Maine on August 20, 2004 along Maine Route 4 if I remember correctly, when I was surprised to see the diner again, this time at a different location. I did not stop to photograph it, or even take note as to the location (still kicking myself to this day). But by my best guess, it was sitting on a trailer at the side of the road near the intersection of Morrills Mill Rd. and Rte. 4. Obviously it was being moved somewhere, as it turned out, to Salisbury and Dave Pritchard’s yard. Probably within a year or so of that sighting I again ran across it at Aran Trading Co. and photographed it there.
Roger Elkus ended up buying the former Monarch/Lois’ Diner from Dave Pritchard circa December of 2012. Around that time I was introduced to Roger by my friend Beth Lennon when we met him at Aran Trading to view the diner.
Within a few months Elkus secured a new home for the diner and had it moved in June 2013 to Southgate Shopping Plaza right next door to Water Country Water Park. The diner anchored a new wing of the reconfigured plaza just behind the branch of the First Colebrook Bank, which has frontage on U.S. Route 1. After months of setting it up and performing a fantastic restoration, as well as bringing the electrical and other amenities up to code, the diner was opened in February of 2014. There was a brief break in service a few years ago and the diner became the bakery for Elkus’ chain of Me & Ollie’s Cafes for a while before again operating with as the Redliner with a reduced menu.
After closing the diner this past April, Roger started trying to find someone who wanted to purchase it and move it from Portsmouth. We spoke early on and I recommended he try to contact Alex Ray of the Common Man Restaurants. Ray already had the Tilt’n Diner, the Route 104 Diner and the Airport Diner in his family of restaurants, as well as the two Hi-Way Diners at the Hooksett Welcome Centers on the Northbound and Southbound sides of Interstate 93. Coincidentally as mentioned above, the Tilt’n Diner was the second version of the original Monarch Diner (from Waltham, Mass.) and the sister to Roger’s Redliner. Roger attempted to leave messages via phone and email for Alex Ray but never got a response.
I received a message from a friend, Cliff Hodgdon on July 11th that he saw that the diner was being prepped for moving. He asked me if I knew anything about what was happening and I told him I would contact Roger Elkus to get the lowdown. I spoke with Roger and he told me how initially, he had been unsuccessful in trying to contact Alex Ray. But ironically, a friend of Ray’s who lived in the Portsmouth area had seen that the diner was for sale and was able to contact him. He sent photos and info about how to get in touch with Roger Elkus and shortly after, Roger received a message from Ray. They made arrangements for Ray to come and inspect the diner a few days later and Ray was impressed with the condition of the diner and decided to buy it.
The diner was moved from Portsmouth on July 14th to a storage location in Bow, NH. As I understand it, the diner will eventually be located adjacent to Alex Ray’s Common Man Restaurant in Lincoln, NH. As I mentioned previously, this diner was originally located in Dover, NH coincidentally diagonally across the street from Stoney’s Diner. If in fact the former Redliner does get relocated to Lincoln, it will be right around the corner from Arnold’s Wayside Diner, the former Stoney’s Diner! I hope to be following up on how this continuing saga will end up and report on this in the near future!
Bishop’s 4th Street Diner of Newport, Rhode Island forced to close due to a proposed redevelopment of its site…
Dan Lederer of the Newport Daily News reported late in 2021 that Bishop’s 4th Street Diner was slated to close because that although Steve & Vicki Bishop own the diner itself, a modular 1950 vintage Jerry O’Mahony dining car with attached kitchen and additional dining space, they do not own the land it sits on. That belongs to Colbea Enterprises, which also owns the Shell Gas Station next door to the diner. Colbea Enterprises, doing business as East Side Enterprises, LLC has its own vision for the land. It includes a proposed expansion of the gas station, along with the Seasons convenience store and a car wash.
Here is a short history of this diner, It was originally delivered and installed along U.S. Route 6 in Swansea, Massachusetts. It operated from circa 1950 or so as The Princeton Diner here before it was moved to Newport by 1967. When I found it on an early Diner Hunting trip on June 19, 1982, it was still operating as the Princeton Diner.
When I visited the diner on another trip in May of 1986, it was operating as the Galley Diner. According to a quote by Steve Bishop, It continued operating as The Galley Diner until Tish Warner bought the restaurant in 1989 and ran it with her daughters, she called it The 4th Street Diner. Newport’s Third Street is just around the corner, but in actuality, there is no Fourth Street.
Warner owned the diner until 1998, when Bishop and his then wife, Nancy, bought it and modified the name to Bishop’s 4th Street Diner. They operated it together until about 2008. After a divorce, Nancy Bishop ran the diner alone until 2018, when Steve Bishop and his current wife, Vicki, bought the business and took over its operation. I last visited the diner to eat breakfast on a long weekend on October 9, 2004 and got my first digital photos of it as Bishop’s 4th Street Diner. As I recall I had Rhode Island Johnny Cakes for breakfast!
As to the current situation of this diner, Colbea purchased the property in the beginning of 2020, with the intention of expanding the gas station, only giving the Bishops a four-month lease, and then renting the space month-to-month after March 2020. Then this past November, Colbea alerted the Bishops that they would have to be off the property by the end of January 2022. The Bishops had previously rented the lot from Paul Miller before Colbea, and had a similar tenant agreement. A few months ago, a judge ruled that the Bishops could keep the diner open until August when they then would need to vacate the premises.
I have been following the news blurbs since the end of last year and been in contact with co-owner Vicki Bishop. In fact Ms. Bishop got in contact with me to ask if I knew how much the diner weighed. Vicki and her husband Steve were planning on trying to save the diner by putting the building up for sale and prospective buyers would need to know how much the building weighed for moving purposes. I actually contacted Roger Elkus of Roger’s Redliner as his diner was virtually the same age and size as Bishop’s and he already had paid to transport his diner from Salisbury, Mass. to Portsmouth, NH a few years earlier. Roger told me the estimated weight came to approximately 60,00 pounds, which I relayed to Vicki Bishop.
Now here we are in August and the closing date for the diner was announced to be August 14th. This past Sunday, the 7th, Denise and I decided to take a small road trip down to Newport so we could have one last meal at the diner. I shot a couple of interior photos as well as four exterior ones to commemorate this last visit.
As I finish writing this blog, the diner is closing today and we wish Steve & Vicki Bishop all the best in their future endeavors. Also, there is news of a highly good possibility some people from New Hampshire are extremely interested in purchasing the diner. We hope that this comes to pass and that the diner will be moved to a new location in the Granite State. If this happens, there will be three 1950 vintage Jerry O’Mahony diners of similar style and size eventually operating in the state. That would be the Tilt’n Diner, the former Roger’s Redliner Diner (at its new location in Lincoln) and Bishop’s 4th Street wherever that gets relocated.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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…
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!
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.
a newspaper ad announcing the opening of Donwells Diner
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.
Squeak’s Diner, October 4, 1987 photo by Larry Cultrera
Squeak’s Diner, October 4, 1987 photo by Larry Cultrera
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.)
2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer
2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer
2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer
2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer
2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer
2003 photo courtesy of Colin Strayer
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.
Exterior view of the newly opened Miss Lorraine Diner.
February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera
Exterior view of the newly opened Miss Lorraine Diner.
February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera
Interior view of the newly opened Miss Lorraine Diner.
February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera
Interior view of the newly opened Miss Lorraine Diner.
February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera
Interior view of the bar/dining room of the newly opened
Miss Lorraine Diner. February 17, 2020 Photo by Larry Cultrera
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…
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.
A Mamiya 1000DTL similar to my first 35mm camera .
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….
Collin’s Diner – Canaan, Connecticut
Photo from October 3, 1982
Hightstown Diner – Hightstown, New Jersey
Photo from May 31, 1982
Norm’s Diner – Groton, Connecticut
Photo from September 18, 1982
Ruby’s Silver Diner – Schenectady, New York
Photo from October 2, 1982
Salem Diner – Salem, Massachusetts
Photo from May, 1982
Tom Sawyer Diner – Allentown, Pennsylvania
Photo from February 26, 1982
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.
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
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???
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.
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.
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.
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”!
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.
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.
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.
SCA members pay a farewell visit to Rosie’s in January, 1990
(left to right – David Hebb, Christine Guedon and Steve Lintner)
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