Last Summer for D.C. Diner?

Posted on: July 25th, 2007 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

Special to Preservation magazine by Jimmy Scarano

The Waffle Shop’s lease expires in September, and an office building is planned for the block. (Jimmy Scarano)

With plans for a high-rise office complex in the works, Washington, D.C., is in danger of losing the Waffle Shop, the sole survivor of a local six-restaurant chain that opened in the 1950s.

The classic diner, built in 1950, is one of the few remaining examples of moderne style in the city. The storefront showcases the original neon signage and stainless-steel frames, and inside the decor includes mosaic tiles and vintage horseshoe countertops.

But with its lease expiring in September, the Waffle Shop's days may be numbered.

"What can we do?" says Sue Ngo, who has worked at the diner for the past 20 years. "Everything just keeps getting knocked down."

Last year, the Waffle Shop's block was purchased by local developer Douglas Jemal, who says he is still in the planning phases for his project and won't begin construction for a few years. "We haven't made our mind up on it yet," Jemal says.

While the city's Historic Preservation Review Board ruled that Jemal must save at least part of the diner, most likely the signage or countertops, there is nothing to stop him from closing the restaurant. Even so, local preservationists still believe the whole building can be saved and nominated the site for the National Register of Historic Places. The hopes are that it can be incorporated into Jemal's plans or relocated.

For now, the throwback restaurant is still serving its regulars, like D.C. police officer Jacqueline Middleton, who has been going there for over 35 years.

"My mother brought me here, and now I bring my children here," Middleton says. "Everything is the same."

Middleton says that on any morning you can see a cross-section of D.C.; everyone from construction workers to bus drivers stops in. "I love to talk to the different people at the countertop," she says.

If the Waffle Shop closes its doors, it won't be the first iconic restaurant to fold in the district this summer. Last month the city's oldest restaurant, Reeves Bakery, shut down, as did the famed Yenching Palace, which is best-known as the place where diplomats negotiated peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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