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Abandoned

Ghosts of the West Side Highway

Busted windows and graffiti mar the streamline of the Kullman car

An abandoned 1950s diner on the West Side Highway.

New York City isn’t known for its roadside attractions or its motor inns, but along the West Side Highway, you can still find shades of the open road.  What could be more emblematic of the highway state of mind than the diner, whose very contours suggest forward motion, gleaming like hubcaps across the American landscape?  Abandoned between auto repair shops and a gentlemen’s club, the diner at 357 West Street fully commits to the mystery and isolation only hinted at in Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, (which was based on a nearby diner in Greenwich Village.)  Today, the only travelers this diner entertains are pedestrians who can’t resist taking a peek inside…

The lost diner interior was recently gutted, the result of vandalism.

The wrecked interior of the “Lost Diner”

The entrance

Garbage piled up near the front entrance.

The restaurant closed in 2006 after 50 years of operation, having gone through a steady succession of owners and names, including the Terminal Diner, the Lunchbox Diner, Rib, and perhaps most fittingly, the Lost Diner.  Constructed by the New Jersey-based Kullman Diner Car Company, the structure is typical of the Art-Deco diner cars manufactured in the 40s and 50s, which have since become an iconic fixture of cities across America.  Most of Manhattan’s once numerous diners have been demolished or moved in recent years; you can still visit Soho’s famous Moondance Diner—in Wyoming.  The steep decline in the condition of the Lost Diner limits its chance of being relocated.

Someone had recently been living here.

The walls have been stripped of valuable scrap metal by vandals.

A bathroom

“Employees Must Wash Hands”

An old pantry

An empty pantry at the back of the diner car.

Once part of the kitchen, stripped of all appliances.

A kitchen hallway stripped of appliances.

Throughout the space, a steady rush of traffic fills the air in the absence of clinking silverware.  Sunlight bounced from a passing windshield momentarily dazzles an aluminum ceiling.  In the dining room, shattered glass joins a host of reflective surfaces, causing the room to glimmer with points of light in the evening.  In the past year, the windows of the diner have been knocked out and the interior has been ravaged.  Old mattresses, fresh garbage, and a homemade toilet point to a recent, if not ongoing habitation.  Stacks of rotting food cartons fill an overturned refrigerator, covered with the husks of long-dead pests.  In the former kitchen, a dry erase board lists celery seed, walnut oil, and Windex for a shopping trip that was doomed to be this diner’s last.

the keller hotel sign

The Keller’s noteworthy “HOTEL”  sign.

Down the road, the abandoned Keller Hotel makes a perfect counterpart to the Lost Diner, another vacant holdout in a neighborhood that’s quickly being overcome by luxury developments.  The six story hotel was completed in 1898 as a lodging for travelers arriving from nearby ferries and cruise ships.  By the 1930s, the area had become one of the most active sections of the port of New York, and the building became a flophouse for sailors.  Later, the club downstairs catered to New York’s gay community as the oldest “leather bar” in the West Village.  The Keller Hotel was landmarked in 2007, but has stood unoccupied for decades.  When and if the building is renovated, here’s hoping the slightly sinister “HOTEL” sign will be saved.

the south entrance

The south entrance, marked unsafe to enter.

the keller hotel

The abandoned Keller Hotel.

For more of Manhattan’s abandoned places, check out P.S. 186:

What do you remember about the West Street Diner and the Keller Hotel? Share your memories in the comments below.

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Discussion

14 thoughts on “Ghosts of the West Side Highway

  1. I’m inclined to park and investigate the Lost Diner every time I pass it. Though I was living in NYC when it was still in operation I never made it to the part of town it sits in. Both the diner and Hotel buildings were the perfect discovery to read about this morning, Thank You for writing about them. One question, was the leather bar in the Keller the famous spot where Felipe Rose of the Village People was discovered dancing in his Tribal Regalia?

    Posted by Stephanie | 4-15-13., 1:47 pm
  2. Interesting, and I’d love to see pictures inside the old hotel, this kind of stuff is fascinating.

    One quibble though, that “Hotel” sign is not retro, retro is something new made to look old, the sign is actually old. It’s like my Studebaker pickup vs a Mini… my pickup is old, the Mini is retro.

    Keep up the good work!

    Posted by jeffdewitt | 5-12-13., 11:35 pm
  3. This kind of stuff is very fascinating, I wish there were more organized tours for this kind of stuff, I would be all over it. But I suppose some people would be upset for making the underground not so underground anymore.

    Posted by Ryan Flynn | 5-14-13., 12:44 pm
  4. I’m heading to the diner tomorrow on my bike. Has anyone successfully gotten into the hotel, though? It seems interesting, but also much harder to get into. My issue is mostly legal, not about physical safety.

    Posted by roryminelor | 7-23-13., 12:36 am
  5. I was by the old diner a few weeks ago, and peering through the fence on the right, I noticed numerous mannequin heads scattered about, the type used by cosmetologists. Weird to say the least.

    Posted by Paul Sullivan | 8-10-13., 7:28 pm
  6. A friend of mine owned the Lost Diner at one point. Unfortunately, I think its off-the-beaten-path location kept even his friends from showing up much.

    Posted by T S | 3-18-14., 8:22 pm
  7. Oh this makes me a bit sad and nostalgic as I used to work around Houston and Hudson Street and had lunch at the Lost Diner all the time! Their meatloaf was amazing and we definitely all felt like we were jumping back in time when we would visit there. Probably the last time i was there was over 20 years ago. At least I can treasure those delicious memories! Thanks for your wonderful blog, I adore exploring things like this! alex

    Posted by oystergirl99 | 5-29-14., 2:12 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Inside The West Side Highway's Lost Diner | Untapped Cities - 5-6-13.

  2. Pingback: The abandoned Keller Hotel on the West Side Highway - Doobybrain.com - 8-27-13.

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