Tag Archives: Route 1

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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Bay ‘n Surf

Photo: Stu_Jo (Flickr)

Photo: Stu_Jo (Flickr)

On a chilly, rainy day like today, who couldn’t use a nice bowl of Maryland’s finest cream of crab soup?

By most accounts, Bay ‘n Surf aptly advertised their signature soup, lovingly crafted in the distinctive 300-seat restaurant with decorative lighthouse at 14411 Baltimore Avenue—the location it called home since 1965. But the restaurant that had seen so many romantic Valentines Day dinners over the years did not have a happy Valentines Day in 2007, when a compressor for one of the restaurant’s walk-in refrigerators ignited at approximately 6:15 AM, setting ablaze a nearby office and parts of the kitchen. According to firefighters, the dining area was essentially untouched; and while preliminary estimates put the damage at $500,000, the owner told The Washington Post that she planned to reopen by May of that year.

Photo: WTOP

Now more than five years after the fire, the restaurant—and its distinctive lighthouse—sit eerily empty.

Despite the occasional rumor of Bay ‘n Surf returning—or, more likely, reopening in a new location outside of Laurel, nothing of the sort has materialized. The property has evidently been sold, however, but there’s been no official word on what’s to become of it. Odds are, however, whatever the new place is, the cream of crab soup just won’t be the same.

You can still experience some of those Bay ‘n Surf memories—and a decent bowl of cream of crab soup—right next door, though. Nuzback’s Bar, another Laurel landmark which has sat directly beside the old seafood restaurant all these years, (including the years before Bay ‘n Surf, when it was the notorious Oakcrest Inn!) is still going strong, and they have an outdoor seating area where you can enjoy your food and drinks while gazing over at what’s left of the Bay ‘n Surf.

When I was growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Nuzback’s had a bit of a reputation as a rough place (to put it mildly). But I doubt they’ve ever had quite the drama that the old Oakcrest Inn had—especially on August 29, 1955, when a deadly gun battle apparently broke out… between a pair of middle-aged brothers, no less. One of whom owned the place:

Washington Post, August 30, 1955

The surviving brother was later acquitted, citing self defense. You have to wonder if he ever went back, perhaps after it became the Bay ‘n Surf. After all, they did have Maryland’s finest cream of crab soup.

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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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Update: American National Bank Demolition

Driving through Laurel this morning, I wasn’t sure if the old blue American National Bank building would still be standing or not. It was, but the view was quite different… I could see through half of it. Although, admittedly, one almost doesn’t even notice the building with those gas prices, but I digress.

I took a few shots from both sides of Rt. 198, and some from the parking lot of Gorman Plaza:

But apparently, my timing was off by just a smidge. My friend John Floyd II visited the site shortly afterward, and while taking photos, he realized that the backhoe excavator driver wasn’t beating around the proverbial bush. John quickly switched to video as he saw the claw begin pulling on the crossbeams. He captured this brief clip, which shows the first significant collapse of the old building:

John spoke with the foreman, who stated that he expects the entire building to be down by this Thursday—if not sooner. John also adds:

“The building housing Mango’s Grill and Cash Express closed yesterday and the next one to be pulled down is Irene’s. A crew from Canova Construction are disconnecting the water and sewer lines and will have to re-configure all the storm drains for the new complex. Two containment ponds will be added right about where Irene’s Restaurant is standing now.”

Many thanks to John for sharing his video, and the following photos:

Video + 5 photos courtesy of John Floyd II
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American National Bank: Demolition Update

The old blue building just north of Gorman Plaza is finally coming down.

Originally the American National Bank building, it’s been vacant and doomed for some time now; but last week, demolition began in earnest—starting from the inside out, apparently. Thanks to John Floyd II for these photos that document the beginning of the end, which will likely happen this week.

Photos: J. D. Floyd II, Royal Blue Ltd. archives

I can’t help but think that in another thirty, maybe fifty years from now, someone will spot a photo of this classic mid-century modern building in one of the Laurel Historical Society’s publications or exhibits (or on an antique roll of Laurel Leader microfilm still languishing in the library’s basement) and wonder, “Wow—why did they ever get rid of that?!” Odds are, the Walgreens that’s slated to take its spot won’t have quite the architectural pedigree.

It’s not only replacing the old blue building, but the rest of the 600 block of Washington Blvd. to its north—which most recently included Irene’s Restaurant (the former Kenny Rogers Roasters and Rustler Steakhouse), Mango’s Grill, and Ace Cash Express (a location that once housed Murry’s Steaks).

Granted, the block has certainly seen better days. In fact, it’s seen better decades. And the new Walgreens will undoubtedly be much more aesthetically pleasing than what passing motorists have been subjected to in recent years. But my real question is this—why was a building like this ever allowed to become an eyesore in the first place? This kind of architecture deserves to be repurposed, not replaced.

 

Case Study: The Starr Building, Austin TX

A very similar building in Austin, TX (also originally an American National Bank, coincidentally) recently survived a proposed demolition and is now enjoying a fitting new life as an ad agency.

A Texas preservation society recognized the The Starr Building’s architectural significance and promise, and added it to an endangered list in 2009. Later that year, Austin-based Kemp Properties purchased the building, and advertising firm McGarrah Jessee signed on as its lead tenant. It was a perfect match if there ever was one—and the ad agency literally built their own brand around the building, which clearly inspires them:

McGarrah Jessee absolutely showcases the building on its website, as it should. They include a fascinating video piece highlighting its unlikely history… an arc that could just as easily have applied to Laurel’s old American National Bank building, had the right minds been in place.

A slide in the video reads:

“Kemp Properties and McGarrah Jessee were among the few suitors who recognized that great bones lay beneath the carpet and cubicles. They had a vision that the building could be restored and rehabilitated—that it could make the same kind of statement in 2010 as it did in 1954.”

And it has. Kudos to all involved.

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When I first heard of plans to demolish the Laurel building (and that entire block) for a Walgreens, I wasn’t surprised. But it made me wonder why the city of Laurel (or Prince George’s County, or even the state of Maryland, for that matter) apparently never considered stepping in when the building began to slide into decline—over ten years ago.

At a time when the city itself was outgrowing its own municipal buildings, did no one see the potential that lay within this distinctive blue building in the center of town—one of just a few spacious, vertical structures in the city limits?

At some point during its decline, you think the city would’ve at least considered how they might have been able to capitalize on preserving it. With a proper facelift, it could’ve been any number of municipal buildings to be proud of. Think of the facilities that were already outgrowing their original spaces: the library (even after a costly expansion in 1992) and the police department immediately come to mind. The old blue building could’ve accommodated either, and made a bold architectural preservation statement in the process.

Ironically, one of the locations considered for this latest library expansion was the former Laurel Police headquarters off of Main Street—which the police department itself had outgrown. (Coincidentally, I hear they’re also planning to demolish that soon, as well. Stay tuned.)

Getting back to the Starr Building comparison for a moment, perhaps you were wondering why it was called “the Starr Building”. Perhaps not, but just humor me for another couple paragraphs or so. There are just a few more parallels worth noting.

After the American National Bank failed in the 1990s, the State of Texas took over the building and made it the headquarters of the State Comptroller of Public Accounts. They christened it the Starr Building after James Harper Starr—physician, treasurer of the Republic of Texas, Land Commissioner, and banker. Then they did what most government agencies do to government buildings—they filled it with cubicles and bad carpet. But it got even worse. In 2005, the Comptroller’s Office moved out and gave control to the state’s General Land Office—who allowed it to sit vacant for the next four years, coming dangerously close to demolition. Interest in the building came and went; with most of the proposals involving tearing the building down and putting up something new.

Sound familiar?

Laurel isn’t exactly Madison Avenue, of course—it’s an unlikely locale for a top-level advertising agency to base its headquarters. It’s not Austin, Texas, either. And to be fair, the state of Texas didn’t do a great job stewarding the Starr Building itself. It took a preservation society and visionary developers to recognize the potential in salvaging that building.

But couldn’t Laurel’s own mid-century modern American National Bank building have been converted to something, other than a decaying eyesore? Something that could’ve inspired new tenants, rather than hinder them with repair costs and tax burdens? Did it really have to reach the point to where we’d read a quote like this from the city’s own longtime planner:

“I’m excited about getting that blue (office) building down, which was in bankruptcy,” Laurel Economic Director Karl Brendle said. “This is going to be great.”

There was a time when the city of Laurel was proud of that building, and of itself.

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White Coffee Pot

In the southwest corner of Laurel Shopping Center, in the space eventually occupied by the former Mac’s Place Plus One restaurant, sat a White Coffee Pot restaurant.

According to Wikipedia, White Coffee Pot shared ownership with Horn and Horn Smorgasbord—which would eventually replace the Hot Shoppes on the other side of the shopping center, beside The Hecht Co. building.

Just a bit before my time in Laurel, I never had the pleasure of trying out the White Coffee Pot, but I’ve heard from a number of folks who remember it fondly—and at least one who didn’t exactly love their salads… Peggi R. says, “I embarrassed the heck out of (my dad) when I told the waitress their French Dressing tasted like pencil shavings.”

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Bill’s Carpet Warehouse

As a kid, I have to say that Bill’s Carpet Warehouse struck me as the most boring store in Laurel. Thankfully, my parents didn’t have to buy carpets all that frequently.

These days, the old building at 14815 Baltimore Ave—directly across from Laurel Shopping Center—is a Vitamin Shoppe… which, I suppose is a bit more exciting.

Display ad: Washington Post, July 3, 1983
Photo: Elydrith Fleshman-Aguilar
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IHOP’s Big Boy?

The end of Laurel's original IHOP, 1995. (Photo courtesy of Eric Ziegler)

As a kid, I walked from Steward Manor to the mall at least once a week. Under the railroad overpass on Bowie Road, up past the Fair Lanes bowling alley on Marshall Avenue, and on beyond the Ponderosa/Sizzler Steakhouse before crossing Route 1—cutting through the Bob’s Big Boy parking lot along the way.

Then, upon entering the Laurel Shopping Center grounds, I’d find myself beside the tall, imposing A-frame structure with the blue roof—the International House of Pancakes.

A 1970s postcard featuring an out of state, but remarkably similar setting.

Laurel’s IHOP was originally located in the iconic building for which it was designed, and situated just beside what was originally the Hecht Co. building (then Woolco, and then Jamesway…and soon to be L.A. Fitness). It occupied the space now being used by the extended strip mall parallel to Washington Blvd. In fact, when you go to that Starbucks and await your beverage,  you’ll be standing approximately where you once would’ve been eating pancakes. The entire left side of this shopping center (including Starbucks and Petco) sits on what was originally the IHOP grounds; as throughout the 1980s, only Radio Shack, Long & Foster Real Estate, and the Grecian Spa were housed there. Amazingly, Radio Shack is still in that same location on the corner beside Marshall Ave.

(historicaerials.com)

In the summer of 1993, an unusual move took place. IHOP decided to leave its building, and move into a slightly larger one just across Washington Blvd.—in the building that had recently been vacated by Bob’s Big Boy—where it continues to operate today.

But while highly successful, today’s modern IHOP doesn’t have nearly the same nostalgic aura that it had in the old building. Case in point, here are a few vintage pieces that represent that era quite well—including an actual menu from 1974 that will totally have you craving pancakes.

Before the building was demolished in 1995, it briefly saw new life as a Christmas decoration shop called “Santa’s Cottage”. The most notable change was the roof, which went from IHOP blue to Santa red. Still, passersby continued to mistake the building for what it originally was. According to a November 21, 1993 Washington Post article written by popular Laurel Leader columnist, Tony Glaros, “the old place still attracts creatures of habit in search of oatmeal, not ornaments.” Santa’s Cottage manager Carter Hoyle added, “It took about a month and a half to get the pancake smell out of here.”

For many Laurelites, myself included, there will always remain a connection between IHOP and Bob’s Big Boy. I can’t think of one without remembering the other. I’m sure there are other former Bob’s Big Boy locations that were eventually taken over by IHOP, but I don’t believe it was a universal change. So it was rather ironic—yet quite fitting—to come across an eBay listing for these vintage glasses, being sold as a pair. I doubt the auction will last until Christmas, but if it does, perhaps I’ll ask Santa for them—thus completing the trifecta.

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Signs of the Times: Disappearing Neon of Route 1

Route 1 has seen a change or two over the past century, hasn’t it?

The black and white photos above are from the Laurel, Maryland Centennial Souvenir Historical Booklet (1970), and show what—for most of us who grew up in Laurel in the last quarter of the 20th century—is a very familiar scene from 1970. However, the current street view is almost as unrecognizable as the sparse 1907 tableau.

There probably isn’t another stretch of road in Laurel that was more densely populated with over-sized neon signage than this particular corridor; and slowly but surely, they’re disappearing from the landscape. A savvy photographer (with the right telephoto lens) might have been able to capture quite a few of them in a single shot from the right vantage point. At one time—within less than half a mile from each other—one could see not only the Tastee-Freez/Big T and Texaco signs shown above—but those of Arby’s, Giant, and the Laurel Cinema marquee.

Photo: Maryland Route 5 (Flickr)

Photo: Maryland Route 5 (Flickr)

photo: apricotX (Flickr)

The Arby’s and Giant signs are still fully functional, and both are fortunately still open for business. While the Laurel Cinema marquee is technically still standing, it’s in poor shape—and with the movie theater officially closed (again), it’s probably only a matter of time before the old sign is finally torn down.

One interesting detail I noticed in the 1970 shot is the wording of “Big Tee Burgers”. At some point after, it had been skillfully modified to read “Big T Family Restaurant”, as it remained until its ultimate demise.

Photo: stgermh (Flickr)

Another reader noted that the road doesn’t appear to have been widened much over the years, either. Apparently, somebody reasoned that if it was big enough for all those neon giants, it’d be big enough for whatever vehicular traffic might pass through.

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