What next for Milford Diner? Despite efforts, restoration didn't pan out
The Milford Diner restoration project has been dead about two years now, and the current owner isn’t quite sure about the fate of the former eatery.
Bill DaSilva, one of the owners of SBC in downtown Milford and owner of the diner, said he’s been so busy he hasn’t thought about what to do with the diner, which is growing more dilapidated as it sits in the SBC parking lot.
“I have to do something with it,” DaSilva said, adding that his first call will be to a man he knows who buys and restores old diners and then sells them.
DaSilva said that’s probably what should have happened with the diner to begin with after it closed in 2003. A group of well-meaning preservationists tried to save it, but those efforts didn’t pan out.
Eggs and toast
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, stepped in and purchased the diner at the suggestion of his young son. His plans to move it and reopen it, however, fell through because of structural problems and building requirements.
No eggs, but information
In 2009, a nonprofit group took up the battle call 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, said Steve Spector, who was chairing the organization at the time.
The group launched a website, themilforddiner.com, and its newsletter, “The Blue Plate,” was intended to list free and low-cost events at the diner at 13 New Haven Avenue.
While it would never serve food again, the 1946 “Silk City”-style diner could return to being a community hub, said the people who hoped to save it.
“It has been empty for over six years and has been left in great disrepair,” the committee's Web site stated in 2010. “Restored, the Milford Diner would sell for approximately $50,000 to $60,000. There are two Silk City Diners on the National Historic Register.”
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.
“This project is a perfect representation of how historic preservation and economic development go hand in hand,” said one of the key members of the diner committee, Susan Shaw, at that time.
Repairs to the diner were expected to be fairly extensive, including work on the structure, roof, heating, ventilation and air conditioning. Interior restorations would have included tiling and work on the booths to bring the diner back to its 1946 appearance.
The diner committee raised about $8,500 through two events, and was pursuing grants and other types of funding. And they were hopeful.
“We thought there would be support, but it's nice to see that come to fruition,” Shaw said as fund-raising got underway around 2010. “This is historic preservation that will help economic development for downtown Milford.”
Spector said the funds raised went to the cost to acquire, initiate the redevelopment of the structure, and carrying costs.
While there were others working on the project, Shaw was probably the biggest cheerleader. Unfortunately Hurricane Irene hit in 2012, causing severe damage to Shaw’s home, and then Sandy hit, doing it all over again. Shaw stepped down from the committee to take care of her own responsibilities even before Sandy struck.
The other driving forces ran into some personal obstacles too, and then the diner started creating its own set of problems. For example, an architect told the group that in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, two additional parking spots would be needed for the diner.
“It was always our agreement with Bill DaSilva that that wouldn’t’ happen,” Shaw said.
The deal, she said, had always been contingent on the diner not infringing any more on the SBC property.
“He was willing to work with us,” Shaw added. “It just couldn’t happen.”
So the committee turned the building back over to DaSilva in 2012.
DaSilva said the biggest issue he saw with the diner from the get-go was that in order to use it for any kind of eating establishment major money and renovation would have had to be poured into it.
“Once it was closed, you couldn’t do anything with it related to a restaurant unless you brought it up to code,” DaSilva said.
“It’s a disappointment,” Shaw said. “Everyone who worked on it had the best intentions. The committee members did their best.”
One resident recently asked what’s next for the diner.
“Recently as I strolled past the diner, I noted several very large holes in the back wall behind the counter, exposing the interior to all kinds of weather conditions and, most likely, animals who are looking for a home,” Joanne Ancillai wrote in a letter to the Milford Mirror. “The building is filthy and in total disrepair. It will continue to deteriorate if nothing is done.”
DaSilva agrees. He’s not even sure it can be moved now, and according to Shaw, moving the structure was always a major obstacle.
Ultimately, something new needs to go into that spot. DaSilva said it might be retail or office space, something that wouldn’t create competition for SBC, take up nightly parking, or create more congestion in that area of downtown on busy weekends.
“The diner guy will be my first call,” DaSilva said, adding that he hopes the diner restoration man will have some use for the old Milford Diner.