Small diners have been a part of Weatherford’s history from the early days of the Great Depression.
Through the years many have dotted Main Street Weatherford and came into the height of popularity when historic Route 66 was built.
A long black limousine pulled off Route 66 in Weatherford on its path to Las Vegas, Nevada. Out of the back seat jumps Elvis Presley who asks for a bag of burgers and fries, says “Thank you very much” and heads on his way to headline in Las Vegas April 22, 1960.
Weatherford businessman Bruce Magill said he remembers the excitement as his aunt and uncle would tell the story about the famous customer who left them with their mouths dropped.
“It didn’t surprise me because the diners were so popular for great food. They were small and capable of doing things right. They were a big draw off Route 66 at a time when most travelled by car,” Magill said.
Magill comes from a long line of diner and restaurant owners. The longtime Porter House was named after his grandfather and his aunt and uncle Laverne and Juanita Snow carried on the tradition. Other diners such as the Tiny Diner were among the favorites along Main Street.
“The Porter House diner was an original Valentine Diner which was unique in itself. The Valentine diners were a prefabricated, self-contained diner complete with kitchen equipment, tables and seating that when ordered could be delivered to a concrete slab and begin serving customers,” Magill said.
Magill said the interesting thing is because these were constructed following the depression many would-be owners could not afford to pay for them outright. The Valentine diner had a built in coin slot where owners would deposit 10 percent of their daily receipts into the slot. Each week a representative of Valentine would come by to collect the receipts until the diner was paid for. The diners were made in Wichita, Kansas.
According to the Kansas historical society several different Valentine buildings were at the same location on Route 66 in Weatherford, but at different times. The first was the Porter House Diner, owned and operated at 305 W. Main St. by Marvin and Arvilla Porter from 1940 to 1950.
Because of brisk business, the Porters later attached a second building to the original diner. In 1950 the business was taken over by Harry Wright, who operated it as the Wright Steakhouse until 1960 when it was sold and moved to Cordell, Texas, for use as a liquor store.
The third Valentine diner at 305 West Main was moved there in the early 1960s from El Reno, Oklahoma, and operated by Laverne and Juanita Snow as the The Little Porter House or Porter House II.
Cliff Harris purchased this diner in 1965 and changed the name to the Cliff House. It was operated by Harris and his son Jay until 1989 when the diner was acquired by the county and moved to its headquarters for road building equipment, where the building was used for storage.
In 2002 this diner was donated to the Heartland of America Museum and restored. Today, visitors to the museum can view a guest book open to an entry from April 22, 1960, where Elvis Presley left his signature along with the comment, “Cool, Daddy.” Presley was known to travel Route 66 on trips to and from the West Coast.
Some ask how to recognize a Valentine diner? They’re best described as small boxes. Definitely not fancy and not even particularly attractive, the little square-sided structures were designed to be easily moved on flatbed trucks. Inside, stools were placed around a counter, which kept the customer out of the work area.
There usually were no booths, and the size and design of the diner depended on the type of business the owner operated; operators who were willing to provide curb service needed their pick-up window situated away from the cook and/or dishwasher.
The Heartland of America Museum in Weatherford will be highlighting artifacts of the museum through the year and will be featuring new interactive exhibits in the near future. More information can be seen at their website at oklahomaheartlandmuseum.com.
“Thank you very much.” — Elvis