Category Archives: Directories

Maryland City

My next Laurel History Boys presentation will be on October 13th at the Maryland City Library, where Kevin Leonard and I will be discussing Maryland City. While Kevin covers the history of the residential community, my portion of the talk will focus on the area’s retail history.

Presentation promo-MD-CITYPresentation promo-MD-CITY-RETAIL

While I’ve found quite a few vintage photos and ads from various businesses, I have to admit—pinpointing exactly where some of them were in the two ever-changing Maryland City shopping centers is proving to be a chore.

Following are two site maps for the shopping centers. I’ve removed the current tenant list and simply numbered the units, and I’m hoping some of you can help fill in a few blanks—literally.

Please take a look and let me know in the comments if you can identify the locations of any particular businesses from either Brockbridge Shopping Center (198 & Old Line Avenue) or Maryland City Plaza (198 & Red Clay Road). Whether you recall them from the 1960s or the 1990s, let’s try to compile a list of historical tenants.

Starting with Brockbridge Shopping Center, I know that the large anchor stores were originally Drug Fair (#1) and A & P (#2). The A & P later became E.J. Roberts—a clothing store. In the strip mall section, I remember going to Tracy Crabtree’s barbershop in the early 90s, but I can’t recall exactly which of the storefronts was his.

 

brockbridge-shopping-center

Likewise, Maryland City Plaza was originally home to the likes of Sears Surplus, Dart Drug, and Acme. The library branch was also located here before Russett was built.

maryland-city-plaza

Part of the challenge in identifying shopping center locations (aside from fading memory) is that contemporary advertisements and phone directory listings rarely included a specific address—only that the business was located in said shopping center. Like this one, from 1968:

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 5.25.12 PM

Another obstacle is that the shopping centers themselves have changed over the years. Not only cosmetically, but large units have been split up, new sections added, etc. It can be surprisingly disorienting to visit an old shopping center again if you haven’t seen it in 20 years or so!

Despite having technically lived in Maryland City for a few years, (my parents bought a townhouse on Whiskey Bottom Road just behind the Starting Gate in 1987) I didn’t spend a lot of time at those shopping centers. Going back even further, my first youth football team was also in Maryland City. I still have my Mustangs jersey.

Rich-MDCity-Jersey

I’d wear it to my presentation in October, but, um, it probably hasn’t fit me since I was about 12 years old. 🙂

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Anticipating Laurel Malls, Past and Present

Photo: Brian Krista

By now, you’ve probably heard that there was a ceremonial groundbreaking for the long-awaited, still-cryptic Town Centre at Laurel project Tuesday morning. It took place along the southeast corner of the Laurel Mall site, near one of the many parking decks that had long sat closed—even before the mall itself closed.

Besides the ceremonial shoveling of dirt, (by a number of “official” folks who, quite probably, have never actually used a shovel—but I digress…) the large, orange and blue “Laurel Mall” sign at the corner of Route 1 and Cherry Lane—erected sometime after 1991, when Laurel Centre changed its name and continued its downward spiral—was also ceremonially lowered to the pavement; as if to emphasize that, this time, it’s really going to happen. After years of talk, rumors, deals, and nixed plans by a seemingly endless list of owners, developer Greenberg Gibbons seems finally poised to reinvent the space in a positive way.

The only–er, main problem seems to be the continued lack of high-end prospective tenants—something the developers have been maddeningly coy about since the project was first announced in March 2011. As of this writing, only Burlington Coat Factory, (the lone-surviving tenant of Laurel Mall) Harris Teeter, and Regal Cinemas are the proposed anchor stores. Proposed—meaning that even they’re not finalized yet.

A public announcement last week about the “invitation-only” groundbreaking event also didn’t exactly ingratiate the developers with, well, those of us who weren’t invited. In their defense, however, until those decrepit parking decks are actually brought down, I’m sure the prospect of having even one person get injured on the property is enough to give their legal department a nervous breakdown. I was told that as the project progresses, there will indeed be public events.

While I do believe that Town Centre at Laurel has the potential to be a very well-designed and positive change for the community, the contrast between the anticipation of this major development and its predecessors is enormous. Granted, the developers of Laurel Shopping Center and Laurel Centre Mall didn’t have the years of mismanagement and failed promises to deal with. But the communication they shared with the public from the very beginning played a key role in generating the interest and excitement that’s still palpable in the old newspapers that covered their grand openings. Not to mention, nearly all of the stores were leased before construction even began.

As we look back at its predecessors, let’s hope that the grand opening of Town Centre at Laurel—whenever it may be, and with whomever actually occupies it—turns out to be even half as exciting.

1979

1956

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A Neighbor’s in Need: UPDATE

John Floyd II outside the Laurel Art Center in April, where he also went to photograph the closing of another Laurel icon.

Last month, I wrote about the plight of John Floyd II, the kind and gregarious Laurel native who’s contributed so many wonderful photos, artifacts, and historical data to share with Lost Laurel.

John, who has lived frugally in the same home for some 46 years—the home of his late stepdad, Harry Fyffe (of Laurel’s legendary Fyffe’s Service Center)—recently saw his home sold at the annual Prince George’s County Tax Auction in May, after falling behind on his 2011 property tax bill. Earning only approximately $10,000 last year from his eBay sales—his sole means of income—and having been saddled with numerous veterinary bills, he simply didn’t have the money. And the county’s tax laws are harsh, to say the least—there’s no partial payment or installment plan; it’s literally all or nothing. John was given until June 30th to come up with over $3,000 he owed. If he missed that deadline, the debt would balloon to over $7,000 when the 2012 tax bill is added on, along with the usual host of penalties and additional fees—and that imposing total would be due no later than July 31st. After that point, John’s redemption window would be slammed shut, and the new tax lien owners would be free to initiate foreclosure and eviction proceedings.

Not wishing to see that happen to anyone—let alone a dear friend whose photos inspired this very blog—I asked readers to join me in donating whatever they could to help John meet these deadlines and save his childhood home—and you did.

In only a few short days, I’m very happy to report that John had received just over $1,000 in donations, renewing his hopes of getting through this harrowing ordeal! In addition to the PayPal contributions and checks, folks even offered to drop off food and toys for the many cats John takes care of. Others helped by purchasing goods from his eBay store and referring friends. And although our little benefit didn’t raise the total amount, it was certainly an overwhelming outpouring of generosity from people who cared enough to help.

Fortunately, another generous soul was willing to loan John the remaining $2,400 he needed, and drove him to Upper Marlboro to make the payment just a day before the amount would have more than doubled. The immediate crisis averted, John can rest a little bit easier knowing that his home is once again safe—for now. But the experience has understandably rattled this genial chap who’s so hesitant to ask for or accept charity, and he’s already stressing about his next daunting challenge: repaying the loan by the end of the year, as well as the new property tax bill, which will be arriving any day now. More than anything, John wants to avoid a repeat performance.

And speaking of performances, if you read the original story, you’ll remember that John is a wonderfully talented musician who has played with countless ensembles over the years. Unfortunately, that career effectively ended with the demise of his last vehicle nearly a decade ago. This past May, he marched for the first time in years with the West Laurel Rag Tag Band in the Main Street Festival. I caught up with him this past Saturday, as he once again carried the giant antique Sousaphone in the 4th of July parade on what was easily the hottest one in years. Like everyone in this storied local band that made its first appearance back in 1983, the heat couldn’t temper John’s patriotic and civic spirits. If tough financial times couldn’t do it, neither could this heatwave!

John Floyd (back left carrying the Sousaphone) marches with the West Laurel Rag Tag Band past the now-closed Laurel Mall during the city’s 4th of July Parade. (Photos: Richard Friend)

John marching with the band on another hot day earlier this year during the Main Street Festival.

The 4th Street parade route is a familiar one for John; not just because he lives only a block away, but because he’s marched it since his Laurel High School band days in the early 1970s. That’s him as a young lad in the front, holding the trombone. Bandmaster Harvey Beavers is at left in, as John called it, “his ice cream suit”.

1975 LHS Homecoming Parade. (Kodak 110 Instamatic print by Phyllis R. Fyffe, Royal Blue Ltd. archives)

John at the 1973 LHS Homecoming, with Drum Major Jackie Jones. (Kodak 126 Instamatic print by Phyllis R. Fyffe, Royal Blue Ltd. archives)

John, Jackie, and Mr. B (sans ice cream suit) at the 2009 4th of July Parade. (Photo: Joe Stevick, Royal Blue Ltd. archives)

While we’re still on the topic of parades…

Thanks to John, this year I had the pleasure of meeting band director Bill Stevick and his wonderfully talented family after the big event, at their annual post-parade picnic! Believe it or not, 2013 will mark the 30th anniversary of the West Laurel Rag Tag Band. It’s membership has ebbed and flowed over these three decades, but the band has literally played on—consistently delighting Laurel twice a year: at the Main Street Festival and the 4th of July Parade. I hear there’s talk of possibly retiring the band after next year’s landmark anniversary, but let’s hope that’s not true! The folks who make up the Rag Tag Band are the heart of these homegrown events; and in many ways, the very heart of Laurel. Make sure you see them next year, and encourage them to keep this great tradition going!

West Laurel Ragtag Band Director Bill Stevick and me at the post-parade picnic. (Photos: John Floyd II)

Getting back to the topic at hand, I’ve got a number of Lost Laurel goodies to mail out to everyone who so generously donated to John Floyd’s cause. I’m in the process of sorting through the receipts that John has forwarded to me, and determining who gets what. (I volunteered an auction of sorts for those who were the first to donate specific milestone amounts, and you guys are cleaning me out!) 🙂 I may have to contact several of you in order to get a mailing address; but if you donated $25 or more, please feel free to already go ahead and email me that information (richard_friend@mac.com), or send it via direct message on the Lost Laurel Facebook page. There are some vintage Laurel posters and framed Marian Quinn prints going to some, but everyone who donated $25 or more will get a reproduction of the classic 1981 Delaney’s Irish Pizza Pub menu. I’ve just had a supply printed, and they’re ready to go!

I want to point out, however, that the fundraiser is by no means over. We’ve helped solve John’s immediate problem, but his financial situation is still extremely fragile, and I fear it will be for at least the coming year. On top of everything else, John’s computer is now on the fritz. It’s nearly 10 years old, and it’s the very lifeline to his modest income. And there’s yet another concern—his home is without air conditioning. John has lived without it for years without complaint, but as he’s wont to do, he’s more concerned about the ill effects this extraordinary heat is having on his cats. Counting every penny, (and knowing that he ultimately needs them both) he’s trying to decide which appliance he needs to save toward first.

Those of you who’ve already sent donations, I thank you again from the proverbial bottom of my heart. I hope you realize what a genuinely good deed you’ve done, and how your contribution didn’t merely go to some faceless charitable organization, (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but to a real human being—a good man who’s lived right here in Laurel for some 50 years; a man who’s fought fires with the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department, marches in our civic parades, and who knows and appreciates the town’s history—and residents—like few others.

If you’re able to spare even a bit, I assure you it’s going to a very good cause. I’ve got a bunch more Delaney’s menus available for anyone who donates $25 or more, but please remember that you don’t have to give in the double or triple digits to really help John out! Instead of buying that cup of coffee from Starbucks today, or downloading that new song or iPhone app, please consider sending even a dollar or two to John Floyd—literally every bit helps. There’s no deadline or minimum donation to worry about, and it only takes a minute to send funds securely direct to John’s PayPal account.

If I haven’t already made it abundantly clear, John is a one-of-a-kind friend who enjoys sharing his vast knowledge and resources of all things Laurel—the depth of which continues to surprise even me. His most recent gift to Lost Laurel is one that I never thought I’d see again, and is proving to be an unprecedented aide in documenting Laurel’s retail history in the 1980s—nearly two dozen Laurel telephone directories dating back to 1986! These include ads and listings for the mall and all of the shopping centers, making it easier to determine when various stores arrived in Laurel… and, of course, when they left.

Not only are these books a treasure trove of dates and locations, they hold rare ads for places that didn’t typically run ads in the Laurel Leader—or anywhere else. Places like Pipeline Surf Shop, which from 1989–90, shared space with the legendary Bikes Plus at 308 Compton Ave.

Yes, I realize it’s a bit odd to get excited about inheriting a shelf of obsolete phone books. But from a historian’s perspective, I assure you it’s quite awesome. The library doesn’t even have these anymore. Moreover, they’ll provide me with an ample supply of blog and Facebook updates in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Lastly—and this is important as it undoubtedly affects countless others in John’s situation—here’s a link to a WTOP article from earlier this week that details exactly what John is going through with this property tax ordeal. It’s a frightening concept that many homeowners probably aren’t even aware of—especially when one considers that people are literally losing their homes over as much as $400. Here’s an excerpt:

• If the taxes aren’t paid, the government auctions the lien to investors. Past investors include JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and people who respond to Internet get-rich schemes, the report said. Homes typically are sold at steep discounts.

• For a limited time, the homeowner may buy back the home by paying to the investors the purchase price of the lien, plus interest, fees and other costs. That’s possible because investors haven’t bought the home itself _ they have purchased the tax lien, which gives them the right to seize the home later.

• If the owner fails to pay all the costs, investors can sell the home at a big profit compared with the cost of buying the tax lien.

The report said state governments should make it easier for homeowners to retake their homes after tax lien sales. It said they should limit the interest and penalties investors can charge and increase court oversight.

It also called on local governments to let people pay back taxes or fees to investors on an installment plan, and to increase notice to homeowners and make sure they understand their rights.

Tax lien sales differ from most foreclosures, which happen when people fall behind on mortgage payments. In many states, homes sold because of tax debts can be sold for only the amount of back taxes owed.

That means a $200,000 home might fetch only $1,200, the report said. In the process, homeowners can lose thousands of dollars in home equity that they have built up by making monthly payments.

Kudos to WTOP for shining a light on this, and hopefully enough voices will be heard to convince local governments to at least start making it easier for people—honest people like John who’ve fallen on tough times—to bring their payments up to date without the unnecessary threat of actually losing their homes.

Many thanks again to you all—please keep the good will coming, and let’s make sure our friend John is securely back on his feet once and for all!

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Laurel Shopping Center/Cinema Sign Replaced

Technically, I haven’t lived in Laurel for about 15 years. But being just around the Beltway in Northern Virginia, I do enjoy coming back for frequent visits; and for photographs and research for Lost Laurel. Maintaining that close proximity to my old hometown is particularly important to me when things happen—like when buildings are torn down, or when malls are closing their doors.

While I enjoy a west coast vacation as much as the next guy, I was sad to learn that the old Laurel Shopping Center Cinema sign was quickly (and apparently without much advanced notice) dismantled last week while I was in Los Angeles. Had I known, I would’ve hopped onto said Beltway in a heartbeat to get as many photos of the process as possible. Fortunately, there were some like-minded readers who happened to be nearby, who did just that—a big thanks to those who posted them and tipped me off to the impending changes!

There were also a few surprises to be found as the old sign was pulled apart… but more on that in a moment. First, let’s take a look at a few photos I’ve found of the sign from the past decade or so—a decade which saw a rapid deterioration of one of the most prominent signs along the Route 1 corridor.

Photo: Kingkongphoto & http://www.celebrity-photos.com (Flickr)

The above photo brings back vivid memories of dusk at Laurel Shopping Center, despite the unusual selection of films. These are the same neon hues that I recall when The Breakfast Club was highlighting the marquee in 1985. But by March 2010—and after at least one period of closure—the Cinema had reopened with an apparent emphasis on Bollywood films.

Photo: Kingkongphoto & http://www.celebrity-photos.com (Flickr)

Admittedly, I haven’t seen a film in that theater since 1995’s Braveheart, when the sign was already showing its age badly. Over the next few years, the neon lights that comprised the word “CINEMA” gradually blew out and/or broke, and weren’t replaced. Equally visually-crippling, sometime after Laurel Centre officially rebranded itself as “Laurel Mall” in April 1998, the sign lost its oval Laurel Centre logo which co-branded it with Laurel Shopping Center. The result was a blank white, functionless oval that projected off the sign like a tumor.

 

And when the Cinema finally closed again, the sign sat unused at all, simply gathering rust. I’d actually been wondering if there were going to be any plans to tear it down… before it eventually fell down on its own.

(Photo: Dan Gross, MD Gazette)

(Photo: Dan Gross, MD Gazette)

Fast-forward to just a couple of weeks ago, when a whimsical message appeared on the old marquee:

Photo: Federal Realty

Sure enough, within days—and despite the vicious DC heatwave I managed to avoid while in LA—friends were posting photos on Facebook of the sign coming down. And it was in this first one, by Joe Leizear, that something caught my eye:

Photo: Joe Leizear

Do you see it, too? Red lettering.

The word “LAUREL”in large, red block letters—not something that I had ever seen on the Cinema sign. In fact, it had been hidden beneath the Cinema marquee all along. I realized that the Cinema sign had merely covered the original Laurel Shopping Center sign, which I never had the chance to see before in person. In fact, it was only while recently digging through old directories that I came across a logo representation of it—this one from 1976:

 

 

Subsequent photos, such as the one below, showed the additional elements of the original sign, including the end of the arrow—which had been obscured all this time by the clumsy “Laurel Shopping Center” top band and aforementioned oval protrusion which covered/replaced the arrowhead:

(Photo: Federal Realty, via Laurel Patch)

Facebook user Spleenless Jen shared some fantastic images of what was left of the original panels before they were dismantled, shedding even more light on the faded red typography that had been hidden for over three decades:

(Photo: Spleenless Jen)

(Photo: Spleenless Jen)

(Photo: Spleenless Jen)

That brings us to the new sign.

I’ve seen a few photos floating around, including an early artist’s rendering (the signature type of which has been modified in the final product, apparently).

Illustration: Federal Realty

Photo: Lisa Geiger

What to make of this more modernized and functional signage, which includes a digital screen and a colorful, decorative motif? Is it an improvement? Over a rusted, misused sign that was likely beyond repair—yes, absolutely. As a promising retail beacon that will draw shoppers for decades to come? Frankly, I’m not that optimistic.

For starters, nothing about the new sign is unique or differentiates it from countless other shopping centers. It’s not necessarily the sign’s fault, mind you—it takes more than just a sign to successfully brand a franchise. Unless someone is planning to update the entire shopping center and integrate the new motif—or at least the colors, to some degree—they’re stuck with a new sign that simply doesn’t fit the shopping center it’s intended to represent.

Worse, from a functionality standpoint, I would be deeply concerned about the feasibility of maintaining that video screen. Not to be a downer, but how long before a vandal (pedestrian or motorist) decides to shatter or otherwise deface it? Let’s be honest—Laurel has always had its share of ne’er-do-wells; and such fancy new devices—literally within arm’s reach—might as well include a sign with a bright red target that says “please vandalize me”. And historically, the shopping center and mall both have not exactly been great about maintaining features that require, well, maintenance. Remember the unique revolving carousel platform in the mall’s center court that eventually stopped revolving? And the very sign that we’re now discussing? My point exactly. If and when these types of things break repeatedly, shopping center management is likely to simply stop fixing it. And when it’s literally the face of the shopping center, such as this sign will be—the first thing visitors see upon approaching—that’s not good.

Granted, I’ve never bought a giant neon sign for a shopping center before, nor have I designed one (yet). But as a designer, my priority would always be to ensure that whatever sign I implemented was relevant and suited its environment. I wouldn’t include decorative elements that weren’t reflective of the larger shopping center itself. If the surrounding area was prone to or accessible to vandals, I wouldn’t position expensive components like digital screens close to street/sidewalk level. Moreover, I’d want to know all I could about the shopping center and its origins, and design a complete brand that highlighted its best features and spoke to its historical significance—and have the sign be the linchpin of that brand. Consider a book cover design; it needs to properly represent the story within—and it needs to attract readers. A shopping center sign isn’t much different in that regard.

Laurel Shopping Center opened in 1956, and arguably saw its best days in the 1960s. (I wasn’t born yet, so I can’t attest to that). But by most accounts, the shopping center was profitable and ever-expanding—a growth that continued well into the 70s with the addition of Georgetown Alley. There have been some aesthetic modifications over the years, for better or worse: awnings and storefronts have evolved, most notably. But the core design has remained the same. It’s still fundamentally a 1960s open-air shopping center; something that could’ve been embraced in the design of the new sign rather than mocked. “The 60s called and they want this sign back”. Really? I think the 60s called and expressed their hope that somebody would’ve had the foresight to restore the shopping center’s original sign, rather than replace it with a generic model that most likely won’t survive a third of the time that its predecessor did.

Even that fleeting glimpse of the old sign’s red lettering and bold arrow reveals a timeless typography that could’ve been resurrected and repurposed into a more suitable, modern sign; a melding of past and present that suggests a long-standing shopping center that the community is proud of. The new sign just doesn’t accomplish that.

Our friend John Floyd II supplied the following photos today, showing the base portion of the new sign already in place. Because the top piece had not yet been attached, he was able to point out something interesting: once again, part of the original sign is still being used—those two vertical I-beams. That original sign simply won’t die, it seems. He also astutely noted the issue with the decorative motif—even more bluntly than I had.

“That funky orange-and-brown block design on the sign’s plinth looks like the 1960s got traded in favour of the 1970s! Very disco and Brady Bunch-esque!”

Photo: John Floyd II

Photo: John Floyd II

Photo: John Floyd II

Photo: John Floyd II

Coincidentally, the Laurel Centre/Mall notoriously replaced all of its original brown floor tile and wooden accents in 1991—less than 12 years after the mall opened—because management felt that it was “too 1970s”. Ironic that a 1970s pattern would now emerge on the brand new sign for Laurel Shopping Center.

Vintage 1970s drapes. Photo: monkeysox (Flickr)

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Laurel Centre Mall: 1986

For several weeks, I tried to track down any copies of vintage Laurel Centre Mall and/or Laurel Shopping Center directories, in hopes of documenting exactly which stores inhabited the spaces throughout the years. There’d been nothing of the sort online; and attempts to get any information from Laurel city officials, as well as current property managers, was like pulling teeth. Maybe worse—at least something is actually accomplished by pulling teeth, but I digress.

I suddenly had an epiphany. The Laurel Library, where I’d worked throughout high school and college as a clerical aide, might have something. I remembered an obscure publication that the Laurel Area Chamber of Commerce used to publish annually (I’m not sure if they still do, as my messages weren’t returned. Like pulling teeth, remember?)—a Community Guide, rich with contemporary ads and phone numbers of local merchants. As I haven’t lived in Laurel for quite some time now, I hadn’t been back to the library in probably a decade or more. This was worth the trip.

Sure enough, they did indeed still have a number of old Laurel Community Guides—dating all the way back to the late 1970s. I eagerly photographed hundreds of pages, before finally hitting the jackpot. There, on the inside cover spread of the 1986 edition was what I’d been looking for—a complete directory of both Laurel Centre and Laurel Shopping Center. Not only a listing of the stores and their phone numbers, as had been in several of the other guides, but an architectural key as well.

Finally, I could begin to definitively show where each store had once been located. And of all the years to start with, 1986 was perfect—because it was exactly “The Mall” as I remembered it most, walking daily to open lunch as a freshman at Laurel High School. As I pored over the listings, there were a number of places I didn’t remember, however. Sofro Fabrics? What was that? Playland Toys? I only recalled Kay-Bee.

Likewise, there were a number of apparent typos—some shops were listed twice with different numbers; some numbers (like “189”) appear in the directory twice, while others (like “15”) are mysteriously absent altogether. Some shops were split into two, resulting in “A” and “B” suffixes. However, some stores have been assigned an “A” without having been split at all.

And then there are the phone numbers. Of course, you’ll notice that there were no area codes listed in 1986—but suffice it to say, these were all area code 301. I doubt very seriously if the phone number of Pic ‘N Pay Shoes really was “000-0000”, but that’s what was printed in the directory. With all due respect, I wonder if perhaps whomever originally designed these pages may have spent a bit too much time at Astor Home Liquors (#131 on your directory).

Because of the small size and poor quality of the printed directory, I decided to redraw the entire thing—flaws and all. You can click on the top image to see a larger version, or download the full-sized PDF below, and explore 1986’s Laurel Mall to your heart’s content. I’m sure you’ll find your way.

Download the full-sized PDF:

LAUREL-MALL-DIRECTORY-1986_33X33

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