Category Archives: Photos

Bon Voyage, Bowling Alley

Over 58 years ago, Fair Lanes began construction on a massive new bowling facility on Marshall Avenue in Laurel. And when it opened on February 4, 1961, it was front page news:

That’s why it was with some shock and sadness that its abrupt closure earlier this week came with no fanfare whatsoever.

Somehow, in spite of the rise of video game popularity and other entertainment alternatives through the years, Laurel’s bowling alley not only remained open—it thrived. In fact, even when Fair Lanes itself went bust in 1995, AMF took over and kept it going.

I’ve written about what the bowling alley has meant to me before, (see here and here) so I won’t rehash too much. Suffice it to say, it was always a very special and familiar place, no matter how much it changed… or how much I changed. It even enjoyed an improbable rebirth in 2014, when duckpins returned to the bowling alley after 25 years.

Learning of its closure feels like losing an old friend. And with Laurel’s classic businesses now practically an endangered species, losing the bowling alley is losing a generational icon.

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Diner Appreciation Day: a recap

Richard Friend, Pete Lewnes, and Kevin Leonard. (Photo: Michael G. Stewart)

Saturday morning, January 19th was an extra-special day at the Tastee Diner. The Laurel History Boys’ “Diner Appreciation Day” saw an outpouring of residents and diner fans from all over the region. Between trying to eat breakfast and chatting with as many folks as possible, it was hard to get an accurate headcount—but the parking lot remained full from before the event began at 9AM until well after noon. And Sunday was a near-repeat, as the diner was packed once more.

Photos © Karen Jackson / For Baltimore Sun Media Group

The purpose of this event was twofold: we wanted to thank diner owner Gene Wilkes and his hardworking staff for the nearly 43 years they’ve maintained the Laurel location. We also wanted to remind Mayor Craig Moe and the City of Laurel that the diner remains important to this community, and that the City’s Community Redevelopment Authority should explore every available opportunity to purchase the endangered building (if not the full property itself) if and when the Pure Hana Synergy application is officially denied. The Board of Appeals hearing is scheduled for this Thursday night, January 24th at 7PM at the Laurel Municipal Center.

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Richard Friend with Laurel Historical Society president Jhanna Levin and Prince George’s County Council Member Tom Dernoga. (Photo: Karen Lubieniecki)

Diner staff went the extra mile, decorating the car with balloons and ensuring that customers were seated and served promptly. Karen Lubieniecki of the Laurel Historical Society shared the following photo gallery:

And City Councilmember Carl DeWalt posted on Facebook after the event:

Saturday morning attended “The Diner Appreciation Day.” The parking lot was completely full and the Diner was packed with our hometown residents. The honorable Prince George’s Co Councilmember Tom Dernoga and members of his staff attended and enjoyed a delicious Diner breakfast. Edith, my new friend, told us she has been coming to the Diner for the past 40 years and considers the Diner “Home” and the Diner staff and patrons family! Since 1985 when I became a resident and employee of the City of Laurel the theme surrounding Laurel was the revitalization of Main St. History indicates this has been a very very slow process. The outpouring of support I witnessed yesterday for the Diner by our citizens is a golden opportunity to help preserve that structure, move it to Main St. and finally achieve a huge step forward in this revitalization process!

Carl DeWalt, Councilmember, Ward 1

The pending sale to Pure Hana Synergy was unanimously denied on December 11th, and while the medical marijuana dispensary firm has been planning its appeal, I believe that we’ll ultimately learn that their application never should have received the City’s initial endorsement. A town’s Municipal Code can only be bent so far, and Thursday night’s hearing should remove all doubt.

While most are optimistic that the Board of Appeals will uphold the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the diner’s future is far from safe. Owner Gene Wilkes has made it abundantly clear that he still wants to sell. He mentioned having at least two additional offers on his property–both of which would result in the loss of the diner. This is why it’s imperative that the City of Laurel work with him (or his prospective buyers) on a solution that would allow the diner car to be preserved and relocated.

Mr. Wilkes spoke at length about the challenges he’s faced for years while running the Laurel diner, particularly with keeping it open 24 hours a day in a location that has been prone to crime. He also spoke about his refusal to ever allow it to be designated as a historic property, citing regulations that the City imposes on such properties, and how he believes it would only further hinder his ability to sell.

Despite his pleasant and courteous demeanor, I think Mr. Wilkes still views anyone interested in saving the diner as somehow impeding his right to sell it. I’ve tried to explain that this isn’t the case at all. He has more than earned the right to sell and retire. Pure Hana Synergy’s application to purchase it simply should’ve been negated long before it reached this point—and that has nothing to do with diner preservationists, but everything to do with the City’s own Municipal Code. We’re only interested in seeing the building relocated to Main Street, where a new owner can be incentivized to breathe new life into it.

As Saturday’s event showed beyond a doubt, there is an abundance of love for this diner; and with proper advertising and sustained community engagement, it clearly has tremendous potential for the Historic District. The City of Laurel should be exploring ways to purchase it, protect it, and give it the historic designation it deserves.

Based on his extensive experience in Laurel, Mr. Wilkes is correct on many points which reinforce his desire to sell the Laurel location. But by the same token, it’s unfair to measure the Laurel diner’s performance against that of his other locations in Bethesda and Silver Spring—areas that have nearly triple the population and more robust economies.

In the hands of a motivated new owner—an owner who will perhaps decide to limit the business to regular operating hours, consistently engage in public outreach efforts, (much like the highly-successful 29 Diner in Fairfax does) and take full advantage of the many preservation grants and incentives available to a historic location—this diner can positively thrive.

Please plan on attending the Board of Appeals hearing this Thursday night at the Laurel Municipal Center, and let City officials know that you expect them to do right by this historic diner. There are numerous resources to explore, including crowdfunding, angel investors, and others who could contribute to a hugely successful relocation and reopening on Main Street.

Thursday, January 24, 2019
7PM
Laurel Municipal Center
8103 Sandy Spring Road
Laurel, MD 20707

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Tastee Diner Petition Update

Photo: ©The Baltimore Sun, 1981

In 1981, a longtime waitress known as “Miss May” takes an order from a Tastee Diner patron sitting right about where the Laurel History Boys typically do today. This Baltimore Sun photo, like the diner itself, is timeless. It could’ve been taken this afternoon, or even 30 years before it actually was taken, when the new Laurel Diner first opened its doors at 118 Washington Boulevard in 1951.

The diner property is being sold to Pure Hana Synergy, a medical marijuana dispensary that plans to modify the building by encasing it.

I started a petition last week, to gather signatures not to block the sale of the property, but to support saving the ultra-rare, 1951 Comac-built diner car—now one of only two left in existence that look and function very much as they did when they were made nearly 70 years ago.

The idea is simple in theory: have the City of Laurel first designate the diner car as a historic property—which it rightfully should be. Next, work with Pure Hana Synergy, (the buyer) Gene Wilkes, (the seller) and groups such as Preservation Maryland to see how best to remove the diner car and relocate it to Main Street without adversely affecting the buyer’s original plans for the site.

In less than five days, the petition has grown to over 1,100 signatures. Many of the signers are current residents of Laurel (voting residents, some were quick to point out) who want to ensure that the diner doesn’t disappear, literally or figuratively.

Entombing the diner within a new structure would only serve to do just that—hide it from view and end a nearly 90-year tradition of having an original diner in Laurel’s historic district. Instead, the city should do whatever it can to relocate the diner to Main Street, and incentivize a new buyer or developer to give it new life in its new location.

Coincidentally, Laurel has just become the first city in Prince George’s County to be designated in the Main Street Maryland program—a comprehensive downtown revitalization program created in 1998 by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

Check out the description of this program, and I think you’ll agree that it only makes our case for relocating the diner to Main Street that much stronger. Better yet, watch this short video about it from Laurel TV:

There are two potential sites on Main Street, both currently vacant lots which could accommodate the relocated diner:

  1. 312 Main Street, which was the home of the old Laurel Theatre/Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre.
  2. The Farmers’ Market lot at Main & Avondale Streets.

A third possibility is to open discussions with C Street Flats about integrating the diner with their plans to expand toward Main Street. Any of these options would not only save the historic diner car, but give it a chance to thrive in a new environment that would reinvigorate Main Street as well.

Laurel residents, please go to the next City Council meeting on Monday, November 26th at 7PM, and let them know that you signed this petition—along with over 1,100 other people who want to see our historic diner preserved and moved to Main Street.

21st Mayor and City Council Meeting – Council Chambers
Laurel Municipal Center
8103 Sandy Spring Rd
Laurel, MD 20707
Mayor and City Council Meeting
Monday, November 26, 2018 – 7:00pm to 9:00pm

City officials know that the petition exists, but please remind them why. It’s not just about any old restaurant closing, and it’s not just about trying to save any old building. Allowing the Tastee Diner to be wrapped and hidden within a new business would be an inexcusable wasted opportunity, particularly in light of Laurel’s new Main Street Maryland award.

I’ve likened this to the closing of a vintage car dealership. Sure, the business can close or change hands; but you wouldn’t destroy the classic cars in the showroom in the process, would you?

Please add your name to the petition to Save the Laurel Tastee Diner, and share the link.

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“Top of the World, Ma!”

Laurel Plaza shopping center, at the intersection of Routes 197 and 198, has always had something unique to Laurel at any given time. Zayre (and later, Ames) was the anchoring department store on one end, and Grand Union (and later, Basics) was the grocery store on the other—a space that would later become the longtime home to Village Thrift Store. But, of course, Laurel Plaza was also home to the greatest sporting goods store of all time, Bob Windsor’s All Pro Sports—owned by former San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots star, Bob Windsor.

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© Lost Laurel collection

But Laurel Plaza was also where the Laurel Boys & Girls Club-sponsored traveling carnivals set up when I was a kid; and every year around this time, I think back to them fondly.

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Laurel Plaza carnival, May 1987. (Photo © Richard Friend)

Operated by Winchester Amusement Company, you didn’t have to be a certified safety inspector to tell that the rides weren’t exactly in optimal condition. Disney World, this most certainly wasn’t. And you could also count on some kind of trouble brewing at some point during the two-week run—usually a drunken scuffle or three after an argument over the (very-possibly-rigged) games of chance.

But the rides were true carnival classics: the Scrambler, the Trabant, and the Scat (among others) were there year after year. The crown jewel, however—the one that literally first caught your eye and immediately registered “carnival”—was the Ferris Wheel.

And Winchester Amusement Company had one of the biggest Ferris Wheels—a 50-footer. Anyone approaching Laurel Plaza simply couldn’t miss it.

Thirty years ago this week, (on May 14th, 1987, to be exact) I got to experience that 50-foot Ferris Wheel from a very unique perspective:

I got stuck at the top, and had to climb down via the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department’s 100-foot ladder truck.

I literally remember it like it was yesterday, but my memory is surely aided by these photos that I took the day after the fateful ride.

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The infamous Ferris Wheel at Laurel Plaza, the day after the incident. (Photo © Richard Friend)

I’ve never been a particular fan of Ferris Wheels, mind you; I’m more of a roller coaster guy. But I’d had it in my mind to try out every ride the carnival had to offer. Ferris Wheels always struck me as incredibly boring; but as luck would have it, this one quickly turned into what was arguably the most exciting ride in the history of the Laurel carnival.

It was around 8PM that night when I boarded the Ferris Wheel—the ride only about three quarters full with nine people, total. It made exactly one full rotation, and as I passed the motor at the base of the ride, I flinched as a large cable literally snapped off the drive wheel system. Seconds later, as my car ascended to the top, the entire Ferris Wheel shimmied side to side briefly—that’s when everyone realized that something had gone wrong. For a split second, I thought it was going to collapse. That, or we were literally going to start rolling down Route 198.

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The broken cable the day after the incident. Photo © Richard Friend

Instead, we heard what sounded like a generator cutting off, and the wheel simply ground to a stop—with my car literally stuck at the very top.

I remember seeing the Ferris Wheel operator frantically trying to figure out what to do; and when his best option was evidently to try to manually rotate the giant wheel—with his bare hands—I knew this was serious.

With curious onlookers beginning to congregate, carnival employees shouted up to us that they would have us down safely soon; but at least an hour went by before we finally saw salvation…in the form of fire trucks.

A pair of firefighters climbed the 100-foot ladder to my car, and spent a few moments securing the car to their ladder. I was told to hold onto the back of the car I was sitting in, because the second I started moving, it would swing forward. Sure enough, I found myself looking straight down at the asphalt parking lot for a few unnerving seconds. But I was safely harnessed to the firefighter, who assured me that if I fell, he would fall, too—and that he wasn’t planning to fall.

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The safety bar on Car #9, still open the day after I’d climbed out from the top of the Ferris Wheel. (Photo © Richard Friend)

He instructed me to carefully step out of the car, and to throw my legs over the top of the Ferris Wheel, one at a time. Literally, over the top of the Ferris Wheel, and onto the ladder. I did that, and we slowly descended together. As we did, I confided to him, “this is a lot more fun than the Ferris Wheel.”

I’d just gotten safely to the ground when a man whom I assume was the owner/manager of the carnival approached me. I’m not exaggerating when I say that he looked exactly like the guy from “The Blues Brothers” who owned Bob’s Country Bunker.

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Bob, owner of Bob’s Country Bunker. (“The Blues Brothers,” 1980).

He was smiling jovially as he handed me a small cup of Pepsi. “Are ‘ya thirsty? Here, have a soda!” And then he handed me the real reward for my experience: a pair of complimentary ticket books. They included 12 tickets for free rides. I still have the covers in my collection:

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I went straight home after that, and found my mom furious that I was over an hour and a half late. Not only that, she didn’t believe my story of being stuck at the top of the Ferris Wheel—even when I showed her the ticket books I’d received. It actually wasn’t until the following Thursday, when the Laurel Leader reported the incident, that she realized I’d been telling the truth!

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To my knowledge, no charges or lawsuits were ever filed, as no one was injured. I went back to the carnival in the days afterward and used my free tickets—even riding the Ferris Wheel again once it was operational. Although, that was the last Ferris Wheel ride I’ve ever taken.

I’ve tried to find out whatever became of the Winchester Amusement Company, which (not surprisingly) seems to be out of business. I’d heard that the Laurel Boys & Girls Club, concerned with their quality control, eventually replaced them with another carnival operator in the 1990s. And in 1998, there was an incident in Hagerstown where a teenager was seriously injured after being ejected from one of the rides operated by Winchester Amusement. I doubt there were any free ticket books and Pepsis after that one, and it may very well have spelled the end for the longtime carnies.

Nevertheless, I’ll always have the memory of climbing down from the top of that Ferris Wheel at the carnival in Laurel Plaza—which may as well have been the top of the world. It’s just hard to believe that it’s been 30 years. Driving past the shopping center today, the parking lot is still teeming with activity; but nothing like the night of May 14, 1987.

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Main Street Time Machine

The next time you’re traveling along Main Street, (preferably walking, rather than driving) do yourself a favor and stop in front of Minuteman Press at 335 Main Street. Even if you don’t have anything to be printed, just do some proverbial window shopping—you’ll be in for a historical treat.

A few months ago, owner Bob Mignon expanded his longtime corner business. You might’ve noticed the “Future Home of Minuteman Press” banner… ironically just steps away from what was then the current home.

(Photo: John Mewshaw)

(Photo: John Mewshaw)

Bob didn’t simply move into the larger space next door, he consolidated the building—much as a distant tenant from the early 1920s did, when it was the Ellis Market grocery store.

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Laurel News Leader ad, 1948

Laurel News Leader ad, 1948

(Laurel News Leader ad, 1953)

(Laurel News Leader ad, 1953)

(Laurel News Leader ad, 1954)

(Laurel News Leader ad, 1954)

Being a Laurel history buff himself, (and a tremendous supporter of the Laurel Historical Society) Bob had a unique vision for decorating the expanded storefront windows. He was interested in showcasing historic photos of the town, and worked with Beltsville’s Jay Williams Design Company to create a display that takes the viewer back nearly a century.

(Photo courtesy Greater Beltsville Business Association)

(Photo courtesy Greater Beltsville Business Association)

Included are larger than life images of the Harrison-Beard Building at Montgomery and 9th Streets, Laurel’s train station, (very much relevant, given the current controversy over a new Howard County stop threatening to take its place) St. Philip’s Church, and the electric trolley station at 6th & Main Streets (site of the current Oliver’s Old Towne Tavern—quite the historic little building in its own right.)

But the centerpiece of the design—literally—are the photos and narrative covering the door to the 337 entrance.

Last August, while Bob and Jay were still planning the display, an elderly woman and her family happened to be across the street from Minuteman Press, seemingly admiring the building. Bob went outside to say hello, and found himself meeting 90-year-old Shirley Ellis Siegel, who was visiting with her sons to reminisce about the house she grew up in during the 1920s.

This serendipitous meeting resulted in the photos now featured on the door, which the Ellis family happily shared. The large image showing the market’s interior is used perfectly—it’s as though you’re looking through the door into the building’s past.

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Kudos to Bob Mignon, Jay Williams, and the Ellis family for creating a fantastic visual tribute. It’s a wonderful new way to share the city’s history right there on its most historic street.

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Deerfield Run + Laurel Centre Mall, early 1980s

Recently, one of my dearest friends from elementary school, Sherry (Green) Wetherill, surprised me with a wonderful package in the mail. Inside was a treasure trove of photos dating from 1982–84—our final years as students at Deerfield Run Elementary.

The photos include some shots from a 1982 square-dancing performance the school put on at the center court of Laurel Centre Mall, as well as our 1984 class “graduation” ceremony. Fortunately, I was spared from having to do the square-dancing thing in public. Sherry and some of our classmates made the best of it, however; and thanks to her mom, we’re now seeing some rare color photos of the original center court—which was located just above the rotating carousel shops.

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Sherry wisely opted for a visit to Time-Out Family Amusement Center after the performance. This is only the second photo I’ve ever seen taken inside the popular Laurel arcade, as well as a bonus shot of Teeser’s Palace directly next door—where many an airbrushed t-shirt was sold over the years.

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Note also the original brown marble floor tiles and wooden storefront accents. These would all be replaced in the early 1990s when mall management deemed it “too 70s-looking”.

Other photos in Sherry’s collection date to June 1984, when our 6th grade class graduated from Deerfield Run. The ceremony took place in the school’s cafeteria/auditorium—which (and I’m not kidding) they literally named the “Cafetorium”. I still remember the sign above the double doors.

The program opened with Scott Miller carrying the flag on stage, and that’s me in the blue suit with Justine Kim leading the Pledge of Allegiance.

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Keep in mind, these aren’t necessarily in their proper order; but there’s one I should get out of the way right up front. Remember when I said that I was fortunate to have avoided the whole square-dancing thing at the mall? In hindsight, that probably would’ve been the wiser choice. Yes, that’s me in the center (with the blue striped Nikes)… breakdancing. At least I had the presence of mind to strike a pose that hid my face.

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But in all seriousness, these photos are remarkable in that they provide an almost tangible sense of Deerfield Run at that time. It’s hard to believe this was more than 30 years ago; and the images transport you back there immediately. The earthy colors of the smooth cement walls… the flecks in the tile floors… the texture of the glossy wooden stage.

Without further ado, here are the rest of the photos along with a few general comments.

* * *

The school band gets ready to assemble along the far wall to the left of the stage, as people find their seats. Anyone who ever attended Deerfield Run (or any Prince George’s County Public School in the 1980s, probably) undoubtedly remembers those molded plastic multicolored chairs:

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A couple of these images are bittersweet, because they feature some folks who are sadly no longer here. In this first one, Sherry and Julie Douglass pose for a photo on stage before or after the program, while Lafayette McCray debates photobombing. Lafayette was funny and was one of the most gifted young athletes I’ve seen on any level. Unfortunately, he was murdered shortly after high school in a Largo parking lot.

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Here’s a pair of pics with our beloved 5th & 6th grade teacher, Mrs. Hortense Adams (far left). I can just hear her now, asking for a second photo to be taken without her glasses… She’d earned them as a child, avidly reading books in the dark after bedtime. Sadly, Mrs. Adams passed away in August 2013 after a battle with cancer. She was 67.

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I can’t recall why we had Prince George’s County Police officers on hand, but they presented some sort of awards to select students. One of them was the incredibly smart Stan Angus, who’s sitting in the chair on stage in this first photo. Stan lived on Irving Street and rode my school bus.

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Principal Michael J. Lapriola also distributed certificates to the highest achievers in our group, among them Jennifer Jacobs, (partially hidden behind Mr. Lap) Tanika Jolly, Sherry, Wayne Bailey, Justine Kim, and Mona Frastaci. I’m sure Stan Angus got one, too; but I’m not sure what the deal is with him still sitting in that chair on stage…

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The school’s band performed on the far end of the cafetorium, just in front of the “in” and “out” doors where hot lunches were served. I don’t recall the band teacher’s name, (and I regret not learning to play an instrument back then) but I recognize a few faces. Directly to his right is Tanika, Melissa Woody, Scott Miller, and Sherry waiting for her violin solo:

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There were a few solo performances, including Sherry on violin. I see Ms. Littleford, our music teacher, standing near the doorway. Stan, meanwhile, is still sitting on stage…

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This was an all-girls’ dance number, apparently. I only recognize Julie Douglass, who grew up in my Steward Manor neighborhood:

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This, I’m guessing, was a chorus performance. Jason Brockenberry, with the white shirt & black tie in the back row, was one of my best friends at the school—and the first to introduce me to the fantastic Choose Your Own Adventure books. (House of Danger, the first one I ever read, is still my favorite.) But I digress.

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Jennifer Jacobs and Wayne Bailey, both of whom were exceptional students, spoke at the podium:

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Okay, seeing Stan and Mona both sitting on the stage makes a bit more sense to me now. I’m pretty sure they were the Master and Mistress of Ceremonies, respectively. (I was seriously starting to worry that Stan might still be inexplicably sitting up on that stage, 31 years after the program ended…)

These next two photos are a bit dark, and appear to be from a different assembly (note the “Follow Your Dream” theme in the background. Our graduation theme was “Up, Up, and Away to New Horizons.”) I’m not entirely sure, but the blonde kid in the white t-shirt just below the word “YOUR” might be me:

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Likewise, Sherry’s wearing a different outfit here—and that blue wall looks like the Deerfield gym rather than the cafetorium:

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Speaking of different outfits… (and gym) she included this photo from the following year—when we all had to wear these blue & gold gym uniforms at Eisenhower Middle School. Or, as her Post-It Note puts it, the “Dreaded EMS gym attire.”

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By the way, Sherry’s handwriting is exactly the same as it was in elementary school, when she constantly won penmanship awards.

Last but certainly not least, this was the rising 6th grade class—who were apparently forced to sing a “farewell” song for us. I recognize James McNeirney on the far left and Mike McNeal on the far right; and Chad Caffas in the back row near the center. And of course, Kevin Buter in the red shirt.

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I can remember drinking chocolate milk out of those little paper containers at lunch with Kevin and several of the kids in these photos in this very room, (sorry—”cafetorium”) and I have to say, it warms my heart to know that I’m still in touch with so many of them today. In fact, I’m looking forward to having a few drinks with some of them next weekend. Hmm… Maybe I’ll bring some of those little chocolate milk containers for old times’ sake.

My thanks again to Sherry for sharing these wonderful photos, and for allowing me to post them here. Hopefully some of our other classmates will recognize themselves, and experience the same amazing flashbacks.

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Racing… to close Laurel Railroad Station?

There’s a rather unlikely story in the local news this week—a head-scratcher, really. It concerns two of Laurel’s historic landmarks, and how they’re supposedly at odds all of a sudden. I’m speaking of Laurel Park Racecourse and the Laurel Railroad Station.

I’ll get right into it: Laurel Park, which after decades of hard times is finally seeking to turn the corner with an ambitious plan to build “a transit-oriented development with retail and residential space near the racetrack,” has requested the state Department of Transportation open a commuter train stop in Laurel closer to the track.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Because that would just be too easy, state Department of Transportation officials have said that it is unlikely the state will consider a “dual stop” at both the Laurel MARC station and the racetrack. A train platform is already at the racetrack, mind you, but is listed as a flag stop (where trains will only stop when there’s a specific request) on the MARC Camden line schedule.

So, here comes the head-scratcher: the idea being proposed is that the DoT would close the Laurel Station—which is on the National Register of Historic Places—in favor of building a new stop at the racetrack, a mere 2,500 feet away. Where, again, there is already a train platform in place. I’m not sure there’s a more polite way to put this, so I’ll just ask: Are you f***ing kidding me?

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a huge supporter of both places. More than anything, I’d love to see a resurgence of horse racing in Laurel, and have Laurel Park once again become the premier venue that it can be. But certainly not at the expense of endangering what might be the town’s most recognizable landmark—a landmark that, frankly, has been more functional than the track itself in recent years.

Granted, I can’t see anyone in their right mind coming out and proposing that the old train station be demolished—to my knowledge, nothing like that has been discussed. But what would happen if/when the historic station ceases to be an active stop on the MARC line? We already know how vulnerable the city’s old buildings tend to be, especially when they’re vacant.

Lest anyone forget, Laurel came dangerously close to losing the station to fire in January 1992. John Mewshaw recently shared these photos with me—sobering reminders, all:

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

With the expectation that cooler, more rational heads will ultimately prevail in this, let’s look at some more reasonable options.

First, there’s the basic issue of supply and demand. If enough people genuinely start taking the train to the races again, as they did back in the early-to-mid-20th century, there’s no reason why the Department of Transportation shouldn’t reinstate Laurel Park as an active stop on the MARC line. But even then, closing the town’s historic station wouldn’t make sense, logistically, especially as it relates to everyday commuters with no interest in visiting the race track.

The current station sits in the heart of Laurel at the base of Main Street and provides easy access. From a marketing standpoint, its historic qualities also benefit the commuter rail industry—the classic, Queen Anne styling of the station literally makes you want to take the train… in a way that a new, more modern facility probably wouldn’t.

And marketing is something that Laurel Park obviously needs to do a better job of, too, if it hopes to reinvigorate the track to the point of needing an exclusive train stop to accommodate the masses. For the record, I’m not a fan of their newest logo:

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As a graphic designer myself, I have serious doubts that it was created by a professional. It’s poorly executed for a number of reasons, but I digress. Their logo problems aren’t the main concern here.

But what they should be focusing on—instead of this new train station folly—are unique ways to maximize their exposure (regardless of that hideous logo). And ironically, the old train station is a perfect opportunity for them. I’m just going to offer this up, so Laurel Park Powers That Be, do with it as you please:

Imagine seeing a row of shuttle buses lined up as you get off the train… buses that are whimsically adorned with thoroughbred horse artwork (or, to go even further, imagine the entire bus being decorated to look like a race horse itself…) A row of buses, each designed as an individual race horse, complete with saddle cloth number…

LAUREL-PARK-SHUTTLE-IDEA-SMALL

Much like the old train station invites you to ride the rails, wouldn’t that pique your interest in going to the race track? And imagine the exposure the buses themselves would get just being spotted going back and forth on Route 1—especially when two or three at a time are “racing” there. (Not to encourage gambling, but you could even place bets on which “horse bus” arrives first…)

Keep in mind, I did this in about half an hour. Imagine what could be done with proper time and exploration. (And I’d be more than happy to design it for you, Laurel Park. I assure you, it’d be cheaper than a new train station, too.)

And from a practical standpoint, (e.g. the number of people actually going to the race track from the train station) wouldn’t shuttle buses also just make more sense? At least until Laurel Park starts generating the types of crowds that might require more drastic measures?

For the record, I do hope those crowds eventually return, but only after the race track (and the city) has solid plans in place to accommodate them. First, they need a plan to actually draw them. To paraphrase the Field of Dreams mantra, “Build it, and they will come.”

Source:
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/laurel/ph-ll-marc-station-moves-20150616-story.html
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The Year of Tastee-Freez

tastee-freez-1999

The Nickell family celebrating 25 years of Tastee-Freez ownership in 1999. (Laurel Leader photo by Jason Lee, 8/5/99)

It was 1974 when James Nickell took over the Tastee-Freez from its original owners, Mr. & Mrs. James DeLorenzo—who’d opened the franchise in what had previously been Laurel’s first McDonald’s.

So, it’s fitting that the first and only Tastee-Freez/Big T calendar I’ve come across would be from that very year. Here it is, scanned in its entirety.

tastee-freez-calendar-front       tastee-freez-calendar-jan tastee-freez-calendar-feb-martastee-freez-calendar-apr-maytastee-freez-calendar-jun-julytastee-freez-calendar-aug-septastee-freez-calendar-oct-novtastee-freez-calendar-dec-couponstastee-freez-calendar-back

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Lost Laurel TV: Laurel Shopping Center, Part 1

The latest episode of Lost Laurel on Laurel TV has aired, and is available on their YouTube channel. They’ve given me an HD version to post for my own archive, which is great, since the video includes some fantastic vintage photos!

This is the first of a two-part series on the history of Laurel Shopping Center, which focuses on the 1956 grand opening—including an itinerary of the “Fifteen Fabulous Days” celebration, the incredible promotions created by owners Melvin & Wolford Berman and Arthur Robinson, and an interview with Bart Scardina, Jr., whose father opened Bart’s Barber Shop as one of the original tenants. Of those original businesses, only Bart’s and Giant Food remain open today.

Part 2 will cover the 1966 expansion of the shopping center, the 1971 addition of Georgetown Alley, and the 1979 arrival of Laurel Centre Mall. We’ll also look at Laurel Shopping Center’s day of infamy—the 1972 assassination attempt of Governor George Wallace. We’ll be filming that in the coming weeks.

As always, a special thanks to Laurel Leader “History Matters” columnist Kevin Leonard for his segment, and to Denny Berman and Bart Scardina, Jr. for taking the time to share their memories.

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Lost Laurel Photo Contest!

1952 LAUREL NEWS AGENCY-LLBOOK

Want to win a free copy of Lost Laurel, the book?
Between now and November 30th, post a photo on the Lost Laurel Facebook page that creatively incorporates the Lost Laurel book. How you do that is entirely up to you, but have fun with it!
  • Perhaps it’s a selfie with your book somewhere in Laurel…
  • Or pose the book on its own in a legendary Laurel location…
  • Or surround it with vintage Laurel artifacts from your collection…
  • Or you can even use a little Photoshop magic like I did to send the book back in time. (See? it would’ve been right at home at Keller’s Laurel News Agency on Main Street in 1952!)

Enter as many as you like, just remember to use the hashtag #LostLaurelBook so your photos will be searchable on Facebook. (Or if you don’t have Facebook, you can email them to richard_friend@mac.com). I’ll select a winner on December 1st, and will mail you a free, signed copy of Lost Laurel, the book. It’ll make an awesome Christmas gift. 🙂

What’s that? You don’t already have the book? You can still get one at the Laurel Museum, or through their website—then get creative with your photo skills before 11/30 and win an extra copy!

Good luck, and I look forward to seeing what you come up with!
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