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Vintage diner ready for debut at Irwin theater after 52-mile trek from Station Square

| Friday, April 21, 2017, 3:24 p.m.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
A stainless steel diner loaded on the back of flatbed trailer makes its way down East Carson Street in Pittsburgh to the Lamp Theatre on Main Street, in Irwin, Friday, April 21, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Elizabeth Equipment Services Inc. hauls an old diner from Station Square in Pittsburgh to its new home at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin, on Friday, April 21, 2017. The diner will hold additional seating for the concessions area, and may eventually feature the theaters bar.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Elizabeth Equipment Services Inc. hauls an old diner from Station Square in Pittsburgh to its new home at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin, on Friday, April 21, 2017. The diner will hold additional seating for the concessions area, and may eventually feature the theaters bar.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Elizabeth Equipment Services Inc. hauls an old diner from Station Square in Pittsburgh to its new home at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin, on Friday, April 21, 2017. The diner will hold additional seating for the concessions area, and may eventually feature the theaters bar.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Elizabeth Equipment Services Inc. hauls an old diner from Station Square in Pittsburgh to its new home at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin, on Friday, April 21, 2017. The diner will hold additional seating for the concessions area, and may eventually feature the theaters bar.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Elizabeth Equipment Services Inc. hauls an old diner from Station Square in Pittsburgh to its new home at the Lamp Theatre in Irwin, on Friday, April 21, 2017. The diner will hold additional seating for the concessions area, and may eventually feature the theaters bar.

After a carefully plotted 52-mile highway journey, a vintage diner that sat vacant at Station Square in Pittsburgh for years has a new purpose and a new home as a lounge for the Lamp Theatre in Irwin.

Onlookers on Friday lined several blocks of Main Street to watch as if the 1951 stainless steel diner, chained to a low-boy trailer, were the main event of a parade.

"It's amazing. It needs some polishing up and it will look beautiful," said John Cassandro, Lamp Theatre general manager, as he inspected the diner just after it was set down in a vacant lot next door.

The diner literally went on a road trip because such a wide load couldn't move along the Parkway East and was too high to squeeze through the Squirrel Hill Tunnels. The unusual freight got a Pittsburgh police escort out of the city.

Elizabeth Equipment Service Inc. of Elizabeth transported it from Station Square via a path south on Route 51 to Interstate 70 in Rostraver, then north to Greensburg. It then headed west on Route 30 to Irwin and then slowly snaked along Pennsylvania Avenue, forcing traffic headed east to stop on the berm.

Irwin police escorted it the wrong way down Main Street to the 1937-built theater in the 200 block.

"It took a lot of coordination. This was a tough one coming out of Pittsburgh," said Corey Alexander, heavy haul manager and driver for Elizabeth Equipment.

Those watching Alexander maneuver the 16-foot-wide, 40-foot-long load over the length of Main Street marveled at how me managed to back the trailer and its 40,000-pound load onto a concrete foundation that had been poured for it. He positioned the structure within 3 feet of the theater wall.

A breezeway will connect the two after openings are cut in the brick wall of the theater and the stainless steel side of the diner.

Once Westmoreland Construction Group of Ardara removes cribbing from beneath the diner, it will be lowered to the ground.

Then the cleanup will begin.

The interior will be furnished with tables and seating to serve as a lounge for patrons, Cassandro said. The diner won't be outfitted with a kitchen as only concessions — alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and snacks — will be served once its Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board license is amended.

The theater bought the diner for a song — $100 — and it cost about $18,000 to move it, said board member Mike Pochan, who contacted Station Square owner Forest City Realty Trust about buying it. Forest City said the Lamp could have the diner, but they had to move it, he said.

Otherwise, the diner — it once served patrons at Ritter's in Pittsburgh's East End — would be demolished to make way for a residential construction project.

"I couldn't stand to see it bulldozed," Pochan said.

To cover the $18,000 cost of moving it to Irwin, preparing the site and making it functional, the nonprofit Lamp Theatre has launched a GoFundMe page to raise $48,000. It raised $11,090 as of Friday.

John Gdula, president of the board of directors, said he hopes to have the diner ready for patrons to enjoy this summer.

The theater, which opened in 1937, underwent extensive renovations and reopened in November 2015 after more than a decade.

"It's not really surprising with the community we have," Gdula said. "We have people who are dedicated and innovative."

Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-5252 or jnapsha@tribweb.com.

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