Monday, November 9, 2015

West Street Vintage

After the heartbreaking loss of the Market Diner, we're about to lose yet another vintage diner for yet another massive luxury development.

Over on the West Side Highway, between Clarkson and Leroy Streets, there is--and was--a block of low-rise buildings, a wonderfully crummy vestige of pre-glitz New York City. There was a car wash, a company that specialized in structural steel fasteners, an autobody shop, and a former old-school adult entertainment joint.

In between stands a chrome and lime-green Kullman diner that dates back to the 1940s or '50s. It was the Terminal Diner, the Lunchbox Diner, and a few other places before it shuttered in 2006.

This past weekend, a green wall of plywood was erected around the block-long site, readying it all for demolition and the construction of 357 West Street, an undulating luxury condo tower from Ian Schrager.

While the coming of the condo development has made news, no one seems to have mentioned the little Kullman diner--and its apparently impending demise.

Behind the new plywood is a wall of older plywood that concealed the diner a year or so ago. Maybe people just forgot it was there. But it remains.


I took some photos of it in 2013. It was forlorn, covered in graffiti, its interior ruined, but still lovely in its unique green, black, and chrome stripes.

Someone had created a guerrilla art installation, propping wig heads on metal rods and sticking them through the diner's side windows.


At that time, the corner spot was still Westworld and West Side. I visited one night to find a oasis of sleaze. Inside a tiny theater, rows of folding chairs faced a small stage. Male dancers stripped and gyrated, their skin smelling of baby powder, shimmering with oil and glitter.


Westworld had started out as Westway, opened in 1978. An advertisement in the Village Voice read: "Come cruise along the West Side Highway... among the trucks and gay bars..."

By 1980 it was Westworld--and the ads shouted, "FANTASTY ROOM! PEEP ROOM! HOLES!"

It became a reincarnated Westway in 2011, this time as a nightclub featuring the Westgay party. It closed this summer when Schrager took over the property.

The car wash has already been totally demolished. The autobody shop has moved to Brooklyn.


There's also an old brick building with a ghost sign across the front of it, up near the cornice. The only word clearly legible is "Engineers."


But a quick search turned up a 1912 advertisement in International Marine Engineering for Katzenstein's Metallic Packings. "General Machinists' and Engineers' Supplies," is what the ghost sign says, from back in the day when the waterfront was a working waterfront, for shipbuilders and seamen.

So much history in this little block, and all remnants of it will be wiped away in one fell swoop. Still, it's the loss of the little Kullman diner that we'll sorely regret. Can't anyone save it before it's too late? Ian Schrager? Be the good guy who moves this diner someplace safe. What a beauty it was--and could be again.

via NYC architecture


Gregoire Alessandrini said...

What a pity...but I sure new it was coming...It's almost surprising that it lasted that long..`
Here are a bunch of shots of "The Lost Diner" favorite in all of my pictures.
I actually remember when it was taken over in the mid-nineties...but didnt last very long...I had many other photos but they were lost by a french magazine (Telerama) that was supposed to publish an article of mine about the last NYC diners...


Jeremiah Moss said...

Such a beauty--in pink and blue!

Unknown said...

I'm really surprised that that block has held on as long as it has. It's enormous, and going to make the devs a ton of dough. Sad. It'd be great to move the diner and restore it.

MrEguy said...

Thank you for documenting and sharing all this priceless history.

rongee said...

While I do object to much of the community neighborhoods being destroyed along with classic and viable mom & pop storefront businesses, this particular location has been an eyesore and stood dormant for quite a long time and should be removed. I'm not against all development and think much of it is good for the necessary growth of the city. I hope whatever is built on this site is used for small, independent retail and wholesale purpose along with affordable, middle class and lower income housing units.

Mitch Golden said...

From the pictures it seems like it would be pretty hard to save even if someone wanted to. Maybe the outside decoration is salvageable.

I wonder why no one rented it all these years?

Ken Mac said...

You know this was coming. Which makes me wonder what is up with the Gottlieb's building and that gorgeous "HOTEL" sign two blocks north of the diner?

Damaged Goods said...


Did you bother to not even read the post? It's all turning into luxury housing, not affordable housing nor independent retail.