Fate of the Vintage Mullen’s Dining Cars – Buellton, California
Those of you who’ve traveled Highway 101 along the northern Santa Barbara coast perhaps may recognize these photographs of two vintage streetcars, formerly attached to the old abandoned Mullen’s Dining Car Cafe in Buellton, California. For many years this historic roadside dining car complex (the cars were attached to the original cafe/diner) sat for sale while being slated for demolition. The new property owners tried everything to sell these vintage dining cars, but to no avail. All seemed lost. But first, a bit of history.
Originally opened as Mullen’s Dining Car Cafe in 1946, this novelty restaurant operated during the heyday of American roadside services. The owner, Ed Mullen, had been a veteran steward on real rail dining cars and had managed to transport extra Los Angeles Railway Standard cars from the L.A. Electric Railway Co. to the rural Central California coastal town of Buellton, still famous for Andersen’s Pea Soup restaurant. The rail cars, which were built in 1911, were operated by the Los Angeles Electric Railway Company until 1944. Located strategically on busy Highway 101, Mullen’s Cafe drew many patrons that were traveling the coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The owner later added gas service pumps to draw in more visitors.
These twin railway streetcars once lined the sides of this abandoned roadside diner. However, in 1955, the California State Highways Department realigned and expanded Highway 101 to serve the increasing traffic. The cafe, which stood on the original highway, became severely impacted when 101 was moved. Since 1958 the site remained abandoned and dilapidated, bearing battle scars of time, after being in business for only 12 years. For decades this classic cafe sat decaying as the forces of nature took over, still a site of interest for lovers of vintage streetcars and retro American diners.
In 2012, a retired contractor from Cayucos, California, Tom Pierze, purchased the dining cars and had them transported up the coast to Morro Bay at great cost. For a time they sat in silence, awaiting restoration in a weed-covered, abandoned parking lot next to a gas station. Word had it that the new owner wrangled with the city of Morro Bay to obtain the necessary permits to restore them to their former all-American glory and open a new diner. Unfortunately, permit and financial issues resulted in these vintage beauties being removed from their resting place at the intersection of Highways 1 and 41 in Morro Bay. I am still attempting to investigate their ultimate fate (see update below).
The three photographs above are HDR (high dynamic range ) images comprised of bracketed RAW shots processed in Photomatix Pro, Lightroom, Photoshop, and with onOne Software’s Perfect Photo Suite. They were taken with a Nikon D800 at the intersection of Highways 41 and 1 in Morro Bay while the dining cars awaited a new life. Due to the fact that the interiors of the dining cars had already been significantly gutted – containing mostly construction materials – I did not take any interior shots. In addition, the cars were tightly locked and secured.
September 2013 Update – Mystery Location Revealed: A huge thanks to Joe Myers, who informed me that these classic dining cars have been bought by and moved to the Bitter Creek Western Railroad near Arroyo Grande, California. Joe was kind enough to leave a couple comments on this post, and provided this vital information. Click here to read the story of how the cars came to rest at the Bitter Creek Western Railroad.
For more historic details, please visit the following websites: