News at the Miss Albany

Yesterday’s Zippy takes us to a historic diner in Albany NY and its notifications boards:


(#1) Note the parochial character of the messages: bulletins about the diner’s offerings

The real diner’s interior:


(#2) From the diner’s last day of service, posted 2/17/12 on the All Over Albany site

Photorealism at the diner. For comparison to #1 and #2: the Ralph Goings painting Miss Albany Diner (1993), oil on canvas:


(#3) Not a photo, but a photorealist painting (with, once again, the notifications boards)

On Goings, from Wikipedia:

Ralph Goings (May 9, 1928 – September 4, 2016) was an American painter closely associated with the Photorealism movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He was best known for his highly detailed paintings of hamburger stands, pick-up trucks, and California banks, portrayed in a deliberately objective manner. [The entry is illustrated with the painting Ralph’s Diner (1981–1982).]

And on photorealism, again from Wikipedia:

Photorealism is a genre of art that encompasses painting, drawing and other graphic media, in which an artist studies a photograph and then attempts to reproduce the image as realistically as possible in another medium. Although the term can be used broadly to describe artworks in many different media, it is also used to refer specifically to a group of paintings and painters of the American art movement that began in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

… The first generation of American photorealists includes such painters as John Baeder, Richard Estes, Ralph Goings, Chuck Close, Charles Bell, Audrey Flack, Don Eddy, Robert Bechtle, and Tom Blackwell. Often working independently of each other and with widely different starting points, these original photorealists routinely tackled mundane or familiar subjects in traditional art genres — landscapes (mostly urban rather than naturalistic), portraits, and still lifes. [The entry is illustrated with Jon Baeder’s painting John’s Diner with John’s Chevelle, 2007. More diners — Baeder’s specialty.]

On this blog, in my 8/14/14 posting “Tumble Inn, Stan”, some discussion of Baeder’s paintings of roadside diners and eateries — meticulous chronicling of this rapidly disappearing facet of American vernacular architecture. Once again, provoked by a Zippy cartoon, as part of Bill Griffith’s passionate concern with American vernacular culture, especially its art and architecture, as manifested (for example) in roadside figures, commercial logos and mascots, and the design of diners, fast-food eateries, amusement parks, and motels (and of course comic strips, popular music, and the movies). The seriousness of Griffith’s interests in such everyday matters (as deep as Baeder’s) tends to be masked by the playfulness of much of the material itself and the antic delight with which Griffith presents it, but in fact he treats it both lovingly and respectfully.

So I see the strip in #1 as an elegy — at once both matter-of-fact and fanciful —  for a monument of American diner culture, presented as functioning now as it did a decade ago (caucuses in Iowa, Elizabeth Warren!).

The diner. From Wikipedia:


(#4) The diner in April 2010 (Wikipedia photo)

Miss Albany Diner … is a historic diner in Albany, New York, built in 1941 and located at 893 Broadway, one of the oldest streets in Albany. Used as a set for the 1987 film Ironweed, which starred Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2000.

In 1929 the site was occupied by a lunch cart that provided hot food to workers in the area. It was succeeded by a prefabricated diner built by the Ward & Dickinson Dining Car Company. The current building was erected in 1941 and originally called Lil’s Diner. It is a “Silk City Diner model, manufactured by the Paterson Vehicle Company in Paterson, New Jersey, one of the leading diner manufacturers of the time. The building is typical of the prefabricated diners that were common from the 1920s through the 1940s, built to resemble railroad cars and incorporating elements of Art Deco design. With its interior of cherry wood and porcelain enamelled steel and a geometrically tiled floor, it is one of the few pre-World War II diners in the United States in near-original condition. The interior was depicted by the photorealist artist Ralph Goings in his 1993 painting Miss Albany Diner.

The diner changed hands over the years and was called successively Elaine’s, the Firehouse Diner, and the Street Car Diner. Its current name was shared by a chain of several now defunct Miss Albany Diners owned by Stillman Pitts which were popular in Albany during the 1920s …

In February 2012, … the diner was finally bought by Matthew Baumgartner, the head of a property company that owns a nearby beer garden and several other restaurants in Albany. Baumgartner said that the diner’s structure would be retained when he and his partners develop the site, but that there were no plans to run it as a diner. Jane Brown and her son retained the rights to the “Miss Albany Diner” name and its signature recipes. The Miss Albany served its last meal as a diner on February 10, 2012.

The former diner is now the site of Tanpopo Ramen and Sake Bar.

Start spreadin’ the news: the notifications boards. A board informs and advertises, but about very local matters — what’s on the menu today, what’s especially recommended, what the house rules are (if you sit at the counter, you can’t move to a table, that sort of thing). It’s Bill Griffith’s fantasy that it could be used as a newsreel or general advertising board; any day now, in Zippyland, while we’re at the counter having a grilled cheese sandwich, some cole slaw, a cup of coffee,  and a slice of cherry pie from the pie case, a board will tell us about forest fires in northern California or solicit us to take a Celebrity Cruise.

We have in fact gotten used to getting news bulletins and being assailed with advertising in public places, all the time. So adapting a diner’s notifications board for these purposes doesn’t seem all that outrageous. Not as remarkable as bringing news and ads into the men’s rooms, and that happened some years ago.

I first came across the phenomenon 20 years ago at a Chili’s (a “casual dining restaurant”) in Menlo Park CA, which had pages from the day’s USA Today mounted above the urinals in the men’s room. The practice was apparently already common then. Over the years, the supra-urinal space has also been put to use for electronic devices, playing video ads or sports coverage, or even coordinating electronic action with urination; from the Wired site on 11/18/12, in “Urine the Money” [there is no pun so low…] by Sarah Mitroff: “Captive Media’s urinal entertainment system shows ads on screens above each urinal and starts playing games when you pee”.

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