Yesterday I received an interesting call from Dinah Grossman who started and runs Spinning J a very intriguing coffee shop, café and bakery in Chicago. She called to inquire whether the owners of the Comet Diner might have an interest in selling the diner. Dinah grew up in Western Massachusetts and had recalled the building. Her business, located in what she freely calls a “difficult” neighborhood, is thriving and she believes that bringing the Comet to Chicago would be the perfect strategy to grow her business and to contribute to neighborhood development.
My response although cautious was to tell Dinah that the owners would be more than happy to rid themselves of the Comet in fact it has been a stated desire. My knowledge of moving buildings however suggested that transporting the diner would be expensive. To my great surprise during our conversation I learned that there is a building mover which specializes in moving diners around the country and that the cost was relatively humble she believes $25,000-40,000. Diners like the Comet were mostly manufactured and trucked to various sites in pieces. So, it is entirely economical to move from one location to another. In doing a Google search of diners moving you can find a lot of examples:
and the diners moved and restored by Diversified Diners.
In preservation terms, I am excited that the Comet can be preserved and cherished. Imagining a new life as a neighborhood revival beacon and once again assuming a life as was originally intended. Good for Dinah and good for Chicago that these historic structures are in demand. Yet I view this good fortune as a loss for Hartford. The Preservation Alliance has worked to a considerable degree in trying to revitalize the six blocks along Farmington Avenue and hopefully having the Comet as the keystone to a foundation of economic renewal. We have researched and explored many possibilities. These all would reuse the Comet in its original purpose to feed, in a humble manner, folks who live in the neighborhood but to become a beacon for travelers, visitors and others who know what diner food usually portends! So many avenues to explore regarding access to good food as a cost-effective response to meals typically served up at convenience stores. On a local, state and national level there are funds to create and sustain programs to contribute to better health in a neighborhood such as Asylum Hill. Linking the West End Farmers Market to a commercial kitchen for cooking classes educating folks how to take advantage of fresh food to address community health issues, preventive methods to eat well and be healthy. Often I have written about creating a food truck center a strategy stoking neighborhood revival in cities across the country. No interest or enthusiasm has been ignited.
This is Hartford. We find the fault and the impossibility of a new idea. We fear the neighborhoods and are incapable of seeing the possibilities. Not once have I been greeted with a response such as that of Dinah Gossman in Chicago – a diner has the potential of recreating a tough community and to bring promise. Rather most inquiries have led off with how might the diner be gotten rid of to develop soulless buildings taking advantage of neighbors. Recently an observation was made that folks would be nostalgic as they asked what happened to the Comet? “We have such great memories of that magical place.” Indeed, why preserve the diner which exists? Let’s allow Dinah and her vision to create new horizons, new memories to snatch the Comet away.
Who wants to attend the going away party?