Closed and crumbling for nearly nine years, the weedy eyesore that used to be Olga’s Diner will soon be torn down.
But the blazing red rooftop signs that welcomed generations of hungry, homeward-bound, or lost travelers to the crossroads of Routes 70 and 73 in Marlton will be saved.
The developer of a fertility clinic on the site has offered to salvage the illuminated, script-style "Olga’s Diner" and "Bakery" lettering from the east, west, and north sides of the building.
And Evesham Township Mayor Randy Brown says at least one of the signs could be restored and reinstalled in a prominent spot elsewhere in the community.
If restoration is good enough for the retro signs of Las Vegas (or Wildwood), he says, why not in Marlton?
“We have to decide whether this is something we want to keep, restore, and put on display, or put out to bid to try and raise some money,” says Brown, 50, who grew up with Olga’s and remembers its signature cream donuts fondly.
The township would have an electrician look at the signs, portions of which are damaged and appear fragile. Restoration could be funded with private donations, he says.
“For years we’ve gotten calls from people asking, ‘What’s going to happen to the signs?’ ” notes Township Councilman Steven Zeuli. “The interest is there.”
Adds Brown: “We have this beautiful baseball complex near the municipal building on Tuckerton Road. If we put the Olga’s Diner sign there, people will line up to have their pictures taken with it.”
Timothy R. Glynn, vice president for program development at Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey, says the firm broached the subject of preserving the signs with township officials in February, will absorb the $12,000 cost of removal, and is “thrilled” with the potential preservation. Demolition of the building itself should begin in two to three weeks.
“Look, we are very sensitive to the nostalgia and the continuity that site represents to a lot of people,” Glynn says from the firm’s offices in Basking Ridge, Somerset County. “I can’t tell you how many people have told us, ‘We went there for burgers, we went there for milkshakes.’ We want to be a good community player.”
Named after longtime owner John Stavros’ mother, Olga’s opened near Camden’s Admiral Wilson Boulevard in 1946 and expanded to what was then bucolic Evesham Township in 1959. Its bakery in particular became locally renowned, and in 1989 Olga’s got national publicity for its role in preparing a decorative cake for President George H.W. Bush’s inaugural ball.
But by October 2008, planning for a disruptive overpass construction project was well underway and the diner —which earlier had been behind on its utility bills, and then its taxes — closed for good.
To Brown, who grew up in Marlton, Olga’s and its signs spell summer.
“The backups of Shore traffic at the Marlton Circle were intense, and people would stop at Olga’s,” he recalls.
“If we’re able to have that sign illuminated again, I think memories will come flooding back for so many people.”