A SLICE OF AMERICANA
BALTIMORE — Manufactured in New Jersey, operated in Long Island, the Hollywood Diner wasn't trucked here until Barry Levinson needed it for his 1982 movie "Diner," a paean to his Baltimore youth.
During the 1980s the Hollywood Diner, with all its original stainless steel and peach-colored vinyl booths, became a well-known local landmark.
"The fact that they used the diner as a [movie] set and then brought it back as a business says a lot about its appeal," observes Richard J. S. Gutman, a Boston diner restorer and author of the book "American Diner."
The style of the diner evolved into its long box shape because it was built in a factory and had to be narrow to move on roads, explains Mr. Gutman.
Though they resemble rail cars, he says, today's diners, which can cost $1 million to build, actually evolved from 19th-century horse-drawn carriages costing $1,000, used to sell food to journalists whose deadlines put them out on the street after restaurants had closed.
"The diner had a renaissance in the 1980s," says Gutman, whose 1979 book benefited from that popularity and will go into a second printing this year after used copies began to sell for $200 apiece. There are now traditional diners in places like Arizona and Georgia where few existed before the 1980s, he says.
Besides nostalgia for the 1950s, he says, the diner, with its lumpy chocolate shakes and hand-shaped hamburgers, is symbolic of the desire for "good value and good food."
"The materials - stainless steel, porcelain enamel, Formica, ceramic tiles - evoke an image of the diner as a real good place to eat, everything can be wiped down; it's neat and clean with its reflections," he says.