Listen to Hoosier History Live! at 11:30 a.m. each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM. You also can listen online at the WICR website during the broadcast or you can join our new listening group at Bookmama's in Irvington to listen to, and discuss, the Saturday show. We invite you to visit our website!
July 10 show
Diners across Indiana
Roadside diners are a broiling topic this summer, what with a landmark, now-vacant eatery in Plainfield imperiled. Built in 1954 and topped by an eye-catching coffee cup sign, the Plainfield Diner stands along the National Road/U.S. 40 and heads the "10 Most Endangered" buildings in the state list compiled by Indiana Landmarks.
The hubbub has prompted the creation of a Facebook crusade to save the beloved dinner and an outcry that's startling all and sundry, according to Mark Dollase, vice president of preservation services at Landmarks. Diners, which boomed during the 1940s and '50s, have been popular across the state for decades, even though, as the current issue of Landmarks' Indiana Preservationist puts it, they now are at risk of being "rendered obsolete by fast-food chains, urban sprawl, and interstates."
At Hoosier History Live!, we relish this opportunity to explore all aspects of Indiana diners. That means not only will Mark join Nelson in studio, so will Max Lemley of Columbus, former president of the Indiana Restaurant Association and a former "King of the Road" trucker who for years patronized diners along the highways and byways of the Hoosier state.
As we serve up a slice of Americana, Mark, Max and Nelson will weigh in on an array of Hoosier diners, contemporary and bygone. What are the ingredients of a good diner, and what are telltale signs of a rotten one? What makes the Plainfield diner, built in an architectural style known as "Streamline Moderne," so special? (Note: The diner, which has its original interior, closed in 2009 and currently is for sale.)
Do you savor the jukeboxes, chili platters, milk shakes or curved booths at a beloved Hoosier diner? Consider yourself invited to call in during the show to share your picks and pans.
With Mark, we also will explore other historic structures on the "10 Most Endangered" list. They include Bush Stadium in Indianapolis, the former baseball park that was the focus of a Hoosier History Live! show (also with Mark as our guest) two summers ago. Tune in to hear about the latest proposal for the former home of the Indianapolis Indians on West 16th Street. The stadium reappears on the "10 Most Endangered" list, joining the Plainfield diner; circus barns in Peru where big cats and elephants once were trained; and St. John's Hospital in Gary, which was built in 1929 by African-Americans when the city's public hospitals declined to admit black patients.
Primarily, though, our focus will be on diners, which, as the Indiana Preservationist puts it, are "a vanishing species."
Some fun facts:
- According to several sources, the distinctive architecture of diners - long and narrow - originated because many initial ones had been dining cars on railways. The former rail cars were converted into inexpensive restaurants near train stations or alongside railroads.
- Aficionados often debate which eateries qualify as diners. Most agree, though, that the ingredients should include a long counter, stools mounted on the floor, a casual atmosphere, late operating hours (often even 24-hour service) and typical American cuisine such as burgers, French fries, cole slaw, chili platters and, particularly in Indiana, tenderloins.
- Max Lemley, our guest from Columbus, Ind., has long been a familiar figure in that city's food scene. Lemley's Catering has been a staple of the business community for decades, and he was the proprietor of "The Buffy" (its official name was Sap's Buffeteria), a popular hangout for coffee and talk, beginning in the 1970s. His current venture is M&D Marketing, which produces private-label sauces, rubs and spices.
History Mystery question
Three restaurants in Indianapolis opened as drive-ins, not diners, and constituted a small, locally owned chain. Located on busy city streets, the three restaurants began opening during the 1950s and continued with drive-in service through the 1960s. After that, some patrons referred to them as diners, although they did not have stainless-steel exteriors. But the small chain specialized in food often served in diners, including milkshakes, catfish and beef Manhattans.
One of the restaurants was located on North Shadeland Avenue. Another, at East 52nd Street and North Keystone Avenue, was the last to remain. It closed in early 2002.
Question: Name the small chain of Indianapolis-based drive-ins that fits this description.
The call-in number for the correct answer is (317) 788-3314, and the prize is two tickets to the James Whitcomb Riley Home, courtesy of the ICVA.
Roadtripper Chris Gahl of the ICVA suggests you get a little wild in July - at the Indianapolis Zoo!
How did the Indianapolis Zoo come to fruition? In the 1940s, newspaper columnist Lowell Nussbaum began voicing his dream of establishing a zoo in Indianapolis via his column "Inside Indianapolis," which first appeared in the Indianapolis Times and then the Indianapolis Star. The columns spurred community leaders into action, and on Oct. 24, 1944, Articles of Incorporation for the Indianapolis Zoological Society Inc. were filed.
The Indianapolis Zoo continues its unique summer concert series, "Animals & All That Jazz," with performances July 15, 23 and 29. Meander alongside the animals as you listen to live jazz by Indiana musicians. It's a weeknight adventure, with food and beverage served. The Indianapolis Zoo welcomes more than 1 million visitors each year and plays a major role in worldwide conservation and research.
Your friends in Hoosierdom,
Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
Richard Sullivan, tech and web director
Garry Chilluffo, consultant
Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support:
Barrington Jewels, Henry's Coffee Bistro on East, The Fadely Trust, Indiana Historical Society, Lucas Oil and Story Inn.
Acknowledgments to Scott Keller Fine Art and Antiques Appraisals, Print Resources, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities Council, Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Drew Pastorek and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through sponsorships and through individual tax-deductible contributions through the Indiana Humanities Council. Visit our website to learn more.
July 10 show
Wayne County history
It was the setting for a "courthouse war" that involved the state's most protracted battle over the location of a county seat. With early settlements by groups of Quakers, Wayne County in far-eastern Indiana became a hub of anti-slavery activity and housed significant stops on the Underground Railroad.
As one of the first counties formed in the Indiana Territory (it was organized in 1810, six years before Indiana became a state), Wayne County will celebrate its bicentennial this year. That makes it ideal for the next installment in our Hoosier History Live! rotating series about town and county histories.
Nelson will be joined in studio by Wayne County historian Carolyn Lafever, who lives on a 40-acre farm near Hagerstown. She is the author of A Pictorial History of Wayne County, Indiana (Donning Company Publishers, 1998) and the new Wayne County Indiana: The Battles for the Courthouse (The History Press), which describes the bitter feuds that resulted in six courthouses and three county seats, with Richmond finally winning out over Centerville.
Wayne County is home to everything from Abbott's Candy in Hagerstown, a legendary locally owned candy-maker/retailer that opened in the 1890s, to the Levi Coffin House in Fountain City (the town once was called Newport), which became known as the "Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad." The Wayne County Historical Museum even has an Egyptian mummy; it was purchased in the 1920s by a wealthy Richmond woman during an overseas trip.
Fun fact: Indiana's famous governor during the Civil War, Oliver P. Morton, lived in Centerville for many years.
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