York Road diner has reservation at museum

Former restaurant begins journey to Rhode Island

September 05, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A historic diner that sat idle for a decade on York Road near the Senator movie theater left Baltimore early yesterday bound for Providence, R.I., where it will find a home at the American Diner Museum.

The diner, which had shrink-wrap around it, had become a familiar sight in the 5800 block of York Road at the otherwise vacant lot where it sat for about a decade. Tom Kiefaber, owner of the nearby art deco movie theater, had bought the pre-World War II Lemoyne-style Pennsylvania diner for $20,000, hoping to restore it as a centerpiece for a larger diner. That effort failed, leaving the diner to languish in North Baltimore until a new home could be found.

Last year, Daniel Zilka, the diner museum's founding director, offered to transport the 20-ton restaurant to Providence, where its classic train-car character will be preserved, although the museum has yet to open.

On Tuesday, the diner was prepared for its nearly 370-mile trek, loaded onto a tractor-trailer, and at dawn yesterday, it began the journey north.

"It was a happy ending, a Hollywood ending," Kiefaber said yesterday.

To ready the diner for the trip, it was first unwrapped -- its porcelain enamel and stainless steel surfaces, dessert cabinet and marble countertop were exposed to sunlight for the first time in years.

"These are democratic eating places, great equalizers," Zilka said as he worked on the diner. "We're saving collective memory."

Kiefaber noted that the Barry Levinson movie Diner, set in Baltimore, premiered at the Senator 20 years ago.

"This place is already a diner mecca," Kiefaber said of Baltimore. "And the country has rediscovered diners in general."

The diner quest will go on. Kiefaber said he would dust off plans for building a retro diner, Nibble & Clink, named after a restaurant near to the Senator in the 1940s.

"First of all, I love the name," he said.

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