Cheyenne Diner stripped of classic signs ahead of its big move to Alabama
The Cheyenne Diner without its neon signage on Sunday afternoon. (Photos by Rolando Pujol)
This would normally be bad news: A classic Manhattan diner was stripped of its beloved neon signage Sunday morning. But this isn't just any diner and these aren't just any signs: It's the Cheyenne Diner, and the signs and the rest of the diner will soon be taking a long trip to warmer climes in Alabama.
The Cheyenne, a streamlined rail-car-style diner built in 1940, has endured quite a saga in the past year. It closed in April to make way for a nine-story condo on its slim site. Then a plan to move it to Red Hook collapsed under rising costs and logistics. And finally, the site's owner, George Papas, who had worked to save the diner with preservationist Michael Perlman, was poised to have it demolished unless someone took it off his hands.
Click here to see photos of the missing signs.
For the second time, Perlman came to the Cheyenne's rescue, matching Birmingham, Ala. investor Joel Owens with the diner. After the Cheyenne is transported in the next few weeks, it is expected to become part of a major tourist attraction in Birmingham, and serve as the only freestanding diner in the state.
A small "Open" sign was still in place Sunday afternoon.
We stopped by the diner this afternoon to document the signless Cheyenne, which assumed that name in 1986. It was once known as the Market Diner, part of the chain. More photos and Perlman's news release are after the jump.
-- Rolando Pujol
A sign advises disappointed diners to trot up a block to the Skylight Diner on West 34th Street. Inside, the painted Cheyenne murals are visible.
Another interior shot
An beige hard-wired rotary phone can be seen near the cashier's station at the Cheyenne Diner, along with a calendar for B&H, which is across the street and was no doubt a good customer.
Cheyenne: Urbanite coverage:
amNY photo galleries
Preservationist Michael Perlman's news release:
NEW YORK, NY (Jan 24, 2009) The iconic sign of NYCs historic Cheyenne Diner (411 9th Ave & 33rd St) will be removed on Sunday, January 25, 2009 by Paul Signs Inc of Brooklyn, NY, in preparation for the move, which is to take place within the next few weeks. Michael Perlman a.k.a Diner-Man (http://www.observer.com/2008/diner-man-rescue) states It is of the utmost importance to acquire the necessary permits in a timely manner, to ensure preservation via transport for this historic gem, and we urge the NYC Dept of Buildings to expedite the permits process.
On Jan 13, 2009, Perlman brokered the deal between Joel Owens of Birmingham, AL and property owner George Papas. The diner was slated for demolition within the next few weeks, if a buyer willing to transport the diner wasnt located. Joel Owens, head of NAIC, an investment group, became the fortunate candidate, and has announced plans to restore the Cheyenne to its 1940s glory with potential additions including a classic car museum & special events center. Owens states This is a dream come true, especially in a state that has no historic freestanding diners. Alabama Tourism Director, Lee Sentell, states This has the potential to be a great Alabama destination.
Perlman received alternate proposals from potential buyers from Upstate NY, PA, MI, TX, & UT, but it boiled down to first-come, first-serve, when faced with a 6-week deadline to clear the property. Since the Cheyennes dimensions are 15 ft x 96 ft (2,000 sq ft), the diner will be transported via flatbed in 2 sections to Alabama, with the expertise of Rigger Mel Brandt of M&M Rigging of PA, who transported 50 diners countrywide (including NYs historic Moondance Diner to LaBarge, WY in Aug 2007).
Backtracking... As Chairman of Committee To Save The Cheyenne Diner, Perlman presented a proposal to property owner George Papas (owner of nearby Skylight Diner & developer for Cheyenne property) on closing day, Sunday, April 6th 2008, and convinced him to work together. A 9-story condo is slated to rise on premise, which marked the end of the diner's 68 year-run for its Manhattan chapter. Cheyennes ex-owner Mike O'Connell planned to transport the diner to Red Hook, but it fell through when it wouldn't fit across the Manhattan Bridge via a flatbed, and the next option, transporting it by barge, proved 3 times as costly as traditional figures a year ago.
HISTORY: The Cheyenne Diner is a highlight in terms of its diverse patronage including celebs i.e. Jerry Lewis & David Letterman, and since it's second to the last streamlined railway car-inspired diner in Mid-Manhattan, and a scarcity borough-wide. It was pre-assembled by Paramount Diners in 1940, and known as the Market Diner through '86 after the popular chain. It retains a majority of its original &/or distinctive elements. The streamlined faÃ§ade features vertical and horizontal stainless steel securing bowed colorful enamel panels, wrap-around windows, a curved entryway with glass block, & a reverse channel illuminated neon sign. The interior features a streamlined barrel roof, counter & stools, & Indian tribal coins. The Cheyenne was recently granted 1st prize on NYC-Architecture.com's Top 10 NY Diners/Restaurants. Spiros Kasimis was the tenant for approximately two decades.
Perlman explains: Diners are amongst the ultimate public institutions which harbor countless memories and bridge the generations. During the 30's - 60's eras, freestanding diners numerously dotted NYCs 5 boroughs, and brought together individuals of various occupations in a cozy & striking ambiance. Today, they are becoming an endangered species at an alarming rate, and their loss is often most heartfelt. It is essential to preserve & reuse all remaining classic freestanding diners. Despite time constraints, we are committed to doing all we can for a noble cause. The Committees consensus is that A steady market for such nostalgic gems, coupled by the fact that they were manufactured to move; can ensure a victory for the Cheyenne Diner.
Cheyenne Diner in operation in May 2007 & April 6, 2008 closing day photos, vintage photos, & photos during Mega Moves documentary filming, Courtesy of Preservationist Michael Perlman:
1941 photo (pan & zoom 3rd in sequence), courtesy of NYPL:
NYC Diner Preservation Record
- Sam Chinita housed in freestanding diner (8th Ave & 19th St), demolished 2000
- River Diner (11th Ave & 37th St), demolished Mar 2004
- Lunchbox Diner (357 West St), restored in 2002, but closed & remains abandoned
- Munson Diner (11th Ave & 49th St) transported to the Catskills in 2005
- Moondance Diner (80 6th Ave) transported to LaBarge, WY in Aug 2007 & reopens in 2009 (Michael Perlman founded the Committee To Save The Moondance Diner in spring 2007, which made him an official NYC preservationist after working with Extell Development, and granting it a new lease on life in LaBarge, WY)
- Staten Island's Victory Diner transported in Aug 2007 to SI's Midland Beach Promenade & reopens in 2009
- Some icons holding onto their own: NYC's Empire Diner (10th Ave & 22nd St), jet-age Market Diner (11th Ave & 43rd St) reopened early Dec 2008, Air Line Diner/currently Jackson Hole (Astoria Blvd & 70th St), Square Diner (33 Leonard St near Varick St & W Broadway).