29 Diner Fairfax Virginia

The Tastee 29 Diner is a rare survivor among the once-numerous streamlined Moderns diners that operated in the United States. While it in rare to find one of these 1940's diners still standing, it is even more unusual to find one still in operation. The high quality of this Mountain View diner has withstood the test of time in a hostile environment. (The Mountain View Diner Company of Singac, New Jersey was in business between 1939 and 1957). When this diner was moved to its site in 20 July 1947,1 the County of Fairfax was predominately rural and Route 29 was the major highway leading from the Washington, D.C., area and points north into the northern Virginia countryside. The Tastes 29 Diner is a rare fragment of early- and aid-twentieth-century roadside architecture that once stood along this busy roadway. Because of its rarity in the region and its exceptional example of the diner type, it has achieved National Register level significance within the past fifty years. A unique Mountain View diner with high architectural integrity, the Tastes 29 Diner in undoubtedly a member of a notable class of American buildings.

Introduction

From the mid-1930s through the 1950s the diner was the ubiquitous roadside eatery, offering warm comfort and relatively quickly prepared home cooking. During the heyday of diners, it was possible to establish a successful business with a modest investment and a great deal of hard work. This architectural form developed in step with the popularization of the automobile during the Great Depression and World War II period. The diner was born amidst the urban environs of the northeast during the late nineteenth. century, but by the late 1920s diners were being located farther south-and west. Like many other diners, the Tastee 29 catered to travelers on a traditionally well-worn route. The tavern or inn would have been the earlier commercial restaurant entity, developing throughout the eighteenth century and lasting well into the twentieth as a viable form of business. The smaller restaurants and diners appearing beside these older establishments could compete as the demand for quick meal convenience was required by a car-mobile society. Unfortunately, the growth of the fast-­food industry, during the second half of this century, has outdone the diner by refining convenience and swift service to a corporate science. The Tastes 29 Diner, because of its dedicated and growing clientele, including some who have defected from the fast-food eateries, has managed to survive and is the last operating diner in Fairfax City.

The diner is a purely American form of building. The first diner was the Pioneer Lunch wagon, operated by Walter Scott, of Providence, Rhode Islan4,, in 1872.2 By 1884 lunch wagons had developed from walk-up eateries to indoor stool-at-counter service restaurants. During the second decade of the twentieth century, the lunch wagon became less of a mobile restaurant, and the introduction of elaborate materials and decorative features became part of the customized package for purchase. During the 1920s the lunch wagon was more often called a diner because of its similarity to railroad dining cars.3 It was during this period that the diner began to take on its classic form: a stationary restaurant that included the luxury of booths (initially an idea to attract more families and female patrons)-" Essentially, by the 1930s, the business of Constructing and operating diners had become a fine­-tuned system as had the manufacture of the automobile.

With the popularization of industrial design, the diner evolved from a humble wooden wagon to the streamlined Modern design of the 1940s. The streamline strain of American modern architecture was derived through several sources. Coming originally from high-style architectural movements such as European Art Deco and the early International Style, American architects and industrial designers translated these styles into uniquely American forms that evoked static movement through the use of shaping and modern materials such as highly polished stainless steels The streamline designing proliferated: for example, the shimmering stainless steel curvilinear shape of a classic like the DC-3 airplane was alluded to by vacuum cleaners and irons. Beginning in the 1930s, the Machine-Age restaurant was manifested in the diner. It was the common man I s restaurant of the future.

The design references to actual railroad dining cars became popular at this period. This has led to the erroneous assumption that Diners were an offshoot of the railroad and trolley car industry. Retired railcars and trolleys were often converted into diner-style eateries during the 1910a and the 1920s, and they successfully influenced the roof lines of diners through the 1940s. The Tastee 29 shows this influence in its simple monitor-style roof.

The great lunch wagon and diner companies were all centered in the northeast. The fathers of diner manufacturing in the early twentieth century were shrewd entrepreneurs such as T. H. Buckley, who founded his company in Worcester, Massachusetts; Jerry O'Kahony, who operated out of Bayonne, New Jersey; and the "Diner­a-Day Tierneys," with their factory in New Rochelle, New York.$ By 1948t ' 13 manufacturers were producing-250 diners annually at an average price of $36,ooo.9 The Mountain View Diner Company, builder of the Tastee 29 Diner, was formed by the partnership of Les Daniel and Henry Strys in 1939.10 Located outside of Mountain view, New Jersey, they remained in business until 1957. They employed streamline styling from the start and their craftsmanship quality was high. The Tastee 29 substantiates their slogan: "A Mountain View Diner will last a lifetime." In an August 1941 article in The Diner magazine, the Mountain View Company claimed to have only three of their "brand new" diners on site.12 Diners dating from before WWII were often styled with late Art Deco detail. Production of diners came to a virtual halt during the war and afterwards there was a stylistic change which reflected the streamlined motifs that had been developing just before and during the war. The Tastee 29 Diner shows streamlining in its curvilinear glass brick and stainless steel prows.

This information was prepared January 30, 1992 by
Marc Christian Wagner, Architectural Historian
Preservation Associates of Virginia
406 Harris Road Charlottesville, Va. 22903


In 199? the name "Tastee" has been removed from the name, its now back to the original name "29 Diner"