October 2, 2012

Fire Shuts Down ‘Iconic’ State Diner

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Correction appended

A fire at the State Diner on Tuesday afternoon will likely shut down business at the historic community fixture for an extended period of time, according to the Ithaca Fire Department.

The fire was reported at approximately 4:40 p.m. Tuesday, according to the IFD. As of Tuesday afternoon, no injuries were reported.

Tom Parsons ’82, chief of the IFD, said that approximately 24 firefighters were called in to fight the fire. When the responders arrived on the scene, they saw flames rising from the roof of the diner, he said.

Firefighters evacuated people eating at the diner, which is open for business 24 hours a day. Together, it took 20 to 25 minutes for the firefighters to get the fire under control, Parsons said.

Passersby said that the street was closed down as emergency responders fought the fire at the diner.

“At this point, there are no injuries yet,” Parsons said. “We have no idea what the cause of the fire is yet, but the fire investigation team will look into it.”

The State Diner is likely to be closed for “quite a while” because of extensive damage to the attic of the building, Parsons said.

“We have a fire like this every few months or so, but this was a big fire,” he added.


The owner of the State Diner declined to comment.

News of the fire shocked both local business owners and Ithaca residents, who described the State diner –– which opened in 1936 –– as being inextricably tied to memories of late night food runs and hearty conversation.

Julia Pergolini, owner of Waffle Frolic, said she was deeply saddened by the fire.

“It’s crazy … I mean, it really is devastating. Your heart goes out to them,” Pergolini said.

She said that hearing about the fire was all the more distressing because of the rich history of the diner — which she described as being a local fixture.

“There is so much history already preserved in that place … The way it is and the way it was is sort of how so many people remember it,” Pergolini said. “I mean, any image of State Street you’ll see from way back, [the diner] is the one thing that’s unchanged.”

Apart from being a “symbol of State Street,” the diner is a haven of sorts — “one of the last meeting places” in the era of the Internet, where local residents can gather to converse, said Amanda Morrell, an employee at Waffle Frolic.

“You can recognize anyone in there,” Morrell said.

Pergolini agreed, saying that, for some Ithaca residents, the State Diner is inseparable from their nightly routines.

“I can’t say that my immediate life will be affected by this, but there are some people who would be absolutely devastated,” she said. “I think it’s a part of people’s routines — especially for men who are out there night after night playing cards.”

The diner has not only attracted devotees among Ithaca residents, though. It has also, for decades, been a watering hole for Cornellians, one professor said.

“Generations of students have rhapsodized on late nights at the State Street Diner,” Prof. Isaac Kramnick, government, said. “It’s iconic.”

The diner is also an artifact of sorts of American culture, said Prof. Andrew Carmichael, physics, the State University of New York at Cortland.

“There is really something uniquely American about [these diners]. I think the State Street Diner was the only one of that kind in Ithaca with that unique style,” Carmichael said. “It was a very affordable and a good place to go with that iconic sort of interior.”

Recalling a vintage photograph of the diner that hung on the wall of the restaurant, Carmichael mourned the destruction of the fire.

“It’s a shame that [the photograph] is [probably] no longer there,” he said.

Kyle Butler, an employee at Short Stop Deli, struggled to come up with words to describe the meaning of the diner. Having grown up in Ithaca and paid homage to the diner countless times, he said the eatery is a staple of the city itself.

“It’s a landmark of this town — the regulars and the townies know what the State Diner is, and they’ll go and tell people who visit here that if they want to get the best diner food, they would recommend the State Street Diner,” Butler said.

Adding that he hopes the diner will be re-opened soon, Butler shared his memories of the diner.

“The State Street diner was a good place to go and get breakfast, and now it’s like no more — no more blueberry pancakes,” he said.

Jeff Stein and Utsav Rai contributed reporting to this article.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the name of the diner that burned down. It is the State Diner, not the State Street Diner.

Original Author: Akane Otani