Sunday, August 1, 2010

Tales Of Worcester's Famous Diners and Other Icons

(Please click on these photos to make them bigger--wish I knew why they appear so small here!)

On Friday I took to the Futon Company the photos I had framed for the “Welcome to Worcester” art exhibit which opens today and lasts until Sept. 30. The owner of the Futon Company, Elizabeth Hughes, came up with the idea of putting together a show celebrating certain Worcester landmarks as portrayed by two artists in different media: Doug Chapel’s illustrations and my digitally enhanced photographs.

On Sunday, Aug. 8, the show will move across Highland Street to the parking lot of the Sole Proprietor Restaurant, as part of “Art in the Parking Lot” . And on Sept. 9, from 6 to 8 p.m. there will be a reception at the Futon Company, 129 Highland Street, which will include hot dogs from Coney Island, whose famous sign is featured on the postcard for the show.

Here is a sneak preview of the photos I took. (Don’t know how many of them will be hung on the walls, but smaller, inexpensive prints of all these and more will be for sale at “Art in the Parking Lot” on Aug. 8.)

The Owl Shop, on Main Street, was opened in 1946 by George Photakis, offering tobaccos, cigars, pipe tobaccos, even hookahs. George’s son John Photakis took it over in the seventies but died in a fatal car accident in 2002 at age 51. His son Zack now runs the store.The Owl Shop, with its green-eyed neon owl, has been attracting photographers for over 60 years. I printed a day photo and a night one, but I think my favorite is a shot of just the sign with the Italianate tower of City Hall looming behind it.

The Boulevard Diner is even more a magnet to photographers. (Madonna ate spaghetti here one night after her show at the Centrum. ) It’s the most beautiful of Worcester’s famous diners. (I hope you know that just about all the diners in the Northeast were produced in Worcester at the Worcester Lunch Car Company.) The “Bully” was #730, produced in 1936 and was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week except for Sunday nights. I tried both day and night shots of this iconic diner, which frequently has a host of motorcycles parked outside. My favorite is the photo in the center with the word “Diner” against the sky. It has a lonely Edward Hopper atmosphere even though the people are hanging out together—yet they seem isolated in the glare of the neon.

The Aurora on Main Street was originally an elegant hotel built in 1897, but it deteriorated drastically along with the neighborhood. It was rehabilitated to be inexpensive apartments, especially for artists. Arts Worcester has its gallery and headquarters in the building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. I shot the building at an angle to capture the feeling of the neighborhood. Then I noticed the reflection of the Aurora in a window of what I think is an empty store—perhaps it’s public art, judging from the mannequins. I thought the reflection provided an interesting perspective on the venerable Victorian tenement.

The Corner Lunch and Miss Worcester are two more of the famous Worcester Diners. Corner Lunch on Lamartine Street, no longer in its prime, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Everyone raves about its breakfasts. According to one fan, it was originally in Babylon, NY only to make it to Worcester in 1968.

A block away, at 302 Southbridge Street, is the Miss Worcester Diner. According to Wikipedia: “ Worcester Lunch Car # 812 was built in 1948 by Worcester Lunch Car Company and is located across the street from the company's (now defunct) Worcester factory. While independently owned and operated, it was used by the Lunch Car Company as a "showroom" diner, and a test bed for new features.” It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

The other Worcester Icons I photographed for “Welcome to Worcester” include Dr. Gonzo’s—as you can see it’s a store for “Uncommon Condiments”. It also has its own house band--- The Roadkill Orchestra. A few days ago, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette published a column by Dianne Williamson titled “Dr. Gonzo is Wooville’s Biggest Fan.” She wrote, “He’s a merchant, musician, unofficial city ambassador, unpaid local organizer and proud purveyor of all natural spices and sauces with names such as Wicked Wiener Wonder Relish, One Hump Dry Rub No. 2 and another rub whose name could test the tolerance of my editor”. She quoted Dr. Gonzo, who was born J Stuart Esty, as saying,“This town is going through a transformation, and it has an amazing collection of human beings. I’ve traveled around the country and lived in Europe and you can’t replicate Worcester anywhere in the world.”

My last photo shows Turtle Boy on Worcester Common. He is the city’s mascot and has his own facebook page and web site. But he has such a lurid and tumultuous story that I’ll have to save it for my next blog post.


Anonymous said...

You have a great eye for color and composition-- your painting techniques come through in your photographs.

I love that Elizabeth is doing shows at the Futon Company, although I think your work is more than strong enough to stand alone. Her store is one of the best parts of Worcester-- where's her photograph? Maybe they're will be a quirky doodle of it.

mzg said...

I'm dying to hear the story of Turtle boy. Also, I think that the Miss Worcester Diner was featured in the movie School Ties with Branden Frasier? Don't quote me on that.