(Southeast Corner of Broad and Race Sts., Oct. 23, 1951. Photograph by Francis Balionis, via How White Tower Restaurants Lost Their Crenellation and Joined the Modern City)

Ever since Michael Alan Goldberg attributed the statement that David Lynch subsisted “on oatmeal and the infrequent trip to White Castle” while he was living at 13th and Wood to Peggy Reavey (Philly native and Lynch’s first wife) I have been looking for the location of that White Castle. I inferred that White Castle was the “joint” referred to in the quote:

The house I moved into was across the street from the morgue, next door to Pop’s Diner. The area had a great mood – factories, smoke, railroads, diners, the strangest characters, the darkest nights. The people had stories etched in their faces, and I saw vivid images-plastic curtains held together with Band-Aids, rags stuffed in broken windows, walking through the morgue en-route to a hamburger joint.”

Finally I stumbled across an article telling me that rival chain White Tower, not White Castle, was the ubiquitous establishment along the Broad Street corridor:

White Tower embraced the Modern World through design—and by seeking out the busiest sites in Philadelphia. Between 1930 and 1954, seven of the city’s White Towers had opened at stops along the Broad Street Subway. Commuters bought burgers at a third of the 19 stops (not half, as has been repeatedly claimed by hamburger historians). But the principle was clear and consistent: from the first location on Germantown Avenue near Allegheny Avenue in 1930 to the seventeenth at Broad and Hunting Park Avenue in 1954, every one of Philadelphia’s White Towers would be situated along public transportation lines in centers of high employment.

Despite the desperate tone that Lynch uses when he paints his version of our neighborhood in Eraserhead, “situated along public transportation lines in centers of high employment,” is actually a more accurate depiction of the Callowhill district during the time Lynch was here (despite the fact the neighborhood was certainly starting to show its age by then).

Is it possible the above photo, of the White Tower restaurant at Broad and Race — just yards away from Lynch’s alma mater — represents the “hamburger joint” Lynch and his former wife are referring to? All that is necessary is for Reavey to have mis-remembered the correct name of the restaurant. It is especially easy to imagine her confusion when we learn, from the same reference, that:

White Tower built their business model copying that of White Castle, a chain launched out of Wichita, Kansas in 1921. No detail went unnoticed as the Saxes studied and then replicated restaurants. They adopted the name, menu and pricing. The Saxes lured away White Castle staff to replicate operations. They even the co-opted the slogan: White Castle urged customers to “Buy ‘em by the sack;” White Tower told  theirs to “Take home a bagful.” From Boston to Norfolk, Minneapolis to Philadelphia, both companies populated intersections with whitewashed crenelated clones—or, in the case of White Tower, clones of clones.

By the time bags of burgers started flying out of Broad and Race, White Tower and White Castle were three years into a lengthy court battle that would determine which company had the right to do what, and where they could do it. Two years later, the decision from a Michigan Court came down: White Tower’s copying would have to come to an end. In Detroit, where the chain had 46 restaurants, White Tower had to “change its name, architecture and slogan.”

If all this supposition is correct, all the Double R Diners and Bob’s Big Boy Restaurants you can find in Lynch’s work may owe a debit to the humble White Tower restaurant formerly at Broad and Race.