Davies' Chuck Wagon Diner
Davies' Chuck Wagon Diner located in Lakewood, CO.
William Lyman Davies, the first owner of the Diner, was a supervisor of restaurants for Walgreens Drug stores which involved much travel around the United States. In the east, Davies had seen many diners and wanted to have one of own. After 21 years with Walgreens he decided to pursue his dream. Having been located in Denver in 1947 he was familiar with the area and eventually made a trip back to hunt for a location. He was especially interested in West Colfax Avenue (Highway U.S. 40), the only east-west highway through town at the time. Constant tourists and truckers traveled this route, all potential customers. At the same time Mountain View Diners, Inc. of Singac, New Jersey, near Little Falls, had a vigorous sales campaign going on throughout the country and the owner, Henry Strys, had leased a piece of land at Hoyt Street and West Colfax Avenue in Jefferson County. He advertised for people interested in placing a diner at this location, but defaulted on the lease and the land reverted to the owner, Morrie F. Brothers.
Once two early trails crossed on this location, preceding later roads from Denver to Golden. It was first owned by Matthew Cartwright as part of a 160-acre military warrant of 1865, and was quickly sold to George Yule who was credited later with the discovery of marble along what is now known as Yule Creek in Gunnison County, Colorado. Other owners were James Robb, Civil War veteran, George G. Peabody (1887) and several farmers until Davies bought it.
In 1956 Lyman Davies was looking for a diner company to his liking and after much research he ordered from Mountain View a modified show-diner, similar to the show-diner used in the 37th National Restaurant Show at Chicago, Illinois, (which later became one of Bill's Diners in Canton, Ohio). In 1956, a diner of this type could be constructed in 15 weeks after final plans were approved. This included the installation of the latest in food service equipment for the operation of a compact, efficient, high-profit establishment. The approved plans were received in Denver in February 1957 at the office of George W. Littrell, real estate agent for the land on Hoyt Street at West Colfax Avenue. The plans for the foundations and walls were necessary, as the Diner would be completely finished and the supports would have to fit the steel structure. Lyman Nies leased the 100' x 200', and the work started on both the site and the Diner. For a period of three months, Lyman stayed at the Colfax Motel while directing work on the basement, sign and Diner.
The Davies family, while still living in Peoria, Illinois, made the Diner a family project and discussed its name, each offering suggestions until they arrived at Davies' Chuck Wagon Diner, borrowing terminology from Old West cattle drives. Lyman, Helen, and their children, Judy, Nancy, Dennis and Brent, liked the western theme and designed a 36' cowboy wearing his apron, ready to serve hungry folks.
The Diner arrived in 1957 by rail in Denver, shipped from New Jersey in two sections of 11' x 50' each, both weighing about 19 tons. The vestibule was shipped separately. The Weicker Transfer and Storage Company, experts in moving heavy equipment, loaded the sections onto lowboy trailers and transported them to the site. Using a large crane, the sections were set in place within two days. The two sections were bolted together, utilities connected, and all the necessary finish work was accomplished, including brickwork under the Diner perimeter and brick planters in front. Many connections were made between the basement and the Diner for electrical, plumbing, refrigeration lines, and duct work.
This Diner, number 516, was one of the last produced by Mountain View Diners, Inc. The company built stylish and unusual diners before and after World War II, out-selling other manufacturers. It was in business from 1939 to 1957, but went out of business after trying to go public. Davies spent $92,000 for the Diner, $3,600 for shipping, and with the cost of the land, the total came to more than $150,000. This was a very large sum in 1957, when new houses sold for $20,000 and new cars for $2,500.
The family arrived in Jefferson County in early June 1957, lived at 2460 Miller Street, and opened the Diner for business on June 21. Within two weeks the place was packed, especially at lunch time, when lines formed around the building. Customers came from far and wide. Parked semi-trucks lined up on West Colfax Avenue. In addition to truckers and tourists, local residents and employees of Colfax businesses frequented the Diner. The whole family worked there taking turns, allowing for 24-hour service which continued for 14 years. The girls worked lunch hours; the others worked 12 hour shifts with little rest in between. Lyman and Helen Davies provided a personal touch for their customers. Lyman could remember 99% of their names and he required watresses to learn customers' names after their second appearance. The maximum capacity of the Diner was 57.
Lyman designed the menu with Colorado registered cattle brand marks forming the border. The original breakfast menu advertised two eggs for 40 cents, the Chuck Wagon Breakfast of two eggs, double thick ham steak, fried potatoes, toast and all the coffee one could hold for 99 cents. Others on the menu were the Ranch Hands Breakfast, Buckaroo Special and the Wranglers Breakfast. They always used "AA" extra large eggs. In order to obtain golden malted pancake mix, they had to buy an entire truck load from Michigan. The menu listed a large T-bone steak dinner for $2.85, fried jumbo shrimp for $1.25 and smoked loin pork chops for $1.35.
Within a year of opening, Col. Harland Sanders came from his Corbin, Kentucky Cafe to show the Davies family how to cook his chicken. They were granted the first franchise in Colorado for Kentucky Fried Chicken and continued buying the ingredients until the early 1960s. His picture was on the original menu along with the registered trademark of Kentucky Fried Chicken, copyright 1954 by Col. Sanders. While traveling around the country with Walgreen, Davies had met Sanders in Kentucky and remembered his tasty chicken. Col. Sanders' restaurant in Corbin was closed because the property was replaced by new highway construction. Later he traveled the country promoting his products and eventually started the Kentucky Fried Chicken Company. In 1960, the first Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Colorado was built at West 8th Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard.
Lyman Davies was a lover of horses and also a member of the Jefferson County Sheriffs Posse. He raised horses on land near O'Hayre Court off 32nd Avenue, and at one time twin colts were born. In the early 1960s, Lyman acquired the large fiber glass horse that stands watch atop the vestibule of the Diner. A customer, Mr. Pruewitt of Pruewitt Manuafacturing Company, which manufactured various fiber glass animals, had the horse in his truck, and after much discussion andtrading, the Davies became the owners. The life-size brown horse with white socks has more than once been ridden by an inebriated passerby.
In 1971, the 24-hour service was discontinued and for the first time it was necessary to install locks on the doors. Lyman's son, Brent, recalls a night when he inadvertently locked a man in the Diner who was in the restroom. The man was able to call the police, who called Brent to free him.
In 1977, after 20 years of ownership, the Davies family sold the Diner to Clayton Lee, as none of the younger Davies wanted to continue operating it and Lyman was forced to quit due to poor health. The Diner had been profitable but required lots of hard work and a family member always had to be present during open hours. Brent Davies commented that the Diner is the ideal size. One fry cook, one preparation cook, and a dishwasher can operate the kitchen, which is laid out so that everything is within reach. Clayton Lee ran the business until 1984 and during his years, the metal blinds were replaced with woven wood blinds. The seat coverings were changed to tan and brown from the original pink. The Wurtlizer juke boxes at the tables were changed to Seeburg juke boxes, and the large T-bone steak dinner had risen to $3.95.
In 1984, Jim and Dwayne Clark became owners and operators of Davies' Chuck Wagon Diner, Jim having been a restauranteur in the past. Within a short time they became embroiled in a fight with the City of Lakewood. According to the City's 1979 sign code, rooftop signs such as the horse and any sign more than 100 square feet in size were outlawed. This ruled out a 240 square-foot cowboy outlined in neon. The previous owner, Clayton Lee, had been informed of the violations, but thought he had 15 years to correct the situation. The Board of Adjustment turned down a variance to keep the sign and subsequently the Clarks went through the District Court and the Colorado Court of Appeals without any success in changing the board's decision. The Colorado Supreme Court was to be next.
The lawsuits continued until 1988 when the public and Lakewood City Council members became involved in an effort to preserve the horse and sign. Councilman H.W."Scat" Scatter-day, whose father had died in the Diner in July 1957, and Councilman Dennis Mateski pushed for an ordinance that would give the Diner historical status. The local paper, the Lakewood Sentinel, contained a letter to the editor remarking, "To my knowledge, that horse has not bucked, neighed nor soiled the city street. Perhaps it's too countrified or unsophisticated forour city fathers". A special use permit was issued December 21, 1988 designating Davies' Chuck Wagon Diner an historic place, thereby preserving the horse, sign, and Diner---urban art.
The Clarks have had the Diner for 11 years, and during this period it has become quite popular as a place to film movies and commercials since so few diners still exist. A cigarette commercial for the Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company, made for showing in Europe, portrayed a motor cycling free spirit traveling across the West. Californians involved in making this commercial tried unsuccessfully to find an authentic looking diner and felt fortunate to find Davies'. In May 1990, a scene for the CBS movie "Archie's Wife" was filmed at the Diner, starring Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker. In April 1996, part of another movie, "Going West", was filmed at the Diner, starring Danny Glover and Dennis Quaid. In recent years, the building has been used as a backdrop for the movie "Star-man", a CBS Movie of the Week, commercials for the Colorado Lottery and others.
During the Clark's ownership, they have replaced some of the equipment, enlarged the booths, added the patio in front, and continued the normal maintenance. They are intent on pre-serving the Diner and as many of its components as possible, if they can be repaired.
This Diner, with its horse and sign, is a famous landmark on West Colfax Avenue. It is coffeeshop architecture, a tribute to Americana and a monument to 1950s nostalgia. Davies' Chuck Wagon Diner is something special that will not go out of style and should be preserved for those living now and in the future.
Background History of Diners
The Historic Preservation Magazine, in a September 1979 article, estimated that 6,000 of the prefabricated diners existed in 1950, but only half remained in 1979. Now only a few exist. Some are in museums, some are completely restored like the Le Galaxy in Montreal, Canada and some have been enclosed with new exteriors, popular at the time. Others were homemade structures built on site, still others were placed on wheels for mobility, and some were even moved to foreign countries. These diners were popular in the late 1800s and early 1900s, evolving from horsedrawn trolley cars to diners with gleaming stainless steel skins. In 1978 the Modern Diner of Pawtucket, Rhode Island became the first of six diners placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Davies' Chuck Wagon Diner becomes the ninth one on the Register.