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.
Laurel Shopping Center parking lot, May 2012 (Photo: Richard Friend)
I wasn’t born until December 1972, and my family didn’t move to Laurel until 1976. But it wasn’t long afterward that I began to hear about some famous politician having been shot in the parking lot of Laurel Shopping Center on May 15, 1972.
Even as a small child, something about that fascinated me—and it has ever since. Our home town was on the map, so to speak, because of this moment of infamy. Alabama Governor George C. Wallace—a controversial presidential candidate who would actually win the democratic primary in Maryland that year—had just stepped down from the podium, removed his jacket, and begun glad-handing some of the approximately 1,000 who’d assembled to hear and/or jeer his campaign speech. Within seconds, he’d be gunned down by the proverbial lone nut—a 21-year-old would-be assassin from Milwaukee, Wisconsin named Arthur Bremer.
Wallace would survive the shooting, (in spite of a total of five wounds, including shots to the chest and abdomen) but would be confined to a wheelchair and in constant pain for the remaining 26 years of his life. He died in 1998, having spent years renouncing his segregationist past, apologizing, and attempting to rectify a general perception of him as an unvarnished racist—a view he claimed brought him more pain than the assassination attempt itself.
Arthur Bremer would spend the next 35 years in a Hagerstown, MD prison before being released (18 years early) in 2007. Now living in Cumberland, he’ll remain on supervised release until 2025. Bremer’s diary, published after his arrest, revealed that the assassination attempt was motivated by a desire for fame, rather than politics, and that President Nixon had also been an earlier target. Bremer’s actions inspired the screenplay for the 1976 movie Taxi Driver, which in turn provoked the 1981 assassination attempt on the life of President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr..
Of course, this isn’t a political blog, so I won’t ramble on about Wallace and Bremer’s respective biographies—there’s plenty of information on them out there if you’re interested. Although as a boxing fan, I will say that I was surprised to learn that George Wallace had been a two-time State Golden Gloves champ. But I digress.
Suffice it to say, I learned at an early age that what had happened at Laurel Shopping Center that afternoon 40 years ago today was a pretty big deal. And it wasn’t just a big deal in Laurel—it had national ramifications. From that point on, it seemed that any and all references to Laurel, Maryland—be it printed in encyclopedias, or in conversation with folks from out of town—inevitably mentioned the Wallace shooting.
He was even on a collector’s card!
In fact, to this day, an online image search of our fair town will inevitably yield photos of George Wallace (although, more recently, Laurel has also been dubiously tied to the 9/11 hijackers—several of whom stayed here in the days leading up to that tragic day).
But on this 40th anniversary, let’s look at the Wallace shooting in the context of Lost Laurel, rather than simply recapping the event and its principal players.
One of the first questions I had as a kid was, simply, where exactly did the shooting occur? Most of the photos I’ve seen (as well as footage of the shooting itself) are so tightly cropped and non-specific, it’s difficult to discern where in the Laurel Shopping Center this actually happened.
My parents, in fact, had long believed that it took place in the Montrose Ave. crosswalk beside Giant Food—probably because the stage Wallace spoke upon resembles the nativity scene that was in that location throughout the 80s. Plus, it seems like a logical place to hold the assembly. However, that was not the case.
Gov. George Wallace addresses the crowd just five minutes before the shooting. (Photo: Mabel Hobart)
The stage was actually set closer to the center of the parking lot, just behind what was at that time the Equitable Trust Bank, (currently Bank of America). It was in this area of the parking lot—between the south side of the bank and Woolworth’s—that Governor Wallace was shot.
The photos below, courtesy of John Floyd II, show the back (south side) of the bank—where the shooting took place. John, 14 years old at the time, was there that day with his mother, and estimates the actual spot of the shooting to be approximately where the white car is parked in this photo.
State Bank in 1962, and a recent photo of the building in its current guise as Bank of America. (Photos: John Floyd II)
You’ve probably noticed the name “State Bank” on the photo above. That’s what it was before it became Equitable Trust. (Hmm… banks constantly changing names—some things weren’t so different 40 years ago after all, were they?) Below is a Laurel News Leader cover photo from October 1962, which announced a $60,000 construction and improvement program to the State Bank’s Laurel Shopping Center branch, including an enlargement of the lobby and two new executive offices, a fall-out shelter in the basement, complete new heating and air-conditioning plants, as well as decorating and landscaping.
A 35mm color slide from an undated winter during the bank’s Equitable Trust era gives us a peek at the front of the building; although it’s somewhat difficult to focus on anything other than the massive, lumpy, telephone-wielding snowman perched atop the bank. During this phase, the bank had been painted white. We can also see the addition of a clock in the lower portion of the large, vertical sign—the lettering of which was also obviously changed. (I’m assuming it simply said “BANK”).
The file photo below shows the aftermath of the shooting—just after Wallace had been whisked away by ambulance. (John Floyd noted that prior to the assassination attempt, the entire parking lot between the bank and Woolworth’s was packed with spectators). In the photo, we also have a distant glimpse of some of the other businesses that were there at the time—most notably, Hecht’s in the top left corner behind the bank; the original International House of Pancakes, with its gabled roof; the Laurel Car Wash (originally owned by former Laurel Mayor Harry Hardingham, and still in business today!); a BP gas station; and a Fotomat booth.
(Photo: file, Laurel Leader)
To that point, let’s look at what else comprised Laurel Shopping Center at that time. The following directory came out a few years later, but many of the businesses listed had been open at the time of the shooting.
Greater Laurel Area Community Guide, 1976
Another view of the shopping center from this era comes from an apparent protest of, well, pants. This demonstration, apparently calling for the boycott of Farah Pants at Hecht’s, occurred in December 1973.
It’s also worth noting that one of the more dramatic photos that came across the AP Wire—showing a motionless Wallace lying in the back of a station wagon while awaiting an ambulance—was taken by a Laurel photographer, J.A. Bowman.
Recently, I found a photo that appeared in the October 16, 1977 issue of the Washington Post, recalling the shooting five years later. The article featured Mabel and Ross Speigle, between whom the would-be assassin literally reached while firing. Ross was the gentleman in the ball cap, whose tattooed arm you can see grabbing Bremer’s arm. The couple recalled their incredible experience, and were photographed in the spot where it all happened.
Back in January, I’d noticed a discussion thread on another Laurel-themed Facebook page. Susan Poe commented on a video link of the shooting: “The man wrestling the shooter to the ground was my neighbor, when I lived on 4th Street—Ross Speigle, and his wife Mabel was beside him… for anyone who remembers. I remember that day very well.” I posted the photo for Sue, who’d never seen it. She quickly replied, “OMG! Tears in my eyes… I haven’t seen their faces in over 20 years. Thank you so much. Wow. You have no idea. They were like family to me.”
She went on to tell me that Mabel (or “Mabe”, as she was known) had passed away from cancer, and Ross followed her a few years later. It was clear that this had been a very special couple, even without their unexpected involvement in the Wallace incident. Ross had acted out of instinct in grabbing Bremer’s arm—an action that could very well have been the reason why no one was killed that day. But the Speigles’ courage didn’t end there; Mabel proved to be a dynamic witness who helped seal Arthur Bremer’s fate:
Given this significant anniversary, I thought it only fitting that Mabel and Ross accompany me (in a manner of speaking) back to the site one more time.
There’s at least one other camera angle showing the Wallace shooting—this one with a brief glimpse of the Equitable Trust Bank itself, giving the surroundings more context. In this particular upload (set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama) the footage doesn’t begin in earnest until the 1:34 mark. However, it’s in color; and it has sound. You can easily get a sense of the chaos in the immediate aftermath on that incredible day.
And lastly, there was a film made about the life of George Wallace. It’s titled, (you guessed it) George Wallace. Gary Sinise starred in the title role, alongside Angelina Jolie as his then-wife, Cornelia. The filmmakers did a decent job recreating the “Laurel Shopping Center” stage from which Wallace spoke before the shooting, but anyone who’s familiar with Laurel will immediately notice the surroundings and realize that the scene wasn’t shot (no pun intended) at Laurel Shopping Center. Interestingly enough, Gary Sinise won an Emmy for the performance—on the very night that the real George Wallace passed away.
The end of Laurel's original IHOP, 1995. (Photo courtesy of Eric Ziegler)
As a kid, I walked from Steward Manor to the mall at least once a week. Under the railroad overpass on Bowie Road, up past the Fair Lanes bowling alley on Marshall Avenue, and on beyond the Ponderosa/Sizzler Steakhouse before crossing Route 1—cutting through the Bob’s Big Boy parking lot along the way.
Then, upon entering the Laurel Shopping Center grounds, I’d find myself beside the tall, imposing A-frame structure with the blue roof—the International House of Pancakes.
A 1970s postcard featuring an out of state, but remarkably similar setting.
Laurel’s IHOP was originally located in the iconic building for which it was designed, and situated just beside what was originally the Hecht Co. building (then Woolco, and then Jamesway…and soon to be L.A. Fitness). It occupied the space now being used by the extended strip mall parallel to Washington Blvd. In fact, when you go to that Starbucks and await your beverage, you’ll be standing approximately where you once would’ve been eating pancakes. The entire left side of this shopping center (including Starbucks and Petco) sits on what was originally the IHOP grounds; as throughout the 1980s, only Radio Shack, Long & Foster Real Estate, and the Grecian Spa were housed there. Amazingly, Radio Shack is still in that same location on the corner beside Marshall Ave.
In the summer of 1993, an unusual move took place. IHOP decided to leave its building, and move into a slightly larger one just across Washington Blvd.—in the building that had recently been vacated by Bob’s Big Boy—where it continues to operate today.
But while highly successful, today’s modern IHOP doesn’t have nearly the same nostalgic aura that it had in the old building. Case in point, here are a few vintage pieces that represent that era quite well—including an actual menu from 1974 that will totally have you craving pancakes.
Before the building was demolished in 1995, it briefly saw new life as a Christmas decoration shop called “Santa’s Cottage”. The most notable change was the roof, which went from IHOP blue to Santa red. Still, passersby continued to mistake the building for what it originally was. According to a November 21, 1993 Washington Post article written by popular Laurel Leader columnist, Tony Glaros, “the old place still attracts creatures of habit in search of oatmeal, not ornaments.” Santa’s Cottage manager Carter Hoyle added, “It took about a month and a half to get the pancake smell out of here.”
For many Laurelites, myself included, there will always remain a connection between IHOP and Bob’s Big Boy. I can’t think of one without remembering the other. I’m sure there are other former Bob’s Big Boy locations that were eventually taken over by IHOP, but I don’t believe it was a universal change. So it was rather ironic—yet quite fitting—to come across an eBay listing for these vintage glasses, being sold as a pair. I doubt the auction will last until Christmas, but if it does, perhaps I’ll ask Santa for them—thus completing the trifecta.