Friday, July 16, 2010

A Modern marvel: Pawtucket, Rhode Island's Modern Diner

The Modern Diner is famous for their outstanding specials.

These people aren't in the witness protection program...I just blurred their faces in case they're internet phobic.

There's something wonderful about the word "modern". In the early part of the 20th century, modern meant futuristic. Modern art, modern design, modern man. In the early part of the 21st century, modern is usually associated with something nostalgic, old fashioned or quaint. And the irony of the name Modern Diner is as delicious as the bacon and eggs they serve up with a friendly smile to eager patrons every day. The eatery is considered by those with diner know-how as the best surviving example of the Sterling Streamliner diners built in the 1930s and 40s. The Modern dates back to 1940 and it holds the distinction of being the first diner in the country to be accepted on the National Register of Historic Places, right up there with the St. Louis Arch, the Erie Canal and Alcatraz.

The Modern also has the further distinction of winning a lawsuit settlement from the Walt Disney Company. In the early 90s, a clothing company hired by Disney manufactured 72,000 garments depicting cartoons of Mickey and Minnie Mouse in front of a photograph of the Modern Diner, with the name Modern Diner clearly in view. The t-shirts, sweatshirts and maternity shirts were sold in Sears, K-Mart and Caldor stores. When the Modern's owners found out, they sued Disney, the designers and the stores, claiming their common law trademark was violated. A settlement was paid to the Modern, to the zip-a-dee-doo-dah glee of their owners. What makes this particularly ironic is the fact that Disney is known for being ferociously proprietary of their own copyrights, going so far as to threaten legal action against three Florida nursery schools to prevent them from painting murals of Mickey, Donald Duck and Goofy on their walls.

So the next time you find yourself in the working class Providence suburb of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, get back to the future and visit the Modern Diner. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay.


............. said...

Oh that's a great looking diner and the food too. I haven't had the pleasure of seeing too many of these. I've only eaten at at few of them but I'm constantly on the lookout. Too bad this one is so far away. And that's so true about the use of the word: modern. Funny how things change.

Larry said...

Gunnar, just to add to your wonderful piece on the Modern Diner, I knew about the lawsuit with Disney and saw the Image. As a matter of fact, I bought a couple of t-shirts, one for my collection and one to send to the famous artist John Baeder. You see I recognized the image as being from John's painting of the Modern Diner from when it was still on Dexter Avenue in Pawtucket. Before it moved to its current location. I brought it (and the lawsuit) to John's attention and sent him the t-shirt. He in turn also filed suit against Disney and also won a settlement.

Gunnar and Sherry said...

Faded: You've gotta love an old diner. I think they're more common in the northeast than the south where you're from, so come on up and pay us a visit some time!

Larry: Nice to hear from you. Interesting about John Baeder. That sure was a kooky thing Disney did, seeing as how they're so paranoid about their own images. I believe it was the design firm that paid out all the damages.