Melrose Plots Historic Comeback

If you know, you go: famous South Philly diner to be rebuilt after demo.

When old-time architecture meets modern development, change is often an unfortunate result. In South Philly, though, such change saves an iconic piece of history, and brings new life to a legendary neighborhood landmark.

You’ve probably heard by now that the famous Melrose Diner (where everybody who knows goes*) is set to be demolished and replaced with a mixed-use structure we’ve all seen popping up everywhere around the city: residential on top with ground-floor commercial. The good news is, a new Melrose Diner is slated to move back in! Same owner, even. Melrose fans are cautiously optimistic. So are history buffs like me, that this special slice of our city’s past will endure.

Located at the corner of Snyder and Passyunk Aves, the original Melrose Diner was a small, 19-stool restaurant purchased in 1935 by Richard Kubach, a German immigrant. After growing his business, he constructed a second diner which opened on the site in 1940 and featured seating for 54 and a bakery. The current diner with its iconic neon sign was built not long after, in 1956. The interior design featured a big, colorful clock above the counter, in a wall depicting a stylized “old Philadelphia” scene.

In 2007, Richard Kubach Jr sold The Melrose to Michael Petrogiannis, the “Diner King of Philadelphia” who oversaw a thorough overhaul in 2010. However, after fires in 2019 and 2022, Petrogiannis decided to raze the building and rebuild. Plans call for five stories of apartments – 94 units total — and a roof deck, on top of a new Melrose Diner at street-level that will look in some ways quite familiar.

This restaurant will pay tribute to the last by bringing back the old diner’s distinctive signage and also its carefully-preserved vintage clock that strikes heartfelt nostalgia in generations of loyal customers. Since Eisenhower was president, that clock has ticked off the hours while so much local history – good and bad – has gone down among these beloved booths.

Of course, losing the Melrose Diner we all know and remember fondly is sad, but I’m happy to think that when the new one opens, this clock will be waiting to greet me like an old friend. That doesn’t happen very often, when development crosses historic heritage.

The Melrose Diner was more than just a corner luncheonette in South Philadelphia. It’s been a legendary designation for good food, coffee, and company that has anchored the neighborhood for almost a century. Our great-grandparents ate there when it first opened. Our grandparents swung by with their friends, and on dates. Growing up, our parents took us here for hamburgers and ice cream sundaes in the glow of that unforgettable red MELROSE DINER sign.

Time marches on! Here’s to taking our history with us whenever we can. See you at the lunch counter! Put me down for a cheeseburger, onion rings and a nice big slice of cheesecake.😋 “Serving Good Things To Eat Around The Clock”.

Melrose Diner & Bakery
1501 Snyder Ave (South Philly)
(closed, awaiting demo)

Everybody who knows goes to Melrose
Everybody who knows goes to Melrose
Everybody who knows goes to the Melrose Diner restaurant
For the most in quality.

*Hard to tell from the lyrics but this jingle is maddeningly hard to stop singing once you hear it. Written by Philly advertising legend (and Olney high grad) Les Waas, who is best known for two of the most recognizable tunes in the city’s history: this jingle and the song of Mr. Softee. Waas also created the “number system” used to announce winter school closings on TV and radio.

He retired after a long career in local broadcast advertising, and passed away in 2016 at the age of 94; he is buried at Montefiore Cemetery in Jenkintown, along with other local notables such as legendary 76ers announcer Dave Zinkoff and the world-famous architect Louis Kahn.

About Michael Thomas Leibrandt 11 Articles
Michael Thomas Leibrandt is an Engineer/Consultant/Author/Creator. He lives and works with celiac in Abington, PA

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