Recipe for Success: Miss Lorraine Diner Listed in National Register of Historic Places

Published on Friday, November 05, 2021

(Pawtucket, R.I.) A diner in Pawtucket has received federal recognition for its significance to the history of architecture, commerce, and industry. Jeffrey Emidy, Interim Executive Director of the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission, announced that the National Park Service has added Miss Lorraine Diner (formerly known as Donwell’s Diner) to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is the Federal Government’s official list of properties throughout the United States whose historical and architectural significance makes them worthy of preservation. Recently restored, the Miss Lorraine Diner is a rare surviving example of a “semi-streamliner” diner, an important building type that influenced the design of American fast-food restaurants.

Miss Lorraine Diner takes its name from its current location in the Lorraine Mills complex on Mineral Spring Avenue in Pawtucket’s Fairlawn neighborhood. It is a prefabricated semi-streamliner diner manufactured in 1941. The one-story, steel-frame structure has a monitor roof, stainless-steel windows, and porcelain enamel cladding. The interior features a long pink Tennessee marble countertop with nineteen stainless steel stools alongside as well as seven seating booths lining the front wall. The smooth-edged design and modernistic materials are characteristic of streamliner and semi-streamliner diner models touted by their manufacturer to provide “A smart looking business place that draws customers in and brings ‘em back because it’s as comfortable and modern as a streamlined parlor car.”

Before the diner had a name, it had a number. Diner no. 774 was designed and built by the Worcester Lunch Car and Carriage Manufacturing Company in 1941. Upon completion, it was trucked from Worcester, Massachusetts to downtown Hartford, Connecticut. On September 7, 1941, the Hartford Courant ran an advertisement to announce the opening of Donwell’s Diner, “Hartford’s newest and finest diner-restaurant.” The business changed hands several times, and the diner was relocated twice within Connecticut: to Kensington in 1966 and then to Middletown in 1969 where it operated until 1997.

The current owner, Jonathan Savage, purchased the diner in 2011 and moved it to Pawtucket, Rhode Island. The restoration project was a labor of love for everyone involved. Diner experts provided input on the original design as well as sources for finishes and fixtures; their recommendations guided work by general contractor Joe Pacheco. Under the direction of experienced restaurateur Mike Arena, Miss Lorraine opened for business in 2020. The restoration project has received a Rhody Award for Historic Preservation from the Rhode Island Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission and Preserve Rhode Island.

Miss Lorraine is one of several dozen diners in Rhode Island and the fifth to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Rhode Island’s other historic diners include the Modern Diner (built in 1940) in Pawtucket, West Side Diner (1947) and Central Diner (1947) in Providence, and Jigger’s Diner (1950) in East Greenwich.

The National Register nomination for Miss Lorraine Diner was prepared by Ryan Cameron of MacRostie Historic Advisors. RIHPHC’s Interim Executive Director Jeffrey Emidy commented, “Rhode Islanders love their diners, and the Miss Lorraine Diner is a great example worthy of loving. National Register listing is a fitting recognition of the award-winning rehabilitation that brought this diner back from the brink and has made it a destination in Pawtucket.”

In addition to honoring a property for its contribution to local, state, or national history, listing on the National Register provides additional benefits. It results in special consideration during the planning of Federal or federally assisted projects and makes properties eligible for Federal and Rhode Island tax benefits for historic rehabilitation projects. Owners of private property listed on the National Register are free to maintain, manage, or dispose of their property as they choose. As the state office for historic preservation, the Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission is responsible for reviewing and submitting Rhode Island nominations to the National Register. 

Miss Lorraine Diner, Pawtucket (exterior)
Miss Lorraine Diner, Pawtucket
Miss Lorraine Diner, Pawtucket (counter)
Counter and Stools inside Miss Lorraine Diner, Pawtucket