North of Buellton, sitting on a frontage road that parallels the 101 Freeway is a diner. It’s been shuttered for years but remains an icon of the Valley’s highway system.


Constructed from two streetcars, the diner is a relic of decades gone by and while its design is unique, its fate is an old story.


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In 1945, Edward Mullen trucked a pair of streetcars up from Southern California – themselves a part of another era when horses ruled public transportation – and built Mullen’s Dining Cars. But like so many of the forgotten stop-ins on America’s highways, a change to the roadway put the brakes on business at the diner. Mullen abandon his project only three years after he began. Others took on the location, but it permanently closed its doors in 1958. The cars have remained a part of the Valley’s landscape since then, but in a matter of months they will be gone.

The only decision left to make is if the cars will be moved or scrapped. The current owners hope it’s the former but are having trouble finding someone with the right combination of will and means to save this piece of history.

In the late 1980s, Anke Haas and her husband bought the vacant diner that sat on land below their house. They didn’t know if they wanted to open a restaurant, but they did want to see the landmark building restored. Over the past two decades the couple worked to repair and maintain the property, though recent changes in zoning, coupled with vandalism have numbered the diner’s days.

The cars used to sit on land zoned for commercial use, but that land was rezoned for one-acre residential use. That means even if the cars were restored, they could not be used as a business. “They cannot stay here,” said Anke as she looked down on the cars from her home.

She said that their work on the diner – including painting, carpentry and cleaning – was becoming too much to handle. A series of break-ins and destructive vandalism forced them to fence off the area. When people started breaking windows and setting back restoration efforts, the Haas family decided it was time to stop the improvement.

That doesn’t mean the Haas family wants to see the building demolished. “We are looking for someone that will move them and find a good home for them,” Anke said. She added that there has been a lot of interest, but the right person has yet to be found. Either the people who have the capability to move the cars don’t have anywhere to put them, or people with land don’t have the means to haul the building.

Anke estimated the cars would need to find a new home in the next six months or risk being scrapped. “Time is becoming of the essence,” she said. The cars have been home to movie shoots, parties and many meals. Even after their heyday, the cars drew tourists off the side of the road who snapped pictures with them. Many of those photos have ended up in the hands of the Haas family, sent by travelers who were thankful for the opportunity to see a piece of history.

Soon those pictures may be the only record of the diner. If someone doesn’t come to their rescue, the cars will be gone for good. Anke said she searched far and wide for a new owner, even offering them to the city of Huntington Beach were they once were in service, all to no avail.

The fate of the cars isn’t decided yet, but if someone is going to save a piece of history, they will have to do it soon. To contact the Haas family, call 688-3544 or 245-0243.

brookshire@syvjournal.com