Tag Archives: architecture

Brick by Brick

I still occasionally get comments from new Lost Laurel Facebook readers, asking why certain businesses don’t seem to be featured. One that comes up quite often: “What about Dottie’s Trophies?” And I have to explain that A) the concept of Lost Laurel is that these are all places that are no longer in business. And B) Dottie’s Trophies—sometimes to the surprise of many—is indeed still open for business. Since 1968, in fact, they’ve been continuously producing countless trophies and awards for sports teams and corporations in the Laurel area and beyond.

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It also dawned on me recently that I’d never actually been to Dottie’s Trophies in all these years. I’ve driven by it at least 1,232,000 times; and I’ve had at least a couple bowling trophies as a kid with Dottie’s name on the bottom. I decided to remedy that, and came up with what I think was a unique way to utilize their craft.

Let me backtrack for a moment.

A little over a year ago, I was giving a presentation for the Laurel Historical Society when I met Mike McLaughlin—and he gave me a wonderful surprise gift. A pair of them, actually—pieces of concrete from the recently demolished ruins of two of my favorite Lost Laurel sites: the Tastee-Freez and the Laurel Centre Mall. Mike had taken and shared some wonderful photos of the demolition process of both, and managed to salvage a few pieces of the buildings—literally—before they were gone for good.

The amazing thing about the Tastee-Freez coming down was the reemergence of the red and white tiles underneath the exterior facade. The tiles were from the 1960s, when the building was originally Laurel’s first McDonald’s.

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The white brick from the Mall still had those tiny flecks of crystal that would catch the sunlight on the Hecht’s/Macy’s side. It’s funny how even a single brick can still trigger an image of the Mall as a whole.

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I thought of these bricks recently when it became apparent that demolition work on the Stanley Memorial Library is finally imminent. (As of this post, the building is still standing; but it’s surrounded by chain link fencing and work is likely to begin any day now.) My very first job was as a clerical aide at that library, and I ended up working there all throughout high school and college. It was and will always be a special place for me. When the building comes down, I’d like to get a few bricks for myself and some former colleagues.

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It turns out I didn’t have to wait for the library to fall down to get my brick, at least. On a recent stop to photograph it, Pete Lewnes noticed one just sitting there loose near the missing cornerstone, (which I’m guessing either Prince George’s County Memorial Library System or the Laurel Museum had removed for posterity) and grabbed it for me.

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So, getting back to Dottie’s Trophies…

Because these old bricks and shards of masonry mean something to me—and hopefully to anyone with fond memories of the buildings they once comprised—I decided to have small, engraved name plates attached to them. And who better to do that than Dottie’s Trophies?

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It adds a sort of reverence even I wasn’t quite expecting. It also makes me wish I had a brick from all of the legendary places that have vanished from the Laurel landscape over the years. I could put them all together to form an actual Lost Laurel wall… if not an actual Lost Laurel Museum.

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American National Bank: Demolition Update

The old blue building just north of Gorman Plaza is finally coming down.

Originally the American National Bank building, it’s been vacant and doomed for some time now; but last week, demolition began in earnest—starting from the inside out, apparently. Thanks to John Floyd II for these photos that document the beginning of the end, which will likely happen this week.

Photos: J. D. Floyd II, Royal Blue Ltd. archives

I can’t help but think that in another thirty, maybe fifty years from now, someone will spot a photo of this classic mid-century modern building in one of the Laurel Historical Society’s publications or exhibits (or on an antique roll of Laurel Leader microfilm still languishing in the library’s basement) and wonder, “Wow—why did they ever get rid of that?!” Odds are, the Walgreens that’s slated to take its spot won’t have quite the architectural pedigree.

It’s not only replacing the old blue building, but the rest of the 600 block of Washington Blvd. to its north—which most recently included Irene’s Restaurant (the former Kenny Rogers Roasters and Rustler Steakhouse), Mango’s Grill, and Ace Cash Express (a location that once housed Murry’s Steaks).

Granted, the block has certainly seen better days. In fact, it’s seen better decades. And the new Walgreens will undoubtedly be much more aesthetically pleasing than what passing motorists have been subjected to in recent years. But my real question is this—why was a building like this ever allowed to become an eyesore in the first place? This kind of architecture deserves to be repurposed, not replaced.

 

Case Study: The Starr Building, Austin TX

A very similar building in Austin, TX (also originally an American National Bank, coincidentally) recently survived a proposed demolition and is now enjoying a fitting new life as an ad agency.

A Texas preservation society recognized the The Starr Building’s architectural significance and promise, and added it to an endangered list in 2009. Later that year, Austin-based Kemp Properties purchased the building, and advertising firm McGarrah Jessee signed on as its lead tenant. It was a perfect match if there ever was one—and the ad agency literally built their own brand around the building, which clearly inspires them:

McGarrah Jessee absolutely showcases the building on its website, as it should. They include a fascinating video piece highlighting its unlikely history… an arc that could just as easily have applied to Laurel’s old American National Bank building, had the right minds been in place.

A slide in the video reads:

“Kemp Properties and McGarrah Jessee were among the few suitors who recognized that great bones lay beneath the carpet and cubicles. They had a vision that the building could be restored and rehabilitated—that it could make the same kind of statement in 2010 as it did in 1954.”

And it has. Kudos to all involved.

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When I first heard of plans to demolish the Laurel building (and that entire block) for a Walgreens, I wasn’t surprised. But it made me wonder why the city of Laurel (or Prince George’s County, or even the state of Maryland, for that matter) apparently never considered stepping in when the building began to slide into decline—over ten years ago.

At a time when the city itself was outgrowing its own municipal buildings, did no one see the potential that lay within this distinctive blue building in the center of town—one of just a few spacious, vertical structures in the city limits?

At some point during its decline, you think the city would’ve at least considered how they might have been able to capitalize on preserving it. With a proper facelift, it could’ve been any number of municipal buildings to be proud of. Think of the facilities that were already outgrowing their original spaces: the library (even after a costly expansion in 1992) and the police department immediately come to mind. The old blue building could’ve accommodated either, and made a bold architectural preservation statement in the process.

Ironically, one of the locations considered for this latest library expansion was the former Laurel Police headquarters off of Main Street—which the police department itself had outgrown. (Coincidentally, I hear they’re also planning to demolish that soon, as well. Stay tuned.)

Getting back to the Starr Building comparison for a moment, perhaps you were wondering why it was called “the Starr Building”. Perhaps not, but just humor me for another couple paragraphs or so. There are just a few more parallels worth noting.

After the American National Bank failed in the 1990s, the State of Texas took over the building and made it the headquarters of the State Comptroller of Public Accounts. They christened it the Starr Building after James Harper Starr—physician, treasurer of the Republic of Texas, Land Commissioner, and banker. Then they did what most government agencies do to government buildings—they filled it with cubicles and bad carpet. But it got even worse. In 2005, the Comptroller’s Office moved out and gave control to the state’s General Land Office—who allowed it to sit vacant for the next four years, coming dangerously close to demolition. Interest in the building came and went; with most of the proposals involving tearing the building down and putting up something new.

Sound familiar?

Laurel isn’t exactly Madison Avenue, of course—it’s an unlikely locale for a top-level advertising agency to base its headquarters. It’s not Austin, Texas, either. And to be fair, the state of Texas didn’t do a great job stewarding the Starr Building itself. It took a preservation society and visionary developers to recognize the potential in salvaging that building.

But couldn’t Laurel’s own mid-century modern American National Bank building have been converted to something, other than a decaying eyesore? Something that could’ve inspired new tenants, rather than hinder them with repair costs and tax burdens? Did it really have to reach the point to where we’d read a quote like this from the city’s own longtime planner:

“I’m excited about getting that blue (office) building down, which was in bankruptcy,” Laurel Economic Director Karl Brendle said. “This is going to be great.”

There was a time when the city of Laurel was proud of that building, and of itself.

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Dead Building Walking: The American National Bank

Recreating a photo from the 1970 Laurel, Maryland Centennial Historical Souvenir Booklet

For all the years I lived in Laurel—and for several years before and since—a unique mid-century modern 4-story building has sat between Rt. 1 north and south, at the intersection of Rt. 198. Over the course of those years, it had been a number of different banks, along with various upstairs offices. It was originally the American National Bank Building, and it was a highly-touted architectural addition to Laurel in the early 1960s.

Some remember it as “the big blue flashbulb building”, hinting at its resemblance.

But others simply remember it. Even if, like me, you’ve never been inside the building, you remember its presence in that location—visible from up and down Rt. 1, and when approaching from either direction on Rt. 198. It was just there, and it’s going to look and feel decidedly different when it’s not.

I’d love to know more about its background, but there’s not a lot of readily available material to be found. If you have any specific information, please share!

A quick Google search of “American National Bank Building” will reveal a couple of noticeably comparable styles. Admittedly, I know very little about the architectural origins and history of any of these buildings, but look at the aesthetic similarity of these larger structures—both of which also happened to be American National Banks. The one in Austin, TX, which opened in 1954, was designed by the Austin-based firm of Kuehne, Brooks and Barr. This building made it to the Preservation Texas 2009 list of most endangered places in the state. Clearly, somebody in Texas recognized the value in preserving that building, and made it happen.

I also came across an old postcard, featuring an even taller model from nearby Silver Spring, MD. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any accompanying details on its story or what’s become of that one.

American National Bank/Starr Building, Austin, TX. (Photo: texdraft.wordpress.com)

Vintage picture postcard of the American National Bank Building, Silver Spring, MD. (Photo: silverspringsingular.com)

The question (for any architectural scholars and/or generally curious folk out there) is whether these buildings were actually related—were they designed by the same firms, influenced by them, or was it just a mere stylistic coincidence?

It might be a moot point now, as Laurel’s old American National Bank Building is living on borrowed time.

I’d heard that it’s going to be demolished very soon; with a Walgreen’s, of all things, slated to replace it. The old building had apparently sat empty for quite some time—a literal shell of what was once the town’s premier architectural landmark. Falling into disrepair, it has since been condemned; it now sits awaiting its fate with broken and boarded-up windows, padlocked doors, and crumbling plaster. It actually looks like it might fall in on itself before the wrecking ball even touches it, sadly.

I visited it in late December 2011 and early January 2012 and took the photos below. I’ll be sure to get some photos of the actual demolition itself when it finally occurs, and the subsequent construction of the new Walgreen’s.

Somehow, I doubt anyone will be writing about the Walgreen’s some 40 years from now, but I guess time will tell.

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