History on menu at vintage Serro's Diner
As Travis Smeltzer and his crew tore apart the old Serro's Diner, they uncovered a treasure trove tracing back to its 1930s heyday.
Smeltzer hopes to have the diner back to its original glory by this spring. It will be the focal point of the Lincoln Highway Experience Museum, to be built in Unity near the Kingston Bridge.
"We never know what we are going to find," said Smeltzer as he emptied a bag of muddy silverware found behind the cooking counters of the 1938 diner that first operated on Route 30 in Irwin.
All of the items -- along with an apron, condiment bottles, bread baskets, ashtrays, old newspapers and receipts -- have been cataloged.
"With any project you peel away layers," said Olga Herbert, executive director of the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor. "You never know what's there until you remove the layers."
Crews discovered stained glass windows under several coats of paint. Beneath a linoleum floor, they found maple floors.
The biggest surprise was a solid mahogany refrigerator, with glass-door insets, buried underneath stainless steel framing, said the owner of Travis Smeltzer Construction of Apollo.
"It's like an archaeological dig. As we do repairs, we find unusual things we did even know were there," Smeltzer said.
He will restore the 44-foot-long diner following national guidelines for the treatment of historic properties.
"We've done a lot of other restoration projects in the area, including the Palace Theatre in Greensburg," Smeltzer said. "I love to do this. It is the type of project I want to do."
The Unity site includes a stone, Colonial-style home and former tavern built by Alexander Johnston in 1815. The historic landmark, once called the Kingston House and later known as the Johnston House, will house thousands of Lincoln Highway artifacts including signs, vintage postcards and photographs, and other highway memorabilia.
"The diner will be a focal point at the Lincoln Highway Experience Museum," Herbert said. "Visitors can come see the diner and get a piece of pie and coffee."
The restored diner will not be fully operational, but waitresses wearing uniforms similar to those worn at Serro's in the late 1930s will serve locally baked pies.
The Monarch-style diner was constructed by the Jerry O'Mahony Diner Co. in Elizabeth, N.J., and delivered by railroad car to brothers Louis and Joseph Serro of Herminie. There was table seating for 16 patrons and 16 stools at the counter.
Its design featured Art Deco-style porcelain panels, ceramic tile walls, a marble counter, mahogany booths and tables and chrome stools.
"This was the Cadillac of diners," Herbert said.
Project manager Chas Hayes researched the history of the diner and interviewed members of the Serro family.
"It is a legacy to the Serro family and we want to make sure it is as historically correct as we can make it," Hayes said.
The diner was moved to Willow Crossing in Hempfield, south of Greensburg, in 1958 when the Serro family purchased a new diner. John and Lillian Rolka operated the Willow Diner there until 1992, when it was sold to the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania.
It was stored at a warehouse in Pittsburgh until it was donated to the Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor in 2003. Since then, it had been stored in a Latrobe warehouse.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Volunteers pull weeds, clear debris from Hempfield’s neglected 14th Quartermaster monument
- Juvenile status hearing, trial delayed in Franklin Regional stabbings
- Write-in opens up mayoral race in Greensburg
- Day care operator gets long sentence for neglect of children
- Seton Hill won’t manage new apartment project for student housing in city
- North Huntingdon man injured, dog dies in house fire
- Lawyers standing by to help needy in Westmoreland County
- Pair of zoning requests denied by Unity board
- Latrobe top cop questions testing for police promotions
- Burglars strike 3 businesses in Hempfield plaza
- Proposed Mt. Pleasant budget plan includes deficit, tax hike