Tag Archives: Main Street

Leo Emery, 1930–2016

Matt, Joyce, and Leo Emery. 2012. Photo by Richard Friend

Very sad news to report—Mr. Leo Emery, longtime owner of the wonderful Laurel Art Center on Main Street, passed away Wednesday, September 28th after a long illness. He was 86. Services are scheduled at Donaldson Funeral Home with visitation on Sunday, October 2nd from 2:00 PM until 4:00 PM. Funeral service is scheduled on Monday, October 3rd at 1:00 PM. Interment will follow at Ivy Hill Cemetery. Undoubtedly, many in Laurel will want to pay their respects to this kind and generous man who truly put the “art” in Laurel’s Arts District.

(Photo: Richard Friend, 2012)
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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.)

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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:

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Photo courtesy of Blaine Sutton

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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.

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Main Street Time Machine

The next time you’re traveling along Main Street, (preferably walking, rather than driving) do yourself a favor and stop in front of Minuteman Press at 335 Main Street. Even if you don’t have anything to be printed, just do some proverbial window shopping—you’ll be in for a historical treat.

A few months ago, owner Bob Mignon expanded his longtime corner business. You might’ve noticed the “Future Home of Minuteman Press” banner… ironically just steps away from what was then the current home.

(Photo: John Mewshaw)

(Photo: John Mewshaw)

Bob didn’t simply move into the larger space next door, he consolidated the building—much as a distant tenant from the early 1920s did, when it was the Ellis Market grocery store.

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Laurel News Leader ad, 1948

Laurel News Leader ad, 1948

(Laurel News Leader ad, 1953)

(Laurel News Leader ad, 1953)

(Laurel News Leader ad, 1954)

(Laurel News Leader ad, 1954)

Being a Laurel history buff himself, (and a tremendous supporter of the Laurel Historical Society) Bob had a unique vision for decorating the expanded storefront windows. He was interested in showcasing historic photos of the town, and worked with Beltsville’s Jay Williams Design Company to create a display that takes the viewer back nearly a century.

(Photo courtesy Greater Beltsville Business Association)

(Photo courtesy Greater Beltsville Business Association)

Included are larger than life images of the Harrison-Beard Building at Montgomery and 9th Streets, Laurel’s train station, (very much relevant, given the current controversy over a new Howard County stop threatening to take its place) St. Philip’s Church, and the electric trolley station at 6th & Main Streets (site of the current Oliver’s Old Towne Tavern—quite the historic little building in its own right.)

But the centerpiece of the design—literally—are the photos and narrative covering the door to the 337 entrance.

Last August, while Bob and Jay were still planning the display, an elderly woman and her family happened to be across the street from Minuteman Press, seemingly admiring the building. Bob went outside to say hello, and found himself meeting 90-year-old Shirley Ellis Siegel, who was visiting with her sons to reminisce about the house she grew up in during the 1920s.

This serendipitous meeting resulted in the photos now featured on the door, which the Ellis family happily shared. The large image showing the market’s interior is used perfectly—it’s as though you’re looking through the door into the building’s past.

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Kudos to Bob Mignon, Jay Williams, and the Ellis family for creating a fantastic visual tribute. It’s a wonderful new way to share the city’s history right there on its most historic street.

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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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Laurel TV update

A big thanks to Tyler Baldwin of Laurel TV for spending several hours this morning traversing the length of Main Street with me, filming our pilot episode of Lost Laurel. It’s going to be a monthly half-hour documentary, featuring “then & now” photos, as well as interviews covering a range of popular topics from the Lost Laurel files. Naturally, we’re starting with Main Street.

I still have voiceovers to record, and they’ll have their work cut out for them editing it all together next week… (as you’ll see, I’m much more comfortable in front of a computer than a camera). But what a fun way to showcase the town’s retail history, and invite people to look at their surroundings in a historical light. Fingers crossed that all goes well and everyone enjoys it.

I’ll let you know when it’s finished and scheduled to air on Laurel TV, and will post a YouTube link here as well.

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Kroop’s Boots Needs Your Help

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Not every business from Laurel’s past has disappeared. In fact, there are a precious few that still maintain their original charm and qualities—none more so than A.M. Kroop and Sons, whose business on C Street is like a veritable time machine.

The legendary shoemakers specialize in custom boots, made with the same meticulous 125-step process the family has used for over a century. They’ve long been a favorite among jockeys and horse trainers around the world. In fact, famed jockey George Woolf was wearing Kroop’s boots when he rode Seabiscuit to victory at Pimlico in 1938. And when Universal Pictures’ Seabiscuit was made in 2003, the filmmakers hired them for authenticity. The shop also appears in several of author Dick Francis‘ mystery novels.

It’s also the only place where you can see just how tiny Willie Shoemaker‘s (the aptly named jockey for this particular story) feet were. This was the actual mold Kroop’s used in creating his footwear.

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I bought my first pair of Kroop’s boots this weekend, and to say that they’re amazing is an understatement. (As would saying that they’re bigger than Willie Shoemaker’s).

If, like me, you’ve never had shoes custom made to fit your feet, you’re in for a wonderful surprise. But it’s not just the best pair of shoes you’ll ever own—it’s the experience of having them made by a genuine master craftswoman. That’s Randy Kroop.

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It takes several weeks for Randy to create your shoes from scratch, old-world style. That’s something that many people may not have the patience for, unless they’ve seen first-hand just how these unique shoes are made. If you haven’t watched the video above, now is the perfect time to check it out. It’s a fantastic documentary of the business by Kyle Anderson, Adam DeLuca, and Caz Rubacky, and really captures the essence of the shop in less than 10 minutes.

You already know that Randy and her very small, specialized staff make each shoe by hand. But what you probably didn’t know is that they still utilize original equipment from the 1930s. The shop is practically an industrial museum in terms of the machines. And that has raised a potentially critical challenge—finding someone capable of repairing and maintaining these antique machines is almost becoming an impossibility.

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Making shoes the old fashioned way is literally a dying art form, as the people who built these wonderful machines have long since passed on. Occasionally, Randy can find someone who’s able to “make adjustments” to keep the proverbial wheels turning, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult. And replacing them with more modern equipment would be too expensive; not to mention, contrary to everything Kroop’s stands for.

There was some concern that Kroop’s might close when the new C Street Flats development began construction just behind them. But the bigger threat actually seems to be the keeping the machinery itself running smoothly.

Perhaps you or someone you know has experience repairing vintage machines. Not necessarily these specific  appliances, but maybe you’re just one of those people who can fix anything—the kind who hasn’t had to replace their vacuum cleaner since 1955, and who keeps historic cars looking showroom sweet. Maybe you’d be able to take a look at the machines and let Randy know if there’s something you can do or someone you can recommend. To date, the closest contact she’s found is located in Pittsburgh—surely we can find someone closer.

If so, please get in touch with Randy Kroop and see if you might be able to help. Anything we can do to preserve this Laurel institution will be worthwhile.

kroops-collage

For more information:

A.M. Kroop and Sons, Inc.
26 C Street
Laurel, MD 20707

(301) 725-1535

kroopboots.com

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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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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:

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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.

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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:

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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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Laurel in Postcards

Chances are, you’ve seen at least one vintage Laurel postcard in your life before. Maybe it was a 1950s picture of the Laurel (Tastee) Diner. Or more likely, it was a memento from Laurel’s most popular attraction throughout the past century, Laurel Park Racecourse.

Admittedly, I can’t recall having seen any postcards of Laurel while I was growing up there in the 1980s. By then, most had been relegated to personal scrap books (and unfortunately, quite a few probably ended up in garbage cans). The Laurel Historical Society has undoubtedly preserved many, and the Laurel Library has at least thoughtfully photocopied some of the oldest examples.

But what if I told you that there have likely been well over 100 picture postcards of Laurel, Maryland produced since the early 1900s? Many of them featuring motels, restaurants, and street scenes that have long-since disappeared… and a few that actually still exist today.

John Floyd II has amassed a tremendous collection of original Laurel postcards over the course of several years, and was kind enough to lend me his entire album to be scanned and shared. Here now are over 80 cards, front and back. Some bear interesting correspondence and postmarks, others are as blank as they were the day they were first purchased—undoubtedly in Laurel.

All postcards courtesy of J.D. Floyd II, Royal Blue Ltd. archives

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