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VIDEO: Mayor Wants to Bulldoze Historic Diner

Despite people who want to move a classic 1940s diner, part of New Jersey's history, Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac wants to bulldoze it.


It was a big moment in Woodbridge a week ago when the convenience store Wawa chain returned to the township since the late 1990s. They opened a convenience store and gas station in the Fords section of Woodbridge on October 12, and Mayor John McCormac helped make it all happen through the town's Redevelopment Agency.

But the Wawa effort was to be only the first in Woodbridge. When Wawa announced earlier this year during the groundbreaking for the Fords store that they also intended on opening another outlet - also with a gas station - in Avenel, that entailed knocking down an old motel and diner.

Mom's Diner in Avenel is a classic 1940s glittering steel diner that was in excellent, unchanged condition. It was on the market for $20,000, and it'd cost easily that much again to move it.

McCormac was full of glee during the opening of the Fords Wawa when he forecast the future of Mom's Diner. 

"We can't wait for Mom's Diner to be taken down and the Gem Motel to be taken down," McCormac said to the crowd.

"I want to be on the bulldozer when it happens."

Running out of time

The clock is ticking on Mom's Diner. When it was offered for $35,000, then reduced to $20,000, there were no takers. But now, on the eve of its destruction, several diner fanatics are interested in moving the diner to prevents its obliteration.

But trying to find out who owns the property has become a total tangle. Robert Chwatko, the man who heads a Colts Neck company affiliated with the various limited liability companies that own Mom's Diner and the Gem Motel on paper, said it's not his.

"I know who owns it, but I can't say who," Chwatko said in an interview. He admitted that that his Colts Neck company, which has the same name as his residence, is involved with the Avenel properties where Wawa hopes to open the gas station and convenience store.

Calls to McCormac's office to find out who to ask about the diner were unreturned.

In the crosshairs

Randy Garbin has been involved in preserving diner lore for 30 years, first with a magazine and now with Roadside Online, an internet site devote to diner history and preservation. 

He says Mom's Diner "is sitting in the crosshairs of some pretty bad stuff."

In his years of trying to save diners from the wrecking ball, Garbin said, "there's some backroom stuff going on here when no one will take ownership for the property."

In his experience, he said, developers just want to get the deal done. "They're afraid if someone offers to take the diner, it'll gum up the works. It's just easier for them to knock it down rather than wait two weeks for the diner to get moved to a new location."

Meanwhile, at least one diner fan from out of state is very interested in moving the diner - if he can find out who owns it.

"New Jersey is a heartbreaking state," Garbin said. "The industry of building diners was centered in NJ for half a century. The state does nothing to memorialize or preserve its diner history."

Another fan of diners, Daniel Zilka, who runs the online American Diner Museum, has written a letter to Wawa's corporate office, begging them to help save Mom's Diner.

"Please help us save this vintage diner from being demolished," Zilka wrote to Wawa executives.

Saving a Lawrenceville diner

Not all towns are in a rush to knock down their diners. Cass' Diner in Lawrenceville has a long history, but not as a diner. It's connected to a property where plumbing supplies are sold, and it's been used for storage.

Wawa, Garbin said, has had their eyes on that property and that diner, to build another convenience store.

Lawrenceville officials and residents have been trying to preserve the diner, he said.

"There's an accelerating trend in the past 10 years of old diners getting scraped from the landscape. These diners were created for the working man, they're little palaces for the average Joe," Garbin said.

"We're losing them in droves, and there are no good reasons for it."

For pictures of the interior and exterior of the diner, go to the Mom's Diner article.

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jean a. asouline October 19, 2012 at 12:34 PM
gem motel was used for drugs and sex by the hour, no big loss where this is concerned. Now onto Mom's diner, not used for years, street people and homeless try and use it. So now the Mayor is bringing in business and jobs to our community and you decide it is historic and needs to be saved, where have you been all these years? Get real people.
Katy Lake October 19, 2012 at 12:41 PM
What's the big deal? Save the diner by moving it. Why is that a problem? As for all the 'jobs' McCormac is 'bringing in', they're ALL minimum wage jobs. You do know you can't pay for a home in Woodbridge on the 'jobs' McCormac has brought in, right?
slyfox1961 October 19, 2012 at 02:06 PM
@katy lake: agreed, you can't pay for a home oin a minumum wage convernience store job, but you can as a manager of said store, or as one of the numerous construction jobs to build it, or as one of the many maintenance people who will work on the refridgeration equipment, building maintenance, etc., that an additional store will add.
Ana October 19, 2012 at 02:29 PM
something good happen for a change and they are people criticizing...seriously? move to another town or area farther and let see how hard they are having it! you get real!!!..SHEESH!!
Irina October 20, 2012 at 01:29 AM
We wants to bulldoze this diner.....Just like he's constantly bulldozing the taxpayers who are going to be stuck paying for his joy ride on the bulldozer. WAKE UP VOTERS, MAC NEEDS TO GO!!!
Tom Maras October 20, 2012 at 12:58 PM
So Mac wants to clean up that stripe on Route 1. But block a major development and even the possible relocation of the "Adult Book Store" (no doubt mac looks at it like another retail store) on the south side of Route 1. Let's hope Mac gets his Operating Engineers Lic (he didn't have a CDL for running township snowplows two years ago) before he gets on the bulldozer. Speaking of which, it will take a D9 Cat to hold Mac as he bulls his way over that site!
stephen mckessy October 20, 2012 at 02:14 PM
We dont need a diner I guess the country club probably has its own kitchen just ask the mayor I wouldn't know can't afford golf anyway ill play miniature golf on our course that overlooks NYC? We also needed that right big Mac?
Irina October 21, 2012 at 02:00 AM
Why would a smut shop bother Mac? The puppy mill at 1144 St George Avenue is OK with him too. Obviously porn and dead puppies is OK with Mac. WAKE UP VOTERS......GET RID OF MAC.....
Al McDorman October 21, 2012 at 02:47 PM
I notice the town historians aren't saying anything on this. The silence is deafening. In a nearby town with a passion for preserving history, Westfield had one such diner on Route 28 (Louie's Excellent Diner) which was sold and exported all the way to Germany, who then sold it to France. Now I understand that diner is representing American history in Disneyland. In fact, confirmation is here: http://christineadamsbeckett.wordpress.com/tag/westfield/ Trashing irreplaceable history over the cost of a two week wait says a lot about how we value our collective culture. Bravo Westfield, Union County for doing the right thing!
j r April 07, 2013 at 02:41 PM
Too Late ! I guess Avenel does not have the same Panache as Westfield !! Lol!!! maybe we can sell them the Loop Inn !!!
gam April 07, 2013 at 03:09 PM
THe diner was an eyesore. It had been for sale, no one wanted it. It's being torn down, the end. To Tom Maras, what major development is the mayor blocking on route 1 southbound? Maybe he is too busy trying to figure out how he will aid hundreds of units of affordable housing units in Avenel on the GD property and Woodbridge Developmental property. .

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