About a year ago, the Fulton Library decided on its next Memoir Project theme: The Dizzy Block. The Memoir Project’s goal is to help people collect their memories about an important part of Fulton’s history and The Dizzy Block sure fits that bill. Anyone who grew up in our city in the ‘40s, 50’s or ‘60s surely has memories of the many stores clustered in downtown Fulton. I was a frequent visitor to downtown, but I wasn’t looking to buy clothes or school supplies. I went there for my favorite afterschool snack, and I found it at the Green & White Diner.
Set on South First Street, just off the east end on the Oneida Street Bridge, the Green & White Diner was my go-to place when I was in junior high and high school. Thirty-five cents would buy me an order of French fries, ruining my dinner more nights than not, but I didn’t care. Those fries were heaped on a platter and tasted so good after a long day of school.
With a memory as tasty as that, I was hoping we could include stories about the diner in this year’s Memoir Project. I hit the jackpot when I got to talk with Andy Butler, who ran the Green & White between the late-1950s and the early 1970s. Last summer, I met with Andy and his daughter Kelly. Andy was 93 and his short-term memory wasn’t what it used to be, but his recollections of 50+ years ago were excellent. We started talking about how the diner looked. I remember it resembling a trailer, but Andy clarified its appearance.
“That diner was purchased in Rochester, New York, by a guy named Richard Baker,” Andy explained. “Richard was in Rochester on business and he happened to walk by a used car lot, where he saw several old train dining cars for sale. Richard thought one of those would make a good small restaurant in his hometown of Fulton.”
Andy explained that Mr. Baker had the dining car shipped by train, He remembers seeing it being unloaded at a train station at the foot of Broadway, “and then they moved it with horses to the where we all remember it being.”
Andy’s daughter Kelly was a young child when her dad first ran the diner and she remembers the vibrant green and white colors that gave it its name. “The diner was white, with green lettering at the top, and it had several entrances, which were green. When you walked in, there were all those green padded stools. I had a favorite spot to sit, at the end of the row of seats where the water fountain was. Dad always asked me what I wanted and I’d always say ‘Toast’ and he’d make me a giant stack. The other great memory I have of Dad’s cooking was that he toasted the buns for hamburgers. They were crispy and tasted so good.”
Andy had learned he liked cooking when he was younger. His mom worked at Nestlé, so he learned how to prepare meals to help feed the family. While he served in the Navy, Andy became a baker, which got him a job in Syracuse at Ma Tuttle’s Bakery after his discharge. At Ma’s, he learned how to make pies and cakes and many of us remember those yummy desserts at the Green & White Diner.
The diner was already in operation (It was first known as Augie’s Diner) when Andy decided to lease it, continuing with its already established hours. “We were open from 5 am until late at night,” he explained, “so people could get all three meals there.” Andy had some interesting stories to tell me about his regular customers. “There was a guy named Norman who always wore a large overcoat with big pockets. He’d order his meal, eat some of it and then leave. Before he left, he’d stuff the rest of his meal in those big pockets and eat it on his way home.”
Andy employed several people and one worker I remembered seeing while eating my fries was a tall man who walked with a limp. “That was Louie Caldwell,” Andy confirmed. “He worked many years for me as a handyman mopping floors, cleaning and washing dishes.” Andy also employed several waitresses. “There was Barbara Southworth, Shelba Green and Marie Phelps. Nina Welch was one of our cooks and she also made a lot of our pies.”
Andy ran the diner until Urban Renewal changed our downtown Fulton. The diner was torn down, like many of the other structures on the Dizzy Block, and Andy took his cooking talents to the Holiday Inn in Syracuse, where he worked until he retired.
Though the Green & White is only a memory for most of us, Kelly recently received something that keeps her dad’s diner in today’s world. Not long ago, her friend, Linda Thomas-Caster, met Kelly for lunch and surprised her with a gift. “It was a Green & White Diner coffee cup,” Kelly explained. “Linda had found it at an estate sale, and now, I have my coffee in it every morning.”
Today, if you stand in the city parking lot adjacent to the Lock Restaurant, with the Oswego River to your back and the lower bridge to your left, you are standing where the Green & White Diner once served our city. Andy reminded me how close the diner was to the river. “Our big window had quite a riverside view. I remember how kids would gather on the diner’s steps and lean over the railing to look at the locks below.”
Sometimes when I walk through that parking lot, I’ll think of the diner, the smell of fresh food cooking when I walked in its door, and how lucky I was to have a friendly place in my hometown to visit after school. Thanks to Andy Butler, I now have other Green & White Diner memories to go with my heaping plate of French fries.