Hi, my name is Spencer, and I like diners.
“Why?”, you may ask, and it’s a valid question. It’s certainly true that they don’t seem to get a lot of love these days. Maybe that’s part of the reason I do what I do. They’re disappearing or being remodeled beyond recognition at an alarming rate. While I don’t have the money or space to save any of these places, I can at the very least do my part in saving their memory.
Modernism for the masses. While the diner was born of the 19th century, of a horse drawn wagon, to me they epitomize the modernity of their era. A typical building is designed to last for decades. Diner design changed like car design did. Manufacturers were always coming out with newer, more streamlined designs. And like a car, the diner’s portable design allowed it to be moved and traded in for newer models. They were modernism for the masses.
For better or for worse, this march of progress which defined diner culture makes our job as preservationists/researchers/documentarians a bit tricky. That “bad” remodel of the 1970s was done in the same spirit as trading in your porcelain enamel clad ’30s O’Mahony for a stainless steel’50s Fodero. If you want to keep up in the business, you have to be on the cutting edge. There’s really a very interesting tension about it all.
I like diners because I like patterns. I’m a collector. I like comparing similar things to highlight their differences- it’s how I learn best. So give me diners- as many as you can. I love being able to piece together an idea of “original” from 10 different versions of the same era and builder of diner- all redone in some way or another over the years. I love the different characters physically identical places acquire. I love seeing how builders tried to one up each other. I love the creativity the came about in the designs from the restrictions of having to transport the diners.
I’m deep in my research of the now defunct hamburger chain, Little Tavern Shops, for mostly the same reason as my diner fascination.
I’m currently studying architecture at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.