Tag Archives: Main Street

Driving Through Laurel, 1973

Finding photos of vintage Laurel is tough enough, so you can imagine how special it is to find actual film footage. This wonderful clip was shared by Gary M. Smith, and it provides us with an all-too-brief glimpse of a decent portion of Laurel—captured on 8mm film from the passenger seat of a car driven by Milton J. Smith, Sr. in 1973.

It’s a classic 3-minute reel with some interruptions and jumpiness, but there are plenty of unmistakable landmarks throughout the drive. Now that I have the privilege of being your tour guide, here are a few sites to watch for:

  • We start out in North Laurel at the Beech Crest Estates Mobile Home park—the sign for which can be seen at 0:07. Several of the trailers and residents can be seen over the next 30 seconds.
  • At the 0:35 mark, we’re driving driving southbound on Washington Boulevard (Rt. 1), and we pass the California Inn, just north of Whiskey Bottom Rd.
  • Continuing southbound on Rt. 1, we see Sam & Elsie’s Bar at the 0:46 mark.
  • A billboard advertising the nearby Valencia Apartments appears at 0:53.
  • At 0:57, we cross the oft-flooded bridge over the Patuxent and see the Homoco gas station—the remnants of which were only recently torn down on the Fred Frederick automotive property.
  • At 1:02 (just after a bus—probably a Trailways—unfortunately blocks our view of Main Street) we pass White’s Texaco Station, and get just the faintest glimpse of the Little Tavern beside it.
  • The film skips forward a bit at 1:08, where we find ourselves at the intersection of Rt. 1 and Montgomery Street, and Floyd Lilly’s Laurel Amoco Super Service Station, which won a Chamber of Commerce award “for excellence in design, planning, and beautification”. (Imagine a gas station doing that…)
  • I’m not entirely sure, but at 1:16, we seem to be heading west on Talbott Avenue/Rt. 198 beside Donaldson Funeral Home.

  • At 1:47, we’re now on Main Street—heading west beside the infamous Laurel Hotel, with its distinctive stone facade and wooden porch.
  • Bob’s Cab appears just before we see the wooden front of Gayer’s Saddlery at 1:55.
  • The drive continues up to the end of Main Street, where we turn left onto 7th Street at (fittingly) the 2:16 mark. Here we pass St. Mary of the Mills church and cemetery.
  • At 2:37, there’s a brief glimpse of what is likely Laurel Municipal Swimming Pool, before the geography skips over to northbound Rt. 1 at the 2:38 mark—where we can clearly see the old 7-Eleven and Village Inn Pizza Parlor along Bowie Road.
  • Continuing northbound along Rt. 1, we pass the Exxon and Plain ‘n Fancy Donuts before getting a nice view of Safeway and Dart Drug, which sat just beside the railroad tracks and my old neighborhood of Steward Manor.

And that’s about where our drive through 1973 comes to an end, sadly. But any chance to step back in time—especially in a moving vehicle like this—is pretty amazing. I’ve found myself comparing the footage with Google Street Views of the same stretches of road today, just to see how much has changed… and how much has surprisingly stayed the same.

Many thanks again to Gary for sharing this footage! It’s also a reminder to everyone to check their own old home movies and family photo albums, as you never know what might turn up.

 

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Receipts—That’s the Ticket!

Admittedly, I’ve never been great about saving receipts. Unless it’s a business expense, a warrantied purchase, or something that I’m not sure I’ll actually keep, (or all of the above) that receipt is usually crumpled up and tossed away with the bag it came in. I think most of us are probably wired that way. Receipts are simply one more piece of clutter that we just don’t need.

So it’s with some irony that in the past year or so—through the help of collectors like John Floyd and Pete Lewnes—I’ve assembled a binder of over 200 vintage Laurel business receipts and other paper ephemera that date from the recent past… all the way back to the 1930s.

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It’s turned into a most unexpected scrapbook; a collection of familiar names and places evoked not by photos, but by those simple little strips of paper. It’s funny how something so insignificant as a receipt can trigger memories of the business itself, your experiences there, and the time frame in general.

I’ll eventually get around to scanning the entire lot, but I wanted to share a sampling. We’ll start with some of the more recent ones that many of you probably remember chucking away at one time or another yourselves.

Here’s a batch from the late 1980s to 1990—a snapshot of  Laurel Lakes Centre in its heyday, which happened to be my high school years:

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A couple more from nearby in 1990:

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Here’s a very recent one I kept personally, when the Laurel Art Center on Main Street closed its doors in 2012. And yes, that’s 75% off. There’s no sale quite like a going out of business sale.

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And then there are some from the more distant past. Here’s a pair from Laurel Shopping Center in the 1960s:

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When we think of receipts, we typically think of the type shown above—those thin, white ribbons of paper with digital printing. That’s been the norm for most, but many businesses also utilized larger, invoice-style tickets that were offset-printed with their name, logo, contact information, and space for writing things in by hand.

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The further back we go, the more handwriting we see.

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Some of the older businesses, like Cook’s Laurel Hardware Company on Main Street, stuck with the handwritten receipt throughout the decades. Compare this one from 1988, and one from nearly 30 years earlier:

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While we’re still on Main Street, here’s a receipt from Ashby & Harrison. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, their 309 Main Street address should. It’s the building that became Gayer’s Saddlery, which today is Outback Saddlery.

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By this point, you’ve probably also noticed the unusual phone numbers on some of these. The “PArkway 5” exchange is technically still in use today: the letters “P” and “A” plus the number 5 comprised the familiar “725” prefix that many Laurel numbers continue to use.

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And prior to the rotary phone’s arrival in 1954, those numbers were even stranger. Imagine having a three-digit telephone number today!

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Businesses like gas stations often required a bit more information on their receipts—fields where they could quickly and efficiently total up various services. Here’s one from the Laurel Texaco on Rt. 1, which sat beside the Little Tavern:

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Another interesting thing about old receipts is that they invite you to learn more about the businesses themselves. Here’s one for another gas station—this one at Laurel Shopping Center. But it wasn’t any old gas station. Hardingham’s Service Center was owned and operated by Harry Hardingham, the popular two-term Mayor of Laurel in the 1950s.

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Occasionally, you come across receipts that were once issued to other mayors—like this one from 1938 that belonged to Hiram J. Soper, who would go on to become a two-term mayor himself immediately after Hardingham:

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Other familiar names appear in these old scraps of paper; records of fleeting moments in time. This one shows Harry Fyffe (of Fyffe’s Service Center) having purchased two floral sprays from Barkman’s Flower Shop in November, 1953. They appear to have been for the funerals of “Mr. Phair” and “Mr. Phelps”—two other well-known Laurel family names.

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Another interesting set comes from Laurel’s many garages and car dealerships throughout the years.

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One of my favorites in the collection isn’t a receipt, but rather an actual price tag. This came from a miniature Rubik’s Cube keychain I found recently on eBay—just like the one I remember getting from Zayre as a kid. Of course, when I was a kid, the first thing I had to do was get rid of that price tag. Today, ironically, it’s the other way around. All I wanted was the price tag.

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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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Happy 80th, Fred Knapp!

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Admittedly, a blog update here is long overdue… (the Lost Laurel Facebook page has been getting all the action lately).

But I’d be remiss if I didn’t note this very special day on both pages. Fred Knapp is celebrating his 80th birthday today! According to his step-daughter, Debbie, Mr. Knapp is doing well and living in Elkridge.

While I’ve yet to get over the fact that we’ll never see another Keller’s/Knapp’s Laurel News Agency, the very thought of the jovial Fred Knapp enjoying his well-deserved retirement brings a smile to my face.

Happy birthday to a man who will always represent everything that was wonderful about Main Street.

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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: 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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Keller’s/Knapp’s Laurel News Agency

Watercolor by Cathy Emery

Every so often, you come across a picture—or in this case, a painting—that just instantly transports you back. And, more often than not, it’s a picture of something simple; something that was once a mundane part of your everyday life… which you naively assumed would be there forever.

Such was the case with Cathy Emery’s painting of Keller’s/Knapp’s Laurel News Agency. If you’d told me 30 years ago—when I was a kid, frequently stopping in Keller’s/Knapp’s for magazines, Chiclets fruit gum, Hostess pies, and the like—that there would one day be a painting of the establishment, (let alone that I would actually want it) I never would’ve believed you. But after the store that had graced (perhaps “graced” isn’t quite the word for it) the corner of Main and B Streets since the late 1940s had finally closed down and given way to the new Revere Bank building, that painting hits home.

It’s exactly as I remember it—the view from across the street, where you could already smell the mingling aroma of produce and newspapers. It may not sound like it, but it was a good smell.

A photo from the same angle appeared in the 1987 Citizens National Bank complimentary calendar (Photo: Susan L. Cave)

As wonderful as it was to see that familiar exterior again after all these years, it didn’t compare to the joy of getting to look inside.

On a recent visit to the Laurel Library, there in the March 14, 1985 issue of the Laurel Leader—appropriately headlining the Our Town section of the paper—was the smiling, laughing face of one Fred Knapp himself. And there he was, standing at his familiar post behind the cluttered counter of Knapp’s.

Fred Knapp. Laurel Leader Staff Photo by Tenney Mason, March 14, 1985

Venerable Leader writer Tony Glaros painted a warm portrait of Mr. Knapp and his memorable old store, and reading it now brings a smile and laugh as big as the one Mr. Knapp is shown enjoying in that photo. The article mentions his penchant for “dazzling his customers”:

“I know what they want before they get here, ” says Fred. “I look out the window and play this game. If I see a guy coming and I know what kind of cigarettes he gets or whatever, I have them ready when he gets here.”

This trait is reiterated later in the article in even more detail:

Fred already knows who smokes what brand, eats what candy and reads what newspaper. He greets them, firing off terms of affection in staccato fashion. “Hey, maestro!” “What else, love?” “Good morning, doctor.” “Thank you, darlin’. Have a good day and be careful out there.”

That’s the part that stuck with me the most. I can vividly recall being referred to as both “Maestro” and “Doctor” by Mr. Knapp. I remember thinking that was particularly cool, given that I was barely ten years old at the time.

The article included some interesting historical data, too. According to this, the newsstand had been operating out of the same location since June 21, 1947*, when Charlie Keller (Fred’s Knapp’s late father-in-law) first opened it. Fred worked for Mr. Keller “on and off” for thirty years, commuting by bus during the day to his job as an Army engineer at Fort Belvoir, VA, and helping Keller out at night. Mr. Keller died in 1978, and Fred took over the business—where it would remain a family affair until the end.

Fred, who was 52 years old at the time of the article, conceded that the hours were the toughest part of the job. “I come in at six o’clock in the morning, five in the summertime so I can catch the fishermen who want worms and beer and sodas and ice and all the junk like that.” It was a routine that he adhered to an astounding 13 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. His only respite, he said, were Sundays—when he’d sleep in until 10:30 before heading back to the store.

I also happened upon a Laurel Leader supplement from 1982, which featured an even wider view of the newsstand’s interior—with Mr. Knapp diligently restocking his ample periodical section:

And in a truly unique view, Tom Jarrell shared this shot from atop Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre in October 1988:

Photo: Tom Jarrell

Earlier this week, I posted the photo of Fred Knapp on the Lost Laurel Facebook page, where it yielded a flood of fond memories. But the best news of all came from Debbie Welch-Foulks, who is Mr. Knapp’s stepdaughter. She tells us that he is living in Elkridge, MD these days, and doing well! She added:

I just got him on the phone and was reading all the posts to him—he was laughing up a storm. He misses everyone….

Laurel misses you, too, Mr. Knapp. Very much so.

Postscript:
*Various ads cited “Since 1948”, but the Laurel Leader article is the only reference I’ve found that mentions an actual starting date of June 21, 1947.

A desolate view in 2007. (Photo: spork232, panoramio.com)
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Laurel Art Center: Liquidation Part II

Matt Emery, with his parents, Joyce and Leo—founders of the Laurel Art Center. (Photo: Richard Friend)

Well, there’s good news and bad news. Let’s start with the bad news first.

The bad news is that the Laurel Art Center as we know it is indeed closing for sure. Last month’s two-day liquidation sale drew a record number of sale-seekers, artists, and nostalgia buffs—many of whom, like myself, fit that combined description.

The good news is that if you missed the chance to visit the store that one last time, don’t fret—there’s going to be one more opportunity after all:

For immediate release, 5/24/12
Contact:    Matt Emery, Laurel Art Center Representative

Laurel Art Center to Liquidate

Main Street’s Laurel Art Center will hold its final liquidation sale Memorial Day Weekend from 10:00-5:00 each day.

Last month, the store held a similar sale which drew over 1500 people to its eclectic inventory of framed artwork, picture frames, and art supplies.

There still remains thousands of pieces of artwork.  Framed artwork will be discounted 80%.  Unframed prints and posters will sell for $2.00 each.

There are also over 2,000 ready-made frames for sale in many sizes and styles.  All frames will be $4.00 each or buy any 8 frames for $20.00.

Art supplies are limited and will sell in lots only.  A typical lot will have about $200.00 worth of supplies and will sell for $20.00.  Racks, shelving, and furnishings are also being liquidated.

The store is owned by longtime Laurel residents, Leo & Joyce Emery.  The liquidation is being handled by their son, Matt.  Matt believes this upcoming sale presents even greater values than the last.  He also adds that he welcomes anyone to stop by even if they aren’t shopping and just want to say goodbye to a Laurel landmark.

Having stopped by the store last week, I can assure you—there’s a lot of great stuff left. Clearly, it takes more than one marathon weekend of sales to liquidate 10,000 square feet of legendary art supply awesomeness.

Coincidentally, I just discovered the following article today in a May, 1983 Laurel Leader supplement; it gives a nice overview of the Emery family’s retail legacy on Main Street, and an almost tangible account of this wonderful store. I thought I’d said my goodbyes, but knowing the doors will be open for one last time, how can I resist going back?

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Laurel Art Center: The Final Weekend

This weekend, the Laurel Art Center reopened its doors (shuttered since February, when the Emery family announced their intent to close the iconic 35-year-old business) for a massive liquidation sale.

I visited with the intent of picking up copies of the few remaining Marian Quinn pen & ink reproductions of vintage Laurel landmarks that I hadn’t already purchased this past year—including one of the Laurel Art Center itself. (I’d superstitiously delayed buying it for fear that it too would become part of Lost Laurel.)

I anticipated quite a turnout after the sale was publicized in the Laurel Leader, and was right. By 10:30 Saturday morning, the line of paying customers was already to the back of the store. Needless to say, it was probably the longest line they’ve seen since the store’s inception. If only they could’ve had such lines all the time, but I digress.

And the wait to pay at the register was upwards of 45 minutes, but worth every second—not just for the incredible 75% discount, but for the time it provided to reflect on just how many visits I’d made to this wonderful store over the years. Even the carpet—that old, patchwork of mixed fabrics—caught my eye and brought back memories.

While standing in line, it was fitting that I noticed a few remaining watercolor sets—much like the little sets my parents first bought for me back in the late 1970s and early 80s, which undoubtedly fueled my early artistic ambitions. Of course, it would eventually be this very store that provided everything I’d need for drawing and painting, including the tons of supplies I required during my time at the Corcoran College of Art + Design.

The Laurel Art Center has honestly been a key part of my life for as long as I can remember. From my early childhood love of drawing and painting, to my college and professional career as a graphic designer, and even today as a casual historian of all things Laurel. So while I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop by on Saturday to make sure I bought every last thing I could (and I did score some fantastic pieces, including some Marian Quinn originals for less than I’d paid for some prints), I knew I wouldn’t be able to properly photograph the store one last time with just my iPhone—not to mention with the crowds of other enthusiastic shoppers milling about. A return trip was in order today with a real camera, for one final walk through in an effort to document the countless details of the old store; to try to convey the experience of browsing through this 10,000 square foot eclectic treasure trove.

Both the inventory and the crowds were sparser, but the unmistakeable ambiance was still there.

(You can also view the complete photo set here on Flickr.)

While photographing each aisle, a vaguely familiar looking gentleman approached—also with a camera. “Looks like we had the same idea today,” he said. And within seconds, I realized that this must be John Floyd, II—the long-time Laurel resident who’s provided not just me, but the Laurel Leader and many others over the years with so many great photos and insight to the town’s history! “John?” I asked. “Rich?” He replied. We’ve been corresponding via email for the past year, but hadn’t had the chance to meet in person until today. Leave it to the Laurel Art Center to create one more memorable moment for me—on its final day, no less.

Such a treat finally meeting John Floyd II, who just happened to be here at the same time!

Main Street certainly won’t be the same without the store, nor will its legions of fans ever forget what it has meant to them over all these years. As one of the youngest members of the Emery family helped bag up my final purchases, (including a Marian Quinn original pen & ink of Petrucci’s and Pal Jack’s Pizza that I got for $18.75—I can’t believe no one else spotted that on the wall before I did) I took one last look at the thank you note on the counter.

No, thank you, Laurel Art Center. For everything.

***

Postscript: One additional print I made sure to buy today was that of The Gallery—the other Emery family-owned art and framing business just one block up on Main Street. Yesterday, I stopped by and spoke with Cathy Emery, who has been pulling double duty handling the fallout from the Art Center’s closing. Since February, The Gallery has been fulfilling orders that were placed through the Art Center. I remarked, half-jokingly, that I hope they aren’t planning on leaving anytime soon. You can imagine my surprise to learn that they were actually planning to do just that—even before the Art Center pulled the plug. Yikes.

While I’d love to hope that The Gallery will persevere and continue the Emery family’s wonderful artistic legacy in Laurel, it sounds as though their time may also be short. Be sure to visit their shop at 344 Main Street for all of your framing needs, and for both originals and reprints of Cathy’s amazing work documenting Laurel’s places past.

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Herb’s Carry-Out

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Five-dollar footlong, you say? Herb’s Carry-Out wasn’t *quite* as expensive as Subway, back in the day.

The vintage (and greasy) Laurel icon, brilliantly captured here in watercolors by artist Cathy Emery, was a longtime, late night staple just a block south of Main Street at 126 Washington Blvd.

The sight of its unique facade brought back a flood of food memories on Facebook, as Laurelites recalled their favorite dishes—and memories—from Herb’s. Several mentioned the shrimp and gizzard boxes, while others cited the cheesesteaks, footlong hot dogs, and soft shell crab sandwiches—often after a night out at the nearby B & E Tavern.

Others recalled even simpler fare, like Michelle Atkins:

“My father used to take me here when I was a little girl, i would get a grilled cheese & donald duck orange juice!”

And Richard Pierce, who hailed Herb’s shrimp and gizzard boxes, also pointed out another ever-present feature of the establishment:

“Remember all the empty carryout boxes stacked up in the front widows?”

Cathy Emery apparently remembered them, too, as they appear to be lovingly included in the painting.

The Laurel Centennial Souvenir Historical Booklet has a small photo of Herb’s from circa 1970, and includes an interesting background on the building before all the gizzard boxes and cheesesteaks came.

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The Maryland Drug Company was a long-time tenant before Herb’s occupied the street level store. (The upper floors were converted into apartments at some point.) But its history goes back much further. In fact, according to the Maryland State Archives (who produced a fairly extensive capsule summary sheet on it in 1998), The Free Quill Building, as it was originally known, was constructed circa 1885 on land owned by James A. Clark, the editor of the Free Quill—Laurel’s first long-term weekly newspaper.

The Laurel Centennial booklet includes an 1887 illustration that was used in the Free Quill’s masthead. And while there aren’t any storefront windows with stacks of carryout boxes visible, the building is still recognizable as Herb’s:

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From the capsule summary sheet, a more detailed history of the structure:

The upper floor of the building was an open hall which was used for public meetings and dances (Centennial Booklet 1970: 54). The Free Quill eventually became the Laurel News Leader, but it is unknown where the paper was produced after Clark sold the property. The property was conveyed to Charles Shaffer in 1895, and was sold to Edmund Hill in 1898.Edmund Hill ran a butcher shop out of the building, and continued to use the upper hall as a public meeting space. The heirs of Edmund Hill sold the property in 1919 to Ormand Phair. Ormand Phair had purchased the adjoining residential property in 1910 from Charles Shaffer. Trustees for Ormand Phair sold both properties to the Maryland Drug Company in 1958. The current owners purchased the property in 1973.

Also included in the summary is a series of elevation photos taken in May 1998—when the street level storefront bore the rather generic name, “Laurel Convenient Mart”. At the time, fittingly, the building was vacant.

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The old turreted building still stands, albeit empty once again, since its last incarnation as Dingle’s Printing.

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I remember thinking it was odd to see a printing company in the space I always associated with Herb’s Carry-Out, but as it turns out, the building was originally used for printing purposes. In addition to the Free Quill, the Illustrated Residence and Business Directory of 1894 (only two complete copies of which are still known to exist), was also printed in this building. That directory, another Laurel first, was thankfully reprinted in the Centennial booklet for posterity.

As for the building itself, it unfortunately isn’t eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. According to a Maryland Historical Trust State Historic Sites Inventory Form,

The property is not eligible under Criterion A, as research conducted indicates no association with any historic events or trends significant in the development of national, state, or local history. Historic research indicates that the property has no association with persons who have made specific contributions to history, and therefore, it does not meet Criterion B. It is not eligible under Criterion C, as it is a highly altered example of an late-nineteenth century commercial building in Laurel. The first floor facade has been greatly altered with a modern storefront, and all the windows have been replaced and the larger openings filled in. The upper story which once served as a meeting hall has been converted into apartments. The building no longer retains its integrity of materials, design, workmanship, feeling, or association. Finally, the structure has no known potential to yield important information, and therefore, is not eligible under Criterion D.

Ouch. That’s some tough criteria.

Historical significance has a funny way of recording itself, doesn’t it? This odd, old building may or may not have a long-term future. It’s not likely ever going to be protected by any preservationists. And its only noted contributions to the community occurred over 120 years ago. But if you talk to the people who knew Laurel in the gritty 1970s and early 80s, they remember it for something else entirely—Criterion E, if you will. That’s “E” for Eat at Herb’s.

And as for “specific contributions to history”, etc., I offer this: in 125 years, nobody cared enough to paint a portrait of that building in any incarnation other than Herb’s Carry-Out. And I’d venture to say that there are at least a few buildings on historic preservation lists that haven’t been as lovingly painted, or painted at all. But then again, nobody ever bought a shrimp and gizzard box from their establishment.

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