Block by block, I am slowly piecing together a lost city. The more I unearth, the more I am fascinated by what was once Rochester. The fineness of urban texture, the richness of that urban life a century ago, is long gone now. But the traces are beguiling, sometimes sad, and always suggestive. As I sift through the images, I can hear the life on the street, and almost smell the lunches being prepared at Mike Miller’s diner, at 60 North Street. Let’s go for a walk.
This is the Salvation Army’s Citadel Building, on the east side of North Street (now Liberty Pole Way….), in 1907. Notice the little house to the right in this photo – you’ll see it again a few more times. To the right of the house is Achilles Street – named after a Civil War veteran and city benefactor, Henry L. Achilles. So: the intersection of Achilles and North.
Sometime in the early teens, Mike Miller came to North Street. Mike found an old rail car somewhere, and decided it would make a great place in which to open a diner. Which he did – here’s a view in about 1914.
He’s set his diner against the wall of the Salvation Army, and on the front lawn of the little house. Always open, day and night, ladies and gents.
In 1917, the lettering on the diner had changed, as had the weather, but Mike was still at it. Only now, an addition to the little house made a storefront for a glove shop, and Mike and his diner had slid a bit south. Now Mike was right at the intersection of North and Achilles.
Dining Car No. 29 must have been a good place to grab a meal – by 1917, Mike’s name was in the window.
And two years later, Mike was still at it.
The glove shop had become a tailor, but Mike soldiered on, serving up his quick lunch.
Directly across the street, there were other little establishments – a jeweler, a laundry, another lunch spot. Mr. Stone must have just had two eggs over easy at Mike’s before he made this image.
Around this time there was a murder in the neighborhood. Mike’s night clerk, Bill Kelly, who was all of 18, was slain by a fellow named Tony Chireco, aged 20, from Buffalo. It was big news, so Mr. Stone was on the scene.
The murder happened right outside the diner, next to the church. If we enlarge the photo, we can see the crime scene. Mike’s diner is just beyond the church, below the Salvation sign.
Later the church was demolished – Second Baptist – to make way for the formidable Baptist Temple, which remains in place today. Stone took a picture of the Temple in 1925, two years after it was completed.
Mike’s diner is still there, at the lower left of this image, across Achilles Street from the Temple. Here’s another view.
By this time – 1925 - Mike had been at it for over a decade. Ten years later, in 1935, a view of the City Plat is equivocal. The Salvation Army Citadel is still there. The little house with the storefront addition is still there. The Star Palace Laundry, across the street, is still there.
Is the diner? Not sure. It appears that there is a dotted line next to the storefront addition that could be Mike’s diner. Would the City have platted a railroad car sitting on someone’s lawn? Hard to say.
Today the stories of North Street, Mike’s diner, quick lunches, bustling sidewalks, crimes in the night, and clattering streetcars are all vanished.
Here’s the intersection of North and Achilles today, oriented just like the City Plat, above.
I am reminded of something Christopher Lasch wrote, in a book entitled “The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics.” He was making a distinction between nostalgia, which freezes and idealizes our past, and real living memory, which leads us to our future.
He said: “(Memory) draws hope and comfort from the past in order to enrich the present and to face what comes with good cheer. It sees past, present, and future as continuous. It is less concerned with loss than with our continuing indebtedness to a past the formative influence of which lives on in our patterns of speech, our gestures, our standards of honor, our expectations, our basic disposition toward the world around us.”
Thanks to Mike Miller, and 60 North Street, I, for one, expect more for our city.