Tag Archives: John Floyd

Farewell, John Floyd

On Saturday morning, I learned the sad news that John Floyd II—a lifelong Laurelite and tremendous source of local historical knowledge and photos—had passed away.

John doing what he did best—happily photographing things around Laurel. (Edit of original photo by Jim Jpchotography via Facebook)

I first met John in 2011 through eBay, of all places. Shortly before starting my Lost Laurel project, I’d been researching the history of Steward Manor Apartments, where I grew up. I came across a set of original 1970s photos being offered on eBay—photos primarily of fire and rescue apparatus from Laurel, Maryland—but which included one that clearly showed Steward Manor in a shot of the Rescue Squad’s heavy truck turning onto Lafayette Avenue in 1974:

I bought the photos, then contacted the seller to inquire about whether or not he had any others that I might be interested in.

Boy, did he ever.

Thus began a frequent email correspondence that, more often than not, included lengthy, detailed narratives from John—emails (through his ancient AOL account, which he steadfastly refused to upgrade from) that were more like photo essays, comprised of images from his massive collection that showcased any number of people, places, and things from Laurel. He thoroughly enjoyed composing these messages, in which he could share with readers a visual journey through any number of topics. Many of these would include “then and now” photos showing various locations around town.

In April 2012, the Laurel Art Center, one of my all-time favorite Laurel businesses, was closing its doors. I made the pilgrimage to soak in the ambiance one final time, and to photograph the store for posterity.

While photographing each aisle, a vaguely familiar looking fellow approached—also holding a camera. “Looks like we had the same idea today,” he said. And within seconds, I realized that this had to be John Floyd.

John at the Laurel Art Center, moments before I met him for the very first time

“John?” I asked. “Rich?” He replied. Despite corresponding via email for the past year, we’d never actually met in person until that afternoon—the final day that the Laurel Art Center was open.

The inspiration for Lost Laurel began, in part, through those earliest interactions with John. As I became more curious about various places from Laurel’s past, he proved to be a dependable resource. Not only that, but he had saved countless photos and artifacts going back decades: newspapers, postcards, carryout menus, telephone directories, receipts, shopping bags, business cards, advertisements, and more—including unopened products from long-closed department stores like Zayre and Jamesway.

For the next couple of years, John combed through his house at 805 Fifth Street—the home built by his stepfather, Harry Fyffe (owner of the infamous Fyffe’s Service Center) where he’d lived since childhood. Every few weeks, John would excitedly notify me that he’d put together a box of Lost Laurel goodies for me, much of which I’ve since shared on Facebook. I would pay him more than a fair price for the stuff, knowing that he would benefit from the “extra dosh”, as he liked to call it, speaking in his British accent—a sample of which you can hear in this short video we recorded promoting my Lost Laurel book:

John was a unique character, to say the least.

I quickly began to suspect that his accent (which wasn’t limited to speech, as he also wrote in the Queen’s English) wasn’t exactly authentic. This occurred to me while I was giving him a ride one day. When the subject of England came up, I asked him, “When was the last time you were over there, John?” Without missing a beat, he replied, “I’ve never actually been there, mate.”

John’s mother, Phyllis, was indeed from Great Britain; but John claimed to have been born during her 1957 transatlantic ship ride over to the United States. Settling briefly in Camden, NJ, they relocated to North Laurel in 1964—living for a time in the old Laurel Park Hotel boarding house near the race track. Phyllis and John Sr. separated, and she eventually met and married Harry Fyffe, who welcomed her and young John into his home on Fifth Street.

Phyllis and Harry Fyffe at home on their wedding day. They didn’t travel far to get married—the service was literally next door at the First Baptist Church of Laurel, which is now home to the Laurel Police Department.
John as a member of the Boy Scouts in 1968.
Harry Fyffe (“Our Harry”, as John liked to call him) in the driveway in 1973.

While John wasn’t a particularly good student, (his Laurel High School report cards consistently show poor grades, and admonishments from frustrated teachers who couldn’t get him to focus on his studies) he was clearly intelligent. And he excelled particularly at music. John’s high school band experience evolved into a lifetime love of vintage big band music, and playing gigs with the Windsor Kessler Orchestra and other bands (including forming his very own Royal Blue Orchestra) was essentially the only career he ever had.

John’s musical career was flourishing by the mid-1980s, but the death of his beloved mother in 1987 took a heavy toll on him. Burdened with medical bills from her cancer treatment, (and a number of poor financial decisions) he nearly lost everything. He then found himself living alone in the house on Fifth Street, (Harry had died back in 1981) likely with no clue that things would essentially remain that way for the next three decades, and for the remainder of his life.

John playing Sousaphone with the West Laurel Rag Tag Band in the 2012 Laurel 4th of July Parade

By the summer of 2012, John shared with me that he was having some serious financial difficulties. That was an understatement.

Despite his house having long been paid for, John wasn’t able to cover the annual property tax. Apparently, this wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last. The home that he’d lived in for half a century was always within a whiff of being taken from him by Prince George’s County over a matter of a couple thousand dollars.

For all of his otherwise brilliance—his musical abilities and his vast knowledge of history—John seemed completely inept at the day to day responsibilities of adulthood. Worse, he’d effectively boxed himself into a corner. Without a car, his job options (which were already limited) became practically nonexistent. And at over 300 lbs. after years of physical inactivity, he had difficulty walking any significant distance.

Since 2004, John had been content at making his living exclusively by selling items on eBay—both his own items, and those on consignment for others. While it was enough for him to get by, his meager earnings were further depleted by nearly constant veterinary bills. Over the years, John had taken in a number of cats. At one point, he had upwards of 16 coming and going on his property, which he deemed “Catford Manor House of Nasty Acres”. John’s heart was in the right place, but taking on the responsibility of caring for so many pets in his circumstances was yet another in a series of poor decisions.

There was a kind of humorous irony in seeing this gentle giant of a man surrounded by felines with names such as “Sweet Pea”, “Baby Number 3”, “Little Grey”, and “Miss Kitten”; but there was nothing funny about his propensity to put their well-being above his own. Frequent and costly veterinary emergencies only hastened the decline of John’s house, which suffered from decades of neglect.

John’s house in January 2020

I organized a fundraiser for John in June 2012 to help pay his overdue property tax bill. He reluctantly agreed to let me tell his story here on Lost Laurel, citing embarrassment and shame at having to accept charity. I explained that it was a better alternative to homelessness, and he agreed. Dozens of people sent money via PayPal and checks to his home, including many folks who’d never met him. Dozens more supported him by purchasing his eBay items. And just in the nick of time, John was able to settle the debt.

But the following years brought little in the way of relief, and I began to notice more of a pattern in how John accepted the charity of others. On the rare occasions when he had a little extra money, (an eBay sale of anything over $50 was a windfall to him) it would quickly disappear. Rather than budget his money and purchase essentials as needed, John would typically splurge at the nearby 7-Eleven on junk food.

Friends and neighbors would also frequently drop by with donations of groceries, toiletries, cat food, and kitty litter, which John would express his gratitude for. But, surprisingly, there were also times when he could be far less gracious. He once commented that a particular brand of soap someone had donated “wasn’t his brand of choice”.

John would also occasionally fall behind in his utility payments, often using money set aside for one bill to pay another—and this would result in lengthy shut offs of his telephone, internet, electric, or all of the above.

He joined Facebook in August of 2012 after months of reluctance. In many ways, it opened some doors for him; but in other ways, it was yet another hindrance to any hope of progress.

John began to use Facebook as a networking tool through which he could sell photo CDs of his extensive collection of historical fire and rescue photos. And he did well for a while, but it wasn’t the most sustainable endeavor. (Once folks had purchased the collection, they weren’t likely to be repeat buyers).

Facebook can be a distraction for many of us, and it was clearly a major distraction for John. I can only begin to guess at the number of hours he spent on Facebook, day and night. John was rarely content to simply “like” a friend’s post—he couldn’t resist commenting on it. And his comments would often include photos that he felt were relevant, which undoubtedly took time for him to locate. His comments—often lengthy tomes on subjects as diverse as circus history and trainspotting—would appear at ungodly hours of the night, too—evidence that he was still sitting at the computer at 3 AM rather than sleeping; rather than taking care of himself, or his responsibilities.

When he inevitably found himself in another financial pickle, he would post about it on Facebook. Those posts almost always began with, “Well, what a revoltin’ situation THIS is …” They would go on to describe the latest predicament, and end with a “Thank you ever so kindly” to those who pledged to help.

By 2014, John somehow seemed to be worse off than he was when I’d met him. Despite increasing dependence on the generosity of others, he was once again facing eviction over nonpayment of property tax. He still refused to seek actual work in earnest, with the exception of putting in a long shot application next door at the Laurel Police Department for a dream position as a dispatcher. When he didn’t get that job, I suspect he never gave any serious consideration to finding another. He’d once noticed a young lady dressed in a Statue of Liberty costume, waving at drivers passing by what was then Liberty Insurance on Gorman Avenue. He made the comment to me that he’d “never lower himself to taking a job doing something like that.” I told him that he might want to rethink that attitude, as she was making an income that he wasn’t.

John had many faults, and while this isn’t meant to be a eulogy for him, I don’t want to overly dwell on the negative. There’s no way of knowing why some people’s lives turn out the way they do; or how much some of our problems are due to bad luck, poor judgment, or something else. I think John had the potential to do a lot more in life, had he really applied himself. But nonetheless, he still managed to touch a lot of lives.

His photography documented not only some incredible moments in Laurel’s history, (including many photos that appeared in the Laurel Leader through the years) but countless fire and rescue vehicles from countless territories. He inspired many of us to look more closely at the mundane around us—to always have a camera at the ready.

I came across this photo recently in the Berman Collection (the family who built Laurel Shopping Center). It’s a scene from the Summer of 1970—one of the many promotions at Laurel Shopping Center featuring what appears to be Keystone Kops. Not surprisingly, there in the center of it all—with camera in hand and a smile on his face—is a young John Floyd.

Photo courtesy of Denny Berman

I’ll always be grateful for having had the chance to know John, and will certainly never forget him. His contributions to Lost Laurel and The Laurel History Boys are immeasurable.

I’m also grateful that he had others who were a tremendous help to him over these difficult years—friends like Bob Bain, Wayne Carr, Pete Lewnes, Bonnie Oskvarek, and many others who so generously helped him with money, transportation, and friendship.

This is the part where John would likely pipe in with that Cockney accent (authentic or not) and tell us, “Oy! Listen up, you lot, and knock off all this bloody sentimental rubbish!”

For so many of us—local historians, firefighters, train buffs, circus enthusiasts, and more—John Floyd has left an indelible impression. Rest in peace, mate.

Update 8/27: I’ve spoken to John’s step-sister, Kellie, and she has agreed to entrust me with his vast photo collection, with the goal of creating a legacy page on LaurelHistory.com to honor his lifelong passion of photographing Laurel. This will be a great honor for me, and a labor of love. I also have no doubt that it’s what John would’ve wanted.

Also, Wayne Carr is in the early stages of planning a Celebration of Life for John, possibly in September or October. Please donate what you can at the GoFundMe link for the event.


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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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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A Neighbor’s in Need: UPDATE

John Floyd II outside the Laurel Art Center in April, where he also went to photograph the closing of another Laurel icon.

Last month, I wrote about the plight of John Floyd II, the kind and gregarious Laurel native who’s contributed so many wonderful photos, artifacts, and historical data to share with Lost Laurel.

John, who has lived frugally in the same home for some 46 years—the home of his late stepdad, Harry Fyffe (of Laurel’s legendary Fyffe’s Service Center)—recently saw his home sold at the annual Prince George’s County Tax Auction in May, after falling behind on his 2011 property tax bill. Earning only approximately $10,000 last year from his eBay sales—his sole means of income—and having been saddled with numerous veterinary bills, he simply didn’t have the money. And the county’s tax laws are harsh, to say the least—there’s no partial payment or installment plan; it’s literally all or nothing. John was given until June 30th to come up with over $3,000 he owed. If he missed that deadline, the debt would balloon to over $7,000 when the 2012 tax bill is added on, along with the usual host of penalties and additional fees—and that imposing total would be due no later than July 31st. After that point, John’s redemption window would be slammed shut, and the new tax lien owners would be free to initiate foreclosure and eviction proceedings.

Not wishing to see that happen to anyone—let alone a dear friend whose photos inspired this very blog—I asked readers to join me in donating whatever they could to help John meet these deadlines and save his childhood home—and you did.

In only a few short days, I’m very happy to report that John had received just over $1,000 in donations, renewing his hopes of getting through this harrowing ordeal! In addition to the PayPal contributions and checks, folks even offered to drop off food and toys for the many cats John takes care of. Others helped by purchasing goods from his eBay store and referring friends. And although our little benefit didn’t raise the total amount, it was certainly an overwhelming outpouring of generosity from people who cared enough to help.

Fortunately, another generous soul was willing to loan John the remaining $2,400 he needed, and drove him to Upper Marlboro to make the payment just a day before the amount would have more than doubled. The immediate crisis averted, John can rest a little bit easier knowing that his home is once again safe—for now. But the experience has understandably rattled this genial chap who’s so hesitant to ask for or accept charity, and he’s already stressing about his next daunting challenge: repaying the loan by the end of the year, as well as the new property tax bill, which will be arriving any day now. More than anything, John wants to avoid a repeat performance.

And speaking of performances, if you read the original story, you’ll remember that John is a wonderfully talented musician who has played with countless ensembles over the years. Unfortunately, that career effectively ended with the demise of his last vehicle nearly a decade ago. This past May, he marched for the first time in years with the West Laurel Rag Tag Band in the Main Street Festival. I caught up with him this past Saturday, as he once again carried the giant antique Sousaphone in the 4th of July parade on what was easily the hottest one in years. Like everyone in this storied local band that made its first appearance back in 1983, the heat couldn’t temper John’s patriotic and civic spirits. If tough financial times couldn’t do it, neither could this heatwave!

John Floyd (back left carrying the Sousaphone) marches with the West Laurel Rag Tag Band past the now-closed Laurel Mall during the city’s 4th of July Parade. (Photos: Richard Friend)

John marching with the band on another hot day earlier this year during the Main Street Festival.

The 4th Street parade route is a familiar one for John; not just because he lives only a block away, but because he’s marched it since his Laurel High School band days in the early 1970s. That’s him as a young lad in the front, holding the trombone. Bandmaster Harvey Beavers is at left in, as John called it, “his ice cream suit”.

1975 LHS Homecoming Parade. (Kodak 110 Instamatic print by Phyllis R. Fyffe, Royal Blue Ltd. archives)

John at the 1973 LHS Homecoming, with Drum Major Jackie Jones. (Kodak 126 Instamatic print by Phyllis R. Fyffe, Royal Blue Ltd. archives)

John, Jackie, and Mr. B (sans ice cream suit) at the 2009 4th of July Parade. (Photo: Joe Stevick, Royal Blue Ltd. archives)

While we’re still on the topic of parades…

Thanks to John, this year I had the pleasure of meeting band director Bill Stevick and his wonderfully talented family after the big event, at their annual post-parade picnic! Believe it or not, 2013 will mark the 30th anniversary of the West Laurel Rag Tag Band. It’s membership has ebbed and flowed over these three decades, but the band has literally played on—consistently delighting Laurel twice a year: at the Main Street Festival and the 4th of July Parade. I hear there’s talk of possibly retiring the band after next year’s landmark anniversary, but let’s hope that’s not true! The folks who make up the Rag Tag Band are the heart of these homegrown events; and in many ways, the very heart of Laurel. Make sure you see them next year, and encourage them to keep this great tradition going!

West Laurel Ragtag Band Director Bill Stevick and me at the post-parade picnic. (Photos: John Floyd II)

Getting back to the topic at hand, I’ve got a number of Lost Laurel goodies to mail out to everyone who so generously donated to John Floyd’s cause. I’m in the process of sorting through the receipts that John has forwarded to me, and determining who gets what. (I volunteered an auction of sorts for those who were the first to donate specific milestone amounts, and you guys are cleaning me out!) 🙂 I may have to contact several of you in order to get a mailing address; but if you donated $25 or more, please feel free to already go ahead and email me that information (richard_friend@mac.com), or send it via direct message on the Lost Laurel Facebook page. There are some vintage Laurel posters and framed Marian Quinn prints going to some, but everyone who donated $25 or more will get a reproduction of the classic 1981 Delaney’s Irish Pizza Pub menu. I’ve just had a supply printed, and they’re ready to go!

I want to point out, however, that the fundraiser is by no means over. We’ve helped solve John’s immediate problem, but his financial situation is still extremely fragile, and I fear it will be for at least the coming year. On top of everything else, John’s computer is now on the fritz. It’s nearly 10 years old, and it’s the very lifeline to his modest income. And there’s yet another concern—his home is without air conditioning. John has lived without it for years without complaint, but as he’s wont to do, he’s more concerned about the ill effects this extraordinary heat is having on his cats. Counting every penny, (and knowing that he ultimately needs them both) he’s trying to decide which appliance he needs to save toward first.

Those of you who’ve already sent donations, I thank you again from the proverbial bottom of my heart. I hope you realize what a genuinely good deed you’ve done, and how your contribution didn’t merely go to some faceless charitable organization, (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but to a real human being—a good man who’s lived right here in Laurel for some 50 years; a man who’s fought fires with the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department, marches in our civic parades, and who knows and appreciates the town’s history—and residents—like few others.

If you’re able to spare even a bit, I assure you it’s going to a very good cause. I’ve got a bunch more Delaney’s menus available for anyone who donates $25 or more, but please remember that you don’t have to give in the double or triple digits to really help John out! Instead of buying that cup of coffee from Starbucks today, or downloading that new song or iPhone app, please consider sending even a dollar or two to John Floyd—literally every bit helps. There’s no deadline or minimum donation to worry about, and it only takes a minute to send funds securely direct to John’s PayPal account.

If I haven’t already made it abundantly clear, John is a one-of-a-kind friend who enjoys sharing his vast knowledge and resources of all things Laurel—the depth of which continues to surprise even me. His most recent gift to Lost Laurel is one that I never thought I’d see again, and is proving to be an unprecedented aide in documenting Laurel’s retail history in the 1980s—nearly two dozen Laurel telephone directories dating back to 1986! These include ads and listings for the mall and all of the shopping centers, making it easier to determine when various stores arrived in Laurel… and, of course, when they left.

Not only are these books a treasure trove of dates and locations, they hold rare ads for places that didn’t typically run ads in the Laurel Leader—or anywhere else. Places like Pipeline Surf Shop, which from 1989–90, shared space with the legendary Bikes Plus at 308 Compton Ave.

Yes, I realize it’s a bit odd to get excited about inheriting a shelf of obsolete phone books. But from a historian’s perspective, I assure you it’s quite awesome. The library doesn’t even have these anymore. Moreover, they’ll provide me with an ample supply of blog and Facebook updates in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Lastly—and this is important as it undoubtedly affects countless others in John’s situation—here’s a link to a WTOP article from earlier this week that details exactly what John is going through with this property tax ordeal. It’s a frightening concept that many homeowners probably aren’t even aware of—especially when one considers that people are literally losing their homes over as much as $400. Here’s an excerpt:

• If the taxes aren’t paid, the government auctions the lien to investors. Past investors include JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and people who respond to Internet get-rich schemes, the report said. Homes typically are sold at steep discounts.

• For a limited time, the homeowner may buy back the home by paying to the investors the purchase price of the lien, plus interest, fees and other costs. That’s possible because investors haven’t bought the home itself _ they have purchased the tax lien, which gives them the right to seize the home later.

• If the owner fails to pay all the costs, investors can sell the home at a big profit compared with the cost of buying the tax lien.

The report said state governments should make it easier for homeowners to retake their homes after tax lien sales. It said they should limit the interest and penalties investors can charge and increase court oversight.

It also called on local governments to let people pay back taxes or fees to investors on an installment plan, and to increase notice to homeowners and make sure they understand their rights.

Tax lien sales differ from most foreclosures, which happen when people fall behind on mortgage payments. In many states, homes sold because of tax debts can be sold for only the amount of back taxes owed.

That means a $200,000 home might fetch only $1,200, the report said. In the process, homeowners can lose thousands of dollars in home equity that they have built up by making monthly payments.

Kudos to WTOP for shining a light on this, and hopefully enough voices will be heard to convince local governments to at least start making it easier for people—honest people like John who’ve fallen on tough times—to bring their payments up to date without the unnecessary threat of actually losing their homes.

Many thanks again to you all—please keep the good will coming, and let’s make sure our friend John is securely back on his feet once and for all!

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A Neighbor’s In Need: Let’s Help!

Last Fall, I was researching the history of Steward Manor Apartments when I stumbled across a photo on eBay.

Photo: John Floyd II, 1974.

It was part of a set of ten original prints being offered, which documented various vehicles from the Laurel Volunteer Fire Department and Laurel Rescue Squad in the 1970s. This particular image featured Laurel Rescue 19 (also known as “The Heavy”) leaving its quarters and turning onto Lafayette Ave.; and there in the distance was the familiar southwest corner of my old neighborhood—Steward Manor Apartments. Even the old red Volkswagen Karmann Ghia I remember walking past so many times en route to 7-Eleven, Dart Drug, or the mall was captured—parked right there where I remember it always sitting.

I eagerly bought the photos; and having noticed several other sets for sale, I messaged the seller, John Floyd II, who manages a wonderfully eclectic eBay store—Blackpool Bertie’s Railway Shop. I wondered if perhaps he had any other vintage photos of Steward Manor in his collection. We chatted back and forth, as I explained the premise of my research. I learned that John was a former fireman, and over the years (both before and after his tenures with volunteer fire companies in Laurel and New Jersey) he had diligently photographed firefighting apparatus, training exercises, and countless fires and accident scenes. Aside from this one photo, he didn’t recall having any others of Steward Manor; because as he explained, the old complex was virtually fireproof. He promised to take a look through his archives, though, and would let me know if he came across anything.

In the meantime, I began to take note of some of the other photos he was selling—photos that in a roundabout way, captured images of the Laurel, MD I used to know. Behind the firetrucks were long-gone storefronts from Laurel Shopping Center… the old Fair Lanes bowling alley sign… and a number of stunning photos from the very first Main Street Festival in 1981. I eagerly bought these, as well; and in effect, they turned out to be the inspiration for starting Lost Laurel. You’ve undoubtedly seen these photos throughout the blog and Facebook page.

Over the past several months, John has not only contributed more invaluable photos and historic information, he has become a good friend.

He’s also a bit of living Laurel history, himself. As a young lad, (as he might say in his subtle British accent) he and his mother came to America in 1957, settling in Laurel in 1964. Not long thereafter, his mom met and wed Mr. Harry Fyffe, co-owner (with his brother Walter) of the legendary Fyffe’s Service Center that stood at Montgomery and 10th Streets for so many years. By his early teens, John was helping out behind the bar, eagerly pulling pints for the regulars!

Still living in Laurel, (he’s lived in the same modest home since childhood—going on 50 years) he’s an active civic booster for the community, and for the nearby Laurel Police Department in particular. He’s also a fine horn player, as well. That was him you may have seen carrying the big antique silver Sousaphone, marching along with the West Laurel Rag Tag Band in this year’s Main Street Festival parade!

John has already shared with me a wealth of knowledge and photos of vintage Laurel—the likes of which I could not possibly have come across on my own. In fact, I’ve merely scratched the surface in terms of curating his vast contributions for Lost Laurel. Wait until you get a load of some of the treasures he’s shared from the 1960s and earlier—who knew Pal Jack’s was once a Bendix and Philco radio shop?!

Main Street in the 1940s… (Photo courtesy John Floyd II, from the collection of Harry Fyffe)

…and the same spot in 2007. (Photo: John Floyd II)

I can say with certainty that without John’s help, there wouldn’t be a Lost Laurel.

Much has happened in just the eight months since I’ve started this project. I’ve been interviewed by the Laurel Leader, and I’ve seen the Lost Laurel Facebook page grow to over 1200 fans. I’ve watched the blog soar to over 24,000 views. That was the good news. The bad news is that I’ve also seen more of the old Laurel fall—literally, in the case of the recent demolition of the blue American National Bank building. Also closing for good were my beloved Laurel Art Center, and even the Laurel Mall—something I never dreamed would’ve occurred in my lifetime, having grown up in its heyday.

Coincidentally, who walked over to the mall to photograph and share with Lost Laurel the very first photos of the “permanently closed for business” signs on the locked doors? John Floyd did.

Photos: John Floyd II

Unfortunately, there’s more bad news looming. This one isn’t about a longtime business closing, or an iconic building being razed. This one affects John personally; and for him, it could certainly be the toughest loss of all. He’s at risk of losing his home.

After missing a property tax deadline, I’ve learned that John’s home was actually SOLD at the county’s annual Tax Auction in May. He now has a very small redemption window in which to pay off the tax penalty, otherwise he’ll lose everything.

John would never ask for any kind of charity himself, so I’m going to pitch in and try to help. In fact, I’ve already gotten an earful from him for simply suggesting this little benefit idea. But I have to believe that at least a few of the folks who follow Lost Laurel will sympathize, and find it in their hearts to contribute whatever they can. And this is just too important to not at least try.

Without going into too much detail, suffice it to say that John has been in a very tight financial spot for quite some time now. He has been without a car for nearly a decade, which not only limits his general mobility, but effectively ended his regular occupation as a musician with various orchestras and dance bands, jazz and ragtime bands, brass bands, and other vintage-style musical ensembles. It was a career he enjoyed for 26 years, working several thousand gigs overall. But without transportation, that work dried up years ago. Likewise, he’s been unable to sell his wares at firemen’s conventions and trade shows—something else that once regularly supplemented his pay.
His eBay sales have become his sole means of income, making him entirely dependent upon the computer for all of his meager earnings.

And unfortunately, his sales have dropped dramatically (by over 60%) in the current recession. An emergency veterinary bill for one of his many cats set him back a hefty sum earlier this year, and that only added to the larger problem—trying to meet the overdue property tax bill to the tune of nearly $3,300. And if it’s not paid by June 30th, the amount will increase to over $7,000 when Prince George’s County adds the 2012 tax bill (along with interest and penalties, legal and court costs, as well as “advertising costs” for the Tax Auction that has put his home at risk). Finally, if the full amount isn’t paid by July 31st, his redemption window slams shut and the new property owners will be free to initiate foreclosure and eviction proceedings. It’s a process that’s every bit as harsh as it sounds.

There’s some irony here, too. As a homeowner, John isn’t eligible for any kind of public assistance—not that he’d willingly accept it. If he were to be evicted, however, he’d likely be free to receive any number of benefits. He doesn’t want those handouts; he simply wants to pay off his debts and remain in the only home he’s known for the past 46 years. I’m hoping we can help him do that.

Unfortunately, P.G. County isn’t flexible in the least. Nor are they interested in John’s or anyone else’s problems. There’s no negotiating with them on the amounts or the due dates. It’s literally all or nothing.

Knowing that most of us are so routinely asked to contribute to various charities—we donate to our kids’ fundraisers; we contribute to relay races for cancer research; we send money to groups who build homes for homeless families in foreign countries—I realize that the bombardment of solicitations can be draining; which is why I very rarely ask for such favors. But I’m going to ask an important favor now—on behalf of a good friend in a time of need who has done so much for Lost Laurel.

If you would, kindly donate whatever you can to John Floyd. His email address is royalbluelimited@aol.com, and it is set up to receive PayPal payments. It could be a little or a lot—every dollar adds up. Most importantly, you will know that your contribution isn’t going to some anonymous organization. It’s going directly toward helping a fellow Laurelite in need—and a genuinely good bloke, as John would say. It’ll literally help him save his home.

To help kickstart this benefit, I’m also going to be offering a few special Lost Laurel incentive prizes to those who donate the most.
• All
contributions of $25 and over will receive a full-size, double-sided reproduction of a classic Jack Delaney’s Irish Pizza Pub carryout menu from 1981.
• The first two contributions of $50 or more will receive an original 24″ x 36″ lushly illustrated poster map of Laurel from 1993.
• The first contribution of $100 or more will receive a limited edition Marian Quinn print of the iconic Cook’s Hardware building, matted and framed by the Laurel Art Center.
• And the first contribution of $250 or more will receive a framed 23″ x 30″ vintage 1990s illustration of Main Street businesses—which hung hidden for years in the Laurel Art Center.

These are but a few things that I can offer for what I would consider substantial donations, but I would strongly encourage everyone who reads this to consider sending any amount they can, no matter how small. It truly will help. Imagine if each one of our 1200+ Lost Laurel Facebook friends sent just a dollar or two—John’s crisis could be averted.

There are other ways that you can help, as well. Please visit John’s eBay shop (http://stores.ebay.com/blackpoolbertiesrailwayshop) and buy his stuff! If it’s not your proverbial cup of tea, perhaps you know someone who is a railroad buff, a firefighting enthusiast, and/or a brass band, vintage jazz, and big band music connoisseur—trust me, you’ll find something they’ll appreciate! It goes without saying that John’s eBay record is a spotless one—100% with over 4,350 positive feedbacks. He takes great pride and care in shipping his items quickly and securely, too, as I can attest.

Conversely, perhaps you have some items that you could donate to John’s store that HE may sell. That would also be a major help. Please message me, or feel free to contact John directly (royalbluelimited@aol.com) to make arrangements. Those who donate the amounts listed above can also request that I give their award items to John instead, so that he may sell them.

We’ve all come to accept that Laurel is an ever-changing landscape, and a far cry from the town we once knew. Businesses and residents alike have come and gone—some of their own accord, and others due to various hardships. This, however, is a uniquely tragic situation that I believe we can actually help prevent. Please join me and pitch in what you can. Let’s make sure Laurel doesn’t lose one of its truest citizens.

John Floyd II outside the Laurel Art Center in April, where he also went to photograph the closing of another Laurel icon.

Please donate via PayPal directly to royalbluelimited@aol.com

Many thanks!!

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