By Dana Cohen
Preservation News: Sen. Cardin Introduces Tax Credit to Encourage Revitalization of Distressed Homes Nationwide
Marylanders have an undeniable connection to the time spent and memories made at the Bel-Loc Diner in Baltimore County – but there is a question about the Diner’s architectural significance. Preservation Maryland is happy to share two essays on the architectural history and place-in-history that the Diner holds as it adds to the reasons to reuse – not demolish – The Bel-Loc Diner:
In March of 1963, Thomas Doxanas, one of the Ts of the popular Double-T Diner regional chain, and John Fangikis leased the property at the northeast corner of East Joppa Road and Loch Raven Boulevard in northeast Baltimore. Doxanas and Fangikis listed that the business they were planning would be called Double-T Diner #4, however, by October of that year, things had changed. They formed a new company called Bel-Loc Diner, Inc., and on April 4, 1964 opened The Bel-Loc Diner that would soon become a popular spot for the Baltimore County crowd.
The architecture of the 1950s diner was a departure in style from earlier diners as designers experimented with different materials and shapes—yet most were still reminiscent of the streamlining introduced in the 1930s. In the early 1960s, however, diner designs changed perhaps more radically than in any time in the previous 30 years. Ceramic tile was began to replace stainless steel on the exteriors. And, most importantly, they featured overhanging rooflines with recessed lighting, zigzagging around the building, called folded plates. The Bel-Loc Diner is the only example of this type of diner remaining in the Baltimore area.
DeRaffele Diner Manufacturing Company based in New Rochelle, NY built The Bel-Loc Diner at an original cost of $112,544 – that included everything from booths, stools, counter-tops to coffee urns and soda fountains. Most diners are prefabricated and have been built in specialty shops like DeRaffele since the early days of lunch wagons and railroad cars beginning in the late 1800s. At one time there were as many as fourteen other diner manufacturers in New Jersey alone. Now DeRaffele is one of the only ones remaining.
As important, perhaps, as diner history or design elements is the meaning that diners convey – a clean and comfortable feeling that still resonates strongly with people today. In 1982, the Baltimore Sun ran an article lamenting the closing of many area diners – asked why the Bel-Loc Diner was able to stay in business while many other diners had closed, owner William “Bill” Doxanas, who still owns the Bel-Loc Diner today, said that he worked hard to create an image of “cleanliness, good food, and reasonable prices.” An aspiration that goes back to the beginning of this American cultural icon—and which Americans still expect when they see a shiny silver diner.
Mark Tuminello has a Bachelor’s Degree in Mass Communication, and is currently working towards a Master’s in Historic Preservation at the University of Maryland. He is a Baltimore City resident and recently enjoyed lunch with his daughters at Bel-Loc Diner.
On the northern end of the city, technically in Parkville, we land at the space-age-styled Bel-Loc Diner. The diner got its name from a combination of the words “Beltway” and “Loch Raven Boulevard”, where it sits near that junction. In an interview with Roadside Magazine in 2007, Phil DeRaffele described this style of diner the most beautiful he ever built. Some diner enthusiasts couldn’t agree more, but other than the Bel-Loc, few examples remain. DeRaffele built this one in 1964, making it one of the last of its kind before the industry completely flung off its transportation metaphor. In general, a year later, all the builders would hide the light under a brick-faced bushel, signaling the end of the party.
Around the turn of this century, the Bel-Loc underwent a regrettable interior renovation that applied doo-wop motifs to a space-age, transitional space. Diner design at that time wrestled with an incongruity. By the early 1960s, the “Googie” look all the rage in southern California had taken hold in the east, albeit with more restraint. The flared, folded plate rooflines and bold whooshing exteriors of DeRaffeles and to a lesser extent, Kullmans and Paramounts didn’t carry the exuberance inside. Instead, builders responded to the growing acceptance of a more early-American approach. While not completely Colonial at that point, diner interiors saw a broad application of wood veneer surfaces and more traditional lighting treatments, which gave the diner a warm, cozier atmosphere.
Doxanas is the son of one of the founders of the Double T Diner chain, Thomas Doxanas, who also operated this diner after selling his interest. Food-wise, the diner has done a good job maintaining the best diner tradition. The menu has what you’d expect to find in any diner plus plenty of regional specialties. Breakfast remains the staple, but dinners do well, though the diner’s retreat from late-night operation reflect the pressures of the competition. When visiting, be sure to try the lemon cake.
Randy Garbin started Roadside Magazine in 1990 to explore the back roads and Main Streets of America, and now posts at roadsideonline.com and on Facebook.