Endangered Main Street: Laurel Theatre / Petrucci’s

The old red building at 312 Main Street has sat empty and derelict for a few years now, and according to the City of Laurel—its new owners—it’s too far gone to be salvaged.

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(Photos: Richard Friend)

(Photos: Richard Friend)

After no other buyers came forward, The city bought the building for $250,000 and plans to demolish it and resell the property. According to multiple sources, the interior has a festering mold problem that’s at least as problematic as its many structural issues, and would require in excess of $2 million to save it. And given its recent history, there’s little hope of resurrecting it. The multiple comedy clubs that inhabited it since the Petrucci family sold its popular Dinner Theatre in 1992 never lived up to expectations, despite drawing some high-profile names in the early years—including Dave Chappelle and Richard Jeni.

Before I get into that, though, let’s take a look at the deeper history of this Main Street landmark.

Laurel Theatre, 1938

A postcard image from 1938. (Laurel Historical Society archives)

To date, these are the earliest photos I’ve come across. The Leader article mentioned that it had been built in 1935, but the 1934 film named on the marquee (You Belong to Me) disproves that:

(Laurel Historical Society archives)

(Laurel Historical Society archives)

In fact, according to the Laurel, Maryland Centennial Souvenir Historical Booklet, the Laurel Theatre opened on October 16, 1929 under Sidney B. Lust, and was built by C. Ernest Nichols. The first film shown was Noah’s Ark. It briefly closed in 1948 to undergo a renovation, at which point it reopened with The Mating of Millie. (Box Office magazine, September 4, 1948).

This 1962 Laurel Leader photo literally shows ‘em lined up around the block. (Notice, too, that there was a High’s Dairy where Pal Jack’s Pizza would soon be!)

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I’ve collected a few later (but still pretty darn early) programs from the theater, as has the Laurel Historical Society and collectors Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes. Here are a few:

1934 lobby card. (Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes collection)

1934 lobby card. (Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes collection)

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Program from 1939. (Lost Laurel collection)

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Program from 1941. (Lost Laurel collection)

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1942 program. (Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes collection)

1942 program. (Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes collection)

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Programs from 1959–61. (Laurel Historical Society archives)

Here, too, is an assortment of Laurel Leader newspaper ads through the years:

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And a poster:

Poster for The Omega Man, 1971. (Lost Laurel collection)

Poster for The Omega Man, 1971. (Lost Laurel collection)

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The theater was Laurel’s first and only movie house until the summer of 1966, when both Wineland’s Laurel Drive-In and Laurel Cinema opened at Laurel Shopping Center. The newer venues (and a minor fire in 1975) took their toll; and in 1976, the iconic Main Street theater called it quits.

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(Photo: Robert Marton)

(Photo: Robert Marton)

(Photo: Ralph Bull)

(Photo: Ralph Bull)

(Photo: Ralph Bull)

(Photo: Ralph Bull)

(Photo: Ralph Bull)

(Photo: Ralph Bull)

“Closed Forever” was a bold statement, and one that fortunately ended up not being entirely accurate.

That same year, Carlo Petrucci—who’d already bought the adjacent Pal Jack’s Pizza at 310 Main Street back in 1970—purchased the building. The sale was noted in the April 26, 1976 issue of Box Office magazine:

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The Petrucci family made a valiant attempt to keep the theater going, and did reopen it with the blockbuster Jaws. They announced it with this personalized ad in the Laurel Leader:

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But the family had more ambitious plans for the building, and in the spring of 1977 came the arrival of Petrucci’s restaurant.

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In less than a year, Petrucci’s was already experimenting with the idea of a full-fledged dinner theater—a concept never before tried in the area. And by the early 1980s, Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre was one of the indisputable highlights of Main Street.

(Laurel Leader ad)

(Laurel Leader ad)

Laurel Leader ad, July 27, 1978. (Lost Laurel colletion)

Laurel Leader ad, July 27, 1978. (Lost Laurel colletion)

1984 program. (Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes collection)

1984 program. (Peter and Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes collection)

Circa 1989. (Laurel Historical Society archives)

Circa 1989. (Laurel Historical Society archives)

But even for the successful Petrucci family, the good times only lasted for about 15 years. Shortly after closing, this quote appeared in the July 25, 1992 Washington Post:

“We realized that to stay open through the summer would have been an exercise in futility,” explains David Petrucci, the sole member of this family-owned operation who has not yet given up on the business.

Thus began the series of hybrid comedy clubs, including Art’s, the Comedy Connection, the Laurel Cinema Cafe, and most recently, The Jokes on Us (aptly named, perhaps).

A 1996 Comedy Connection window display. (Lost Laurel collection)

A 1996 Comedy Connection window display. (Lost Laurel collection)

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Comedy Connection payment folder, c.1990s. (Lost Laurel collection)

There’s a stunning series of photos on Flickr that show the interior of the building in 2011. While the photographer has given it a different name, this is definitely the interior of 312 Main Street. (It may have been an urban exploration shoot—at any rate, the shots are eerily fantastic).

(Photos: Flickr user tmdtheue)

(Photos: Flickr user tmdtheue)

So that brings us to today, where the old building stands—but likely for not much longer.

There’s already been some discussion on the Lost Laurel Facebook page, as well as other local social media sites about the future of the old theater. Complicating the matter is the fact that it sits right in the heart of the city’s own designated “Arts District”—which took another blow in 2012 with the closing of the Laurel Art Center (another building that remains vacant as of this writing).

Many have called upon the Laurel Historical Society to intervene and protect the building, and discussions are underway about possible options other than the inevitable empty lot if it is indeed demolished.

I’ve mentioned that it’s not at all uncommon in cases like this to salvage the façade of the building—just the recognizable front of it—restore it and incorporate that into a brand new, mixed-use building that pays homage to the past. But truth be told, the façade of the old Laurel Theatre was never particularly remarkable, unfortunately, despite its great sentimental value. This would also place significant limits on whatever is constructed behind it.

I have a better idea, albeit probably a farfetched one. Imagine for a moment that it was possible to completely rebuild the Laurel Theatre, just as it was when it first opened in 1929. Now, imagine if it was possible for the city to do it without incurring any cost to itself. (I told you it was farfetched, but bear with me…)

I see this as a chance for the city of Laurel to up their game and create something truly special; and if done properly, I think there’s actually a very good chance that people would help. Lots of people—and not just from Laurel.

They could create an online fundraiser via Kickstarter and/or Indiegogo, where they present the opportunity to not only save the town’s original theater, but to create a genuine, functional showpiece in the heart of the Arts District: a completely rebuilt Laurel Theatre in the 1929 style, but with modern amenities—which could also serve as a type of cultural center for any number of events. Frankly, I can’t think of a more effective way to revitalize Main Street as a whole.

Since it wouldn’t be a privately owned venture, something like this could also likely qualify for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, or similar organizations.

Clearly, the city doesn’t have $2 million to spend on remodeling the theater—even if they wanted to. The $250,000 purchase was an investment toward something—anything–other than the decaying structure that’s been sitting dormant all this time. But if they at least explored the possibility that a national/international fundraiser (plus grants) could actually yield a significant amount of money to do something really special, that’s worth talking about.

Just for comparison’s sake, let’s look at a more famous (or should I say, infamous) theater: Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC.

When you visit Ford’s Theatre today, you probably assume it’s maintained its original appearance all these years, right? Not at all. With the exception of its outside walls, the entire theater is a complete reconstruction.

After the 1865 assassination of President Lincoln, the building understandably closed as a functioning theater. The government purchased it from John T. Ford, and promptly converted it into a three-story office building for the War Department, primarily. In 1893, the unthinkable happened: another tragedy. Load-bearing beams in the basement gave way under the excess weight, causing sections of all three floors above to completely collapse. In what must have been a horrific moment, 22 government employees were killed and at least another 65 were seriously injured.

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(Photo: NPS)

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(Photo: NPS)

The building languished until the 1930s, when it was briefly used as a warehouse for the Department of the Interior before being turned over to the National Park Service as “The Lincoln Museum”—where only the first floor was open to the public. Then, in the 1950s, Congress approved a bill that would fund a complete restoration of Ford’s Theatre to its 1865 appearance. And in 1968, the famous theater opened once again as a historic landmark. These dramatic photos (found on the blog, BoothieBarn) show just how gutted it actually was.

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Granted, I’m not suggesting that the old Laurel Theatre is on par with a national treasure; but I wanted to show that it’s entirely possible to gut the interior of a historic building—or level it completely, if need be—and rebuild it to its original specifications. That’s something that should indeed be considered by the city of Laurel before deciding to sell the property—particularly if they can receive funds to do so.

On the much smaller end of the spectrum, take a look at some of the “save our theater” campaigns that actually are on Kickstarter at the moment. I recently pitched in for one near me in Fairfax, VA. The University Mall Theatres is in dire need of new seats, and has raised over $111,000 in a matter of days with their grassroots campaign. That’s a private business, too—the city of Laurel stands to qualify for considerably more if it goes the non-profit route. And as far as non-profit models go, there’s none better than Silver Spring’s AFI Silver Theatre.

The Silver Theatre in 1938 and 2003 (http://silverspringhistory.homestead.com/theatre.html)

The Silver Theatre in 1938 and 2003 (http://silverspringhistory.homestead.com/theatre.html)

It, too, was dangerously close to meeting the wrecking ball when both citizens and politicians stepped in and capitalized on the opportunity to create something remarkable. The non-profit theater and cultural center now hosts films, film festivals, musical events, and much more. It’s also available for private rentals, further increasing its revenue.

The dedication plaque that hangs in the lobby of the AFI Silver says it all—and could easily be applied to Laurel if you think about the similarities:

THROUGH THE TIRELESS EFFORTS OF
THE SILVER SPRING COMMUNITY, INCLUDING
ITS ELECTED OFFICIALS AND APPOINTED LEADERS,
THE PAST HAS BEEN PRESERVED FOR THE BENEFIT
OF THE FUTURE. AS A CORNERSTONE OF
A REVITALIZED DOWNTOWN, THE AFI SILVER
IS A CENTER OF CULTURAL AND EDUCATIONAL
EXPLORATION, UNITING THOSE WHO VISIT
THROUGH THE POWER OF THE MOVING IMAGE
 
APRIL 4, 2003
 
DOUGLAS M. DUNCAN
MONTGOMERY COUNTY EXECUTIVE
 
JEAN PICKER FIRSTENBERG
DIRECTOR AND CEO, AFI

***

So, the city of Laurel now owns the building at 312 Main Street, and has a very big decision to make in the coming weeks. Much like the doomed Laurel Centre Mall, anything they do with it will likely be an improvement over the past decade. But I hope the city planners will at least take a very careful look at this opportunity before selling the property outright. The elusive key to revitalizing Main Street and creating a legitimate Arts District centerpiece may actually be sitting in their hands as we speak.

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Matchbook, c.1950s. (Lost Laurel collection)

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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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Margaret Edmonston Yearbook, 1977

If you went to Laurel High School in the mid-1980s or beyond, you undoubtedly remember the building known simply as “The Annex”.

The Annex was, in fact, the former Margaret A. Edmonston Elementary—connected to Laurel High with a non-insulated blue corrugated steel walkway that was both sweltering in the summer and freezing in winter. Annexed in 1983, it served LHS for the next 25 years.

The old building is now gone, replaced in 2010 by a $28-million state of the art facility containing an 800-seat auditorium, a black-box theater, rehearsal rooms for band, a chorus room, a dance room, as well as several classrooms and offices. It’s also a dramatic architectural upgrade that the school sorely needed.

But before all of that, it was indeed an elementary school—one in which thousands of young Laurelites began their academic careers. Dave Baker, who now lives in Tennessee, was one of them. And he was kind enough to scan and send me this wonderful set of images from something I never realized even existed: a Margaret Edmonston yearbook from 1977.

As Dave says:

“Sadly, most little yearbooks like this were discarded by most of the kids that bought them. My 80-year-old mother had the foresight to keep this in her cedar chest.”

There are likely several Lost Laurel readers who will find themselves, their friends, family members, and favorite teachers within these pages. (Click on each image to view at full size). The book also includes at least one youngster you might’ve seen on TV in more recent years—actor Mike Shaffrey was in Mrs. Edwards’ 6th grade class.

Edmonston Page 1Edmonston Page 2Edmonston Page 3Edmonston Page 4Edmonston Page 5Edmonston Page 6 Edmonston Page 7Edmonston Page 8Edmonston Page 9 Edmonston Page 10Edmonston Page 11Edmonston Page 12 Edmonston Page 13Edmonston Page 14Edmonston Page 15

Scans courtesy of Dave Baker

 

 

 

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Video: 1989 Main Street Festival

Now here’s a treat.

In a recent treasure trove of Lost Laurel artifacts from collector Peter Lewnes, I was intrigued by this oversized video cassette. Apparently, it was a copy of the old Laurel Cable Network‘s coverage of the 1989 Main Street Festival.

1989 Main Street Festival video case 1 1989 Main Street Festival video case 21989 Main Street Festival videotape label

It’s something called a U-matic cassette, and it’s nearly twice the size of a standard VHS tape. In other words, it’s beyond obsolete in today’s digital world—which is probably why it ended up being discarded in the first place.

Nonetheless, I asked around (it’s good to have buddies in the independent film industry) about production houses that could possibly salvage the tape, converting it to a digital file which I could share here. After a few local places didn’t pan out, I reluctantly shipped the old cassette across the country to Portland, Oregon, to a place called HD Media Services which came recommended by a friend who’d had some old Super-8 films successfully converted.

It was touch and go for awhile, as I was told that the first transfer didn’t go as well as they’d hoped. (I never considered just how badly videotape degrades over the years…) Luckily, they were able to salvage it, and the digital file arrived today!

It’s a full hour of coverage, highlighted by the parade—with a number of familiar faces from 1989. There’s also commentary, identifying many of them.

So, get ready to step back in time 25 years. Oh, and pick me up some funnel cakes and a lemonade while you’re there, please.

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Fair Lanes: Bowling for Patches!

I should preface this by saying that during my own tenure as a Fair Lanes youth league duckpin bowler in the early 1980s, the few awards I won looked like this:

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*Yawn*

And I wasn’t that bad a bowler. In fact, I had a handful of these little patches—awarded for various league achievements. But looking at them today, they’re pretty lackluster as far as patch designs go, aren’t they? In fact, the most ornate of the ones I earned are probably these, which aren’t much better.

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These were the products of the new Fair Lanes of the early 80s—the recently re-branded version of the venerable bowling alley franchise, which sought to distance itself from the stereotypical bowling alley riffraff of the 60s and 70s.

A new logo (a stylized hand releasing a bowling ball) was paired with a new bold italic typeface, creating a more modern look and feel. However, Laurel’s bowling alley (which opened in 1961) kept its original sign along Route 1 for some time afterward, before the new logo was finally applied.

Photos: John Floyd II, 1974

Photos: John Floyd II, 1974

And that was a good thing, because the original sign was about as classic as it got. It included Fair Lanes’ original logo, which was brilliantly simplistic—the name spelled out across ten frames of a perfect bowling scorecard. And the logo’s integration with the sign was equally genius—communicating who, what, and where simultaneously: “Bowl at Fair Lanes Laurel”

The sign was so well designed, it actually became as iconic as the logo itself. It was used throughout the 60s and 70s on some of the most prestigious league award patches a bowler could earn. And comparing them to the more understated versions of later years, you can really get a sense of just how strong the brand identity was.

The Fair Lanes sign evoked excitement in a Las Vegas way—big, bold, and bright. The vintage patches I’ve found that incorporated it into the design capture that spirit in an array of color combinations that, frankly, make you want to stop whatever you’re doing and just go bowling right now.

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The League President and League Secretary patches of the time featured the sign in a more subdued, straightforward manner:

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Many of the more minor patches didn’t use the literal sign, but still featured the original Fair Lanes logo prominently.

FAIRLANES-IYBP-JUNIOR-AWARD

FAIRLANES-IYBP-JUNIOR-AWARD-BLUE

FAIRLANES-IYBP-BANTAM-AWARD

FAIRLANES-YBP-MEMBER-BLUE

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Some manipulated the logo to fit the shape of the patch:

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FAIRLANES-IYBP-MEMBER-BLACK

FAIRLANES-IYBP-MEMBER-RED

FAIRLANES-MIDGET-AWARD

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FAIRLANES-IYBP-SENIOR-AWARD-130CLUB

FAIRLANES-IYBP-HIGH-SET-155-CLUB

FAIRLANES-IYBP-HIGH-SET-175-CLUB

FAIRLANES-IYBP-BANTAM-AWARD-110-CLUB

FAIRLANES-IYBP-BANTAM-AWARD-300-CLUB

FAIRLANES-DUCKPINS-400

Others branched off from the logo entirely, creating their own unique look:

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These “I Beat My Coach” patches are interesting—depicting a humanoid bowling ball standing victoriously over a vanquished, dead pin. Who says bowling isn’t a violent sport?

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The leagues that I played in also never used the classic bowling shirts that you think of—we had these boring, short sleeved polos, where the most colorful feature was the small screenprinted logo itself.

1980s Fair Lanes bowling shirtFAIRLANES-STAR

You could put as many of those little stars on it as would fit, but it still didn’t have the awesomeness that any one of those vintage patches would have wielded.

That gives me an idea. Maybe I should have these all sewn onto a vintage button down bowling shirt, and then wear it into the nearest bowling alley and just watch people’s heads explode.

 

FAIRLANES-BIRTHDAY

Laurel’s bowling alley is still there, still open for business under AMF management. The duckpins are long gone, however; as is that familiar aroma of lane wax that used to hit you as soon as you entered the door. We can thank the advent of synthetic lanes for that travesty; but I can still see no reason why bowling patch designs should have ever been tamed.

 

 

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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:

Scan 248 - Version 3

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.

Scan 250

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:

Scan 249

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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Pappy’s Family Pub

It’s been a couple of years since I first posted about Pappy’s Family Pub, and with a few new discoveries since then, I think an update is warranted.

Pappy’s opened in 1976 in what is currently the Wells Fargo Bank on Route 1, directly across from Laurel Shopping Center.

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Shortly after the restaurant opened, the Laurel News Leader ran a feature on it, which included a couple of interior photos—including that memorable glass window where you could watch the pizza magic being made.

(Laurel News Leader, 1/15/76)

(Laurel News Leader, 1/15/76)

(Laurel News Leader, 1/15/76)

(Laurel News Leader, 1/15/76)

The full article appears below (click for full size).

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Local yearbooks included a few ads and photos, as well:

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(1976 Laurel High School Rambler; Laurel Historical Society archives)

(1976 Laurel High School Rambler; Laurel Historical Society archives)

While these pictures provide a rare and nostalgic interior view of the actual Laurel location, they still don’t completely do justice to the full Pappy’s experience—a sensory overload of delicious pizza aromas and colorful, old-timey fun.

What most people tend to recall at the first mention of Pappy’s are those styrofoam hats—which were worn by staff members and available for kids. After years of searching for one, I’ve finally tracked down a pair of the original hats! One of them will soon be at the Laurel Museum, as part of the ever-expanding Lost & Found Laurel exhibit. Hmm… They’re a bit smaller than I remember.

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I’ve also found one I didn’t realize ever existed—a cheaper, flat paper alternative. Apparently, these became the more cost-effective giveaways, while the employees continued to wear the real thing.

pappys-hat-paper

And speaking of employees, Francesfoxvintage, a seller on etsy.com, actually has an original Pappy’s waitress uniform for sale—the likes of which probably hasn’t been seen since the 1970s ended. It provides an even better sense of the vivid red and black color palette that permeated Pappy’s.

il_fullxfull.583662385_nhuuil_fullxfull.583662289_6k87il_fullxfull.583551052_i4ln  il_fullxfull.583552268_jslz  il_fullxfull.583551116_px9p

Pappy’s didn’t only serve pizza, of course; and now we’ve got the hot dog containers to prove it.

pappys-hotdog-tray

A pair of matchbooks from Laurel’s Pappy’s, courtesy of Kevin Leonard:

Pappy's matchbooks from Kevin Leonard

Last, but not least, the crown jewel of plastic toy rings. Behold!

pappys-ring

As convenient as delivery has become with the likes of Domino’s, et al, there will always be something about a genuine old pizza restaurant experience that just can’t be topped. No pun intended.

 

 

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Laurel’s Link to Sports (Collectors) History

When I was about 11 years old, I started collecting baseball and football cards. As a sports fan, the early 1980s was an exciting time to be living in Laurel, Maryland—literally midway between the 1982 Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins and the 1983 World Series Champion Baltimore Orioles.

It was around that time that Mike McNeal, one of my best friends in the neighborhood, gave me something that upped the ante: a handful of plastic protector sheets for my collection. He’d found them at a place called “Den’s Collectors Den”, which was tucked away in the Laureldale Business Center off Rt. 198 in Maryland City, just behind what was then the Toyota dealership on Laureldale Drive. How he ever found it, I still don’t know; but one day, his mom drove us both there to stock up.

dens-catalogue-centerfold-1984

dens-google-map-location

These plastic sheets are common today, and come in more shapes and sizes than ever—in fact, I use Ultra Pro Platinum sheets for the bulk of my Lost Laurel stuff: 8″ x 10″ photos, matchbook covers, 4″ x 6″ postcards… and, of course, Bob Windsor football cards.

ultra-pro-platinum-pages

But those early sheets from Den’s Collectors Den are even more special today—the name and Laurel address were embossed right into the plastic!

DENS-COLLECTORS-DEN-WINDSOR

Admittedly, I was never what you’d call a serious collector. I liked finding cards of my favorite players, and trading with friends; and to some degree, the design of those old cards might have even played a small part with me eventually becoming a graphic designer. But at the time, the concept of “value” never really entered my mind. I knew that older cards were certainly worth more, but that was about the extent of it. Of course, now I cringe at the memory of the countless rookie cards I let slip through my fingers… Cal Ripken and Rickey Henderson… Joe Montana and John Elway… *sigh* But I digress.

No, back then it was all for fun—as it should be. And part of the fun was discovering the tools of the collecting trade itself, and there was no better guide to such things than a catalog from Den’s Collectors Den.

dens-catalogue-cover-1984dens-catalogue-backcover-1984

Absolutely stuffed with products and information, the catalogs themselves were something to behold. More than anything, Den’s promoted an array of baseball card pricing guides—which were updated every year to give collectors (even amateurs like me) a guideline for card values. It was an added thrill to look up a particular card in your collection, and find that it was more valuable than others. In my case, this usually meant a difference of about 40¢. But again, I digress.

1984 Street and Smith Dens Ad

These price guides also included a “condition guide”, which showed you the basics for grading cards—everything from “mint condition” to “poor”.

card condition guide

What I didn’t realize at the time (and, in fact, only recently learned) was that the whole concept of sports card pricing guides essentially began with Den’s Collectors Den—specifically, the owner, Dennis “Denny” Eckes.

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Dennis W. Eckes, 1983 (Photo: The Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide Number 5)

Denny had produced a rudimentary handbook between 1975 and 1978, called “The Sport Americana Checklist”—a nearly 100-page, saddle-stitched black and white booklet that was a mishmash of typeset lists, thumbnail images to represent each card type, and numerous late additions clearly made with a common typewriter. It was exactly what the title claimed—a basic checklist of every baseball card issued since 1948, and some generalized pricing information added to the backmatter. But in this completely uncredited book was the basic formula for what would become the modern sports card price guide.

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The 1975 checklist booklet.

Sport Americana 1st checklist

Detail from the 1975 booklet. Hmm… I should check into whether or not I’m related to #392 Bob Friend.

 

Scan 218 Den's ad, 1978 checklist back

Everything changed the very next year, when Denny teamed up with a statistician and fellow collector named Dr. James Beckett. Yes, that Dr. James Beckett—the one who would eventually launch Beckett Media, the world’s preeminent authority on collecting. In 1979, they produced what is today universally acknowledged as the first price guide of its kind. And as you can see on the title page, it was published and distributed by Den’s Collectors Den of Laurel, Maryland.

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Due to demand, there were actually two versions of the first Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide in 1979. And when I say “in demand”, I mean it—kids and adults alike clamored for the book, and most weren’t exactly gentle with it in their haste to discover the value of the hidden gems in their collection:

sport-americana-1979-no1-ducktape

Someone was determined to hold this copy together by any means necessary. (Photo: eBay)

The edition with the white cover was the original, and is the Holy Grail of price guides if there ever was one. But shortly thereafter, an alternate cover was designed that included the “Baseball Card” logo in a custom typeface—this would appear on all subsequent issues under the Sport Americana banner. And on the back cover of both was a full-page, full-color ad for Den’s Collectors Den.

sport-americana-no1-front-coversport-americana-no1-back-cover

sport-americana-no1-title-page

Inside cover & title page of the updated version, which included author bios.

Eckes and Beckett didn’t stop there. Throughout the early 1980s, they expanded the Sport Americana brand with additional books, including the Alphabetical Baseball Card Checklist (1979) and the Baseball Memorabilia and Autograph Price Guide (1982).

sprot-americana-alphabet-checklist-no1-cover

sport-americana-baseball-memorabilia-no1-cover

All the while, Den’s Collectors Den—the physical store in Laurel—continued its success. The price guides, plastic protector sheets, and other goodies were hot sellers.

Always the collector, Denny traveled the country, participating in the fledgling sports card trading show circuit—which itself is a massive industry today. In his dealings, he’d frequently unearth rare items which he’d typically manage to share with the collecting community in some shape or form. A perfect example was his discovery of previously unpublished artwork that matched the 1934-36 series of the National Chicle Company’s popular Diamond Stars set. A blank-backed proof sheet of 12 additional cards was determined to be the series’ 1937 extension that never was; and Denny ultimately had the proof reproduced and the cards brought to life in 1981. He even reinterpreted the classic wrapper itself, which bears his company’s name and Laurel address.

DIAMOND STARS WITH WRAPPER 1981

diamond-stars-1934-1981-wrappers

For $3, you could buy a professionally-printed set of 12 cards that completed a legendary collection that had been cut short some 45 years earlier.

diamond-stars-reprint-packagediamond-stars-cards-dens-plasticdens-diamond-stars-reprint-backdens-diamond-stars-reprint-ad

This type of “reprint” was extremely rare at the time, and it inspired Denny to create yet another niche in the market. Den’s Collectors Den also carried similar extension sets and reprints produced by other manufacturers, such as the 1952 Bowman set by TCMA.

Den's 1952 Bowman Extension ad

I’ve heard from a number of collectors and hobbyists who knew Denny Eckes personally, and I’ve never heard a negative thing about the man. Naturally, I was curious as to what became of him, as there seemed to be very little information beyond the final books he produced in 1990—expanding into football and basketball price guides, as well as a book of baseball players’ agents’ mailing addresses for autograph hunters.

Unfortunately, I found the answer in the June 1991 issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly, one of the many expanded publishing efforts that James Beckett had taken on after his early success with Denny and Sport Americana. Filling the first page of that issue is a moving tribute—a eulogy to Dennis W. Eckes, who’d passed away unexpectedly in his sleep on April 15, 1991. He was only 48. The eulogy was written by Dr. Beckett himself, and paints a glowing portrait of a true visionary whose influence is still being felt in what has become a bigger business than ever before.

becket-monthly-june91-cover becket-monthly-june91-memorian

Denny Eckes, who ran the inconspicuous little sports memorabilia shop in a Laurel industrial park, made quite a splash in his short lifetime. My only personal experience with him was some 30 years ago—as a kid at his glass display counter, eager to plop down my meager allowance at 25¢ per plastic sheet for my football cards. But the products he sold and the pastime he promoted have certainly stuck with me all these years, and I’m grateful to finally know and share a bit more about his legacy. Hopefully, someone who knows his story better than I do will be able to help shed even more light on this remarkable man.

 

dens-store-ad

 

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Meeting Bob Windsor… Again!

A couple of weeks ago, I had the good fortune of learning something new on my own Lost Laurel Facebook page. Reader John Mewshaw posted a link to a sports memorabilia event being held at the Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Listed there, at the very bottom of the page (by Cincinnati Bengals running back Ickey Woods—he of the famous “Ickey Shuffle”) was none other than Bob Windsor—the former NFL tight end who owned the wonderful Bob Windsor’s All-Pro Sports at Laurel Plaza Shopping Center throughout the 1970s and 80s. Bob was going to be there signing autographs the very next morning!

CSA Chantilly Show, Bob Windsor

It just so happens that today, I live only a few miles from the Dulles Expo Center; and I hadn’t seen Bob Windsor since I was a kid in his store nearly 30 years ago—when I would look forward to getting an autographed 8″ x 10″ with every purchase.

Bob Windsor 1980s autographed photo

A well-worn memento from the past, circa 1983

I made the short drive to Chantilly on Saturday morning, April 5th, and found the place packed just as it opened. Even though I knew where Bob’s table would be located, he was easy to spot, chatting with an old-timer from the area. I waited patiently behind the older gentleman, and when it was my turn, I said, (with a straight face) “Hi Bob. I’ve had this coupon for like 30 years, and there doesn’t seem to be an expiration date on it…”

I watched the confusion on his face turn to laughter when I revealed the “coupon” to be an enlarged print of one of his 1980s sneaker trade-in ads. “HOLY COW,” he exclaimed. “I haven’t seen one of those since… I don’t know when!”

Bob Windsor & Richard Friend, 4/5/14

I then revealed what I’d really come to do. I introduced myself, explaining that I’d grown up at Steward Manor Apartments just across the street from his store, and that my friends and I used to practically live there. Now a graphic designer, I’d actually created a book about Laurel’s past businesses—Lost Laurel. I leafed through the book to the 1980s section, and watched Bob’s face light up even more when he spotted pages 158–159:

Lost Laurel book: Bob Windsor

I told him that I wanted to give him the book (and some extra copies for his family) and finally say thank you for the countless good memories he and his store provided, and for all he’s done for Laurel, Maryland through the years. I had the chance to chat with him for a few moments, and he explained the history behind that memorable photo of him:

“We were playing the Giants—that was actually in Yankee Stadium. I had just caught that pass, (from quarterback Jim Plunkett) and was only on my feet for about a second and a half… and then got hit and flipped upside down by a linebacker and a defensive back!”

When I asked if he could remember who the linebacker and defensive back were, Bob laughed and said, “Oh, I don’t want to remember!”

We shook hands again, and Bob asked if I was a Redskins fan. Without getting into my long-winded NFL fan history, (which included a brutal 27 years, rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles throughout some of their lowliest seasons) I simply said yes—I’m finally trying to cheer for my own home team these days. With that, Bob reached into a folder and handed me a signed Sonny Jurgensen photo. (!!!) He then pointed to the sneaker trade-in ad I’d brought, and in a moment that transported me straight back to 1983, he asked, “Want me to sign that for you?”

Yes, indeed I did. :)

Bob Windsor's ad, 1986

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Lost Laurel Books… Thank You!

After nearly 20 lengthy trips to my local post office, I’m happy to report that all* of the Lost Laurel books have finally been mailed! (Cue applause!)

Most of you should have already received your books and Kickstarter rewards by now, but the final batch went out today—so everyone who pre-ordered should have their books in hand before the end of this week.

If you’ve ever wondered what the collective receipts for nearly 500 packages looks like, here’s a glimpse:

post office receipts

I greatly appreciate everyone’s patience, as I know this has been a long time coming. As I’ve mentioned, I had to package and mail each book myself, and did so in the order in which I received payment. So, there was a lengthy list of Kickstarter supporters who came first—many of which required boxes, with things like fragile Little Tavern coffee mugs carefully packed inside along with the book itself. I then moved on to the later pre-orders placed via PayPal.

The unexpected snafus from the printer really threw more than just a wrench in the works, as I’ve detailed before. Aside from their shipping delays, the limited-edition hardcover books inadvertently became even more limited when they mistakenly only printed 100 rather than the 200 I’d ordered. I ended up receiving a total of 143, which unfortunately still wasn’t enough. A few customers who pre-ordered hardcovers via PayPal late in the game will have to settle for a signed softcover instead—along with a Lost Laurel postcard pack and a portion of your payment refunded to the softcover price. (This has already been done, so if you didn’t receive a PayPal partial refund, your order wasn’t affected).

That drama aside, I’m glad to hear that the books are arriving and people are pleased with them! I even received an actual thank you card from someone recently! That wasn’t necessary, but it made my day, and I certainly appreciate it.

Going back to the very start of this project, I want to reiterate my appreciation of the generous contributions from so many of you–contributions that ultimately were the difference in this book getting made. As you’ll see in the book itself, there are two spreads of acknowledgments thanking everyone who pitched in during the Kickstarter campaign, and I’d like to publish those names here, as well. A very big thank you to you all, indeed!

 

Thank you spread 1

Thank you spread 2

 

*There are still a couple of you who ordered books, but haven’t sent me your mailing addresses: Anita M. Mueller and Geoff Childs! If you’d like to pick them up in person, I’ll be at the Laurel Municipal Pool Room (9th & Main Street) this Thursday night (April 10th) at 7PM for Kevin Leonard’s “History Matters Expanded” presentation.

The Laurel Museum will also be open that night from 6–7, and their gift shop has the remaining supply of Lost Laurel books for anyone wishing to buy extra copies. They also have exhibit posters available in two sizes, and designed by yours truly! I’ll be on hand Thursday night, signing copies. Stop by and say hello!

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