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diners.                 more selected entries

Originally conceived as a simple lunch cart in Providence, RI, in 1872, diners evolved into portable sit-down restaurants by the early 1900s. New York State is credited with significant milestones in the history, architecture, and development of the American diner. Westchester Co became a center of diner manufacture during the early 20th century thanks to New Rochelle's Patrick Tierney. He set up 38 movable lunch cars in busy areas, served light fare—coffee, pies, and sandwiches—and offered 24-hour service. With his success Tierney transformed his eateries into an industry that influenced American roadside culture. He and sons Edward and Edgar built hundreds of lunch wagons until 1927. The DeRaffele Manufacturing Co, established in 1933, continues to build diners in New Rochelle. Other builders included Ward and Dickinson in Silver Creek (Chautauqua Co) and the Orleans Manufacturing Co in Albion, which built the stunning Highland Park Diner in Rochester.

Diners in New York State exemplify the history of this unique architectural form. One of the oldest examples is the 1923 O'Mahony make, a lunch car found at the Palace Lunch in Gloversville (Fulton Co). Palace Lunch retains much of its original interior, such as marble counter and ceramic tile floors and walls. After the mid-1930s architects introduced the Streamline Moderne design to accommodate growing business, to introduce booth service, and to attract female customers. An example of this type is found at the Cutchogue Diner (Suffolk Co), which has shiny, easy-to-clean porcelain, enamel, and stainless steel surfaces. Immediately following World War II, the diner entered its golden age as elaborate, streamlined, and modular designs were built to attract families. Examples from this period are the Empire Diner in Herkimer and Doc's Little Gem Diner in Syracuse. After the development of highways diners began offering home-cooked meals, which became the main fare.

The Taconic Parkway serves as a type of postwar diner museum. Beginning in 1952, gas station operator Burton Coons had success with a diner he moved to Red Hook (Dutchess Co) on US 9. Every few years he added diners at successive junctions in Columbia Co in Martindale, Philmont, and Chatham; he had five diners along the parkway in the 1950s. His diner Silk City 5113 (now Historic Village Diner) in Red Hook was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 since it is a distinctive example of early 20th-century roadside architecture.

Diners declined in the 1960s after the rise of fast food and self-service eateries. Builders shed the streamlined architecture to construct colonial- and Mediterranean-influenced restaurants, as seen at the Thornwood Coach (Westchester Co). Mediterranean or Greek family-owned diners are dominant features on the New York landscape and are found in Buffalo, Albany, and Syracuse. In the early 1990s the nostalgia and pop culture craze revived the American diner. The retro-styled Latham Circle (Albany Co) and Dutchess Co's Eveready in Hyde Park and 84 Diner in Fishkill exemplify this reinterpretation. Though some debate the definition of the word, most agree a diner is fundamentally a prefabricated food service facility (with counter service) hauled to its intended location. In 2003 New York State had between 450 and 500 diners.

Anderson, Will. Mid-Atlantic Roadside Delights (Portland, Maine: Will Anderson & Sons Publishing, 1991)

Gutman, Richard J. S. American Diner Then and Now (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ Press, 2000)

Randy Garbin


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