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Modern Diner

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1940. 364 East Ave. (opposite Patt St.)
  • (HABS)
  • (HABS)
  • (Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

By chance, downtown redevelopment forced the relocation of this diner from Dexter Street appropriately close to the Moderne high school. Here is the vintage “streamlined” diner of its period. Its sheet metal siding with rounded roof and end invoke train transportation. So does the two-toned effect of windows contained in a band of red-brown with a field of cream and the stripe of red-brown tan below. The image is conflated: big windows, simulating those of the passenger car, give way at one rounded end to horizontal slots to simulate the engineer's cab. Chrome around the windows and chrome stripes bent around the engineer's cockpit give sparkle and zip. The brown stripe across the lower field dips to a point at the cab end of the car. Its apex rests on a glass block cowcatcher (which lights basement space designed for customer overflow and once served by dumbwaiter, but now relegated to storage). From the beginning an appendage contained most of the kitchen functions, rest rooms, and a stair to the lower level (now replaced by an above-ground dining room extension).

Remarkably, this diner retains most of its original interior fittings, revealing a charming mix of wooden carpentry and metal components which are more at ease with modernity. Curved sheet metal marks the ceiling and the hood over the cooking area, the latter painted dark brown and striped with aluminum. Booths along the windows are unupholstered, their plywood backs scroll cut into curves at the top, to which tall wooden posts are attached along the aisle with peg hangers for coats. The effect is more of bedsteads and bedposts than of Super Chief seating. All is tan and brown, perhaps to recall the woody and leathery look of the classic railroad “club car” of the period.

The Modern Diner is only partway to the luxurious “banquette” upholstery and metallic glitter of more convincing streamlined successors. Rhode Island is fortunate in having this early example, however—all the more because the diner as an American type supposedly originated with horsedrawn windowed wagons in Providence in the 1880s. There, their automobile successors are still to be found near the city hall, appearing in the evening and serving until dawn.

Writing Credits

William H. Jordy et al.


What's Nearby


William H. Jordy et al., "Modern Diner", [Pawtucket, Rhode Island], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Rhode Island, William H. Jordy, with Ronald J. Onorato and William McKenzie Woodward. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004, 139-140.

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