Tag Archives: Lost Laurel

Save the Tastee Diner

rich-diner-raphael-talisman-gazette

Photo: © Raphael Talisman, Maryland Gazette

It goes without saying that the Tastee Diner is one of my favorite places.

It’s one of the last vestiges of the real Laurel—an authentic, original 1951 diner built by the legendary Comac company and delivered to the site that same year, when the Second Street bypass was opened, splitting Route 1 north and south.

The diner replaced a previous iteration, which had occupied the site since 1934. That one was shipped off to Baltimore, where it became the State Diner (now long gone.)

BAH-789-BS_F

The State Diner as it appeared in 1981. In its previous life, it had been the Laurel Diner, from 1934–1951. (Photo: © Baltimore Sun)

1950s-postcard

Laurel Diner, 1950s postcard. (Lost Laurel collection)

I won’t attempt to get into the full history of the Laurel Tastee Diner in this post. (To get an idea of that, you can watch a brief teaser for the video I’m still producing below.) But, suffice it to say, it’s a true piece of Laurel’s history.

Remarkably, the building—now 67 years old—still looks and functions very much as it did in its heyday. It’s a veritable time capsule. That’s one reason I enjoy spending so much time there, comparing notes and research with the Laurel History Boys.

That, and the staff are practically like family. When my father was undergoing cancer treatment at Johns Hopkins, my parents would drive from their home in Salisbury to meet me at the diner. (They were afraid of driving into Baltimore themselves.) The waitresses would keep an eye on my truck in the parking lot while I chauffeured my parents.

And when my dad passed away in April, the staff even signed a sympathy card for me.

So, you can imagine my disappointment when I learned that the diner property is being sold—and the buyer has extensive plans to render it completely unrecognizable… and turn it into a medical marijuana dispensary.

diner-plans

Architectural rendering of Pure Hana Synergy’s plans to convert the diner site.

Let me re-frame for a moment and make something clear–Gene Wilkes and his family have done an amazing job keeping not just one, but a trio of classic diners going for decades. He’s certainly earned the right to sell the business.

Likewise, Pure Hana Synergy, the company purchasing the diner site, has every right to open their new venture—which will not only offer a valuable service, allowing patients access to legal medical cannabis, they’ll undoubtedly clean up a site that has long needed improvement.

That brings me to another important point—the optics of the Tastee Diner having been seen as a “less than savory” spot for some time now.

Depending whom you ask, perception of the diner varies greatly. Some are purists who genuinely appreciate the authenticity. Then there are those who view the place as “dirty”, or a hotbed criminal activity.

The reality is that the diner gets a bad rap for two other establishments it shares ownership with: the TD Lounge and the adjacent motel. Problems that have required police response have typically involved the bar and the motel—not the diner itself. But because of its central location, the diner is often seen as the hub of this negative activity.

When Pure Hana Synergy purchases the property, they plan to modify the diner and the TD Lounge building that adjoins it, wrapping it in a modern façade and gutting the interior. The motel will be demolished, as will the large white house on the lot facing Second Street.

But the diner itself shouldn’t deserve this fate.

The diner doesn’t yet have the prestigious “historic designation” that some buildings receive, protecting them from development. It has been considered for it—but that was over 20 years ago, when diners such as it were ubiquitous throughout the east coast and beyond. The Maryland Historical Trust conducted a survey in May, 1998, and deemed the Tastee Diner as being “ineligible” for various reasons. (See the excerpt below for their crietria):

Screen Shot 2018-11-12 at 11.18.18 PM

But how about now—when Laurel’s Tastee Diner is one of only two surviving, fully-intact Comac-built diners known in the entire country? (The only other being Jack’s Diner in Albany, NY.) Countless others have been demolished, or modified beyond recognition—just as the Tastee Diner is now facing.

Historian Spencer Stewart, who created the wonderful Diner Hunter website, shared this important insight:

In Maryland, once home to dozens of factory built diners, and a hotbed of trolley conversions back in the day, there are only four (or so) old diners still open. Of those, the Tastee in Laurel is arguably the most in-tact and has the longest history on the site, going back in various buildings almost 90 years. The gutting of the Laurel Tastee and its conversion to a dispensary would be an enormous loss of a rare survivor of something that was once ubiquitous in mid-atlantic culture and is now severely endangered.

I’ve proposed that the City of Laurel work with the owners of Pure Hana Synergy to preserve the diner car itself—which isn’t a linchpin of their architectural plan, anyway. The diner portion can be relocated. (Remember, it arrived here from New Jersey by truck in 1951—it can certainly be moved again.)

In fact, this is something that owner Gene Wilkes is all-too familiar with. In June, 2000, he collaborated with Montgomery County to relocate the historic diner car when Discovery Communications decided to build their headquarters on the diner’s original site. (Ironically, Discovery has since moved on—while the Tastee Diner remains successful in its new location.)

To that note, the City of Laurel has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—to either seize for themselves, or to work with a developer such as C Street Flats (who already plans to expand to Main Street). Imagine relocating the diner, perhaps to the empty lot at 312 Main Street, which was the site of the old Laurel Theatre/Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre. The city wasn’t keen on salvaging any parts of that old building—but the lot has sat vacant now for two years. Laurel’s Community Redevelopment Authority has been soliciting proposals for the property ever since. From their RFP:

The CRA purchased the property in 2014 in order to develop the property and is seeking ideas, a vision, and a methodology from experienced developers to transform this key site into a use that will complement the adjacent residential neighborhood and enhance Main Street while adding to the success of Main Street commercial core. The development of the Site will set the direction for new redevelopment along the City’s Main Street.

Imagine for a moment the Laurel/Tastee Diner in that spot—accessible from anywhere along Main Street by foot. There’d still be space for parking, and delivery access from Fetty Alley. Imagine the diner on its own—free from the stigma of the troublesome bar and motel, and under new management that will restore and maintain the historic building. Maybe it doesn’t have to be open 24 hours anymore, either.

If you’ve ever been to the fully-restored 29 Diner in Fairfax, VA, you’ll get a sense of what a landmark diner can be, and there’s absolutely no reason to think that a renewed dedication to Laurel’s Tastee Diner would be any less successful.

I’m certainly not the only one who believes that this should happen. I started a petition on Change.org that gained over 600 signatures in the first day alone. Please click here to add your name to the list, to let all interested parties know that this diner should not be lost.

Laurel’s elected officials should realize that if properly managed, the diner could become an incredible heritage tourism attraction for Laurel, transforming Main Street and giving both it and this historic diner a new lease on life.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Matchbooks: You Are Here

I recently had the idea to take a few of my vintage Laurel matchbooks for a little field trip… back to their origins. Standing either on site or within sight of the businesses they promote, I photographed them. It’s funny how such a small (and now virtually obsolete) form of advertising can trigger so many vivid memories—especially when shown in this context.

Covering pretty much all corners of the town, the matchbooks represent a range of eras—from the 1930s to the 1990s.

In some cases, if a business was around long enough, (like Peoples Drug, for instance) it had multiple matchbooks over time, showing logo and brand evolution. I plan to photograph as many as I can, and include multiple locations, if possible.

This will be an ongoing project I’ll add to as time permits, and of course as I find more matchbooks. If you have any old ones from Laurel hiding in that kitchen junk drawer, please let me know!

All photos ©2017 Richard Friend | Lost Laurel

 

Tagged ,

Main Street Tour LHS Benefit

LOST-LAUREL-MAIN-STREET-TOUR-COUPON-2017

The Laurel Historical Society’s Annual Gala is just a couple weeks away on April 22nd, and one of the highlights has always been the auction. This year, there’s an extra auction component—Facebook—and I’m very proud to be part of it!

I’m donating a personal walking tour of historic Main Street and a copy of my Lost Laurel book, which you’ll be able to bid on directly from the Laurel Historical Society’s Facebook page starting next Saturday, April 15th. All funds raised go to support the Laurel Museum. Even if you’re not able to attend the Gala, this is a chance to bid on the tour and help us raise funds.

Here are the details from LHS Executive Director, Lindsey Baker:

This year the Laurel Historical Society is expanding our Auction to the Facebook world!

We will be putting 1 item up for bid on Facebook a week prior to our Great Gala. That means you can bid from the comfort of your own home, at work, or on the go–anywhere you access Facebook!

Bidding will end the night of the Laurel Historical Society’s Great Gala at 10pm.

Bidding is simple, easy, and painless!

When we post the item up for bid, we will post a minimum bid and bid increments. If you’d like to bid, simply comment on the post with an amount in a bid increment higher than the previous comment. Same as you would on the bid sheets at the Gala, but instead it’s just a comment on the Facebook post.

The last person to comment before the auction ends at 10pm will win! We will use time stamps to determine the winner if it’s a close call.

Once we’ve picked the winner, we will let them know and ask for their email so we can complete the transaction privately.

WHAT ARE WE AUCTIONING OFF YOU MIGHT ASK?

A personal walking tour with Richard Friend, LHS Board Member who is known for Lost Laurel and the Laurel History Boys. The winner of the tour will be able to schedule a personal tour, length of their choosing, on Main Street. Richard will bring photos and stories about almost every block of Main Street covering the last 100+ years. And the winner will also receive a signed copy of the Lost Laurel book.

We’ll do our Auction Post a week from today, on April 15. Keep an eye out and as Jim McCeney loved to say, bid early and bid often!

I’ll meet the winner’s group at the Museum and we’ll walk the full length of Main Street and back, (or a shorter distance, if you’re not up for the full trek) and will share some little-known history behind the businesses and residences from the past century.

Block by block, I’ll show you where past businesses once existed, where notorious crimes and accidents occurred, and much more. Ever wonder which places on Main Street might actually be haunted … and why? Take the tour and find out!

I hope to see you at the Gala, and look forward to showing a whole other side of Main Street history soon!

Tagged , ,

The Ice Cream Man Needs Our Help

In life—especially in a small town—there’s always at least a few people who regularly bring a smile to your face, even if you don’t know them by name. It might be a cashier at the store who always goes the extra mile to bag your groceries carefully and efficiently. It might be the newspaper hawker at the Metro stop who makes it a point to cheerfully greet everyone who passes by. You’re aware of them. You don’t know them personally, but they’ve made an impression on you somewhere along the line, and when someone mentions them, you instantly know who they’re talking about.

And when that mention includes terrible news about that person, it touches you. Even though you don’t know them personally.

I’ve experienced this more than a few times, as I’m sure most of you have, too. But I’m writing because it happened again tonight; and I think this time around, we can pull some extra help.

I heard from longtime friends, Jeanette and Mark Henkin, that their neighbor and dear friend Rick Heyer is battling pulmonary fibrosis.This is something else that hits close to home, literally. Just last year, the wonderful Jim McCeney—longtime chairman of the Laurel Historical Society—lost his life to this terrible disease.

Rick needs a double lung transplant—something doctors have said he is actually a good candidate for.

Rick is 68 years old and a U.S. Navy veteran; and sadly, his military service may have contributed to his condition. Unfortunately, the hospitals will not put him on the lung transplant list until he gets secondary insurance—and providers have turned him down. There is a 20% portion that Medicare does not cover, and as you’d imagine, that 20% is astronomical: it’s $200,000.

When Jeanette mentioned Rick’s name, I drew a blank. But as soon as she mentioned the vehicle he drives, I knew exactly who he was. Rick is the gentleman who routinely drives his antique Good Humor Ice Cream truck in Laurel’s parades and local car shows.

15943245_10212134435585231_2062833240_o

Photo: Mark Henkin

The 1930 Ford Model A is always in immaculate condition, and countless kids and adults of all ages flock to it. The mere sight of the truck—especially at those scorching 4th of July parades—immediately makes you crave ice cream. But after just a few moments in its presence,  you forget all about the ice cream. You’re transported to another era. The love and care that Rick put into restoring it—one of only a very few original ice cream trucks to survive—is readily apparent.

That truck is his pride and joy, but his health is the most important thing. Rick has already listed it on eBay in an effort to raise the necessary funds for his surgery, and his family has also started a GoFundMe page in hopes of reaching that goal as soon as possible.

So I’m here to ask you—won’t you also give what you can to help?

If you happen to have the cash on hand to buy an extremely rare 1930 Ford ice cream truck, that would be fantastic; but honestly, just as helpful would be a small donation from the rest of us who appreciate the joy this gentleman has brought simply by sharing his truck with Laurel over the years. Come on, Laurel—you can afford to pitch in the cost of an ice cream cone. If we all just gave $5, this goal can be met.

Let’s do this.

GoFundMe page: https://www.gofundme.com/hope-for-rick-heyer

eBay listing: http://www.ebay.com/itm/222368810121

In addition to contributing, you can help simply by sharing this story and these important links. Thanks very much.

 

 

 

Tagged , , , , ,

A Nightmare in Laurel

When I decided to write a piece about the Stefanie Watson cold case back in 2012 to mark the 30th anniversary of this incredibly brutal, yet remarkably obscure crime, I didn’t expect much to come of it. I certainly didn’t expect P.G. County Homicide detectives to solve the case the following year; I didn’t expect the killer to still be alive to answer for the crime; I didn’t expect to meet and become friends with Stefanie’s family and other key participants in those events from 1982, and sit with them at the killer’s sentencing; and I definitely didn’t expect to play a part in bringing about an episode of On the Case with Paula Zahn, focusing on this tragic, but fascinating story.

But all of those things have indeed happened, and I’m excited to see the episode premiere Sunday night, 9/25 at 10p.m. on Investigation Discovery.

I’m getting chills from the preview alone.

Tagged , , , ,

A Murder Mystery Set in (Lost) Laurel

Over the years, I’ve read a few novels that actually mention Laurel, Maryland at some point in the story; and it’s always an unexpected pleasure to see my hometown appear within the pages—pages from the likes of Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, Tom Clancy’s The Cardinal of the Kremlin, and Dick Francis’ Rat Race.

But it never occurred to me that I might someday read a novel set completely in Laurel—particularly the Laurel of the mid-1980s, which will always be one of my most favorite times. That’s exactly what I got in Teddy Durgin‘s new book, The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor.

BookCover

TeddyDurginPic

Photos courtesy of Teddy Durgin

Teddy’s story almost instantly transports you back to Laurel Centre Mall in 1986. That being the Laurel Centre Mall I still recall fondly walking to and from open lunch during my freshman year at Laurel High that very same year.

Without revealing any spoilers, the darkly-humorous plot centers around high school friends (and mall summer employees) Sam, Chip, and Buddy, who inadvertently find themselves mixed up in the murder investigation of their far more popular classmate—cheerleader Muffy McGregor.

There are a number of twists and turns, most occurring right there at the mall and Laurel Shopping Center; and it’s quite a trip to read along in a setting which is so personally familiar.

Many times, I found myself imagining that I was back in 1986; that this was a novel I’d bought at Crown Books, then walked next door through the elevated connector to JC Penney and the mall, and was sitting in the Circle Eatery—reading while enjoying a slice of pizza from Italian Delight and a tasty beverage from Orange Julius.

As I’ve already shared with Teddy, photos from that era will have extra meaning to me now that I’ve read his book. Photos like this one from John Floyd, which shows the Harmony Hut in late 1981. In the story, this is where Chip works.

Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 2.58.18 PM

Photo: John Floyd II

The Totally Gnarly, Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor is a fun read made all the more special by its memorable setting. Hopefully, Teddy has plans to bring these enjoyable characters back for additional adventures in vintage Laurel!

For more on Teddy Durgin and his first novel, check out the Laurel Leader‘s recent article. And be sure to support this hometown author by picking up the book on Amazon.com!

 

Tagged , ,

Laurel Theatre / Petrucci’s: Demolition Pending

My next episode of Lost Laurel will focus on the long history of the derelict building at 312 Main Street, which originally housed the Laurel Theatre, and was the longtime home to Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre before a string of increasingly unsuccessful comedy clubs led to its demise. Here’s a preview:

Unfortunately, the City’s efforts to find a developer willing and able to salvage the critically-deteriorated building weren’t successful, and having recently had the opportunity to tour it myself, I completely see why.

A big thanks to SORTO Contracting, LLC (particularly Francisco Sorto, David Muir, Blaine Sutton, Harry Garlitz and Patrick Fink) for extending the invitation to see and document the building’s final days, and for sharing some truly fantastic finds that I’ll be including in the full episode. In addition to the building’s history, you’ll see for yourself just how far gone the structure actually was. (Yes, those were angry pigeons living inside… and I’m deathly afraid of birds.)

laurel-theatre-preview-pic1laurel-theatre-preview-pic2laurel-theatre-preview-pic3laurel-theatre-preview-pic4

The SORTO team was also kind enough to carefully remove and save the “Theatre” lettering from the façade for me—these are individually-cut wooden letters that are the only remaining vestiges of the Petrucci’s era (they originally spelled out the full name, “Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre” and matched the adjacent Pal Jack’s Pizza font.laurel-theatre-preview-pic5laurel-theatre-preview-pic6laurel-theatre-preview-pic7

The letters are badly deteriorated, and frankly, I’m amazed that they came down intact. I’ve got my work cut out for me, but I’m going to restore them.laurel-theatre-preview-pic8laurel-theatre-preview-pic9laurel-theatre-preview-pic10

Blaine Sutton and Patrick Fink of SORTO have also been sharing some of the unexpected treasures that only tend to resurface when walls start coming down. And in a movie theater that dates to 1929, that means some very old candy boxes and soda bottles, for starters! Here’s just a glimpse of what they’ve found:

laurel-theatre-preview-pic11

Photo courtesy of Blaine Sutton

laurel-theatre-preview-pic12

Photo courtesy of Patrick Fink

 

Patrick tells me that the pristine Pepsi bottle pre-dates 1951, at which point Pepsi stopped using the double-dot in their logo. It had been stuck in the plaster mortar in the ceiling below the balcony for at least 65 years.

I’ll have plenty more photos to share in the next blog update when the full video is ready. Those who don’t get Laurel TV will still be able to see the episode right here.

Tagged , , , , ,

Big News!

lost-laurel-5000

Lost Laurel reached an amazing milestone this weekend—5,000 Facebook fans! To celebrate, I’ve designed over 50 t-shirts inspired by long-gone Laurel landmarks with even more to come. They’re available on-demand exclusively at Spreadshirt.com, and a portion of each purchase helps support the Lost Laurel project—including the sneak preview below…

book-sneak-peek

Since the Lost Laurel book came out, several people have asked if there’ll be a sequel. Not exactly; but my next book project promises to be even more fun. It’s a collaboration with Laurel Leader “History Matters” columnist Kevin Leonard, and highlights an absolute treasure trove of rare photos and artifacts from the Berman family—the visionaries who built Laurel Shopping Center in 1956 and have made so many other contributions to our town in the years since. Stay tuned, as this one is just starting to take shape!

In other book news, I was thrilled to learn that Lost Laurel was officially added to the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System‘s collection, and a reference copy is now housed at the prestigious Maryland Room in the Hyattsville Branch. As a former clerical aide who re-shelved books for nearly 10 years at the Laurel Library, it’s such an honor to have a book of my own in the collection.

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 7.13.54 PM

Thanks to everyone for continuing to spread the word and share the nostalgia!

https://shop.spreadshirt.com/lostlaurel/

Tagged , , , , , ,

Wearable Lost Laurel!

As hard as it is for me to believe, the Lost Laurel Facebook Page is inching closer to a pretty incredible milestone: 5,000 fans! When I started this thing back in 2011, I honestly thought that maybe a handful of my oldest friends would take an interest—I had no idea this many folks would share my enthusiasm for this kind of hyper-local, hometown nostalgia.

That being said, I’m trying to do something special to celebrate. I’ve been asked quite a few times about designing Lost Laurel t-shirts, and I think this is the perfect time to do so. And I’ve finally created one that I think anyone who lived here in the 1980s will especially appreciate. Inspired by one of my favorite places in town growing up, the old Laurel Centre Mall logo perfectly symbolizes what Lost Laurel is all about.

lost-laurel-centre-inspiration

But that’s only the beginning.

What’s more, I’d been thinking long and hard about how so many of Laurel’s places past have faded away without leaving a souvenir, so to speak. The phrase, “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt” also sparked an idea—if I could go back in time and design t-shirts for the places we once knew and loved, what would they look like?

In some cases, certain businesses actually had shirts made for their employees, but most of those have long since disappeared—sadly relegated to thrift stores and used as rags in the years after they’d served their purpose. Those of us who shopped there never had the chance to buy one of our own; and let’s face it—who really would’ve wanted one at the time? But in the decades that have followed, we realize just how strong this nostalgia stuff can be.

I thought of simple places like Keller’s and Bob’s Cab—places that we took for granted all those years ago… And then I had fun re-imagining what their respective brands might look like today… on a t-shirt.

kellers-shirt-inspiration

bobs-cab-montage

Sometimes all it takes is a hint of familiar typography, or an architectural element from an old sign; and suddenly, you’ve got a t-shirt that visually pays tribute to these beloved, long-lost places past. And the idea of seeing them on the streets of Laurel again after all these years is quite a trip.

Here’s a sampling:

shirts-collection

It’s a unique chance to bring back some wonderful memories in a whole new way, and to spread the fun.

I do have to point out that I’m not doing this for profit. Nor is there any infringement of trademark rights that were abandoned years ago, had they ever existed at all. None of these shirts are being mass-produced—I’m simply creating new designs and making them available through Spreadshirt.com, where we can order them on-demand. (Yep, I have to pay the same price you do.) Most of the shirts are $20, nearly all of which goes to Spreadshirt for fulfillment. I’ll only receive a small commission for having produced the designs, which will still go a long way in helping support the Lost Laurel project.

It’s something that I can continually add to, as well, which makes this extra exciting. Maybe we’ll have polls to vote on which Lost Laurel shirt I should design next… or perhaps vote on which design you prefer, like this 1960s matchbook cover concept for the Turf Club:

turf-club-options

Of course, this is also the perfect opportunity to remake a classic Main Street bootleg shirt from 1993, when it seemed imminent that Jack Kent Cooke was going to build his new stadium right there at the corner of Whiskey Bottom and Brock Bridge Roads in Laurel. (Fortunately for us, the U.S. Patent Office recently cancelled the Washington Redskins’ trademarks, meaning that a “Laurel Redskins” t-shirt no longer even qualifies as “bootleg,” ironically). If you missed your chance to own one 20 years ago, you’re in luck. You can even have it in time for the regular NFL season!

laurel-redskins-inspiration

(Photo: John Mewshaw, 1993)

Some of the other design highlights so far include:

  • Pal Jack’s Pizza: with faithfully-recreated lettering based on the hand-carved sign
  • Laurel Pop Festival: completely recreated from the rare original poster
  • Laurel Hotel: a re-imagined vintage typographic treatment
  • Herb’s Carry-Out: an artistic rendering of the iconic building
    … And lots more to come!

It’s also that time of year to start thinking about Christmas gifts, and any of these shirts will make awesome stocking-stuffers for the Lost Laurelites on your list. I’ve already bought a few of them myself to make sure the printing quality is good and that they hold up in the wash, and I’m extremely happy with them. Plus, Spreadshirt has a 30-day return policy, should you need it.

IMG_3491

So, get ready to start sporting your favorite little slice of Lost Laurel like never before! And be sure to take and share photos when you’re wearing them out in the old neighborhood!

Visit the Lost Laurel shop on spreadshirt.com
Tagged , ,

Racing… to close Laurel Railroad Station?

There’s a rather unlikely story in the local news this week—a head-scratcher, really. It concerns two of Laurel’s historic landmarks, and how they’re supposedly at odds all of a sudden. I’m speaking of Laurel Park Racecourse and the Laurel Railroad Station.

I’ll get right into it: Laurel Park, which after decades of hard times is finally seeking to turn the corner with an ambitious plan to build “a transit-oriented development with retail and residential space near the racetrack,” has requested the state Department of Transportation open a commuter train stop in Laurel closer to the track.

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Because that would just be too easy, state Department of Transportation officials have said that it is unlikely the state will consider a “dual stop” at both the Laurel MARC station and the racetrack. A train platform is already at the racetrack, mind you, but is listed as a flag stop (where trains will only stop when there’s a specific request) on the MARC Camden line schedule.

So, here comes the head-scratcher: the idea being proposed is that the DoT would close the Laurel Station—which is on the National Register of Historic Places—in favor of building a new stop at the racetrack, a mere 2,500 feet away. Where, again, there is already a train platform in place. I’m not sure there’s a more polite way to put this, so I’ll just ask: Are you f***ing kidding me?

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

Don’t get me wrong—I’m a huge supporter of both places. More than anything, I’d love to see a resurgence of horse racing in Laurel, and have Laurel Park once again become the premier venue that it can be. But certainly not at the expense of endangering what might be the town’s most recognizable landmark—a landmark that, frankly, has been more functional than the track itself in recent years.

Granted, I can’t see anyone in their right mind coming out and proposing that the old train station be demolished—to my knowledge, nothing like that has been discussed. But what would happen if/when the historic station ceases to be an active stop on the MARC line? We already know how vulnerable the city’s old buildings tend to be, especially when they’re vacant.

Lest anyone forget, Laurel came dangerously close to losing the station to fire in January 1992. John Mewshaw recently shared these photos with me—sobering reminders, all:

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

Photo: John Mewshaw, 1992

With the expectation that cooler, more rational heads will ultimately prevail in this, let’s look at some more reasonable options.

First, there’s the basic issue of supply and demand. If enough people genuinely start taking the train to the races again, as they did back in the early-to-mid-20th century, there’s no reason why the Department of Transportation shouldn’t reinstate Laurel Park as an active stop on the MARC line. But even then, closing the town’s historic station wouldn’t make sense, logistically, especially as it relates to everyday commuters with no interest in visiting the race track.

The current station sits in the heart of Laurel at the base of Main Street and provides easy access. From a marketing standpoint, its historic qualities also benefit the commuter rail industry—the classic, Queen Anne styling of the station literally makes you want to take the train… in a way that a new, more modern facility probably wouldn’t.

And marketing is something that Laurel Park obviously needs to do a better job of, too, if it hopes to reinvigorate the track to the point of needing an exclusive train stop to accommodate the masses. For the record, I’m not a fan of their newest logo:

laurel-park-logo

As a graphic designer myself, I have serious doubts that it was created by a professional. It’s poorly executed for a number of reasons, but I digress. Their logo problems aren’t the main concern here.

But what they should be focusing on—instead of this new train station folly—are unique ways to maximize their exposure (regardless of that hideous logo). And ironically, the old train station is a perfect opportunity for them. I’m just going to offer this up, so Laurel Park Powers That Be, do with it as you please:

Imagine seeing a row of shuttle buses lined up as you get off the train… buses that are whimsically adorned with thoroughbred horse artwork (or, to go even further, imagine the entire bus being decorated to look like a race horse itself…) A row of buses, each designed as an individual race horse, complete with saddle cloth number…

LAUREL-PARK-SHUTTLE-IDEA-SMALL

Much like the old train station invites you to ride the rails, wouldn’t that pique your interest in going to the race track? And imagine the exposure the buses themselves would get just being spotted going back and forth on Route 1—especially when two or three at a time are “racing” there. (Not to encourage gambling, but you could even place bets on which “horse bus” arrives first…)

Keep in mind, I did this in about half an hour. Imagine what could be done with proper time and exploration. (And I’d be more than happy to design it for you, Laurel Park. I assure you, it’d be cheaper than a new train station, too.)

And from a practical standpoint, (e.g. the number of people actually going to the race track from the train station) wouldn’t shuttle buses also just make more sense? At least until Laurel Park starts generating the types of crowds that might require more drastic measures?

For the record, I do hope those crowds eventually return, but only after the race track (and the city) has solid plans in place to accommodate them. First, they need a plan to actually draw them. To paraphrase the Field of Dreams mantra, “Build it, and they will come.”

Source:
http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/howard/laurel/ph-ll-marc-station-moves-20150616-story.html
Tagged , , , , ,