Old diner may be leaving town soon
The old Milford Diner may soon be gone from the SBC parking lot downtown and heading to Indiana to be restored.
Danny Miller, an automobile and history enthusiast who lives in Indiana, outside of Kokomo, said he is having the 1946 Silk City-style diner moved to him, and he plans to restore it on his property and turn it back into a working diner.
Miller said Bill DaSilva from SBC gave him the diner more than a year ago, but then Miller ran into some obstacles, which delayed him taking it. He needed to find a place to do the restoration, and now has property outside of Kokomo. He plans to do the restoration on the side yard of his property, and when it’s done he will move the finished diner to Kokomo, where he plans to run it himself as the same kind of eatery it once was.
He said it’s been his dream to restore and own a 1940s era diner and run it. “It will be really cool,” Miller said, noting that he has already bought old signs, a jukebox and other items that date to 1946 and 1947. “I found an antique dealer with original placemats from 1947, and I plan to put those out on the tables,” he said.
Miller expects it will take at least a year to restore the diner.
“It will be totally restored,” he said, adding that he plans to keep the original sign — so it will still be called the Milford Diner.
The Indiana resident already has a Facebook page to highlight his project and help raise funds, facebook.com/savethemilforddiner.
“Although the diner retains most of its original interior, and original exterior stainless steel remains intact, it is in desperate need of restoration,” the Facebook posting states.
Miller found out about the diner a number of years ago when there was an article on a diner museum website. Miller contacted the city of Milford, and he said officials here connected him with DaSilva, who agreed to let him have the diner to restore.
DaSilva has not responded for comment about this latest diner news, though he has said in the past that the diner would go to someone who would restore it.
Getting it there
The old diner looks a little worse for wear these days, with pieces missing and falling off.
A local welding company will reinforce the diner so it can be moved, Miller said, and then it will be transported to Indiana by Mel Brandt, described as “a veteran ‘king of the road’ of diner movers,” in a 2005 article published in The Sullivan County Democrat, a newspaper out of Callicoon and Monticello, N.Y.
“He has moved a lot of these and is an expert,” Miller said. “It will be moved by truck as a whole.”
Miller expects the restoration will cost another $25,000. He’s already put in $11,000 of his own money to pay for the reinforcement, and he expects transporting it to Indiana will cost $15,000.
He hasn’t restored a diner before, but he has restored cars. “If they’re gone, they’re gone forever.” Miller calls it “saving a piece of history.”
While he has seen many photographs of the Milford Diner, he hasn’t actually seen it yet in person.
But then Miller doesn’t seem easily dissuaded by such details or big projects. In 2004, he bought the Haynes Automobile Co.’s factory in Kokomo — a four-story, red-brick building — and moved his car-restoration business into the former factory, according to an article in the Kokomo Tribune.
A developer has since purchased the factory for apartments, Miller said.
According to Joseph D. Griffith, director of the Milford’s Department of Permitting and Land Use, the permit needed for demolition/removal of the diner has been applied for, processed, and will be issued as soon as the permit fees are paid.
Right now, there is a violation notice taped to the window of the old diner, dated May 1, from the city’s health department. The notice is addressed to officers of a diner fund-raising group that once tried to save the diner, and states the building is in violation of the city’s blight law.
The notice says the owner will be fined $100 per day while the violations continue. The health department has not yet responded to questions regarding the payment of the fine and whether or not payment will be enforced.
The Milford Diner was once a city landmark, serving breakfast to area residents for many years. Some people still remember the red vinyl booths and the red counter stools that added color to the small city eatery.
The Memaj family ran the restaurant before retiring in 2003, at which time it looked like the structure would be demolished.
John Lombard, a resident and businessman, stepped in and purchased the diner for $100,000 at the suggestion of his young son to help the Memaj family. His plans to move it and reopen it, however, fell through because, he said, the former owner of the New Haven Avenue parcel where the diner is located claimed ownership of the diner.
“In the middle of the legal wrangling the [Memaj] family informed me they would not be able to run the diner in our proposed new location due to health issues,” Lombard said. “At that point we dropped our efforts to move the diner.”
In 2009, a nonprofit group took up the battle to save the city landmark and assumed control of the Milford Diner. The group was trying to raise about $80,000 to renovate the building.
They intended to turn the iconic, stainless steel diner into a tourist and information center.
DaSilva worked with the committee as they pursued their goal. The Milford Diner Committee entered into a letter of agreement with him to buy the building and maintain a long-term lease on the property.
Then, for various reasons the efforts died, and the committee turned the building back over to DaSilva in 2012.
Now to Indiana
And now it is expected to go to Miller in Indiana. Although some officials said they were told the diner is going to a diner museum, Miller said he is not associated with a museum but rather is pursuing the project as an individual. However, he has worked with Daniel Zilka, president of the American Diner Museum, whose goal is to save vintage diners.
Miller said Zilka has helped him by taking parts off the diner so it can be moved more easily.
Some city officials said they thought the diner would be gone by now, and Miller said he appreciates the city’s patience.
“I would personally like to thank the mayor and the city of Milford for being patient, understanding and working with us,” Miller said “It truly means a lot.”