Category Archives: Restaurants

Laurel Theatre / Petrucci’s: Demolition Pending

My next episode of Lost Laurel will focus on the long history of the derelict building at 312 Main Street, which originally housed the Laurel Theatre, and was the longtime home to Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre before a string of increasingly unsuccessful comedy clubs led to its demise. Here’s a preview:

Unfortunately, the City’s efforts to find a developer willing and able to salvage the critically-deteriorated building weren’t successful, and having recently had the opportunity to tour it myself, I completely see why.

A big thanks to SORTO Contracting, LLC (particularly Francisco Sorto, David Muir, Blaine Sutton, Harry Garlitz and Patrick Fink) for extending the invitation to see and document the building’s final days, and for sharing some truly fantastic finds that I’ll be including in the full episode. In addition to the building’s history, you’ll see for yourself just how far gone the structure actually was. (Yes, those were angry pigeons living inside… and I’m deathly afraid of birds.)

laurel-theatre-preview-pic1laurel-theatre-preview-pic2laurel-theatre-preview-pic3laurel-theatre-preview-pic4

The SORTO team was also kind enough to carefully remove and save the “Theatre” lettering from the façade for me—these are individually-cut wooden letters that are the only remaining vestiges of the Petrucci’s era (they originally spelled out the full name, “Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre” and matched the adjacent Pal Jack’s Pizza font.laurel-theatre-preview-pic5laurel-theatre-preview-pic6laurel-theatre-preview-pic7

The letters are badly deteriorated, and frankly, I’m amazed that they came down intact. I’ve got my work cut out for me, but I’m going to restore them.laurel-theatre-preview-pic8laurel-theatre-preview-pic9laurel-theatre-preview-pic10

Blaine Sutton and Patrick Fink of SORTO have also been sharing some of the unexpected treasures that only tend to resurface when walls start coming down. And in a movie theater that dates to 1929, that means some very old candy boxes and soda bottles, for starters! Here’s just a glimpse of what they’ve found:

laurel-theatre-preview-pic11

Photo courtesy of Blaine Sutton

laurel-theatre-preview-pic12

Photo courtesy of Patrick Fink

 

Patrick tells me that the pristine Pepsi bottle pre-dates 1951, at which point Pepsi stopped using the double-dot in their logo. It had been stuck in the plaster mortar in the ceiling below the balcony for at least 65 years.

I’ll have plenty more photos to share in the next blog update when the full video is ready. Those who don’t get Laurel TV will still be able to see the episode right here.

Tagged , , , , ,

Surprise Closing: Silver Diner

20160412_132408

Photo: Chris B. Daniel

Yesterday evening, I got a text from Rodney Pressley—one of my oldest friends from Laurel. He’d just gotten a most unexpected email from Silver Diner. It wasn’t a promotional coupon, or an announcement about an upcoming event:

Screen Shot 2016-04-11 at 6.44.25 PM

Courtesy of Rodney Pressley

They weren’t just announcing that the popular restaurant at 14550 Washington Boulevard was closing—they had already closed, effective immediately.

Rodney sent me the above screenshot, which I posted on the Lost Laurel Facebook page essentially as breaking news, because this information seemed to have come out of nowhere.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 9.45.33 PM

It quickly became one of Lost Laurel’s most engaging posts—ever—with over 300 shares and over 44,000 people reached. (The page has even had more than 150 new likes in the past 24 hours). Clearly, the unexpected departure of the Silver Diner caught all of us off guard, even those who weren’t regular patrons.

A number of people commented that they’d actually just eaten at the restaurant the day before, and there had been absolutely no clue that they had planned to close. Silver Diner’s website (which had already erased the Laurel location from its website at the time of the email) eventually updated its FAQ page with a special notice about the Laurel restaurant’s closing. They also included a detailed PDF.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 9.22.17 PM

In short, it seems that the restaurant had a 25-year lease on the property, which had just ended. The landowner(s) wanted considerably more money to renew the lease than Silver Diner was willing to pay.

One would think that there would have been some sort of communication with the employees and the community at large before the decision to close was made, though. Had there been, I’m guessing there would have been strong support for Silver Diner to remain open. After all, the restaurant seemed to have a full parking lot at all hours of the day and night—they weren’t hurting for business.

And from a historical perspective, (albeit recent history) this is actually a pretty big deal. The Silver Diner opened in late 1990, and was only the second restaurant in the chain’s history (behind Rockville). It even had an early review in the Washington Post.

Twenty-five years. Think about that for a second. In an age when we’ve sadly come to expect businesses to change every couple of years, this one ended up staying for a quarter of a century. While it honestly didn’t seem like it, the novelty of this polished chrome and neon facsimile of a classic diner had steadily become a classic itself. At the very least, it had become a fixture in the shadow of Laurel Lakes.

12980704_10205979352224231_1441089978_o12991951_10205979352304233_1976624635_o

13000547_10205979351864222_1297230208_o

Photos: Bonnie Oskvarek

With the news of its closing, rumors and misinformation quickly began flying, as is often the case with social media. Some folks were confusing the Silver Diner with its elder counterpart—the legendary Tastee Diner at 118 Washington Boulevard—which is still very much open for business, and now in its 65th year. Others mistakenly thought the entire Silver Diner chain was going out of business, blaming its revamped menu, among other things.

Others were speculating that the restaurant had closed due to a fire—a fate all-too familiar for other longtime Laurel restaurants. (See also, “Bay ‘n Surf,” “Delaney’s Irish Pub,” and “Tag’s”…)

In fact, there had actually been a minor fire at the Silver Diner on closing day—but it had nothing to do with the chain’s decision to close the Laurel restaurant.

12999623_10154128530366692_642234575_o

Courtesy of Megan Wheatley Shurman

So, Laurel’s Silver Diner has closed its doors. There was no forewarning, and no chance for customers to stop in one last time to reminisce. And 25 years’ worth of memories is significant. I’ve heard from several people who had gone to the restaurant on their first dates; and one Lost Laurel reader commented that she’d met her future husband there—he’d been her waiter.

That being said, I suppose there’s never been a more perfect time to share these items from my collection. Frankly, I didn’t really expect to share them; I assumed, like everyone else, that the Silver Diner wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon. These flyers, menus, and coffee cup date between 1990–92—the restaurant’s earliest days:

silver-diner-flyer-1

This one’s a two-fer: local oldies radio station XTRA104 didn’t last very long into the 1990s.

silver-diner-flyer-2silver-diner-flyer-3silver-diner-laurel-menu-1991-front

silver-diner-laurel-menu-1991-back

Note the two locations: it was just Rockville and Laurel at the time.

silver-diner-sm-menu-1990silver-diner-sm-menu-1990-interiorsilver-diner-sm-menu-1990-back

silver-diner-catering-menu-1988silver-diner-catering-menu-interior-1988

silver-diner-early-mug

For what it’s worth, Silver Diner’s website mentions that they are “looking at multiple opportunities in the Laurel and Columbia areas and (they) hope to return to the Laurel area soon.”

Tagged , ,

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!

TRIVIA NIGHT-TASTEE DINER-COLOR2

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

Tagged , , ,

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.

 

Tagged , , , , , ,

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.

bing-map-pappys

PTDC0044IMG_1780IMG_1782

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).

IMG_1773

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

IMG_4972

(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.

pappys-hat-rf

pappys-styrofoam-hats

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.

 

 

Tagged , , , ,

Farewell, Bay ‘n Surf

While the former Bay ‘n Surf restaurant had sat vacant and crumbling since 2007, the shock of seeing it actually torn down today will undoubtedly leave a bitter taste in the mouths of many who remember it in its heyday—a time when it was the undisputed heavyweight champ of Maryland cream of crab soup.

bay n surf demolition 1-sharon nuzback

Photo: Sharon Nuzback

Videos courtesy of Chris Blucher

 

bay n surf demolition 2-dave deblasis

Photo: Dave DeBlasis

Photo: Sharon Nuzback

Photo: Sharon Nuzback

996942_10151873509994280_780799530_n

Photo: Sharon Nuzback

Photo: John Mewshaw

Photo: John Mewshaw

Originally opened in 1965, the restaurant closed after a refrigerator compressor fire in the early morning hours of Valentines Day, 2007. Speculation about reopening—even at another location—floated around for years, but never materialized.

The initial word on the street is that the site will soon be home to a new mini strip center, but there’s been no confirmation on potential tenants. (Sadly, I’m guessing none will offer cream of crab soup, though).

Tagged , ,

Stefanie Watson: Case Closed

Sometimes, the truth really does turn out to be stranger than fiction. And as the other old truism goes, life really does often imitate art.

Although, sadly, there wasn’t actually anything fictional or artful about the 1982 murder of Stefanie Watson. It was all too real, and all too disturbing; and for three decades, not only was the crime unsolved, it was as cold a case as one could ever imagine—virtually nothing had been written about it for nearly 30 years. Growing up, I’d always felt it should have been a national news story—it certainly had all the elements of a Hollywood whodunit or a New York Times bestseller.

Last summer, in the midst of curating Lost Laurel, I realized that the 30th anniversary of Stefanie’s death was approaching. I wanted to not only mark the occasion, but somehow generate interest and possibly even rejuvenate the investigation into her murder. In the process, I developed what I thought to be a compelling theory—albeit an unlikely one. I became convinced that Stefanie’s killer(s) were the notorious drifters, Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole—the latter having been the murderer of young Adam Walsh, son of America’s Most Wanted host John Walsh, almost exactly one year earlier in 1981. Erratic travelers active primarily in the south, both had connections to Prince George’s County, the opportunity, and certainly the will and the means to commit such a crime. They’d been free at the time of Stefanie’s disappearance, confirmed having traveled through Maryland in the summer of 1982, and owned a car at that time matching the description of the one seen that fateful night on Larchdale Road, dumping partial skeletal remains—Stefanie’s only remains ever recovered, to this day.

The question I posed was simple: could there really have been anyone else even capable of such a horrific crime, not to mention the numerous coincidences? As it turns out, there really was. And in yet another incredible coincidence, his name is John Walsh. But we’ll get to him in a moment.

Learning the news

In addition to bringing the case back to the public consciousness among Laurelites last summer, one of the unexpected blessings has been making contact with the family of Stefanie Watson. I was only 9 years old when she died, and had never met her. But as I explained in the original post, I’ve never forgotten the summer of 1982, and the feeling of dread standing for hours near the missing person flyer taped to the large window at the entrance to Zayre. Stefanie Watson’s face—still strikingly pretty through that faded Xerox photocopy—was the first and last face I saw each day at Zayre, as I manned my post outside—a shy kid trying to sell Olympic Sales Club products to approaching customers. For long, lonely stretches at times, it was just me and that flyer; just me and Stefanie Watson.

stefanie-missing-poster

Before I published the article, I had considered trying to contact Stefanie’s family for information. But the fear of opening old wounds for them was great, and being neither a journalist or investigator, I just didn’t feel comfortable doing that. Instead, I spoke to Laurel Chief of Police Rich McLaughlin first, and he directed me to Prince George’s County Homicide’s cold case division. There, I spoke to Sgt. Rick Fulginiti. I explained to them that in writing the piece, I wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything that would impede their investigation, or upset Stefanie’s family, should they happen to come across it. Both men encouraged me to write it.

Surprisingly, Stefanie’s family did come across it. I first received an email from her cousin, Leanne last October, and it was such a relief to hear that they were grateful for what I’d written. I learned that Leanne’s older sister, Chris, had been Stefanie’s best friend. Chris was, in fact, the one who had the unthinkable task of reporting her missing.

Leanne and I corresponded a bit, and the blog posting continued to get its share of comments over the next several months. Then, on Friday, June 21st, I got an email from Leanne that I never could’ve expected. She was letting me know that there had been an arrest in Stefanie’s murder, and that the DNA matched an inmate named John Walsh. “No kidding,” she added.

And then, on Sunday, June 23rd, I got a call from Sgt. Fulginiti, confirming this stunning news. “I’ve spoken to Stefanie’s family, and I wanted to call you next,” he said; and in what was a tremendous honor, he told me that the Lost Laurel article had indeed helped breathe new life into the cold case. He let me know that he would be issuing a press conference in the following days, formally announcing that charges have been filed against John Ernest Walsh, a 68-year-old inmate who has been incarcerated on an unrelated charge since 1989. Preserved DNA from the back of the driver’s seat of Stefanie’s blood-soaked 1981 Chevette unequivocally matched that of Walsh. Stefanie, it’s clear, put up an incredible fight in that small car—as a significant amount of that blood evidently belonged to Walsh, whom Sgt. Fulginiti reports still bears distinct scars.

The press conference came on Tuesday, June 25th, and a lot of local minds were thoroughly blown—including my own.

For the remainder of the week—and for the first time since this unspeakable crime occurred back in the summer of 1982, there was no shortage of news coverage. The Laurel Leader, rightfully, was one of the first to break the story. Fox5 aired a report, as did WJLA 7, and plenty of others. (Just Google it).

John Ernest Walsh, we learned, had been arrested in 1969—when he was only 24 years old—for the kidnapping, rape, and attempted murder of a woman in Prince George’s County whose throat and wrists he cut before literally leaving her for dead in the woods. Against all odds, she survived; and Walsh was sentenced to 72 years in prison. But unfortunately for society, this was just the beginning of his story.
John Ernest Walsh (Photo: Prince George's County Police)

John Ernest Walsh (Photo: Prince George’s County Police)

Walsh was deemed a psychiatric patient, naturally, and was handpicked by the Patuxent Institution in Jessup “for rehabilitation”. After serving only 8 years, he was deemed “rehabilitated”—at least enough to be allowed out on work release. That was in 1978. Two years later, in 1980, he was paroled outright. You read that correctly—this man kidnapped, raped, and cut a woman’s throat, then ended up really only serving 8 years of a seventy-two year sentence. And so it came to be that on July 22, 1982, John Ernest Walsh—the “rehabilitated” kidnapper/rapist/attempted murderer—crossed paths with Stefanie Watson. The exact circumstances of just how their paths crossed may only be known to Walsh himself, and so far, he claims he “doesn’t remember”.

Having had his parole revoked in 1989 for failing a drug test, Walsh has had the last 24 years to think about it in Eastern Correctional Institution, where he is Inmate #113067. That may bring some solace to the family and friends of Stefanie Watson, but it raises even more questions—not the least of which is, how many other people did this man kill during his years of “rehabilitated” freedom, between 1978 and 1989? And what about the Patuxent Institution itself? Surely, there is a record somewhere that bears the signature of a fatally misguided psychiatrist who literally released this monster on the public. The individual (or group) who made that decision is, in my opinion, just as responsible for Stefanie Watson’s death as John Ernest Walsh is, and should rightfully pay for it.

Shifting focus

Watching the press conference and news coverage last week was surreal for a number of reasons. Honestly, it still hasn’t sunken in yet that the case has actually been solved; and that the killer has been sitting in prison for the past 24 years thinking he’d otherwise gotten away with it. In fact, in January 2000, he actually tried to petition the U.S. Court of Appeals to return him to the cushier confines of Patuxent, feeling that he’d been unfairly sent to a more “punitive” environment. Again, fortunately for society, that was overruled.

That being said, I’ve written all I care to write about this man. I trust that he’ll be in court soon to face the charge of first degree murder, and when he does, he’ll return to the spotlight of our local news. My wish, however, is that the spotlight returns to the rightful person—Stefanie Watson.
With the news of the arrest came another pleasant surprise—the first fairly clear color photo of Stefanie I’d ever seen.
Stefanie Watson (Photo: Prince George's County Police)

Stefanie Watson (Photo: Prince George’s County Police)

It was her driver’s license photo, used by police during the investigation. Granted, few people are particularly fond of their driver’s license photos, but this one came into focus on television screens and computer monitors like a breath of fresh air. For nearly 31 years, Stefanie Watson had been a fading name and a grainy, black and white image on a photocopied missing person flyer. Suddenly, there she was again—this time in full color. It gave me a wonderful idea for my follow-up story, which I wanted to focus primarily on Stefanie herself, rather than the man who killed her.

I immediately contacted her cousin, Leanne again, and inquired about writing a piece that really showed who Stefanie was as a person: the music she listened to, the shows she watched, etc. Leanne had her older sister, Chris, give me a call—and for nearly an hour and a half, I was treated to a first person account of growing up with Stefanie—not only as her cousin, but as her best friend.

Invaluable help came from even more of Stefanie’s family. Her niece, Kate—who had only been three months old at the time of her aunt’s disappearance—shared a treasure trove of photos of Stefanie through the years:

Family photo courtesy of Stefanie’s sister, Peg, and niece, Kate.

Family photo courtesy of Stefanie's sister, Peg, and niece, Kate.

Family photo courtesy of Stefanie’s sister, Peg, and niece, Kate.

Family photo courtesy of Kate Adams.

Family photo courtesy of Stefanie’s sister, Peg, and niece, Kate.

Stefanie (left) with older sister Margaret. (Family photo courtesy of Kate Adams).

Stefanie (left) with older sister, Peg.
(Family photo courtesy of Stefanie’s sister, Peg, and niece, Kate).

Stefanie's senior high school photo, 1973.  (Family photo courtesy of Stefanie's sister, Peg, and niece, Kate.).

Stefanie’s senior high school photo, 1973.
(Family photo courtesy of Stefanie’s sister, Peg, and niece, Kate).

Family photo courtesy of Kate Adams.

Family photo courtesy of Stefanie’s sister, Peg, and niece, Kate.

Stefanie was only two years older than her cousin, Chris—an obvious factor in their closeness. Her sister, Margaret (known as Peg)—while undoubtedly close herself—was seven years older than Stefanie. But Stefanie and Chris were, by all accounts, inseparable best friends. Speaking to Chris on the phone all these years later, the joy in her voice was palpable, as were the memories. “Oh, she was a good time. Just a really good time,” she said—clearly smiling while recalling the days leading up to the summer of 1982. And in particular, Stefanie’s all-too brief time in Laurel. She arrived in September 1981, and Chris would frequently make the drive down from Pennsylvania to visit. Coincidentally, it was Stefanie who taught Chris to drive some years earlier, in what Chris remembered as an orange Buick Skylark.

“She had a wicked sense of humor,” Chris mused, “and she loved the beach.” To that point, Deborah Moore, an 18-year-old neighbor who lived in the building beside Stefanie’s in 1982, even remembers her sunbathing on the 8th Street Field right in front of her apartment. “She was fearless,” Chris reiterated. “She would walk her dog along those fields early in the morning and late at night.” Her dog, a striking red Siberian Husky, was named Kito. Chris sent me the following photos, which beautifully capture them both.

Stefanie with Kito.  (Family photo courtesy of Christy).

Stefanie with Kito.
(Family photo courtesy of Stefanie’s cousin, Christy).

Stefanie with Kito.  (Family photo courtesy of Christy).

Stefanie with Kito.
(Family photo courtesy of Stefanie’s cousin, Christy).

“That’s more Stefanie than most other pictures,” Leanne replied, fondly recalling her “cool cousin”:
“I look at her face, and still see the girl that I thought was so pretty, and had great clothes… I would sneak them out of her bag when she spent the night, wear them to school, and have them nicely folded and back in her bag before she and my sister got home from work. They were older than me—Chris is four years older and Stefanie was six years older. Chris always thought of me as her pesky little sister and would tell me to get lost, and Stefanie would tell her to stop being so mean.”

Chris also attested to Stefanie’s fashion sense, and how she was always “super-neat, and had to make sure everything was clean and pressed”.

I asked about Stefanie’s favorite foods, and with a laugh, Chris explained that Stefanie “could eat like a hog and never gain weight!” She added that they would often eat frequently and at odd times, undoubtedly due in part to Stefanie’s late work schedule at what was then called Greater Laurel Beltsville Hospital. She would typically report to work at 11:30 PM, where she was the overnight admitting clerk in the busy emergency room. Chris thought about restaurants they frequented together in Laurel, and one name came instantly to mind. “Tippy’s Taco House,” she said, knowing that it’s still open at 315 Gorman Avenue, albeit under the name Toucan Taco since 1992. The girls would get their Tex-Mex fix, and Chris would even buy more for the trip home to Pennsylvania.

Chris and I talked about TV shows that Stefanie watched, too:

“I remember she loved Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I.Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, One Day at a Time, The Love Boat, Saturday Night Live—when Saturday Night Live was good, of course”.

Music was a big part of Stefanie’s life, and she and Chris frequented concerts—including several at Merriweather Post Pavilion in nearby Columbia. “We’d go to any concert,” she said. “It really didn’t matter who was playing—we just loved to go”. She cited a number of Stefanie’s favorite recording artists, and while the list paints a veritable time capsule of the era, it also attests to her diverse taste in music. Rod Stewart, I expected. Charlie Daniels, I did not. But Chris said they were both part of Stefanie’s playlist:

“The Bee Gees, Blondie, Rod Stewart, Charlie Daniels, Marshall Tucker, Christopher Cross, Elton John, David Bowie… and how could I forget Todd Rundgren, and her all time favorite Dan Fogelberg—loved him. She was also a huge Steely Dan fan!”
With Christy’s help, I’ve put together a little playlist that Stefanie would approve of:

A few years earlier in Pennsylvania, she’d also had a dog named “Jackson”—because she also loved Jackson Browne.

It’s easy for us to use the term “playlist” today, and forget that it wouldn’t have been part of Stefanie’s lexicon 30+ years ago. Chris and I talked about this as well; how there were no cell phones, no internet, no MP3s—none of the modern conveniences that we take for granted today. Consider the things that Stefanie missed out on within just that first year alone: Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Return of the Jedi. A Christmas Story. Friday Night Videos. Flashdance. Madonna. Then consider everything she missed over the next thirty years. It’s staggering.

Stefanie would have just celebrated her 58th birthday on July 3rd, and it’s hard to fathom that she’s now been gone longer than she was here. This is especially true for Laurel, where she was really only a resident for a total of 10 months. Even if the unspeakable crime hadn’t occurred, she was literally just days away from relocating to Fort Worth, Texas.

I’m 40 years old today. That’s 13 years older than Stefanie was at the time of her disappearance. It really is amazing how time flies by. And while the rest of us continue to get older and live our lives, Stefanie will always remain that beautiful and kind 27-year-old who loved the beach, her dog, and concerts. And she’ll forever be a part of Laurel. Personally, I like to think that had she lived, she would even be an active Lost Laurel follower on Facebook—reminiscing over photos and artifacts she’d recall from her time in our hometown.

(Lost Laurel collection).

Glass ashtray, circa 1980s.
(Lost Laurel collection).

Ballpoint pen, circa 1980s.  (Lost Laurel collection, courtesy of John Floyd II).

Ballpoint pen from Greater Laurel Beltsville Hospital, circa 1980s.
(Lost Laurel collection, courtesy of John Floyd II).

T-shirt from Laurel’s 4th of July Celebration, 1982.
(Lost Laurel collection, courtesy of John Floyd II).

This banner from 1982 adorned the 8th Street Field fence directly across from Stefanie's apartment. (Laurel Historical Society collection).

This banner from the 1982 celebration adorned the 8th Street Field fence directly across from Stefanie’s apartment. Coincidentally, the day also marked Stefanie’s 27th birthday.
(Laurel Historical Society collection).

I never would’ve dreamed, as a little kid nearly 31 years ago, that I’d grow up and contribute a small part to finally catching the monster responsible for Stefanie Watson’s death. That has been a truly unexpected blessing, and it’s only through the diligence and cooperation of the Laurel Police Department, the Prince George’s County Police Department, and these amazing P.G. County cold case detectives that we’ve finally seen this case resolved.

Plenty of questions remain, but even after all this time, we may finally be about to learn the answers. The main question, however—who did it?—has finally been put to rest. Thirty years removed, the man responsible has been living a miserable existence behind bars; an existence that, as we speak, is only becoming increasingly more miserable. I’ll drink to that.

The coincidences that permeate this chapter in Laurel’s history continue to astound me: the sheer randomness of the crime; the timing of Stefanie’s last night at work and plans to relocate; and now the very name of the killer. As they say, you couldn’t make this stuff up. Nonetheless, it happened, and those of us who lived in Laurel during the summer of 1982 have never forgotten. Nor will we ever.

As Laurel celebrates another 4th of July, let’s remember Stefanie as more than just a victim. Her family has been kind enough to share photos and memories with us that we otherwise wouldn’t have seen, and it’s my hope that it paints a clearer picture of who this young woman was. There’s a line from an Elton John song—whom we now know was one of Stefanie’s favorites—that best sums up my feelings, and probably those of everyone else from my generation who grew up in Laurel:

“And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid.
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did”.

*****

My immeasurable thanks to Sgt. Rick Fulginiti and his team of cold case detectives at the Prince George’s County Police Department, for taking the time to not only talk to me about a haunting case that predates their careers, but for then going out and actually breaking it wide open once and for all. Thank you, DNA evidence! And most of all, thank you again to Stefanie’s incredibly strong family members: her sister, Peg; her niece, Kate; and her cousins Leanne and Chris—for helping us remember the Stefanie that you knew and loved.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Above Laurel Shopping Center, 1971

If you’re like me, you’ve often wondered what it would be like to fly over Laurel Shopping Center… in July 1971. Thanks to John Floyd II, who shared this fantastic print of a Kodachrome 64 slide from the collection of Laurel Rescue Squad, now we know!

Some eight years before Laurel Centre Mall would be built, the Hecht Co. building dominates the ample parking lot.

Directly behind Hecht’s, along Marshall Avenue, is an odd sight for those familiar with the area today—single family houses—the few remaining dwellings before the Arbitron Building would arrive in January 1979.

Further down Marshall Avenue, we see the 150-car parking deck for the new Georgetown Alley shops—15 stores which opened in April of that year. Marshall Avenue passed directly below the parking deck, in what was easily the darkest, creepiest corner of the shopping center.

In the foreground of the picture, along Route 1, we see the familiar blue gabled roof of the original International House of Pancakes. To its right, just across Marshall Avenue, we see just a sliver of the parking lot of Laurel’s original McDonald’s drive-thru—the building which would soon become the Big T/Tastee Freez.

And speaking of colorful roofs, note the tiny yellow speck just below the Giant Food neon sign near the shopping center’s entrance. Yep, it’s the Fotomat, where countless photos were processed over the years—although probably not very many from this perspective.

Be sure to click the photo for a larger view.
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

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.”

Tagged , , , , , , ,