Tag Archives: Big T

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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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The Year of Tastee-Freez


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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Tastee-Freez… Exploring the Wreckage

How many times have you thought about an old favorite restaurant, store—or even an apartment or house—that you’ll never get to experience again, and wish you’d taken more photos of it when you had the chance? Or even just one photo?

Unfortunately, most of us were too busy enjoying the moment to think about preserving the moment. Aside from the occasional employees who were mindful enough to capture a few snapshots during their tenures, most of us just never thought to bring a camera to these places in their heyday. Most of us took it for granted that the places where we grew up were not only unremarkable, but that they’d always be there.

And then we grew up.

While they’re certainly not from its heyday, a pair of photos by Flickr member sally henny penny succeed in preserving a moment—a final, quiet, and reflective moment inside Laurel’s Tastee-Freez/Big T restaurant—shortly after it closed in 2007 and was razed in 2009.

To get the full effect, you really have to view them at their full size on Flickr, or click the photos below to enlarge.

There’s an unsettling contrast in the scene; on the one hand, it’s every bit as familiar as it was in the 1980s. You’re instantly transported—once again standing before the counter in the Big T, glancing at the overhead menus—some of which appear to even be backlit. The trio of heat lamps are still there, ready to warm arguably the best roast beef known to man. Business cards and flyers—perhaps advertising The Whitewalls band, or an antique car show—are still tacked to the bulletin board near the exit.

But at the same time, there are the unmistakable clues that this is merely a shell of the Big T that we knew and loved. It’s closed, and it’s not opening ever again. The chairs are stacked on the tables; but more ominously, parts of the counter and electrical wiring have been disassembled. And most of all, there’s a distinct sense of emptiness in the restaurant which was heretofore unimaginable in this warm and vibrant place.

Not to compare the Big T’s demise to the worst maritime tragedy of the 20th century, of course; but something about this scene just feels eerily like exploring the underwater wreckage of the greatest “Big T” of all—the Titanic, which sank a century ago this year, coincidentally.

But then again, nobody ever raved about the roast beef sandwiches on the Titanic, to my knowledge. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if people are still talking about this wonderful place a hundred years from now, as well.


Photo: sally henny penny (Flickr)

Photo: sally henny penny (Flickr)

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The Big T

Laurel’s Tastee Freeze, known equally as The Big T, was an institution for decades. For that matter, so was its iconic neon sign along southbound Route 1.

Whether you went for the legendary soft serve ice cream cones, the perfect hamburgers, or the epic roast beef sandwiches, The Big T never disappointed. Many of us were disappointed, however, when the landmark finally closed up shop in 2007; and worse, when the building was razed in April 2009.

Old timers knew its history, but others only learned of it as the building was dismantled—that in its previous life, the Big T was actually Laurel’s first McDonald’s. The classic red and white tiles had been underneath the brick facade all along.

Photos: Frank McConnell, Mike McLaughlin

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