NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — There is still hope a neon blue star will be lit and a good meal will be had off Warwick Boulevard in Newport News.
The historic Blue Star Diner, which first opened its doors in the Hilton Village area of the city in 1961, is up for sale.
Named to honor the blue star families that populate Hampton Roads’ military community, it’s now been more than a decade since anyone has been able to order anything at the local landmark.
The current owner is looking for a buyer with ambitions to fire up the grill once more.
Northern Virginia-based Belleville Diners LLC. bought the diner in 2010 for $240,000 from the Blentson family, the original owners.
Since then a historical renovation has been underway. Michael Lessin, president of Belleville Diners, said it was 80% complete when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
“Doing anything in the restaurant industry became a challenge at that time,” Lessin said. “Living several hours away, it didn’t make much sense for me to try to reopen it anymore.
Lessin is looking to sell the property for $1.3 million. The more than half-acre lot also includes a former garage-turned-kitchen and what Lessin believes is a 1940s World War II Quonset hut.
“We hope a future buyer will finish the renovation project and not just buy the property for its large corner lot next to Hilton Village,” Lessin said. “The diner is unique classic architecture and an important part of the heart of the community. We believe we have finished the hardest parts of the renovation, including getting blueprints drawn up and approved, and completing the largest items on the renovation list including a new roof over the kitchen and more than 30 other key components. Now the next owner can complete the kitchen, add their finishing touches, and bring the classic diner back to life.”
Built in 1957 by the Manno Dining Car Company in New Jersey, the Blue Star is one of only two remaining pre-fabricated diners in our region, according to Marc Wagner, an architectural historian with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. The other is the Exmore Diner on the Eastern Shore, which is still in operation.
“This is a classic diner. It has stainless steel and to boot, it has the aquamarine, turquoise colors including on the interior,” Wagner said. “That is all very emblematic, fashionable from the early 1960s.”
A state review board has recommended with VDHR that the Blue Star be nominated for the national and state historic registers.
“It still really shows all of its authentic character,” Wagner said. “We’re hoping that it reopens at some point.”
Richard Gutman, who has written several books on the American Diner experience, feels the fad of the 1950s and 1960s could be made profitable in the 2020s.
“The diner was the place where you were more than just a customer walking in,” Gutman said. “It’s a community place. It’s a place where you will go, they know you. You will know them… There’s nothing like a diner.”