Marking 35 years of documenting Diners!

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The very first photo I ever shot of a diner… The Bypass Diner of Harrisburg, PA
(now known as the American Dream Diner).
November 29, 1980 photo by Larry Cultrera

Well, it’s Thanksgiving weekend, 2015. This means I am marking 35 years of documenting Diners with my photographs! The date of the first diner photograph I shot was November 29, 1980 when I was 27 years old. What led me up to that point started when I was very young, probably when I was around 5 or 6 years old. I was very observant as a child whenever my parents would be driving around our hometown of Medford, Massachusetts as well as the Greater Boston area, I noticed the different buildings and signs located along the roadside, whether it was in the city or out in the more rural areas. I certainly knew some things by sight such as Howard Johnson’s Restaurants with their cupolas and bright orange roofs (The Landmark for Hungry Americans, like the commercials said). Gas stations also stood out but what really ended up catching my eye was the abundance of these small buildings that looked somewhat like railroad cars. In fact I distinctly recall driving down Mystic Avenue in Medford with my dad and I asked him about this bright blue building sporting a rounded roof set back from the street. I asked him what the place was, remarking that it looked like a railroad car. Dad said that it was a diner, a type of restaurant that was built in a factory and was in fact designed to look like a railroad car. I later learned that the diner in question was in fact Worcester Lunch Car No. 817, the Star Lite Diner. This diner was delivered to its site at 383 Mystic Avenue on November 9, 1948. Its only owner operator was James S. Theodore (I knew him as Jim). I recall both Jim and his son Richie running the place when I first started going there with my dad and brothers when I was around 12 years old. In the summer of 1968 I recall the diner closed for their usual 2 week vacation and unfortunately never reopened! I was totally disappointed by this situation! I know the diner stayed closed for a short while and then was moved. I never exactly knew what happened but the rumor is that it was brought to a scrap-yard in nearby Chelsea, Mass. and to my knowledge was never put back into service!

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The Star Lite Diner, 383 Mystic Avenue, Medford, Massachusetts
December , 1948 photo courtesy of the Medford Police Dept. archives

I always noticed diners in my later travels and in fact continued to visit some including the Victoria Diner in Boston and Carroll’s Diner in Medford. In fact I used to hang-out at Carroll’s with a bunch of my friends in the early to mid 1970s. Both Carroll’s and the Victoria were more modern diners (in fact the most modern in the Boston area). Both of them were built by Swingle Diner Company out of Middlesex, NJ.

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Carroll’s Diner, Medford, Mass. – August, 1983 photo by Larry Cultrera

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Victoria Diner, Boston, Mass. – July, 2004 photo by Larry Cultrera

Carroll’s closed in 1986 and was torn down in June of 1987 but the Victoria Diner is still operating!
Since 1980 I have personally photographed approximately 851 Diners! Not all are classic factory-built diners though. When I first started, I was sort of what I call a “Diner-Snob”. I only wanted to photograph the older ones that dated from the 1920s thru the 1950s or 60s. I know I may have passed up quite a few newer ones in my travels but that changed over time. I now document non-factory-built diners (built on-site) as well as the prefab ones! In fact, the last “new ” diner photo I shot recently was of a place I have been a patron of for quite a few years, The Hammersmith Family Restaurant in my current hometown of Saugus.

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Hammersmith Family Restaurant, Saugus, Mass.
April 22, 2015 photo by Larry Cultrera

Hammermith is not diner-like in appearance and the place never had a counter or stools but the food, service and friendly atmosphere is very much like any local diner and has become a favorite stop for both myself and my wife Denise! Anyway, sometimes I cannot believe it has been 35 years since that first photo of the Bypass Diner! On my bucket list is a road-trip back to H’burg to visit friends and some of the diners I was going to back in the 1980s, hopefully on a Thanksgiving weekend again!

Victoria Diner’s Nicholas Georgenes passes away, Rest in Peace

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Nick Georgenes standing behind the bar inside the rear addition
to the Victoria Diner (Cafe George). Photo courtesy of Chris Georgenes

My old friend Nick Georgenes passed away last week at the age of 78, after years of declining health. Nick along with his brother Charles were the owners of Boston’s Victoria Diner for decades. They grew up in the diner business and carried on the tradition started by their uncles James and Peter as well as their dad George. The Georgenes family along with some friends and relatives operated a chain of diners in the Boston area from the late 1920s into the 1940s. Some of the diners were operated as United Diners, Inc. but the flagship location was the 60 foot long Old Colony Diner in Boston. Other locations were Weymouth, Roxbury Crossing and Somerville. According to Dick Gutman’s American Diner Then & Now book, after James and Peter passed away in the 1940s, the chain splintered and Nick and Charlie’s dad ended up with 2 diners until selling them in 1947. He ended up buying a brand new stainless steel Jerry O’Mahony diner and opening at 1024 Massachusetts Avenue in Boston as the Victoria Diner in early 1949. Nick & Charlie took over the daily operation after George passed in the mid-1950s and 10 years later were ready for a new diner. They ended up buying a large colonial style diner from Joseph Swingle (who had sold their dad the O’Mahony in 1948-49). The Swingle diner is still operating today. Nick and Charlie Georgenes wanted to retire a dozen years ago and sold the diner to Jay Haj in 2003. I became a semi-regular customer of the diner at the age of 12 when the diner was brand-new in 1965. I have seen a lot of changes to the area as well as the diner, which the Georgenes’ continually updated periodically to keep up with the times! I became friendly with the brothers in the early 1980s when they knew of my interest and count them among my friends. They were always gracious hosts, embodying the true definition of the word “gentlemen”! I was somewhat saddened when they sold the diner as I knew I would not see them on a regular basis. But I have stayed in touch, more recently speaking with Charlie back when I was writing Classic Diners of Massachusetts. Both Nick & Charlie are mentioned in my acknowledgments for that book! I am also in touch with Nick’s sons Chris and George through Facebook! Chris was nice enough to send a photo of Nick for this post and I also spoke with George last week who filled me in on details for the upcoming wake, etc.

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The Victoria Diner, 1024 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, Mass.

Here is Nick’s obituary…

Nicholas Georgenes, 78, of Walpole died suddenly and peacefully on Tuesday, April 7, 2015 at The Ellis Rehabilitation & Nursing Center in Norwood, Massachusetts. He was born on July 20, 1936 in Boston, Massachusetts. The son of George and Victoria (Athanasopoulos) Georgenes, Nicholas spent his childhood in Roxbury, before becoming a longtime resident of Jamaica Plain for most of his adult life. In his retirement, Nicholas became a resident of Walpole, Massachusetts. After graduating high school, Nicholas and his brother Charlie went to work with their father at the family restaurant, The Victoria Diner which was founded in 1949. For over half a century Nicholas tirelessly served patrons of Boston and beyond as The Victoria Diner stood as a landmark in the hearts and minds of all who frequented the family owned business. Between being a full time restaurateur and dedicated family man, Nicholas never hesitated to give back to his community. Some of the charities and organizations that have benefitted from Nick’s generosity include, but are not limited to, the West Roxbury-Dorchester Masonic Lodge AF & AM, Shriners Hospital, Perkins School for the Blind, Rosies Place and the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral of New England. Nick also served as past president of the Newmarket Business Association. Nicholas sense of civic duty was rivaled only by his sense of humor. He never hesitated to don a Santa Claus suit in July to bring smiles to the young patients at the Shriners Hospital. He happily obliged when asked to dress up as a Burlesque dancer and prance around a stage at a musical revue for the spectacle and benefit of his church. Community always came first for Nicholas even at the expense of his dignity. His spirit for community and helping others remains inspiring. Nicholas enjoyed playing tennis with friends, cooking, good restaurants, traveling, the beach and sitting down with a good book. Combining several of these activities into a single experience was often successful for Nicholas. Nicholas is survived by his wife Mary; daughter, Ann; sons, George and Chris; sister, Helen; brother, Charles; his grandchildren Zoe, Robert, William , Andrea, Theodore, Nicholas and Alexander and many close friends. If you measure the quality of life based on the love of friends and family, then Nicholas lived a very blessed life. Relatives and friends can attend his funeral service on Tuesday April 14 – 10AM at Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Weston. Interment will be at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain. Visiting hours will be held on Monday, April 13 – 4-8PM at the Folsom Funeral Home in Westwood. In Lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Shriner’s Hospital for Children, 51 Blossom St., Boston, MA 02114.

For guestbook please visit www.folsomfuneral.com

Folsom Funeral Service Inc Westwood Chapel

649 High St Westwood, MA 02090

Rest in Peace Nick!

The Dining Car of Philadelphia, a family tradition!

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Close-up of the fantastic sign for The Dining Car in Philadelphia,
July 1, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera

Growing up in the Boston area, I recall all the various diners we had around thru the 1950’s and 1960’s. Most were built by the local Worcester Lunch Car Company (Worcester, Mass.) as well as more than a few Sterling Diners that were built in nearby Merrimac, Mass. by the J.B. Judkins Company. We also had a handful of  Fodero’s, Mountain Views and O’Mahony’s from New Jersey. There were quite a few Brill diners built in Springfield, Mass. for the J.G. Brill Company based in Philadelphia, PA as well as a couple of Valentine diners out of Witchita, KS.  I personally was also familiar with Swingle diners (another New Jersey company, 1957-1988) having grown up with two of their diners here, Carroll’s Colonial Dining Car of my hometown of Medford (1961) and the Victoria Diner of Boston (1965). These two diners were the most modern diners in the Greater Boston area.

After starting my documentation of existing diners in the early 1980’s, I made the acquaintance of Richard Gutman, a native of Allentown, PA who had relocated to the Boston area in the early 1970’s after graduating from Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning. Dick had authored the first real history book on this truly unique type of restaurant known as a diner. The book was titled Amercian Diner (this later was updated to a more comprehensive volume entitled Amercian Diner Then & Now).  From reading his book, I learned that the evolution of diners was an on-going process. Basically from the horse-drawn lunch wagons of the late 1800’s to early 1900’s, to the barrel-roofed and monitor-roofed railroad car inspired designs of the 1920’s, 1930’s and early 1940’s as well as the modern stainless steel streamlined diners of the late 1940’s thru the 1950’s. But from the early 1960’s into the early 1980’s the diner manufacturers had drifted away from the traditional “railroad car” styled diners to the larger multi-section diner-restaurants with their more updated Colonial and Mediterranean influenced designs.

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View of the left side front elevation of The Dining Car,
July 1, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera

I would guess it was from Richard Gutman, that I had heard (not too long after I met him) of a new diner being built by Swingle Diners… the first ever retro-styled diner called The Dining Car of Philadelphia, PA. So in my travels on the diner trail, I planned on someday checking this new old-style diner out. I had heard that Swingle in collaboration with the Morozin family (owners of The Dining Car) had loosely based the design of the new Dining Car on the old Monarch model that the Jerry O’Mahony Dining Car Company had built back in the mid-to-late 1930’s. It featured a metal-sheathed monitor roof, not used since the 1950’s as well as a black enameled body (with the name of the diner lettered on) under the windows. It also included stainless steel trim on the corners of the building as well as the window sills. So it was in the middle of  a diner road-trip, July 17, 1984 to be precise that myself and Steve Repucci visited the Swingle Diner factory in Middlesex, NJ. We were given a tour of the plant by Eric Swingle, a nephew of owner Joe Swingle. We met Joe along with his chief designer Joe Montano. I asked Joe Montano about The Dining Car and he actually pulled out the blue prints to show us what it looked like! It wasn’t until July 1, 1985 that we actually set foot in the diner on a subsequent road-trip. We had lunch as I recall and I took quite a few exterior shots of this huge diner (which can be seen here). I found myself at The Dining Car one other time since then…. June 19, 1993 during the Delaware Valley Diner Tour which was part of the Diner Experience, a symposium conducted by the Society for Commercial Archeology. But going through my slide archive, it seems I did not photograph it that time.

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View of the full front elevation of The Dining Car,
July 1, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera

To help with some background for this post, I recently spoke with Nancy Morozin, a friend of mine from Facebook who is the current general manager of the diner started by her dad, Joe Morozin Sr. Nancy runs the business along with her brother Joe Jr. and sister Judy. Joe Jr. oversees all back-of-the-house functions while Judy is responsible for the training of all front-of-the-house personnel. The Dining Car story goes back to Joe Sr’s. early days, basically from a teenager on – running various eateries with names such as the GI Inn, and another called the White Way among others. Jump to the year 1961 when Joe was ready for something new and larger, this is when he bought a brand-new Swingle Diner. Nancy describes it as an “L-Shaped” Colonial-styled diner with large windows and hammered copper hood. From the sounds of it, this would have made it a contemporary of Carroll’s Diner in Medford (the one I grew up with). This diner was known as the Torresdale Diner from 1961 – 1976. In 1976, the family updated the diner with a slight renovation that included some new victorian-styled decorations salvaged from an old Atlantic City hotel and decided to change the name to The Dining Car. It operated as  such until they approached Swingle Diners about building them the new larger diner in 1981. Contrary to some reports I have read (as well as being mentioned by Nancy), The Dining Car was not the last brand-new diner built by Swingle Diners. I know this for a fact because when I visited the factory in 1984, they were just completing the final sections of the Penny II Diner of Norwalk, CT. Ironically while we were there, they received a phone call that the first two sections of the diner, which had left the factory on the previous day, had arrived on site that morning! Also, according to Mike Engle (co-author of Diners of New York), the Country View Diner of  Brunswick, NY was possibly the last diner out of the factory. It was built in 1988 and opened in 1989 as the Stagecoach Inn.

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View of the right side front elevation of The Dining Car,
July 1, 1985 photo by Larry Cultrera

In the late 1980’s Bob Giaimo and Chef Ype Von Hengst of the proposed Silver Diner chain out of the Washington, DC area actually trained at The Dining Car to see how a large upscale diner operated. Giaimo and the Morozins remained friendy since then. In 1989, the Morozins decided they need to do something as the customers queuing up to purchase their baked goods from their in-house bakery were interfering with the other clientele who were attempting to pay for their meals. You see as Nancy explains it, the diner’s bakery is famous for its Apple Walnut Pie, which is similar to a cheesecake, baked in a pie shell with sweet apples folded inside and topped with walnuts rolled in brown sugar and cinnamon. Another popular item is the Jewish Apple Cake which is a European coffee cake baked with apples and cinnamon sugar. The diner received the “Best of Philadelphia” for that. So a new addition was planned to house and sell the baked goods. Looking for advice, Nancy approached Bob Giaimo to consult with as he previously had operated a chain of upscale bakery/cafés (American Café Restaurants). She hoped to get idea’s for the proposed “Market” addition. When all was said and done the new addition was grafted onto the front of the diner’s entryway. It was designed by the noted restaurant designer, Charles Morris Mount who also consulted along with Richard Gutman and Kullman Diners to design the first Silver Diner for Giaimo, located in Rockville, MD. As Nancy went on to tell me…. There are also a few food items that are uber popular that we sell in the “market” which is why she opted to call the new addition a “market” vs a “bakery”.

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Joe Morozin Sr. and Nancy Morozin holding a copy of the revised Edition of
Diners of Pennsylvania by Brian Butko, Kevin Patrick and Kyle Weaver
photo courtesy of Kyle R. Weaver

The diner employs a staff of around 130 and with later additions currently seats 260 patrons. Many of the staff have been working at the diner for years and even decades. This is because the staff is treated like family and the same can be said about the regular customers!

Another interesting story Nancy related to me about the regular customers was when the new diner was installed back in 1981, it was placed on the property adjacent to the old diner. They were basically sitting back to back with a fence between the back walls of both the buildings. Apparently there were a handful of these regular customers who wanted to have the official last meal in the older diner and the first one in the newer diner. So to help facilitate this, an opening was made in the fence between the two diners and the customers in the old diner picked up their plates and coffee cups and proceeded to walk thru the kitchen of that diner, out the back door, thru the opening in the fence and into the back door of the new diner. They went thru that kitchen and into the main part of this diner to finish their meals! What a delightful story, to say the least!

Up until a few years ago The Dining Car was one of a handful of family-run diners that had operated under 2 or 3 generations. There was the Melrose Diner operated by the Kubach family, the Mayfair Diner operated by members of the Morrison, Struhm and Mulholland families as well as the Country Club Diner operated by the Perloff family. Within the last 6 years or so all of those diners with the exception of The Dining Car were bought by Michael Petrogiannis.  In fact Nancy says they too were approached by at least two or three parties who were inquiring whether they wanted to sell their diner a number of years ago, but the Morozins were not interested in selling. As far as I’m concerned, I believe I speak for all their regular customers as well as myself when I say that I am glad as well as relieved to know that the Morozin family will continue to operate this long-time Philadelphia institution for many years to come!

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More recent view of the left side front elevation of The Dining Car, showing
the 1989 addition of the “Market” off the front of the entryway designed by
the late Charles Morris Mount, photo by Kyle R. Weaver

If you are ever in the Philadelphia area I highly recommend you visit The Dining Car, it is located at 8826 Frankford Avenue. Telephone is 215-338-5113 and you can also check out The Dining Car’s website at… http://www.thediningcar.com/

If you go, tell them Diner Hotline sent you!