Sperry’s / Swede’s was Ann Arbor’s only true diner (the Dagwood was site-built from a kit). It was built by the Ward & Dickinson Dining Car Company of Silver Creek, NY.
Sperry’s Diner was owned by Paul F. Sperry and first appears in the 1933 city directory, at 210 South Fifth Avenue. Mike of nydiners.com says Sperry came from Erie, PA, where he ran a diner for a couple of years, and brought the diner with him. Sperry lived next door to the diner at 216 South Fifth with his wife Irene.
In 1934 the name was changed to Ward’s Diner, owned by Ward Tupper, and from 1935 to 1938 it was the Fifth Avenue Diner, owned by Charles Walquist. By 1939 the diner had been moved to 208 South Fifth, perpendicular to the street, and the Swiss Garment Cleaning company expanded from its store front on Fourth Avenue, next door to a neon sign factory, into the lot where the diner had been. In 1940 the restaurant was listed as “Nelson Esther” but I don’t know if that’s the owner’s name or the restaurant’s. The restaurant is not in the 1940 phone book.
The diner sat vacant for a few years before being acquired by Leonard G. “Swede” Carlstrom, who lived with his wife Madge at 308 Thompson no. 4. The 1948 phone book lists Swede’s Grill at 314 Detroit but I don’t know if this was a previous restaurant by the same owner. The city directory says Pack’s Service Station was at that address.
Swede’s Diner had a grand opening on Thursday, March 24, 1949, one week after the grand opening of the Dagwood Diner. Free coffee was served all day long on opening day. The diner was open 24 hours.
By 1952 the diner was called Joe’s Diner (“Just Good Food”), serving breakfast, lunch, and dinners. Joe’s was short-lived. Starting in 1953 there is no listing for any restaurant at that address, and the city directory lists the property as “vacant.”
Ann Arbor News, 23 December 1950: Stockings wouldn't hold the Christmas cheer served up by Leonard Carlstrom, proprietor of a lunch counter at 208 S. Fifth Ave., so he used cups. Carlstrom played his own version of Santa Clause this morning when he hung up the "free coffee" sign to old customers and newcomers alike. "Business kind of picked up a little," Carlstrom noted.
Photo by Maiteland Robert La Motte via Old News.
This photo from February 1939, just after the diner was moved,
shows the street end of the diner, just visible
on the far right. Also barely visible is an "EAT" sign.
Photo by Eck Stanger via Old News.
In this photo, from 1965, the windowless square building on the right is where the diner would have been. It’s possible the diner is in there under a false front. Or this could be a completely different building. In 1966 the building was demolished, along with Swiss Cleaners, and the Fifth Forum movie theater was built on the spot.
The movie theater that replaced Swiss Cleaners and Swede's Diner, in 1999.
Thank you to Mike Engle of nydiners.com for some of the information on this diner.
Ward & Dickinson info at nydiners.comJim Rees