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Streetcar Desire

Gardner accepts donation of diner from Riviera site

GARDNER — The streetcar is all that is left standing at the site of the Riviera Restaurant in Gardner, but even it won’t be there much longer.

Bob and Peggy Kraft, owners of the property, have donated the streetcar diner to the village of Gardner. It will be moved later this week or early next week.

The streetcar is the body of a Kankakee single-truck street car, which was built by American for Albany, Ga., and later sold to Kankakee.

The streetcar was moved to Gardner and opened for business as a diner on the south side of the village years ago. Later it was moved into the village, behind a residence, and was used to house workers at the armory during World War II.

“It was moved out to the Riviera in the ’50s or ’60s,” Tom Perkins said. “I’m guessing it was used as an outside bar at the time. They used to hold dances out back where it sits.”

The village and the Krafts have been working for months to find a way to transfer ownership to the village and get the streetcar moved.

At the last village board meeting, the board voted unanimously to accept the donation and spend up to $5,000 to get it moved and set into place.

“It will be moved to near the jail,” Perkins said. “We want to bring it back as a point of interest on Route 66.”

Commissioner Dick Hileman said they’ve received donations of labor and discounts on materials, which will help keep the cost of the move down.

“We are using Gardner Day Funds that were set up for parks and recreation in Gardner,” Hileman said. “We aren’t using taxpayers’ money for the move.”

Moving a streetcar is no easy task, Perkins has been involved in moving it to put a foundation under it at it’s current location and knows what lies ahead for the volunteers moving it this time.

“We’ve taken the sides off and I”ll be out there reinforcing it,” Perkins said. “The window that was used to serve food needs reinforcing. Hopefully it will stand the trip to Gardner.”

Hileman said interest in the diner is definitely there and he hopes those traveling on Route 66 will stop to see it and do business in town while they are there.

Perkins said the historic jail has 2,000 to 3,000 people drive by or stop each year.

“This year, in the three months since we opened the jail, we’ve had 330 people sign the guestbook,” he said. “Last year, we had people from 40 states and 20 countries stop and sign the book.”

It’s unknown how many people signed the book that was at the streetcar, since vandals have broken in since the fire and stolen that part of history.

“Some people got into it and stole the registration book and a Route 66 sign,” he said. “Hopefully we get it moved before they do any more vandalism.”

Vandalism is something new to the streetcar, for years it has sat out there with a donation box and registry book, and nothing has ever been missing.

“No one has taken anything from it as far as we can tell; there was money in the donation box,” he said. “As soon as no one was out at the property, someone broke in.”

“I don’t know why we have to have people like that,” he said. “They even took the letters off the front of the Riviera.”

The famous Betty Boop sign that was located on the property was also donated to the village and has already been removed so it won’t be stolen.

Fatlan Trucking, which has volunteered trucks to help move the streetcar, will house it at its lot until the concrete foundation can be poured for its permanent home.

“All the trades are volunteering men to come help get it installed, Hileman said. “Everyone is working together to get it done.”

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