August 1, 2021

Remember when it used to be...over there

Areas' Lost Diners and More

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Like most aging cities across America, East Providence and its' surrounding areas have become a place of bygones fading into our memories. The super store culture has replaced most of our mom and pop local businesses long ago. The big box stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot have pushed the Warren Avenue Hardwares and Plywood Marts right into oblivion. Warren Avenue Hardware (aptly located) had any and everything a person may need. A famous sign hanging on the wall boldly stated that "If you can't find it, just ask. It's here." Sort of like the 'if we don't have it, you don't need it mentality'. The store held on for a long time but finally closed down in the 70's. In fact, one of the owners was seen working at the Home Depot in Seekonk shortly after the closure. Today, after the closure of Standard Hardware, it is nearly impossible to buy a nail or screw within East Providence. Any serious carpentry or building needs must be met by shopping across the state line in neighboring Seekonk, Massachusetts. While there were never many lumber yards in town there was the Plywood Mart and then Grossman's in Riverside and a lumber yard on Taunton Avenue. But today, hardly a piece of wood can be purchased from Rumford to Riverside.

If one was hungry after shopping at Warren Avenue Hardware, one only needed to step next door and visit the small but popular Homestyle Pizza. It was arguably the best pizza joint in town but it has been long gone. There were many diners in town. The type that are popularized today on vintage signs and posters. Dinty Moores diner on Taunton Avenue served its' famous 'stew' and all the comfort food found in the classic diners of yesteryear. Dinty Moores ads proclaimed, "Swell Grub - That's All". Dinty Moore's was a Ward & Dickinson Diner. It was called Bob's Diner from 1933 to 1934. In 1935 it became the Dinty Moore Diner and lasted into the 70's. Nearby was an equally famous Crawshaw's Diner which was across the street from Taunton Avenue's Ben Franklin's 5 & 10 Cent Store. No, Ben Franklin himself didn't live or shop here. There were other diners with equally nostalgic impact such as Ernie Paddock's on Newport Avenue, Dewey's Diner on the corner of Massasoit and Waterman, the Crescent Diner at the corner of Warren and Pawtucket, Wrightman's Diner on 1A in Rumford. These diners are all long gone. And there were still many more diners, some dating back to the 1920's. There were Charlie's and McDermott's and the Star Diner on Newport Avenue. Many of these diners were home to daily 'regulars'. These regulars would often meet every morning over breakfast and solve the world's problems - or at least East Providence's. One such popular diner was the Wampanoag Diner in Kent Heights. As one former patron put it, "Breakfast was great, especially Mame's pancakes and the meatloaf dinners! Prices were cheap, ambience not great, but the service and food were good." On most mornings area politicians would hold court there. Former Mayor and veteran police officer Roland Grant was a fixture on most days. Wampanoag was sold in 2006 and the iconic diner was razed and the lot remains an eyesore today as a fenced in weed-strewn corner lot. Another popular meeting spot was CEBA's diner on Taunton Avenue. Co-owned by Sam Abbood and family it served breakfast, lunch and light dinner and remained popular until slightly after the death of Abbood. His family continued the tradition for awhile but the business eventually closed as CEBA's. It is open today however, but under a different name.

Other ghosts of the past included several car-hop type restaurants and drug stores featuring soda fountains. Crescent Pharmacy on Pawtucket Avenue was just South of the Warren Avenue intersection. Pharmacist owner Al Manoian operated what the locals called "Al's Drugstore". In addition to prescription meds and over the counter remedies, patrons could buy boxed chocolates, newspapers and magazines and enjoy an ice-cream float or a coke at the long soda fountain. Here too, regulars would congregate and chat about life. Similar drugstores existed in other corners of the city. Meadowcrest Pharmacy was at the Forbes and Willett corner and Friedman's Rexall Drug was on Taunton Avenue. All had fountains and served treats to area families. Of course, 'witch hazel' was available but didn't seem to move off the shelves too quickly. Next to Al's Drugstore was Linden's Market, then renamed Mr. Butcher. Denny Brown ran a small but very popular meat market selling quality meats cut to order. "Saugy's were displayed next to filet mignon and other deli treats. Mr. Butcher packed them in on Saturdays.

A popular pastime on most week-ends during this golden era of "Happy Days" was going to the local drive-in. Townies by the car load would go to the Seekonk Twin and BayState drive-ins on neighboring Route 6. Before the Ann & Hope and the Alperts and all of the strip mall and box stores, there wasn't much on Route 6 or the GAR highway. The Seekonk Twin opened in July 1958 as the Seekonk Family Drive-In. Built at a cost of over $500,000 by Norman Zalkind and Hyman Lepes, car capacity was announced at about 1,600. For awhile in the 70's church services were held on Sunday mornings at the drive-in. People would sit in their cars and listen to a preacher who climbed atop a huge ladder to speak. Shortly after Ann & Hope (also a memory now) was built one could partially see most of one of the Konk screens from the store parking lot. Especially interesting when the drive-in started showing "R"rated movies. Across Route 6 was the BayState. At its' 12th anniversary, the drive-in ran four consecutive nights of patron appreciation. Pearl necklaces were given to the first 100 female patrons; Elizabeth Arden perfume to the next 100 ladies; rain caps to all other females present; cigars to all men, and balloons, candy, and lollipops to kids (Wikepedia). When the drive-ins charged admission by the person, there are legendary stories of teens hiding in car trunks and under blankets in order to avoid the cost. Eventually the drive-ins charged a flat rate per car. And remember those crackly speakers which one had to clip on to the car window? More than a few were dragged home (accidently) at the end of the night. One facebook poster named Gil had this to say: " Had my new drivers license and my first true love who was a Jr. when I was a sophomore at EPHS. It just doesn’t get better than that! Bay State Drive In and Eileen Darlings were a big part of my life at that time!" The drive-ins closed for good in the mid to late 80's. For indoor theatres many kids would frequent the Gilbert Stuart Theatre on Maple Avenue in Riverside Square. Many week-end movies were offered at 50 cents for up to 12 year olds. And the famous Hollywood Theatre on Taunton Avenue was recently razed although closed for many years.

Yes, Eileen Darlings, Lums, Sullivan's Steak House, Giovanni's, Asquino's, The Little Place, A&W Root Beer - the list of closed icons is very long. There was also the WT Grant department store in Riverside. The A&W Root Beer drive-in diner was at the Forbes street intersection in Riverside. Many hot rodders would strut their stuff on Friday and Saturday nights. It didn't last much past the mid 60's. Only one car-hop place remains in all of RI. Drive to the A&W on route 44 in Greenville and "turn your lights on for service". Many an ice cream lover would drive to the Pink Elephant on Route 44 in Seekonk. The Elephant sold some fast foods and was famous for ice cream sundaes and other cold treats on a warm summer night. It was also fun to see all the cool hot rods hanging out. Many EP youth would hike through the Kent Heights landfill (the dump) off Clyde avenue, through the woods where Ann & Hope would later be built, to find a deep rock cliff known as Indian Cliff. Resembling an Indian head, this area was a popular hangout for those brave enough to make the treacherous climb downward.

East Providence had its share of small stores for shopping including the large Broadway Mill Outlet on North Broadway (near the Rebello underpass is today). But, alas, it closed and a "big" mall came to EP. The celebrated Wampanoag Mall was built at the intersection of Pawtucket and Taunton avenues. It was anchored by Almacs, Cherry & Webb and Warwick Shoppers World. The inside of the mall had the typical chain stores such as Sacketts, Midland Records, Doktor Pet Centers, Cerel's Jewelers, Roberts, Donnelly's, Thom McCan, Fanny Farmer Chocolates and Chess King. Zayre's was across the street and it, too, closed down. By the end of the 80's the mall basically closed and all the connecting areas were blocked up. Almacs closed and the area now consists of a Stop & Shop, Marshall's and other independent venues.

If horse racing was your passion, the area had one of the country's most active tracks. Mentioned in the movie The Sting, Narragansett Park was an American race track for Thoroughbred horse racing in Pawtucket, just over the Rumford line. The track was just south of Slater Park and west of the Ten Mile River. At the time, the river had been dammed downstream to form a reservoir for the East Providence water supply. Since 1934, Narragansett Park was a top-flight racing venue. On Monday, March 22, 1976, a spectacular fire destroyed two barns during the night. 38 thoroughbreds perished in the disaster. Track management had pointed to some 15 years of a declining betting handle, for lack of site improvements and finally the facility closed following the 1978 Labor Day weekend. But for 44 years, locals enjoyed some of the best horse racing in the country. All that remains of the original Narragansett Park is the grandstand building. With the roof and seats removed, it serves as a site for the discounter Building 19. Some old artifacts, such as tote boards and stairwells that end abruptly, still remain in the old facility. Three roads, Seabiscuit Place, War Admiral Place and Whirlaway Place, are in the area.

Many more wondrous places from East Providence and it's border neighbors are no longer around. Too many to mention in this space. The old Red Bridge transported people between East Providence and Providence's East Side. Its' rusting remnants still remain as an eyesore in parts of the East Providence waterfront. Of course The Reporter ran a recent special on Crescent Park and other closed amusement parks which many readers commented on. Most likely there are many other nostalgic places from your past. Send your comments and pictures to add to this story. Email: bob_rodericks@yahoo.com.

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Larry Cultrera

You have used a photo of mine on this post without my permission. Also it is mis-identified as Warren McDermott's Diner. That photo is the former Midway Diner on U.S. Route 20 in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. The photo was taken in March, 1982

Monday, September 23, 2019
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