A downturn in the oil and gas industry in LaBarge, Wyoming, in 2012 has left the famous Moondance Diner without a dancing partner.
The diner, which has credits in television and movies that include “Spiderman,” “Sex and the City,” and more recently Netflix’s “Tick, Tick Boom!” was moved to Wyoming from its SoHo, New York, home by Cheryl and Vince Pierce in 2007.
But the diner closed up shop in 2012 after a series of misfortunes, including a snowstorm that caved in its roof, requiring a complete repair of the entire structure.
Turns out, the diner wasn’t built with Wyoming winters in mind.
The Moondance’s present owner, John Montierth of Utah, told Cowboy State Daily he came by the diner in a tax sale, and that it was just luck of the draw. He wasn’t intending to buy an historic diner.
“If you’re familiar with tax sales in Wyoming, it’s a complete lottery,” he said. “It’s all random. They just randomly pull out a name and number, and that means you get to pay the taxes.”
Usually, Montierth said, tax bills are settled within the four-year time limit, meaning he gets his money along with a little interest.
But in this case, the four years and the required public notices have all passed, leaving him the rightful owner of an historic — but now empty — diner.
A Piece Of Cinematic History
The glitzy blue and silver Moondance Diner started its chromium life in 1933 as the Holland Tunnel Diner. The little restaurant sat at 80 Sixth Avenue, between Grand and Canal streets, in New York, which is the edge of the SoHo neighborhood.
In those days, a small 16-by-36-foot diner like that was typically built elsewhere, then moved on site. At the time, it could seat just over 30 people, including the 10 counter stools, but it quickly became a local favorite.
Over the years, the diner had cameos in several movies and television shows.
On “Friends,” Monica Geller worked at the diner, though that particular show was filmed in Los Angeles and only the diner’s exterior shots reflected the Moondance.
The diner also appeared in the 1985 movie “After Hours,” “Sex and the City” and Mary Jane Watson, Peter Parker’s love interest in “Spiderman,” worked there.
It was also in the Miami Vice episode “Prodigal Son,” as well as a 1987 “Equalizer” episode, among others.
More recently, a recreation of the Moondance appeared in the Netflix musical “Tick Tick Boom!” which chronicles the struggles of Jonathon Larson’s efforts to write the largely successful Broadway musical ”Rent.”
Rent Out Of Control
The Moondance Diner’s demise was a product of rising rents in the Soho neighborhood, which made it economically unfeasible. It was set for demolition to make way for luxury apartments. A largely successful campaign began to save the diner, and it was ultimately donated to the American Diner Museum in Rhode Island instead.
From there, the museum sold the diner to Vince and Cheryl Pierce for $7,500, who paid almost triple that to transport it to their city of residence by semitrailer, 2,089 miles to Main Street in LaBarge, Wyoming.
Pierce told BBC News in 2012 that the couple had sunk almost $300,000 altogether into moving the diner and restoring it before reopening it in 2009.
They said a downturn in the LaBarge oil and gas industry in 2012 made it impossible for them to keep it going.
The Pierces had hoped to sell the diner for $290,000 at that time, which is how much they still owed the bank.
Montierth, who has been in contact with Cheryl Pierce since acquiring the Moondance Diner, said she told him that she’s still hoping to find a new buyer for the Moondance who could move it to a more populous or larger tourist area.
Pierce had not responded to an email from Cowboy State Daily at the time this story was posted.
“She’s still having a dream that she’d like to see it live on,” Montierth said. “She thinks the mistake she made was bringing it into a small town that couldn’t support it.”
Kemmerer Boom Could Mean New Life
LaBarge Mayor Larry Stepp told Cowboy State Daily the diner attracted people from all over to come and see it when it was open.
“It was actually a good tourist attraction,” he said.
Montierth, meanwhile, said he’s not eager to sell the diner. He’s more interested in leasing it out where it is.
LaBarge is about an hour from Kemmerer and Monthierth believes the planned TerraPower nuclear plant, to be located in Kemmerer, is already breathing new life into the LaBarge economy. The estimated date for the power plant’s operation is sometime in 2030.
“That power plant in Kemmerer will take a lot of construction workers, and I don’t really see how Kemmerer will support it,” Monthierth said. “We have recreation property in Kemmerer, and we’ve run into people who have said Kemmerer has priced them out. People on the lower end of the income scale have to move to LaBarge and commute because they cannot afford to live in Kemmerer.”
Montierth is hoping this will spark new interest in the diner, which is located at 584 Main St.
In the meantime, Montierth says he’s contacted from time to time by people who know the diner’s history.
Among them is a New Yorker who saves old buildings from demolition.
“He was involved in (saving) this one,” Montierth said. “And he wants to try to save it again.”
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.