Feeling blue over the orange roof


After hearing last night’s All Things Considered story on the closing of one of the last Howard Johnson’s, we were a little bummed today when we went searching for an image of the last one with an orange roof.

It’s this one in Lake George, N.Y. Look just beyond the sewage truck, and thanks, Google Maps.



If you’re my age, you probably have a Howard Johnson’s memory. For me, it was halfway between Boston and the city where I grew up. I took my grandmother to Red Sox games and we’d stop in Concord, Mass., at the HoJo. She had a thing for the scallops.

Back in the ’80s, a group of guys who played APBA baseball — cops, state legislators, media types — gathered every third Saturday to play the dice baseball game. Eventually, they shut it down and turned the joint into a Ground Round. You knew Howard Johnson’s was on borrowed time when a Ground Round was how you improved it.

Back in the day, a Howard Johnson’s on the horizon was the only thing that prevented dad from following through on his promise to pull the car over right there. You kids wouldn’t understand.

Colleague Paul Tosto, who today admitted working at a Ground Round (a post for another day, perhaps) reports that the night before the Watergate burglary, the “plumbers” stayed at a Howard Johnson’s across from the Watergate hotel.

The death of Howard Johnson’s is the worst kind: long and slow. It started its decline because of World War II. The company tried to diversify by opening up motels in the 1960s, but the Arab Oil Embargo in the ’70s helped finish off that idea. People stopped driving to get to places far away. Heck, nowadays, few people can recite the nursery rhyme that inspired its signage.

There are only three left now, NPR reported last evening — Lake Placid (which is closing), Bangor, Maine, and Lake George.

“We had one guy who drove all the way from Maine on Friday — nine hours each way — just to have fried clams,” the manager of the Lake Placid Howard Johnson’s said. That’s not good news for the Bangor location.

And in truth, there’ll be only one left. The one behind the sewer truck, and it doesn’t look all that healthy.

The Bangor Daily News reports today that the HoJo restaurant there looks like it’s about to close, too.

Restaurant Manager Julie Jewett said the hotel’s owners may be closing the restaurant in favor of offering a continental breakfast, which is in higher demand from patrons. However, she did not know for sure when or if the doors would be shuttered. The hotel’s owner, David Patel, could not be reached for comment.

“Things are switching over to all continental breakfast. But not only that, there’s a Tim Horton’s across the street. You can just grab and go,” Jewett said.

Opened in 1966, the Howard Johnson Restaurant and Lounge in Bangor harkens back to a bygone era. Maroon bar stools at the high-gloss ice cream bar were filled with families, and patrons would drop in for familiar favorites, including fried clams, frankfurters and all-you-can-eat fried fish.

These days, octogenarians can be seen midday, enjoying slices of pie a la mode and conversations with a lone waitress, who knows nearly everyone who walks in the door by name.

Even if the brand survives in Bangor, the only remaining real Howard Johnson’s will be the only real one left. The one in Maine doesn’t have an orange roof.

“Nostalgia is part sadness and loss, it is part great memories and good change,” reporter Brian Mann said in his story yesterday.