Category Archives: Photos

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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Endangered Main Street: Laurel Theatre / Petrucci’s

The old red building at 312 Main Street has sat empty and derelict for a few years now, and according to the City of Laurel—its new owners—it’s too far gone to be salvaged.

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(Photos: Richard Friend)

(Photos: Richard Friend)

After no other buyers came forward, The city bought the building for $250,000 and plans to demolish it and resell the property. According to multiple sources, the interior has a festering mold problem that’s at least as problematic as its many structural issues, and would require in excess of $2 million to save it. And given its recent history, there’s little hope of resurrecting it. The multiple comedy clubs that inhabited it since the Petrucci family sold its popular Dinner Theatre in 1992 never lived up to expectations, despite drawing some high-profile names in the early years—including Dave Chappelle and Richard Jeni.

Before I get into that, though, let’s take a look at the deeper history of this Main Street landmark.

Laurel Theatre, 1938

A postcard image from 1938. (Laurel Historical Society archives)

To date, these are the earliest photos I’ve come across. The Leader article mentioned that it had been built in 1935, but the 1934 film named on the marquee (You Belong to Me) disproves that:

(Laurel Historical Society archives)

(Laurel Historical Society archives)

In fact, according to the Laurel, Maryland Centennial Souvenir Historical Booklet, the Laurel Theatre opened on October 16, 1929 under Sidney B. Lust, and was built by C. Ernest Nichols. The first film shown was Noah’s Ark. It briefly closed in 1948 to undergo a renovation, at which point it reopened with The Mating of Millie. (Box Office magazine, September 4, 1948).

This 1962 Laurel Leader photo literally shows ’em lined up around the block. (Notice, too, that there was a High’s Dairy where Pal Jack’s Pizza would soon be!)

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I’ve collected a few later (but still pretty darn early) programs from the theater, as has the Laurel Historical Society and collectors Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes. Here are a few:

1934 lobby card. (Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes collection)

1934 lobby card. (Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes collection)

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Program from 1939. (Lost Laurel collection)

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Program from 1941. (Lost Laurel collection)

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1942 program. (Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes collection)

1942 program. (Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes collection)

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Programs from 1959–61. (Laurel Historical Society archives)

Here, too, is an assortment of Laurel Leader newspaper ads through the years:

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And a poster:

Poster for The Omega Man, 1971. (Lost Laurel collection)

Poster for The Omega Man, 1971. (Lost Laurel collection)

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The theater was Laurel’s first and only movie house until the summer of 1966, when both Wineland’s Laurel Drive-In and Laurel Cinema opened at Laurel Shopping Center. The newer venues (and a minor fire in 1975) took their toll; and in 1976, the iconic Main Street theater called it quits.

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(Photo: Robert Marton)

(Photo: Robert Marton)

(Photo: Ralph Bull)

(Photo: Ralph Bull)

(Photo: Ralph Bull)

(Photo: Ralph Bull)

(Photo: Ralph Bull)

(Photo: Ralph Bull)

“Closed Forever” was a bold statement, and one that fortunately ended up not being entirely accurate.

That same year, Carlo Petrucci—who’d already bought the adjacent Pal Jack’s Pizza at 310 Main Street back in 1970—purchased the building. The sale was noted in the April 26, 1976 issue of Box Office magazine:

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The Petrucci family made a valiant attempt to keep the theater going, and did reopen it with the blockbuster Jaws. They announced it with this personalized ad in the Laurel Leader:

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But the family had more ambitious plans for the building, and in the spring of 1977 came the arrival of Petrucci’s restaurant.

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In less than a year, Petrucci’s was already experimenting with the idea of a full-fledged dinner theater—a concept never before tried in the area. And by the early 1980s, Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre was one of the indisputable highlights of Main Street.

(Laurel Leader ad)

(Laurel Leader ad)

Laurel Leader ad, July 27, 1978. (Lost Laurel colletion)

Laurel Leader ad, July 27, 1978. (Lost Laurel colletion)

1984 program. (Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes collection)

1984 program. (Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes collection)

Circa 1989. (Laurel Historical Society archives)

Circa 1989. (Laurel Historical Society archives)

But even for the successful Petrucci family, the good times only lasted for about 15 years. Shortly after closing, this quote appeared in the July 25, 1992 Washington Post:

“We realized that to stay open through the summer would have been an exercise in futility,” explains David Petrucci, the sole member of this family-owned operation who has not yet given up on the business.

Thus began the series of hybrid comedy clubs, including Art’s, the Comedy Connection, the Laurel Cinema Cafe, and most recently, The Jokes on Us (aptly named, perhaps).

A 1996 Comedy Connection window display. (Lost Laurel collection)

A 1996 Comedy Connection window display. (Lost Laurel collection)

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Comedy Connection payment folder, c.1990s. (Lost Laurel collection)

There’s a stunning series of photos on Flickr that show the interior of the building in 2011. While the photographer has given it a different name, this is definitely the interior of 312 Main Street. (It may have been an urban exploration shoot—at any rate, the shots are eerily fantastic).

(Photos: Flickr user tmdtheue)

(Photos: Flickr user tmdtheue)

So that brings us to today, where the old building stands—but likely for not much longer.

There’s already been some discussion on the Lost Laurel Facebook page, as well as other local social media sites about the future of the old theater. Complicating the matter is the fact that it sits right in the heart of the city’s own designated “Arts District”—which took another blow in 2012 with the closing of the Laurel Art Center (another building that remains vacant as of this writing).

Many have called upon the Laurel Historical Society to intervene and protect the building, and discussions are underway about possible options other than the inevitable empty lot if it is indeed demolished.

I’ve mentioned that it’s not at all uncommon in cases like this to salvage the façade of the building—just the recognizable front of it—restore it and incorporate that into a brand new, mixed-use building that pays homage to the past. But truth be told, the façade of the old Laurel Theatre was never particularly remarkable, unfortunately, despite its great sentimental value. This would also place significant limits on whatever is constructed behind it.

I have a better idea, albeit probably a farfetched one. Imagine for a moment that it was possible to completely rebuild the Laurel Theatre, just as it was when it first opened in 1929. Now, imagine if it was possible for the city to do it without incurring any cost to itself. (I told you it was farfetched, but bear with me…)

I see this as a chance for the city of Laurel to up their game and create something truly special; and if done properly, I think there’s actually a very good chance that people would help. Lots of people—and not just from Laurel.

They could create an online fundraiser via Kickstarter and/or Indiegogo, where they present the opportunity to not only save the town’s original theater, but to create a genuine, functional showpiece in the heart of the Arts District: a completely rebuilt Laurel Theatre in the 1929 style, but with modern amenities—which could also serve as a type of cultural center for any number of events. Frankly, I can’t think of a more effective way to revitalize Main Street as a whole.

Since it wouldn’t be a privately owned venture, something like this could also likely qualify for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, or similar organizations.

Clearly, the city doesn’t have $2 million to spend on remodeling the theater—even if they wanted to. The $250,000 purchase was an investment toward something—anything–other than the decaying structure that’s been sitting dormant all this time. But if they at least explored the possibility that a national/international fundraiser (plus grants) could actually yield a significant amount of money to do something really special, that’s worth talking about.

Just for comparison’s sake, let’s look at a more famous (or should I say, infamous) theater: Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC.

When you visit Ford’s Theatre today, you probably assume it’s maintained its original appearance all these years, right? Not at all. With the exception of its outside walls, the entire theater is a complete reconstruction.

After the 1865 assassination of President Lincoln, the building understandably closed as a functioning theater. The government purchased it from John T. Ford, and promptly converted it into a three-story office building for the War Department, primarily. In 1893, the unthinkable happened: another tragedy. Load-bearing beams in the basement gave way under the excess weight, causing sections of all three floors above to completely collapse. In what must have been a horrific moment, 22 government employees were killed and at least another 65 were seriously injured.

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(Photo: NPS)

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(Photo: NPS)

The building languished until the 1930s, when it was briefly used as a warehouse for the Department of the Interior before being turned over to the National Park Service as “The Lincoln Museum”—where only the first floor was open to the public. Then, in the 1950s, Congress approved a bill that would fund a complete restoration of Ford’s Theatre to its 1865 appearance. And in 1968, the famous theater opened once again as a historic landmark. These dramatic photos (found on the blog, BoothieBarn) show just how gutted it actually was.

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Granted, I’m not suggesting that the old Laurel Theatre is on par with a national treasure; but I wanted to show that it’s entirely possible to gut the interior of a historic building—or level it completely, if need be—and rebuild it to its original specifications. That’s something that should indeed be considered by the city of Laurel before deciding to sell the property—particularly if they can receive funds to do so.

On the much smaller end of the spectrum, take a look at some of the “save our theater” campaigns that actually are on Kickstarter at the moment. I recently pitched in for one near me in Fairfax, VA. The University Mall Theatres is in dire need of new seats, and has raised over $111,000 in a matter of days with their grassroots campaign. That’s a private business, too—the city of Laurel stands to qualify for considerably more if it goes the non-profit route. And as far as non-profit models go, there’s none better than Silver Spring’s AFI Silver Theatre.

The Silver Theatre in 1938 and 2003 (http://silverspringhistory.homestead.com/theatre.html)

The Silver Theatre in 1938 and 2003 (http://silverspringhistory.homestead.com/theatre.html)

It, too, was dangerously close to meeting the wrecking ball when both citizens and politicians stepped in and capitalized on the opportunity to create something remarkable. The non-profit theater and cultural center now hosts films, film festivals, musical events, and much more. It’s also available for private rentals, further increasing its revenue.

The dedication plaque that hangs in the lobby of the AFI Silver says it all—and could easily be applied to Laurel if you think about the similarities:

THROUGH THE TIRELESS EFFORTS OF
THE SILVER SPRING COMMUNITY, INCLUDING
ITS ELECTED OFFICIALS AND APPOINTED LEADERS,
THE PAST HAS BEEN PRESERVED FOR THE BENEFIT
OF THE FUTURE. AS A CORNERSTONE OF
A REVITALIZED DOWNTOWN, THE AFI SILVER
IS A CENTER OF CULTURAL AND EDUCATIONAL
EXPLORATION, UNITING THOSE WHO VISIT
THROUGH THE POWER OF THE MOVING IMAGE
 
APRIL 4, 2003
 
DOUGLAS M. DUNCAN
MONTGOMERY COUNTY EXECUTIVE
 
JEAN PICKER FIRSTENBERG
DIRECTOR AND CEO, AFI

***

So, the city of Laurel now owns the building at 312 Main Street, and has a very big decision to make in the coming weeks. Much like the doomed Laurel Centre Mall, anything they do with it will likely be an improvement over the past decade. But I hope the city planners will at least take a very careful look at this opportunity before selling the property outright. The elusive key to revitalizing Main Street and creating a legitimate Arts District centerpiece may actually be sitting in their hands as we speak.

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Matchbook, c.1950s. (Lost Laurel collection)

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Laurel’s Link to Sports (Collectors) History

When I was about 11 years old, I started collecting baseball and football cards. As a sports fan, the early 1980s was an exciting time to be living in Laurel, Maryland—literally midway between the 1982 Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins and the 1983 World Series Champion Baltimore Orioles.

It was around that time that Mike McNeal, one of my best friends in the neighborhood, gave me something that upped the ante: a handful of plastic protector sheets for my collection. He’d found them at a place called “Den’s Collectors Den”, which was tucked away in the Laureldale Business Center off Rt. 198 in Maryland City, just behind what was then the Toyota dealership on Laureldale Drive. How he ever found it, I still don’t know; but one day, his mom drove us both there to stock up.

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These plastic sheets are common today, and come in more shapes and sizes than ever—in fact, I use Ultra Pro Platinum sheets for the bulk of my Lost Laurel stuff: 8″ x 10″ photos, matchbook covers, 4″ x 6″ postcards… and, of course, Bob Windsor football cards.

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But those early sheets from Den’s Collectors Den are even more special today—the name and Laurel address were embossed right into the plastic!

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Admittedly, I was never what you’d call a serious collector. I liked finding cards of my favorite players, and trading with friends; and to some degree, the design of those old cards might have even played a small part with me eventually becoming a graphic designer. But at the time, the concept of “value” never really entered my mind. I knew that older cards were certainly worth more, but that was about the extent of it. Of course, now I cringe at the memory of the countless rookie cards I let slip through my fingers… Cal Ripken and Rickey Henderson… Joe Montana and John Elway… *sigh* But I digress.

No, back then it was all for fun—as it should be. And part of the fun was discovering the tools of the collecting trade itself, and there was no better guide to such things than a catalog from Den’s Collectors Den.

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Absolutely stuffed with products and information, the catalogs themselves were something to behold. More than anything, Den’s promoted an array of baseball card pricing guides—which were updated every year to give collectors (even amateurs like me) a guideline for card values. It was an added thrill to look up a particular card in your collection, and find that it was more valuable than others. In my case, this usually meant a difference of about 40¢. But again, I digress.

1984 Street and Smith Dens Ad

These price guides also included a “condition guide”, which showed you the basics for grading cards—everything from “mint condition” to “poor”.

card condition guide

What I didn’t realize at the time (and, in fact, only recently learned) was that the whole concept of sports card pricing guides essentially began with Den’s Collectors Den—specifically, the owner, Dennis “Denny” Eckes.

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Dennis W. Eckes, 1983 (Photo: The Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide Number 5)

Denny had produced a rudimentary handbook between 1975 and 1978, called “The Sport Americana Checklist”—a nearly 100-page, saddle-stitched black and white booklet that was a mishmash of typeset lists, thumbnail images to represent each card type, and numerous late additions clearly made with a common typewriter. It was exactly what the title claimed—a basic checklist of every baseball card issued since 1948, and some generalized pricing information added to the backmatter. But in this completely uncredited book was the basic formula for what would become the modern sports card price guide.

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The 1975 checklist booklet.

Sport Americana 1st checklist

Detail from the 1975 booklet. Hmm… I should check into whether or not I’m related to #392 Bob Friend.

 

Scan 218 Den's ad, 1978 checklist back

Everything changed the very next year, when Denny teamed up with a statistician and fellow collector named Dr. James Beckett. Yes, that Dr. James Beckett—the one who would eventually launch Beckett Media, the world’s preeminent authority on collecting. In 1979, they produced what is today universally acknowledged as the first price guide of its kind. And as you can see on the title page, it was published and distributed by Den’s Collectors Den of Laurel, Maryland.

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Due to demand, there were actually two versions of the first Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide in 1979. And when I say “in demand”, I mean it—kids and adults alike clamored for the book, and most weren’t exactly gentle with it in their haste to discover the value of the hidden gems in their collection:

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Someone was determined to hold this copy together by any means necessary. (Photo: eBay)

The edition with the white cover was the original, and is the Holy Grail of price guides if there ever was one. But shortly thereafter, an alternate cover was designed that included the “Baseball Card” logo in a custom typeface—this would appear on all subsequent issues under the Sport Americana banner. And on the back cover of both was a full-page, full-color ad for Den’s Collectors Den.

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Inside cover & title page of the updated version, which included author bios.

Eckes and Beckett didn’t stop there. Throughout the early 1980s, they expanded the Sport Americana brand with additional books, including the Alphabetical Baseball Card Checklist (1979) and the Baseball Memorabilia and Autograph Price Guide (1982).

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All the while, Den’s Collectors Den—the physical store in Laurel—continued its success. The price guides, plastic protector sheets, and other goodies were hot sellers.

Always the collector, Denny traveled the country, participating in the fledgling sports card trading show circuit—which itself is a massive industry today. In his dealings, he’d frequently unearth rare items which he’d typically manage to share with the collecting community in some shape or form. A perfect example was his discovery of previously unpublished artwork that matched the 1934-36 series of the National Chicle Company’s popular Diamond Stars set. A blank-backed proof sheet of 12 additional cards was determined to be the series’ 1937 extension that never was; and Denny ultimately had the proof reproduced and the cards brought to life in 1981. He even reinterpreted the classic wrapper itself, which bears his company’s name and Laurel address.

DIAMOND STARS WITH WRAPPER 1981

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For $3, you could buy a professionally-printed set of 12 cards that completed a legendary collection that had been cut short some 45 years earlier.

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This type of “reprint” was extremely rare at the time, and it inspired Denny to create yet another niche in the market. Den’s Collectors Den also carried similar extension sets and reprints produced by other manufacturers, such as the 1952 Bowman set by TCMA.

Den's 1952 Bowman Extension ad

I’ve heard from a number of collectors and hobbyists who knew Denny Eckes personally, and I’ve never heard a negative thing about the man. Naturally, I was curious as to what became of him, as there seemed to be very little information beyond the final books he produced in 1990—expanding into football and basketball price guides, as well as a book of baseball players’ agents’ mailing addresses for autograph hunters.

Unfortunately, I found the answer in the June 1991 issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly, one of the many expanded publishing efforts that James Beckett had taken on after his early success with Denny and Sport Americana. Filling the first page of that issue is a moving tribute—a eulogy to Dennis W. Eckes, who’d passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on April 15, 1991. He was only 48. The eulogy was written by Dr. Beckett himself, and paints a glowing portrait of a true visionary whose influence is still being felt in what has become a bigger business than ever before.

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Denny Eckes, who ran the inconspicuous little sports memorabilia shop in a Laurel industrial park, made quite a splash in his short lifetime. My only personal experience with him was some 30 years ago—as a kid at his glass display counter, eager to plop down my meager allowance at 25¢ per plastic sheet for my football cards. But the products he sold and the pastime he promoted have certainly stuck with me all these years, and I’m grateful to finally know and share a bit more about his legacy. Hopefully, someone who knows his story better than I do will be able to help shed even more light on this remarkable man.

 

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Meeting Bob Windsor… Again!

A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune of learning something new on my own Lost Laurel Facebook page. Reader John Mewshaw posted a link to a sports memorabilia event being held at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Listed there, at the very bottom of the page (by Cincinnati Bengals running back Ickey Woods—he of the famous “Ickey Shuffle”) was none other than Bob Windsor—the former NFL tight end who owned the wonderful Bob Windsor’s All-Pro Sports at Laurel Plaza Shopping Center throughout the 1970s and 80s. Bob was going to be there signing autographs the very next morning!

CSA Chantilly Show, Bob Windsor

It just so happens that today, I live only a few miles from the Dulles Expo Center; and I hadn’t seen Bob Windsor since I was a kid in his store nearly 30 years ago—when I would look forward to getting an autographed 8″ x 10″ with every purchase.

Bob Windsor 1980s autographed photo

A well-worn memento from the past, circa 1983

I made the short drive to Chantilly on Saturday morning, April 5th, and found the place packed just as it opened. Even though I knew where Bob’s table would be located, he was easy to spot, chatting with an old-timer from the area. I waited patiently behind the older gentleman, and when it was my turn, I said, (with a straight face) “Hi Bob. I’ve had this coupon for like 30 years, and there doesn’t seem to be an expiration date on it…”

I watched the confusion on his face turn to laughter when I revealed the “coupon” to be an enlarged print of one of his 1980s sneaker trade-in ads. “HOLY COW,” he exclaimed. “I haven’t seen one of those since… I don’t know when!”

Bob Windsor & Richard Friend, 4/5/14

I then revealed what I’d really come to do. I introduced myself, explaining that I’d grown up at Steward Manor Apartments just across the street from his store, and that my friends and I used to practically live there. Now a graphic designer, I’d actually created a book about Laurel’s past businesses—Lost Laurel. I leafed through the book to the 1980s section, and watched Bob’s face light up even more when he spotted pages 158–159:

Lost Laurel book: Bob Windsor

I told him that I wanted to give him the book (and some extra copies for his family) and finally say thank you for the countless good memories he and his store provided, and for all he’s done for Laurel, Maryland through the years. I had the chance to chat with him for a few moments, and he explained the history behind that memorable photo of him:

“We were playing the Giants—that was actually in Yankee Stadium. I had just caught that pass, (from quarterback Jim Plunkett) and was only on my feet for about a second and a half… and then got hit and flipped upside down by a linebacker and a defensive back!”

When I asked if he could remember who the linebacker and defensive back were, Bob laughed and said, “Oh, I don’t want to remember!”

We shook hands again, and Bob asked if I was a Redskins fan. Without getting into my long-winded NFL fan history, (which included a brutal 27 years, rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles throughout some of their lowliest seasons) I simply said yes—I’m finally trying to cheer for my own home team these days. With that, Bob reached into a folder and handed me a signed Sonny Jurgensen photo. (!!!) He then pointed to the sneaker trade-in ad I’d brought, and in a moment that transported me straight back to 1983, he asked, “Want me to sign that for you?”

Yes, indeed I did. 🙂

Bob Windsor's ad, 1986

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Laurel in Postcards

Chances are, you’ve seen at least one vintage Laurel postcard in your life before. Maybe it was a 1950s picture of the Laurel (Tastee) Diner. Or more likely, it was a memento from Laurel’s most popular attraction throughout the past century, Laurel Park Racecourse.

Admittedly, I can’t recall having seen any postcards of Laurel while I was growing up there in the 1980s. By then, most had been relegated to personal scrap books (and unfortunately, quite a few probably ended up in garbage cans). The Laurel Historical Society has undoubtedly preserved many, and the Laurel Library has at least thoughtfully photocopied some of the oldest examples.

But what if I told you that there have likely been well over 100 picture postcards of Laurel, Maryland produced since the early 1900s? Many of them featuring motels, restaurants, and street scenes that have long-since disappeared… and a few that actually still exist today.

John Floyd II has amassed a tremendous collection of original Laurel postcards over the course of several years, and was kind enough to lend me his entire album to be scanned and shared. Here now are over 80 cards, front and back. Some bear interesting correspondence and postmarks, others are as blank as they were the day they were first purchased—undoubtedly in Laurel.

All postcards courtesy of J.D. Floyd II, Royal Blue Ltd. archives

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Happy 80th, Fred Knapp!

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Admittedly, a blog update here is long overdue… (the Lost Laurel Facebook page has been getting all the action lately).

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t note this very special day on both pages. Fred Knapp is celebrating his 80th birthday today! According to his step-daughter, Debbie, Mr. Knapp is doing well and living in Elkridge.

While I’ve yet to get over the fact that we’ll never see another Keller’s/Knapp’s Laurel News Agency, the very thought of the jovial Fred Knapp enjoying his well-deserved retirement brings a smile to my face.

Happy birthday to a man who will always represent everything that was wonderful about Main Street.

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Hobby House

Perhaps more than any store, restaurant, or other business in Laurel’s retail past, the one place that I’ve consistently heard the most about is a little shop that opened in (and along with) Laurel Plaza Shopping Center in October 1965. It was at least a decade before pinball and video game arcades became the rage; and by all accounts, Hobby House may have topped them all in terms of sheer awesomeness.

Throughout the summer of ’65, Hobby House advertised heavily in the Laurel News Leader—bold, exciting ads that showcased the store’s massive tabletop slot car racing tracks. As if that wasn’t enough to draw you in, they also carried a full line of all things hobby: coins, stamps, model airplanes, model ships, model trains, and more. It was essentially Laurel’s precursor to HobbyWorks—which, coincidentally, remains open in Laurel Shopping Center to this day.

While Hobby House was part of the new Laurel Plaza Shopping Center, it wasn’t actually a brand new store. It had previously been located at 342 Main Street—current location of the Laurel Board of Trade—for five years. The Main Street location, however, didn’t have the slot car racing tracks; and its new store was the first of its kind in the Laurel area. In fact, owner Bill Bromley proclaimed his three new championship-approved tabletop tracks “the finest facilities available in the state”.

The new store also boasted some impressive hours for its era, open daily from 10AM to 11PM, and noon to 11PM on Sundays. Customers were encouraged to bring their own slot cars to race, and there were plenty available to buy or rent for a nominal fee.

I’ve also heard nothing but great things about the store’s staff, including owner Bill Bromley, and his brother, Dick—who served as assistant manager. I was glad to unearth a couple of photos of these gentlemen from September 1965 issues of the News Leader as well:

 

And a May 1966 full page ad captured a number of Laurel Plaza store entrances, including Hobby House.

Unfortunately for me, Hobby House had apparently already closed by the time my family arrived at Steward Manor in the late 70s, and I never did get to experience it. (You don’t have to pity me too much—I did get to surf the wave of awesomeness that was Time-Out and Showbiz Pizza Place in their respective heydays).

But I wanted to share a wonderful Hobby House recollection from our good friend John Floyd II—a lifelong train buff who remembers a special day and the equally special customer service that went along with it:

Hobby House was wicked! Those large racing tracks were cool and it was always fun to see them in action, but electric model trains were my thing and Hobby House had plenty of them in the new “N scale” whose compact size appealed to me. Mr Dick Bromley was either owner or manager of HH and he was ever so accommodating. In 1968, the ill-fated Penn Central merger between Pennsylvania RR and New York Central System endeared me to that poorly-conceived, behemoth railway company, not to mention being amongst a thousand spectators who gathered at Odenton to see the solemn and dignified funeral train PC ran for RFK in June of ’68. So, for my 11th birthday that year, Mum took me to Hobby House to select a train set. Alas, there were none to be had in Penn Central colours, but Mr Bromley soon sorted that out by combining an individual locomotive, passenger cars, freight cars, and a caboose into a splendid custom Penn Central train set!

Eventually, he would be involved with the operation of Laurel Shopping Center and Laurel Centre Mall (Rich, I’ve got one of his business cards for you!) as well as the Chamber of Commerce. I believe one of Laurel’s Fourth of July Parade trophy awards is also named in Mr Bromley’s honour. When Hobby House closed (late ’70s or early ’80s?), it left a void not filled until Hobby Works (for general hobby interests) and Peach Creek Shops (for hard-core railway modellers) came along in the 1990s.

John did indeed have a business card for me, from Dick Bromley’s term as Promotion Director at Laurel Centre—complete with its original logo before the ill-advised April 1998 “Laurel Mall” rebrand!

I’m looking forward to digging further into the 1970s archives, to hopefully determine when Hobby House closed and for what reasons; and for more information about the Bromley brothers. But in the meantime, I’ll just have to imagine what it must’ve been like, racing slot cars against Laurel’s fast and furious. I have to believe that I’d be the only one who’d show up with a custom Bob’s Cab racer, though.

Get ready to pay the meter, kids. Next stop, Hobby House.

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Laurel’s Safeway(s)

While I was growing up at Steward Manor during the late 1970s and early 80s, grocery shopping was never really a problem. In just a matter of minutes, if my mom and I were so inclined, we could walk to and from Safeway—which, at the time, was just around the corner from us on Bowie Road. In fact, during the one year that we lived at 2 Woodland Court, it was literally just across the railroad tracks. For more extensive shopping, of course, my dad would drive us there (or more likely, to one of the bigger and/or cheaper stores in the area: Giant, Pantry Pride, or Basics). But on any given day, my mom might have decided to bake a cake or something; and needing only a few select items, she and I would take a quick walk over to Safeway.

Until this past weekend, I hadn’t been able to find a single photo of the Safeway that I so vividly remember from childhood—before it relocated to a new and larger space at Laurel Lakes in 1985 (where it remains today).

For me, the old Safeway was the real Safeway; and when it left, it was like losing an old friend. To this day, I occasionally have dreams in which I’m back in that store—perusing the Cragmont soda aisle and noting the vintage cash registers at the checkout counter, amongst orderly stacks of weekly magazines featuring the likes of Diff’rent Strokes and President Reagan on their covers.

So in the course of my research, when I turned the page in the April 21, 1966 issue of the Laurel News Leader and came to this photo—I smiled at an old friend.

There it was, just as I remembered it. But even newer, because it had just opened. From this angle, (taken from the adjacent shopping center, which had also just opened) you can even see that awesome roller track/conveyor belt thing, which transported your groceries from the checkout counter, outside, around a hairpin curve, and to your awaiting vehicle beneath that covered driveway. (This, of course, was the only downside to walking over to Safeway with my mom—I didn’t get to use that thing nearly as often as I would have liked, but I digress).

Admittedly, I suspected that I might actually find a photo of the store; in an earlier newspaper, I had come across this bold announcement, which included a stock illustration of a similar Safeway store (but without the aforementioned awesome roller track/conveyor belt thing).

Laurel Leader, January 27, 1966.

So, a question I’d often wondered about was finally answered. The Safeway on Bowie Road first opened its doors in January 1966. The adjacent shopping center, which included Market Tire, Arundel Furniture, and Chicken Roost, among others—also another story for another time—opened in April.

But the photo also raised an interesting question, because conspicuously absent in all this was my other beloved store—Dart Drug. I had always assumed that Dart Drug was the original tenant beside Safeway; that they had been built together. Evidently, that wasn’t the case at all.

As I continued through the 1966 newspapers, I spotted the following ad in an August issue—which references the mysterious “Super S” store noted in the photo caption above.

Safeway Super S? I’d never heard of or seen such a thing, but there it was, in the proverbial black and white.

It also immediately struck me as rather ironic that Safeway had actually occupied this entire, massive structure—yet would ultimately move to Laurel Lakes nearly 20 years later in need of more space. What happened there? What exactly was Super S, and how (and when) did it eventually become the Dart Drug that we all knew and loved?

The Super S story turns out to be a super-short one, actually. By April 1967—a mere eight months after its grand opening, ribbon-cutting ceremony with then-Mayor Merrill Harrison, the store was closed.

Laurel Leader, April 20, 1967

Super S, according to the fantastic vintage retail blog, Pleasant Family Shopping, was an early (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempt by the supermarket to parlay its brand into an ancillary store; one which offered the types of non-food items you wouldn’t find in the Safeway proper: small appliances, sporting goods, toys, outdoor accessories, and more. Basically, like what Dart Drug would become. In retrospect, it’s a bold idea that, frankly, seems ahead of its time. Who knows.. with a little tweaking of the Super S business model here and there, Safeway could’ve very easily hit the jackpot. (Not that they haven’t been successful enough on their own, but again I digress).

It’s not yet clear if the old Super S building hosted any interim tenants, (my guess is no) but in February 1969, Dart Drug officially took up residence. It would remain there until the company went bankrupt nearly 20 years later.

Laurel Leader, February 6, 1969.

 

Here’s another view of the Safeway Shopping Center (as it came to be known) from across Route 1, in what was at that time the Food Fair parking lot. Food Fair, of course, would eventually become Frank’s Hardware, which in turn would eventually become Frank’s Nursery and Crafts—but that’s yet another story or two, as well.


Coincidentally, just a few miles west along Route 198, another Safeway opened in mid-February 1966. With a Peoples Drug at the opposite end of the Burtonsville Shopping Center, I guess the builders wisely saw no need for a Super S.

Last, but not least, I’d heard many a story about Laurel’s original Safeway—a location just off Main Street that, like its successor, was eventually deemed too small. That store was located on C Street, in the little building that would actually become City Hall and the Laurel Police Headquarters in 1972. Apparently, it continued to briefly do business even after the larger, new store opened on Bowie Road. In fact, according to this amusing snippet from September 1969, customers were still showing up even after it had closed.

Laurel Leader, September 25, 1969.

I can relate. They, too, must’ve felt like they’d lost an old friend.

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Above Laurel Shopping Center, 1971

If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered what it would be like to fly over Laurel Shopping Center… in July 1971. Thanks to John Floyd II, who shared this fantastic print of a Kodachrome 64 slide from the collection of Laurel Rescue Squad, now we know!

Some eight years before Laurel Centre Mall would be built, the Hecht Co. building dominates the ample parking lot.

Directly behind Hecht’s, along Marshall Avenue, is an odd sight for those familiar with the area today—single family houses—the few remaining dwellings before the Arbitron Building would arrive in January 1979.

Further down Marshall Avenue, we see the 150-car parking deck for the new Georgetown Alley shops—15 stores which opened in April of that year. Marshall Avenue passed directly below the parking deck, in what was easily the darkest, creepiest corner of the shopping center.

In the foreground of the picture, along Route 1, we see the familiar blue gabled roof of the original International House of Pancakes. To its right, just across Marshall Avenue, we see just a sliver of the parking lot of Laurel’s original McDonald’s drive-thru—the building which would soon become the Big T/Tastee Freez.

And speaking of colorful roofs, note the tiny yellow speck just below the Giant Food neon sign near the shopping center’s entrance. Yep, it’s the Fotomat, where countless photos were processed over the years—although probably not very many from this perspective.

Be sure to click the photo for a larger view.
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