Information and color photos graciously provided by the Popcorn Truck Preservation Society, the spearhead of the effort to rescue, preserve and share this treasured piece of Elmira history.
Frank Romeo, the man who made "the best popcorn in town," died at the age of 89, at the Veterans Medical Center, Bath, New York. A native of Molochio, Italy, he came to this country in 1912 at the age of 17. He served in the military during World War I, and returned a disabled veteran.
He started his popcorn business in 1922 with a pushcart. In 1929, a local car dealer - Alart Chevrolet furnished a 1929 Chevrolet truck chassis and a Mr. Cooper built the body by hand at his shop at the corner of Seventh and Magee Streets, Elmira, New York. This unique vehicle, known as the "Red Wagon," served him until he retired in 1971.
Mr. Romeo operated the popcorn truck at North Main and Church Streets by Wisner Park from 1930 to 1971 and then advertised the truck for sale. Mr. Kenneth White of Bearsville, New York purchased the truck and operated the truck for one year and then took it out of service. Mr. White owned the truck for 15 years. Mr. White sent a letter to the City of Elmira offering to donate the truck to the City, his offer went unabated.
In 1988, while working for the Elmira Downtown Development Agency, Amy Doud discovered a lost letter from Mr. Kenneth White expressing his interest in returning the Popcorn Truck to the City of Elmira. A plan was developed whereby a group of antique car enthusiasts (Lee Doud, Robert Spallone, Norm Ferris, Paul Jessick, William Lewis, and Milt Adams), formed as the Popcorn Truck Preservation Society, would restore the truck.
The initial funding effort for the restoration of the truck was a block party in Elmira's Midtown Plaza in October, 1988. Mrs. Romeo, wife of the original owner, signed popcorn boxes which were then auctioned off. Community members, organizations, and businesses contributed money, time, materials, and talent to ensure the truck would be restored to its original condition. Members of the Popcorn Truck Preservation Society spent countless hours repairing and restoring the truck to its present condition, the restored Popcorn Truck making its debut at Elmira's 'Arts in the Park' in 1990.
The Popcorn Truck Preservation Society then began the task of operating and maintaining the truck to begin raising funds for its next goal of establishing a permanent home for the Popcorn Truck where it could be appreciated by the community. Click for full-size imageThe goal was to create a permanent structure in Elmira, New York, near the North Main and Church Street location where Mr. Romeo operated the truck for so many years. The Society made a presentation to the City of Elmira requesting approval of a site, located in the east section of Elmira's Wisner Park, on which to construct a building to store and display the Popcorn Truck.
Upon approval of the site location, the Society constructed the 'Carriage House' for the Popcorn Truck, at no expense to the taxpayer. The building design blended well with the architecture of the area's existing buildings and churches.The local building trades supplied the expertise of its members to construct the Carriage House, with local businesses, building contractors and many volunteers lending in bringing the project to a successful conclusion.