R.I.P., Two of Laurel’s Finest

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Unless it involves a particular photo or artifact that’s relevant to the retail history of Laurel, I really don’t write a lot about the town’s police, fire, or rescue personnel. But I’ve certainly always had the greatest respect for them all.

This past Sunday, I had the chance to chat with Chief Rich McLaughlin at the city’s annual Mayor’s Open House event, and learned some sad news: the Laurel Police Department had just heard of the passing of not one, but two important members of their family: retired Chief Archie Cook, and retired Captain Philip Pollack.

Both have always been very familiar names to me, having grown up in the era in which they served. I remember Archie Cook’s name being in the Laurel Leader perpetually; and Phil Pollack was the officer I’d most often see cruising through my Steward Manor neighborhood in the early 1980s, keeping a kind but watchful eye on things.

Both of these gentlemen dedicated years—some of them dangerous years—keeping Laurel’s residents and businesses safe. When you reminisce about the places you frequented between the 1960s and 2000s, I hope you’ll take a moment to remember Chief Cook and Captain Pollack, who collectively served in Laurel’s line of duty for nearly half a century.

My thanks to them, and my condolences to their families, friends, and colleagues. Many thanks also to Chief McLaughlin for supplying photos for the above tribute graphic, and the following information on both men’s careers and respective funeral services:

Chief Archie Cook started his career at the Laurel Police Department in August of 1965, being promoted to Private First Class in 1968 and Corporal in 1969. In 1972, Cook was one of the officers who threw themselves on Alabama Governor George Wallace after an assassination attempt during a presidential campaign event at Laurel Shopping Center. Cook was promoted to Sergeant in 1976, Lieutenant in 1981, acting Chief in 1986, and was appointed Chief in July of 1987. He served as the Chief until his retirement in September of 1994. After his retirement, Chief Cook continued to serve the Laurel community as a security officer at Laurel High School. He later became the program coordinator for the Leadership Development Institute at the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commissions. Chief Cook was a well-rounded and highly respected officer and administrator, earning many awards and praise throughout his career. Chief McLaughlin said “Archie was a true leader, he was great friend who was always available to provide advice and guidance. He helped to make the Laurel Police Department what it is today.” Chief Cook is survived by his wife Deborah, his daughter Shannon Stastny, and granddaughter Michelle Stastny.

Funeral services for Chief Archie Cook
Thursday, March 26, 2015

2–4 and 6–8 PM
Connelly Funeral Home of Dundalk
7110 Sollers Point Road
Dundalk, Maryland

A service to celebrate Archie’s life will be held on Friday, March 27th at 10:00 AM, also at the funeral home.

Interment following the service will be at Gardens of Faith Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital: 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105.

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Captain Phillip Pollack began his career as a police officer at the University of Maryland College Park in November 1976 when he left to join the Laurel Police Department in the spring of 1980. He was promoted to Corporal in 1986, but left the department to pursue business interests. However, he returned to serve Laurel in 1990 and was again promoted to Corporal in 1995. He quickly advanced to Sergeant in 1998, Lieutenant in 2000, and Captain in 2007 before retiring in June of 2008. After his retirement, Captain Pollack worked as a project manager for a private security company. During his career Captain Pollack was a highly decorated officer and served in almost every unit of the agency, including the Emergency Response Team, Criminal Investigations, and Community Policing. Chief McLaughlin said “Phil will truly be missed, he was a great police officer, mentor and friend. He will never be forgotten.”

Captain Pollack is survived by his wife Carolin, children Matthew (Jen), Kimberly (Pat), Nathaniel (Kristen), and six grandchildren.

Funeral services for Captain Philip Pollack:
Wednesday March 25, 2015  
1:30 PM
University of Maryland Memorial Chapel – College Park
7600 Baltimore Avenue
College Park, Maryland
Inurnment will be private at a later date.

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Lost Laurel TV: Revisiting the Lost & Found Laurel Exhibit

Due to a busier-than-usual schedule, (and a few technical difficulties on my part) this newest episode of the Lost Laurel show for Laurel TV is a bit late… but it’s done—and better late than never!

I filmed it in December, just as the Lost & Found Laurel exhibit was about to close at the Laurel Museum. The idea is that if you didn’t have a chance to experience it in person, (or if you overlooked some of the pieces during what was the museum’s busiest opening day of all time) this episode will give you a chance to see it in full detail.

It also includes an interview with Laurel Historical Society Executive Director Lindsey Baker, who not only gives an overview of the show, but a preview of the new 2015 exhibit, Ripped from the Headlines: Laurel in the News—which has since opened. (Go check it out—it’s awesome!)

You can watch the episode below, or view it directly on YouTube at full size. Enjoy!

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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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