Throughout the interview, the LaGuardia High School and Marymount Manhattan College graduate demonstrated an encyclopedic knowledge of facts and figures about various city landmarks.
During lunch, he paused to peer out the window and ponder the fate of the old Jay Dee Bakery across the street. “Jay Dee Bakery has been here since the 1950s,” he said, noting its “old-school illuminated reverse-channel sign,” its “Art Deco-inspired” design, and classic cake display. “Very ’50s-ish,” he said. “Rumor has it that they’re going to shutter.”
Later that afternoon, he got in touch with the owner, who clarified that the bakery was not for sale, just closed temporarily while management sought out a new partner in the business. “Now I’m a man with a mission who’s hoping to find him a partner, in order to ensure many successful years ahead,” Mr. Perlman said.
“I’ve always been a preservationist at heart,” explained Mr. Perlman, who, as a kid, liked to sketch blueprints of imaginary buildings.
His radicalization came in the summer of 2005. “I was passing by the Trylon Theater,” he said, referring to the famous centerpiece of the 1939 World’s Fair, located at 98-81 Queens Boulevard, “when I noticed construction workers taking jackhammers to its mosaic tiles.”
“What happened there was a real shame,” recalled Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, who assisted Mr. Perlman in a failed effort to stop the Trylon’s decimation. “It was a beautiful building and one of those things that could have been reused. … But Michael is indefatigable and went on to other things.”
Not all of his efforts have been as successful as his diner-relocation deals. His campaign last fall to save the Playpen Theater at 693 Eighth Avenue, for instance, failed to sway developer Daniel Tishman from demolishing the old vaudeville palace-turned-porn shop to make way for a new hotel building. “They weren’t willing to work with us,” Mr. Perlman said.
But that defeat only made the more recent success all the sweeter.
“Father and son have thankfully restored various historic sites in Red Hook, and I’m proud they’re part of its future,” he said. “Mike plans on restoring the diner to its ’40 splendor, and I feel it will be great once he polishes up that gem, and patrons can experience the Cheyenne as it was initially conceived. … The counter and stools will likely be restored to its full length, since it was cut when a stove was installed midway. The paint may be stripped from the porcelain barrel ceiling, and the floor might be uncovered, revealing the original terrazzo or mosaic tiles, which were frequently used back then.”
He planned to reach out to former diner manufacturer Paramount Modular Concepts in Oakland, N.J., which now specializes in restoring old diners.
“I am hoping they will have blueprints and historic photos on file, which would assist us in the process,” he said.
“I may be getting a bit ahead of myself,” he added, “but you can see how enthusiastic I’ve become.”