The Deadly Mantis… In Laurel!

While chatting with guests at the wonderful new Laurel Museum exhibit, “Ripped from the Headlines: Laurel in the News” this past Sunday, (more on that in a near-future update, by the way) an interesting topic came up. My friend, Clark Shaffer, reminded me of a classic B-movie in which the town of Laurel played a cameo—“The Deadly Mantis.”

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This also reminded me that, somewhere under piles of paper (and God only knows what else) in my office, I actually have a copy of this on DVD. I’d found it well over a year ago on eBay—after somebody else on Lost Laurel had mentioned the scene.

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And all this time, I’d never watched it. So, without further ado, let’s have a look!

Of course, none of this was actually filmed on location in Laurel; but rather, some Universal Studios sound stage. (Much like the 1997 Gary Sinise film, “George Wallace”—where the attempted assassination scene looks very much like the parking lot of Laurel Shopping Center… until one notices palm trees in the background.)

But imagine the unexpected excitement local residents must have felt some 40 years earlier, just upon hearing our little town mentioned in a real Hollywood movie! It was only late the previous year (1956) when Laurel Shopping Center first opened, and now this.

I’m just going to throw this out there: I doubt Laurel has an “official insect”, but clearly it needs to be the mantis.

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Laurel TV: History of Laurel Shopping Center, Part 2

The latest episode of Lost Laurel on Laurel TV is the second part (and finale) of our special History of Laurel Shopping Center. Whereas Part 1 focused on the 1956 grand opening festivities, Part 2 covers the 1966 expansion that doubled the shopping center’s size; as well as the 1971 addition of Georgetown Alley, and 1979 arrival of Laurel Centre Mall. There’s also a segment on the shocking 1972 assassination attempt of Governor George Wallace.

Laurel Leader “History Matters” columnist Kevin Leonard and I had the pleasure of spending a morning reminiscing on location with Denny Berman, whose father and uncle built Laurel Shopping Center. Denny, who fondly remembers the Fifteen Fabulous Days grand opening as a six-year-old, essentially grew up at the shopping center—where he eventually joined the family business, and today is a General Partner of Berman Enterprises.

This episode also marks entirely new territory for me, having had to learn (very quickly, I might add) to both film and edit it myself. Tyler Baldwin, who had not only deftly handled such duties for each of the previous episodes—but initially pitched the very idea for the series—started a new job in December. (Good luck, Tyler!) Rather than start over with another director, I decided to take a stab at producing it all on my own and simply delivering the final product to Laurel TV. While it was a little scary, (and a lot of work) I have to say, I did enjoy putting it together and being able to see the story evolve from start to finish. I hope you’ll enjoy the result, as well.

My thanks also to sound designer Donnie Conty, who (despite having never been to Laurel before in his life) joined Kevin, Denny and me on that cold, rainy morning at Laurel Shopping Center to ensure that I filmed everything correctly. He then worked his audio magic on the final cut, making sure it sounds great.

My plan is to continue producing the show on my own, hopefully still at a rate of one new episode per month. I’ve already started on January’s edition, which you’ll see a teaser for at the end of this one. It will cover the Lost & Found Laurel exhibit, which just closed at the Laurel Museum on December 21st. Beyond that, let me know what you’d like to see! I’m considering everything from past restaurants, department stores, specific neighborhoods, vintage crimes, and more. Keep the ideas coming, and as always, thanks for your interest!

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Merry Christmas Past

I’m guessing that when this Laurel family received this Christmas card in 1935, they never dreamed it would find its way onto the internet 79 years later. Or that there’d be something called “an internet”.

Wishing you and yours the merriest of Christmases!

~ Richard

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Laurel TV: Teaser for Next Episode

Laurel Leader columnist Kevin Leonard and I recently had the pleasure of spending a morning at Laurel Shopping Center—reminiscing with the wonderful Denny Berman, whose family built the complex in 1956. I’m still working on the full episode for Laurel TV, (this busy holiday schedule isn’t cooperating) but here’s a teaser trailer in the meantime.

My thanks to Denny and Kevin for braving what turned out to be a cold, rainy morning—albeit one that didn’t hinder the memories. Also, to Donnie Conty, who helped set us up with the necessary tools to produce this one on my own. I think it turned out well, and hopefully you’ll be as excited about this upcoming episode as I am!

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The Winning Picture!

A while back, I thought it would be fun to run a little contest, and asked readers who’d bought the Lost Laurel book to take a photo (or modify one in Photoshop, etc.) that creatively incorporated the book. The idea actually came from a photo that Facebook fan Mike Flester posted shortly after receiving his copy in the mail. He wrote:

The awesome #LostLaurelBook has arrived and found it’s place on Main Street. The book stirred up lots of nice memories of things and recollections of things I remember the older generations talking about. Thanks Richard!

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While I want to thank everyone who took the time to send in a photo, I think it’s safe to say that this one nailed it from the start. It also reminded me that I still have to find some of these vintage Cat’s Meow® Laurel landmarks for my own collection! I’d never even seen the ones for Cook’s, Gavriles’, Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre, and the Laurel Meat Market before, so if anyone has extras they’d like to sell, kindly let me know!

Mike, I did find this very small one, which would look great front and center in your photo:

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For his entry, Mike wins another signed copy of Lost Laurel—just in time for Christmas. It’s on its way!

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Lost Laurel TV: Laurel Shopping Center, Part 1

The latest episode of Lost Laurel on Laurel TV has aired, and is available on their YouTube channel. They’ve given me an HD version to post for my own archive, which is great, since the video includes some fantastic vintage photos!

This is the first of a two-part series on the history of Laurel Shopping Center, which focuses on the 1956 grand opening—including an itinerary of the “Fifteen Fabulous Days” celebration, the incredible promotions created by owners Melvin & Wolford Berman and Arthur Robinson, and an interview with Bart Scardina, Jr., whose father opened Bart’s Barber Shop as one of the original tenants. Of those original businesses, only Bart’s and Giant Food remain open today.

Part 2 will cover the 1966 expansion of the shopping center, the 1971 addition of Georgetown Alley, and the 1979 arrival of Laurel Centre Mall. We’ll also look at Laurel Shopping Center’s day of infamy—the 1972 assassination attempt of Governor George Wallace. We’ll be filming that in the coming weeks.

As always, a special thanks to Laurel Leader “History Matters” columnist Kevin Leonard for his segment, and to Denny Berman and Bart Scardina, Jr. for taking the time to share their memories.

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Laurel Shopping Center… The Theme Song?

Just so you know, you’ll be hearing me talk about “The Berman Collection” quite a bit in the coming months.

The Berman Collection is a treasure trove of photographs, newspaper clippings, and other artifacts from the family of Laurel Shopping Center founders Melvin and Wolford Berman.

While researching the early days of Laurel Shopping Center for a recent 3-part Laurel Leader column, historian Kevin Leonard met with Melvin’s son, Dennis Berman—now General Partner of all Berman Enterprises entities.

Denny proved not only to be a wonderful source of information, but keenly interested in helping us document the history of the groundbreaking shopping center his family built in 1956, which quite literally put Laurel on the map—at least in the eyes of retailers, shoppers, and those not solely interested in horse racing (which, to be fair, put Laurel on the map several decades earlier).

With incredible generosity, Denny Berman decided to donate a massive number of materials to the Laurel Historical Society, including a large scrapbook specifically documenting every phase of the “Fifteen Fabulous Days” campaign that comprised the November 1956 grand opening of Laurel Shopping Center. If you’re interested in such history as I am, trust me when I tell you that it’s the Holy Grail.

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I’ve already shared a few photos on the Lost Laurel Facebook page, but that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. Kevin and I have been slowly but surely photographing and scanning every inch of the collection before it goes into the Laurel Museum—we’re working on a book that will showcase the material and the Berman family’s contribution to Laurel.

That being said, one of the most intriguing pieces in the collection is this empty record sleeve:

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What’s interesting about it? According to a description card, the sleeve originally held a recording (no known copies exist) of a Laurel Shopping Center theme song—which played on speakers throughout the center, on TV and radio commercials… even from a helicopter.

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Now, I told you Denny Berman is a wonderful source of information. He’s also a great sport. I had the pleasure of meeting him this week with Kevin, and when I brought up the theme song topic, he not only remembered the lyrics—he agreed to sing it for me.

This will be part of the next episode of the Lost Laurel TV show, which is actually a 2-part series on the history of Laurel Shopping Center. It features many of the photos from The Berman Collection, and Denny himself plans to join us on location for the second part, which I’m really looking forward to filming with Laurel TV in early December.

With the new Towne Centre at Laurel planning its official grand opening this Saturday (despite having been open for quite some time already) on the site of the former Laurel Centre Mall, it’s the perfect time to take a closer look at the history of the mall that started it all.

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Lost Laurel TV: Halloween

The second episode of Lost Laurel on Laurel TV is now on YouTube! It’s a special Halloween episode, which Laurel TV has been airing locally every day this week at 4PM on their network.

Some of the highlights:

  • We get to meet Rich Blankenship, who operates Laurel’s House of Horror in the old Cinema at Laurel Shopping Center, and learn the history behind the movie theater and its recently-replaced marquee.
  • We touch on some of the ghosts of buildings past, including Fyffe’s Service Center.
  • Learn about the allegedly haunted Bay ‘n Surf restaurant, and the bizarre murder that may have inspired the spooky stories.
  • A tragedy at the 1980 Laurel Centre Mall Halloween Costume Contest, in which yours truly may or may not have inadvertently scared beloved Congresswoman Gladys Noon Spellman to death.
  • Laurel Leader “History Matters” columnist Kevin Leonard gives us the complete history of the notoriously creepy Laurel Sanitarium.
  • Was/is the Avondale Mill site haunted?
  • The spectre of the Ninth Street Bridge, and James Ladenburg‘s amazing miniature replica of it.

This was a fun episode to produce, and it’s wonderful to see some effects enhancements starting to come into play now that we’re getting the hang of things.

Now that there are two shows, one of the recurring themes you might pick up on throughout the series is the opening title graphic. For each episode, I’ve designed a “newspaper” front page in the style of the Laurel Leader from when I grew up in the 80s. It sets the stage for whatever the theme will be, and makes for a functional way of cataloging the episodes.

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Laurel Leader sample 1987

It’s one more way to have fun with this project, and as I get further into it, look for some even “older” front page newspaper treatments to emerge. ;)

We’re already planning next month’s episode, which will actually be a two-part series covering the building of Laurel Shopping Center—and there are lots of great stories and photos to be included in that one.

Special thanks to Tyler Baldwin for her hard work and patience, and for also fixing and re-uploading the earlier Main Street episode, which is available here:

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Lost Laurel TV: Main Street

By now, you’ve heard me talk about an exciting opportunity I was recently approached about—hosting a Lost Laurel TV show for the City of Laurel’s newly revamped Laurel TV. For the pilot episode, we focused on historic Main Street, and tried to cover the entire span block by block.

It’s highlighted by interviews with Laurel Historical Society Boardmember Jhanna Levin, who discusses the history of the Laurel Museum; Marvin Rogers, President of the Laurel Mill Playhouse; historian and Laurel Leader columnist Kevin Leonard, who tells the story of the 1911 robbery of the Citizens National Bank; and Jim Cross of the Laurel Board of Trade, who recalls the early history of the Main Street Festival.

My job is to introduce the show, and then mercifully tell the majority of the stories through historic photos and voiceovers.

Now, when I say “my job,” I want to make sure you understand that this is all entirely voluntary for me. I have no experience as a TV guy, nor am I a City of Laurel employee. In fact, I’m not even a resident—and it’s been quite a logistical challenge volunteering the time to produce a show about Laurel’s history when I live in Northern Virginia. But I’ve been willing to give it a shot, because I enjoy sharing the material.

And with Laurel TV being a completely rebooted venture for the city, there will understandably be a few growing pains on their end, too.

That being said, we shot the Main Street episode in September, and it has been airing on Laurel TV (Comcast channel 71 and Verizon FiOS channel 12); also streaming on their website every Sunday morning at 11AM. I just received a copy of it on DVD, which I’d hoped would correct an audio glitch at about the 10:18 mark. Unfortunately, it didn’t, but I’m going to upload it anyway. (As I mentioned, growing pains.)

The plan is to air a new episode every month, and we’ve got a special Halloween show coming up next that I’m really excited about—that’s already going to be airing next Sunday, October 26th. I’ll be archiving each episode and posting them here on the blog, as well.

So, without further ado, here’s the very first episode of Lost Laurel, the TV show. Hope you enjoy it!

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Lost Laurel Trivia Night: Nov 8th

Looking for something fun to do on a Saturday night about a month from now?

If you’re in the Laurel area, join me at the historic Tastee Diner on Rt. 1 near Main Street for Lost Laurel Trivia Night, hosted by the Laurel Historical Society!

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This will be our second Trivia Night, having had a blast at Nuzback’s for the inaugural event back in May. Hosting these at locations that have served Laurel for decades makes them all the more fun, and it’s a great way to support local businesses.

No RSVP is needed, and you can create your own team or join one on the fly. The format is simple and straightforward—we read from a list of questions in different categories, all related to Laurel history (the questions are also projected on the wall, in case you miss any) and someone from your team writes down your answers. We may have a speed round, an “identify the logo” round, or some other twists; and there will be prizes for the winners!

The cost to play is $5 for non-members of the Laurel Historical Society, and $3 for members. All proceeds go to the Laurel Museum. The Tastee Diner has a substantial menu to order from, (the crab cake sandwich is one of my favorites!) and will be offering drink specials that night as well.

We’ll be providing all the paper, pencils and everything you’ll need. You just show up with your appetite, and your Lost Laurel trivia knowledge!

Lost Laurel Trivia Night
Saturday, November 8th
7:00 PM
Tastee Diner
118 Washington Blvd.
For more information, visit laurelhistoricalsociety.org or email director@laurelhistoricalsociety.org

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