The Silver Diner may not be long for Erie Boulevard.
Time has taken its toll on the structure’s integrity, leaving little hope that a developer will be able to salvage or move the converted Delaware & Hudson Pullman car. But what may become Schenectady’s loss could become Duanesburg’s gain if city officials finally decide to abandon the landmark eatery.
Machinist Joe Merli has offered to salvage parts of the Silver Diner for a reproduction of the post-industrial Erie Boulevard he’s planning off Western Turnpike near the Princetown border. He’s already acquired four of the cast-iron street lamps that adorned the Schenectady gateway during the 1940s and has incorporated parts of the Wallace Armer Hardware Co. into a period general store he built next to his workshop.
Merli would like to save some of the Silver Diner’s artifacts to incorporate into the former Silk City Diner he’s been restoring since the spring. And while he’s not certain what parts of the 73-year-old diner would fit into his structure, he’s convinced the sagging structure has plenty of artifacts he could incorporate into the historic-style settlement dubbed the Canal Street Station Village Museum.
“Definitely, I’d be interested in the contents,” he said Thursday. “It’s a piece of Schenectady’s history.”
Of course, if Merli had his druthers, the diner would be restored to its original grandeur, whether it was in Schenectady or at another site. He was disappointed to learn the city’s latest effort to salvage the structure had fallen through.
Last month, Prize Construction’s Ed Zemeck declared he couldn’t restore the diner because the city wouldn’t allow him to expand it into an empty lot behind the building. He said the expansion would have been necessary to bring the structure up to modern code.
City officials said they advertised the diner online on both eBay and Craigslist but haven’t had any takers. Now they’re weighing their dwindling options as the building continues to deteriorate.
“If push comes to shove and they’re going to throw it in the dumpster, I’ll be the first one there,” Merli said. “But I’d like to see the diner preserved right where it is.”
Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton said the diner is in such poor condition that it’s basically living on borrowed time. He said the wood stud framing erected around the front of the diner is basically holding the structure up.
“It’s really well beyond its use as a diner in the more traditional sense,” he said. “The time has come to move onto the next phase . . . and let it be moved or be disassembled.”
Merli’s museum may be the best fit for the diner if it is disassembled. His property contains scores of pieces culled from Schenectady’s past as the steady beat of progress laid waste to many of its historic structures.
Merli acquired some of the original tools from the Tessier Brothers Machine Shop before the Smith Street business was razed. He acquired the Erie Boulevard street lamps during the 1980s, when workers from Niagara Mohawk were dismantling them for scrap.
Years later, he picked through the remains of Wallace Armer to salvage the businesses’ building-long shelving; boards that now serve as his general store’s flooring. Wallace Armer’s sliding ladders and some of the store’s decorative molding are also incorporated into his reproduction.
So parts of the Silver Diner would be a welcome — albeit somber — addition to his collection. Merli is even considering naming the street he’s slowly building between the Silk City Diner and his general store after Erie Boulevard in commemoration of the past Schenectady has lost.
“I just don’t want to see it go to waste,” he said.
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