Schenectady Pullman Diner Restoration Stalls


Although a Schenectady construction company tried to restore the Silver Diner, the city-owned structure will likely be demolished.

Credit: Patricia Barney

Schenectady, N.Y., will soon lose its Silver Diner, a city landmark that has been around for 70 years.

Last year a local construction company made an agreement with the Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority to convert the railroad- car diner into office space. On June 19, however, Metroplex announced that Prize Construction withdrew from the project.

"The city owns it and will decide what's going to happen to it. The dream has kind of been lost, in my mind," says Ed Zemeck, president of Prize Construction, which specializes in renovations of historic properties. "Unfortunately, we're at the 11th hour."

The deal ran sour because of possible pollution of the land around the Silver Diner. The city claims that the site will need to undergo remediation in order to sell the half-acre lot.

"There's tons of land around the diner that could be sold, but the question is, 'Is that land polluted?'" says Schenectady City Councilwoman Barbara Blanchard. "The city says that it is [contaminated], and that they would have to remediate the site in order to sell the land, but who's responsible for the remediation? And it would cost a lot of money."

According to Zemeck, "the city has refused to test [the land]. There are concerns that they'll get into a project that they don't want to undertake, as far as the cleanup goes."

The wood-and-steel diner, made from a retired 1918 Pullman railroad car, opened on Nov. 3, 1936. Located between the General Electric Co. and ALCO buildings, the diner soon turned into the hotspot for GE employees and many others in downtown Schenectady. In 1938 the diner went through a stainless steel Art Deco renovation and expansion of the original railroad car.

Due to back taxes, the city took custody of the diner in 2000 and left it to its own ruin. "The building began to bulge out, and [city officials] did nothing and to date have done nothing," Zemeck says. In 2004 Zemeck was allowed to do a structural analysis of the diner and give recommendations about repairs. He also completed minimal repairs to the roof and structure. Today the diner's current condition is "pretty poor," he says, with a leaky roof.

It would take $350,000 to $400,000 for an "ultimate makeover," Zemeck estimates.

Metroplex says it has listed the diner for sale on Craigslist and other Web sites. According to a Metroplex press release dated June 19, 2009, if a new owner cannot be found, pieces of the diner will be salvaged for a group that plans to open a museum in Duanesburg. (Metroplex Chair Ray Gillen did not return phone calls from Preservation magazine.)

Gloria Kishton, chair of the Schenectady Heritage Foundation, says the Silver Diner will be missed. "It's just one of those icons of Schenectady's glory days. There's a nostalgia factor. It was a very popular place in its heyday."  

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