Laurel at 150 is Here!

If you’ve been following us on Facebook, you know by now that our new book, Laurel at 150: Celebrate Our History, Anticipate Our Future has been printed and we finally have the full inventory in hand. Kevin and Rich have been hard at work over the past few weeks, packaging and mailing (and often delivering in person) books to all of the early Kickstarter project backers and website pre-orders.

Social distancing, aided by vintage Laurel advertising yardsticks!

We’re finally caught up with our mailings, so anyone who’s placed an order recently should be receiving their copies very soon. We greatly appreciate the patience of everyone who’s ordered the book—even before the pandemic, it’s no easy task for two guys (who both have day jobs) to handle the logistics of shipping several hundred books, but we’ve managed to get it done!

Like many of you, we were looking forward to a number of opportunities to sell the books in person this year, including at the Main Street Festival. But the COVID-19 shutdown—a significant historical moment in its own right— brought the City of Laurel’s 150th Anniversary events to an end before they really even had a chance to begin. We’re grateful and proud to have completed this important book in time to share with those of you who also wanted something tangible and lasting to mark this 150th anniversary of our home town.

We’re hopeful that many of the City’s cancelled events will merely be postponed until it’s deemed once again safe to hold them. But until then, we’ll continue to take orders for the book online at and mail them out as quickly as possible.

Click to order your copy of Laurel at 150 now.
Books are $40 each, and shipping is free.

Laurel at 150

Join the Laurel History Boys this Saturday at Partnership Hall at 4 pm! This free presentation is part of the City of Laurel – Government‘s 150th Anniversary celebration, and features readings and images from our new book, Laurel at 150!

For more info on Saturday’s presentation:

To pre-order your copy of the book:

Saturday, February 29, 2020
4:00 pm

The Laurel History Boys will present a lively and sometimes amusing recap of Laurel’s 150 years using photos, artifacts, and documents at the Laurel Police Department’s Partnership Activity Center. How much do you know about Laurel’s history?

LPD Partnership Activity Center

811 5th Street
Laurel, Maryland 20707

“Laurel at 150”: Reserve Your Copy Now!

We’re excited to launch the Kickstarter campaign for our new book, “Laurel at 150: Celebrate Our History, Anticipate Our Future”.

Commemorating the City of Laurel’s 150th anniversary next year, this 200+ page hardcover volume is a decade-by-decade visual journey through Laurel’s past—a collection of historical highlights covering the pre-1870s through the 2010s.

The Kickstarter campaign to fund the printing cost runs for 20 days only, and is your opportunity to reserve a copy of this important book in the process. Please pre-order now and help support this project by sharing the link.

Great Fun at the Laurel Pop Festival Celebration!

Last night, the Laurel History Boys celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Laurel Pop Festival… fifty years to the day, right down to the very minute.

With our largest crowd to date, Kevin‘s presentation about the history of the concert was the perfect lead into a screening of Jeff Krulik‘s documentary film, “Led Zeppelin Played Here“—which includes rare footage and photos from the band’s performance at Laurel Race Course that first night of the Festival.

Among those in the crowd were Brian Knapp, one of the top private collectors of Led Zeppelin memorabilia in the world. Brian brought a few amazing Laurel Pop Festival mementos for show and tell, including ticket stubs, advertisements, and the official program—all of which are extremely rare.

Brian Knapp (foreground)

Another special guest was acclaimed producer and screenwriter Allison McGourty, who is working with the band itself in producing the first official Led Zeppelin documentary. She produced the award-winning documentary series, American Epic. Traveling all the way from Great Britain, she certainly had the longest journey to the North Laurel Community Center!

After the event, we invited everyone to continue the Pop Festival conversation at Oliver’s Old Towne Tavern on Main Street.

Allison McGourty and Jeff Krulik at the end of the table

It was a fantastic night and the perfect way to celebrate an important event in Laurel’s history. That so many people came out on a weeknight (in a heavy thunderstorm, no less) is a testament to that, and we appreciate it.

One of the many great stories we received leading up to this event was this one from Michael Wilson, whom we learned has had one of the rarest Laurel Pop Festival posters in his possession for the past half-century.

(Photos: Michael Wilson)

“There was one at both main entrances to Laurel Race Course. This is the one from the entrance on Rt. 198. My friend Tommy (unfortunately, no longer with us) and I climbed on the top of his van and “liberated” the billboard as members of Sly and the Family Stone cheered us on from their stretch limo. We went over an talked to them and they invited us back to their hotel to party. It was stellar!!! Most of the world had no idea we even had the billboard, until many years later. Tommy and I co-owned it for 40 years, sharing its location from my house to his. After he passed away, I of course got it permanently and it resides in my music room in Billings, Montana, where I moved to 30 years ago.”

Michael Wilson

Many thanks again to everyone who came out to support this fun event, and especially for your donations which helped cover the rather extravagant rental fee that the North Laurel Community Center required, in spite of the numerous free presentations we’ve given at their request in the past.

On a related note, the Laurel History Boys are now a registered non-profit organization in the state of Maryland—which we hope will go a long way toward opening more doors for funding these types of things and allowing us to keep our presentations free to the public. We’re still navigating the red tape involved with establishing tax exemption, etc., but are very proud to have assembled our very first board of directors. They include Laurel City Council member Carl DeWalt, Howard County Historical Society Executive Director Shawn Gladden, and the great Jeff Krulik himself. With their help, we’re looking forward to bigger and better things!

Before the Laurel Pop Festival…

Fifty years ago this month, the legendary Laurel Pop Festival took place at Laurel Race Course. Headlined by a practically unknown Led Zeppelin, the concert spanned July 11th and 12th and included a who’s who of top acts—many of whom would go on to perform at Woodstock just one month later… and eventually into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Join the Laurel History Boys on July 11th—fifty years to the day—for a special presentation in recognition of the historic concert. There will also be a screening of filmmaker Jeff Krulik‘s fantastic documentary, Led Zeppelin Played Here. The film, which focuses on an enduring local legend that has Led Zeppelin playing before approximately 50 confused teenagers at the Wheaton Youth Center that January of 1969, also includes rare footage of the Laurel Pop Festival. A special question and answer session with Jeff will follow the screening.

Did you or anyone you know attend these events in 1969? Do you have photos, ticket stubs, or other memorabilia? Please come and share your stories!

Tom Beach shows off his ticket stubs from the Laurel Pop Festival.

Mark your calendars:

July 11, 2019
6 PM–9 PM
North Laurel Community Center
9411 Whiskey Bottom Road
$5 suggested donation

Please note that while our presentations are always free to the public, we are asking for a suggested donation of $5 per person to help cover the rental cost of the facility. (Unfortunately, despite the countless free presentations Kevin has given at the North Laurel Community Center, they weren’t willing to waive the $360 rental fee—even for a nonprofit organization). Worse, it was disappointing that the City of Laurel completely gave us the runaround on the usage of Partnership Hall—another facility at which we’ve given free presentations in the past. Just something to keep in mind if you’re planning to rent either facility in the future.

Petty politics aside, the 50th anniversary of the Laurel Pop Festival is something to celebrate, and we want to do it right.

Come out to see the film and hear the stories, and then join us afterwards at Oliver’s Old Towne Tavern on Main Street!

Event page on Facebook:

1965: The Hargis Murders

By Richard Friend

In the early morning hours of Monday, October 18, 1965, Maryland State Trooper Robert Long was one of two officers at the Waterloo Barracks dispatched to a call in Laurel. Undoubtedly, he was unnerved to receive this particular call. As it turned out, the address, (14015 Bramble Lane, Apt. #T2) was that of his next door neighbors—the Hargis family.

The call was concerning the family’s four children.

(Photo: ©Associated Press. Collection of Richard Friend)

The quiet, Fox Rest Woods apartment complex, built just the previous year, certainly hadn’t experienced anything like what happened that Sunday night. Nor has it ever since, thankfully.

14015 Bramble Lane Today. (Photo: Richard Friend)
The Hargis Family apartment (lower right) as it appears today. (Photo: Richard Friend)
The Hargis’ apartment on the morning of October 18, 1965. (Photo: ©Associated Press. Collection of Richard Friend)

The ground floor terrace apartment had been home to Denver and Charlene Hargis and their four children. The family had only lived there for four months, having relocated from the Belair community in Bowie.

(Photo: ©Associated Press. Collection of Richard Friend)

Denver David Hargis wasn’t your average Laurel citizen. Born in Key West, Florida in 1921, he grew up in Coffeyville, Kansas, where he spent two years in the Navy before going into law school. He took an interest in politics, and eventually became a three-term mayor of his hometown. He was eventually elected as a U.S. Representative from Kansas, and served one term in Congress from 1959 to 1961. He was defeated in his re-election bid, and spent the next six years as a consultant with both the Department of Defense and the Department of Commerce.

Washburn University yearbook, 1948.

Charlene Hargis was born Charlene June Greer in 1928 and grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She married Denver in 1951, and enjoyed working for her husband as a secretary during his term in Congress.

Northeast High School yearbook, Kansas City, 1944.
Denver and Charlene Hargis’ marriage license, August 18, 1951. (Source:

Mr. Hargis, however, didn’t plan on staying in Laurel for long. He and Charlene—45 and 37 years old, respectively—separated only a month after moving into the Fox Rest Woods apartment. That July, Mr. Hargis moved in with another woman in Vienna, Virginia—a 24-year-old divorcee named Betty Crotts, and her two sons.

Charlene and the kids—Sandra Lee, 12; Michael David, 8; Debra Sue, 5; and Brenda June, 2—were left behind in Laurel.

There’s nothing on the record about what officially caused the couple’s breakup. What is clear, however, is that it ultimately led to Mrs. Hargis’ breakdown.

Shortly before midnight, she picked up the telephone in her Laurel apartment, and called her estranged husband. When Betty Crotts answered, Charlene spoke:

“Tell Denver I killed the children.”
After a brief pause, she added, “No… I’ll tell him myself.”

Charlene had actually just called Denver a few minutes earlier, and had even seen him in person that evening. With all four kids in tow, she showed up at Betty’s doorstep with an ultimatum. According to Crotts, “She asked him, did he want to stay with me or go back with her and the kids. If he wouldn’t come back, she said she was just going to leave and hurt the kids.”

It was a few hours later, as Denver and Betty watched television, that the first phone call came. After a dismissive conversation, Denver explained that he would not be coming home to Laurel. The second phone call came “about two minutes later” according to Crotts.

Two minutes that were spent doing the unthinkable.

Mr. Hargis had never taken his wife’s threats seriously. He’d later claim that she had threatened to harm herself and the children several times in the past, but never believed she would actually follow through. But there was something about the way she spoke on this particular evening, however, that changed his mind. Maybe it was the way she simply hung up after relaying the chilling message.

“Call the police,” he instructed Betty. As she later testified, “He was going to go there himself, but he was afraid he couldn’t make it in time. He said she might be serious this time.”

Sadly, Charlene Hargis had been deadly serious.

Laurel News Leader, October 21, 1965

When Troopers Robert Long and Thomas Ingram arrived at the apartment on Bramble Lane, there was no answer at the door. Peering through a bedroom window of the ground floor unit, they could see the bodies of two children in their beds. Long quickly retrieved a crowbar from his police cruiser and forced the patio door open.

Each of the children had been shot once in the back of the head, while sleeping. 5-year-old Debra Sue was the only one clinging to life—but she, too, died within minutes, en route to the hospital. Joann Robison, wife of future Laurel mayor Joe Robison, was in the ambulance that terrible morning, on duty with the Laurel Rescue Squad. It was likely the worst scene experienced by the local first responders in their then thirteen-year history.

Trooper Long later described the scene as “an awful mess.” Reflecting on what he’d seen throughout his career, he said, “With adults, it doesn’t bother you near(ly) so much, but these were just innocent kids.” Surely, the tragedy affected him on a personal level, having lived next door to the Hargis family. The Hargis children, intrigued by their neighbor’s police uniform, had always cheerfully spoken to Long when they saw him on his way to and from work.

In the kitchen of the apartment, police found a .25 caliber Beretta handgun. Four shots had been fired from it, and a live cartridge was found on the floor. Denver Hargis recognized and identified the murder weapon. It belonged to him—he had reported it stolen that Friday. Charlene would later admit taking it from the Vienna apartment her husband shared with Betty Crotts.

Mrs. Hargis wasn’t home when the police arrived, and they quickly put out an alert to locate her car. She was soon picked up by Trooper Robert Foxwell, only a mile or so away in downtown Laurel. She told him that she’d planned to drive the car into the Patuxent River and drown herself. “I tried to find the stinking river and couldn’t even do that.”

Questioned by Det. Sgt. Charles Greffen at the Waterloo Barracks, Charlene wasted no time admitting her guilt. He said, “I introduced myself, and before I could say anything, she told me she killed them.”

It was here that Charlene first shed some light on how this unthinkable tragedy was set into motion. According to Greffen, Charlene told him she originally intended to kill herself and leave the children for her husband, but he told her he didn’t want them. “He just laughed,” she said.

She admitted that she’d driven to Vienna the night of the murders to plead with her husband to either return, or to give the family money to move to another city—but he refused to do either. “He said he had another family now—he didn’t want us anymore,” she explained.

Charlene remembered driving back home to Laurel, putting the kids to bed, cleaning the apartment, and putting laundry in the washing machine. The only thing she recalled after that, she said, was when “I called my husband and told him what I’d done. I told him I’d killed the children.”

Laurel News Leader headline, October 28, 1965

Charlene was held in the Prince George’s County Jail and arraigned the next day in Upper Marlboro on charges of first degree murder—four counts. Dressed in black slacks, a yellow blouse, and a charcoal gray cardigan sweater, the thin and frail Mrs. Hargis was asked if she understood the charges against her. “Yes, sir,” she replied, almost inaudibly.

She exhibited more volume when she caught sight of Mr. Hargis and his mistress together. That’s when she became hysterical.

At points during the arraignment, the visibly upset defendant repeatedly cried out, “I’m guilty!”

(Photo ©Associated Press. Collection of Richard Friend)

Circuit Court Judge Ernest A. Loveless, Jr. appointed attorney Edward J. Bagley to represent Mrs. Hargis; and at Mr. Bagley’s request, appointed Howard L. Stern as co-counsel. They filed pleas of not guilty by reason of insanity on all four counts of murder, and the judge ordered Charlene to Spring Grove State Hospital in Catonsville for examination.

She tried to slash her wrists while undergoing that examination. Despite the suicide attempt, psychiatrists ultimately declared her sane and able to stand trial.

Headline from The Salina Journal (Salina, Kansas) Friday, May 6, 1966

Her trial began on May 5, 1966 before a jury of three women and nine men. Shortly after the start of the second day, it was interrupted by an outburst. Charlene Hargis began to scream: “Stop it! I told you I was guilty, didn’t I?!” State’s Attorney Arthur A. Marshall, Jr., who’d been standing directly in front of Mrs. Hargis, literally jumped in shock when the screaming began. He jumped so sharply, he actually pulled a muscle in his side. Asked about the incident later that day, he said, “I felt like somebody stuck a knife in me.”

A recess was called, and Charlene, “trembling and weeping,” was led out of the crowded courtroom by an officer. Seated outside in a nearby corridor were Denver Hargis and Betty Crotts. Mrs. Crotts had been called as a key witness for the prosecution, while Mr. Hargis elected not to testify against his estranged wife.

Betty Crotts testified that she and Denver (by now living together in Arlington, Virginia) had arrived home at her previous apartment in Vienna on the evening of October 17th and found Charlene Hargis and her four children waiting for them outside. She described the confrontation and Charlene’s later phone calls, “threatening to hurt the kids.”

Maryland State Trooper Robert Long was also called to testify, and he relayed the horror he’d discovered that morning in his next door neighbors’ apartment.

And Charlene herself quietly testified. She reiterated the same story to the jurors that she’d told police—never offering excuses or seeking mercy; often looking directly into the jurors’ eyes and adding that she wished she were dead, herself.  

On May 10th, after deliberating for six hours, the jury convicted Charlene on four counts of manslaughter. Reporters noted that several jurors were in tears at various times throughout the closing arguments, and that most in the courtroom sympathized with the defendant in spite of her horrific crime.

In fact, even the prosecutor himself directed more scorn at Denver Hargis and Betty Crotts than he did at Mrs. Hargis. In a remarkable statement to the jury, Marshall said, “She (Charlene Hargis) is a pathetic sight. She stands here before you by herself when there should be two other people with her. Two other people who squeezed the trigger as surely as she did.” He added, “Here we have the story of the eternal triangle—and of an unfaithful husband, who came here and refused to testify, for his own benefit.”

The defense attorney, predictably, was even more blunt. Edward Bagley said, “If she shot her husband that night, I would come in and gladly try this case for her. And I think she would have an excellent chance of being turned loose by a jury.”

The Morning Herald (Hagerstown, MD), May 25, 1966

On May 24th, two weeks after the trial, Charlene returned to the Upper Marlboro courthouse for sentencing. She received 10 years in prison for each death, but with the terms running concurrently.

Circuit Judge William B. Bowie stated that the sentence was “as lenient as possible under the circumstances,” and allowed that Mrs. Hargis would be eligible for parole after 28 months.

Charlene was taken to the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup to begin serving her time. By all accounts, she was the proverbial model prisoner—but as the one-year anniversary of the murders approached in September of 1966, so too did her demons. She attempted to overdose with prescription antidepressant and tranquilizer pills she’d been hoarding.

The Washington Post, September 22, 1966

Prison superintendent Alice Blum said that Charlene had confided to fellow inmates several times that “she didn’t know how she could stand it when October came around.”

She fully recovered, but less than a year later, overdosed on pills again. The June 1967 suicide attempt was her third in less than two years, counting the wrist-slashing during her initial psychological evaluation.

Laurel News Leader, June 29, 1967

The third suicide attempt not only resulted in Charlene being transferred to Spring Grove State Hospital, it prompted prison officials to change the method of administering pills to inmates. Warden James Jordan, believing that Mrs. Hargis had received the pills from other inmates who’d also been hoarding them, ordered that all future pills given to inmates “be crushed to make sure they are swallowed.”

Laurel News Leader, May 16, 1968

After serving a total of 31 months in prison and the psychiatric hospital, Charlene Hargis was granted parole by the Maryland Parole and Probation Board. She was released to the custody of her parents, where she was ordered to reside with them at their home in Missouri under close supervision of Missouri parole officials. Her parole also stipulated regular psychiatric care at a nearby mental hospital.

Somewhat ironically, it was a deal that Charlene’s court-appointed defense attorney had requested at her sentencing, only to be denied.

Somehow, life went on for both Denver and Charlene, apparently. After he filed for divorce in January 1969, she reverted to using her maiden name. The divorce report—an inherently cold document to begin with—contains a particularly chilling entry. Line #23 asks for the number of children under 18 affected by the decree. The clerk typed, “NONE.”


On March 28, 1969, Denver Hargis and Betty Crotts were married.


Denver and Betty moved to Florida, where he managed a number of title insurance companies before retiring in 1985. He died just four years later, at the age of 67, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

His grave is not far from those of his four children—who’d tragically been there for nearly 24 years by the time he joined them in 1989.

(Source: Arlington National Cemetery)

Nothing seems to have been written about Charlene in the years following her parole. If there were anymore suicide attempts, marriages, or anything else of note, it didn’t make the news, evidently.

In fact, I found only one brief thing—a terse obituary in the March 5, 2015 edition of the Kansas City Star:

Charlene J. Greer, 86, Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Died March 3, 2015.
No service. Cremation.
Langsford Funeral Home.

The tortured woman who couldn’t bear the anniversary of her children’s deaths ended up having to endure nearly 50 more of them.

Sadly, like so many other tragic tales, there isn’t any moral to this story; or any elements of redemption. It was a horrific act that likely could have been prevented, had circumstances been different. We’ll never know what Denver and Charlene Hargis felt, or what series of events prompted them to make the choices they did.

In today’s news cycles, very few things surprise us anymore. But in 1965, in our small hometown of Laurel, Maryland, this must have been truly shocking on every level.

Walking through the expansive Fox Rest Woods neighborhood today, which still looks very much as it always has, it’s easy to imagine the Hargis children there that fateful summer… and to wish they’d had the opportunity to really experience growing up in Laurel. Or anywhere else.

An Endorsement from a Diner Expert

By Richard Friend

Throughout the course of this Tastee Diner sale saga, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to a number of folks who know a lot more about classic diners than I do.

One gentleman, you could say, literally wrote the book on the subject—a few books, in fact.

Larry Cultrera has been documenting the American diner since 1980, photographing well over 800 models around the country—many of which, sadly, are now long gone.

Knowing that he’s familiar with Laurel’s Tastee Diner, (and the current situation with a potential sale putting it at great risk) I asked Mr. Cultrera if he’d consider writing a letter to Mayor Craig Moe, further encouraging the City of Laurel to purchase this historic building before it’s too late.

Larry Cultrera in 1990, sporting a Tastee Diner sweater.

Not only did Larry write a letter, he put together an extensive presentation that illustrates just how rare Laurel’s 1951 Comac-built diner actually is:

Think about that for a moment. Of the approximately 860 diners that Larry has personally photographed in the past 38 years, only two Comac models remain intact: Jack’s Diner of Albany, NY, and Laurel’s Tastee Diner.

The only other known examples, including Daphne’s Diner in Robbinsville, NJ, have been modified so extensively, they’re barely recognizable as the archetypal stainless steel diners they were designed to be.

“It is my belief that the Tastee Diner of Laurel is the most intact and original Comac Diner still in existence and is worthy of preserving for future generations to hopefully enjoy for years to come.”

Larry Cultrera

My immense thanks to Mr. Cultrera for lending his expert voice to this worthy cause. It is clearly the desire of many to see the Diner be purchased by the City of Laurel, where it can rightly become an authentic part of the Historic District.

Recap: Tastee Diner Appreciation Day

By Richard Friend

Richard Friend, Pete Lewnes, and Kevin Leonard. (Photo: Michael G. Stewart)

Saturday morning, January 19th was an extra-special day at the Tastee Diner. The Laurel History Boys’ “Diner Appreciation Day” saw an outpouring of residents and diner fans from all over the region. Between trying to eat breakfast and chatting with as many folks as possible, it was hard to get an accurate headcount—but the parking lot remained full from before the event began at 9AM until well after noon. And Sunday was a near-repeat, as the diner was packed once more.

Photos © Karen Jackson / For Baltimore Sun Media Group

The purpose of this event was twofold: we wanted to thank diner owner Gene Wilkes and his hardworking staff for the nearly 43 years they’ve maintained the Laurel location. We also wanted to remind Mayor Craig Moe and the City of Laurel that the diner remains important to this community, and that the City’s Community Redevelopment Authority should explore every available opportunity to purchase the endangered building (if not the full property itself) if and when the Pure Hana Synergy application is officially denied. The Board of Appeals hearing is scheduled for this Thursday night, January 24th at 7PM at the Laurel Municipal Center.

Richard Friend with Laurel Historical Society president Jhanna Levin and Prince George’s County Council Member Tom Dernoga. (Photo: Karen Lubieniecki)

Diner staff went the extra mile, decorating the car with balloons and ensuring that customers were seated and served promptly. Karen Lubieniecki of the Laurel Historical Society shared the following photo gallery:

And City Councilmember Carl DeWalt posted on Facebook after the event:

Saturday morning attended “The Diner Appreciation Day.” The parking lot was completely full and the Diner was packed with our hometown residents. The honorable Prince George’s Co Councilmember Tom Dernoga and members of his staff attended and enjoyed a delicious Diner breakfast. Edith, my new friend, told us she has been coming to the Diner for the past 40 years and considers the Diner “Home” and the Diner staff and patrons family! Since 1985 when I became a resident and employee of the City of Laurel the theme surrounding Laurel was the revitalization of Main St. History indicates this has been a very very slow process. The outpouring of support I witnessed yesterday for the Diner by our citizens is a golden opportunity to help preserve that structure, move it to Main St. and finally achieve a huge step forward in this revitalization process!

Carl DeWalt, Councilmember, Ward 1

The pending sale to Pure Hana Synergy was unanimously denied on December 11th, and while the medical marijuana dispensary firm has been planning its appeal, I believe that we’ll ultimately learn that their application never should have received the City’s initial endorsement. A town’s Municipal Code can only be bent so far, and Thursday night’s hearing should remove all doubt.

While most are optimistic that the Board of Appeals will uphold the Planning Commission’s recommendation, the diner’s future is far from safe. Owner Gene Wilkes has made it abundantly clear that he still wants to sell. He mentioned having at least two additional offers on his property–both of which would result in the loss of the diner. This is why it’s imperative that the City of Laurel work with him (or his prospective buyers) on a solution that would allow the diner car to be preserved and relocated.

Mr. Wilkes spoke at length about the challenges he’s faced for years while running the Laurel diner, particularly with keeping it open 24 hours a day in a location that has been prone to crime. He also spoke about his refusal to ever allow it to be designated as a historic property, citing regulations that the City imposes on such properties, and how he believes it would only further hinder his ability to sell.

Despite his pleasant and courteous demeanor, I think Mr. Wilkes still views anyone interested in saving the diner as somehow impeding his right to sell it. I’ve tried to explain that this isn’t the case at all. He has more than earned the right to sell and retire. Pure Hana Synergy’s application to purchase it simply should’ve been negated long before it reached this point—and that has nothing to do with diner preservationists, but everything to do with the City’s own Municipal Code. We’re only interested in seeing the building relocated to Main Street, where a new owner can be incentivized to breathe new life into it.

As Saturday’s event showed beyond a doubt, there is an abundance of love for this diner; and with proper advertising and sustained community engagement, it clearly has tremendous potential for the Historic District. The City of Laurel should be exploring ways to purchase it, protect it, and give it the historic designation it deserves.

Based on his extensive experience in Laurel, Mr. Wilkes is correct on many points which reinforce his desire to sell the Laurel location. But by the same token, it’s unfair to measure the Laurel diner’s performance against that of his other locations in Bethesda and Silver Spring—areas that have nearly triple the population and more robust economies.

In the hands of a motivated new owner—an owner who will perhaps decide to limit the business to regular operating hours, consistently engage in public outreach efforts, (much like the highly-successful 29 Diner in Fairfax does) and take full advantage of the many preservation grants and incentives available to a historic location—this diner can positively thrive.

Please plan on attending the Board of Appeals hearing this Thursday night at the Laurel Municipal Center, and let City officials know that you expect them to do right by this historic diner. There are numerous resources to explore, including crowdfunding, angel investors, and others who could contribute to a hugely successful relocation and reopening on Main Street.

Thursday, January 24, 2019
Laurel Municipal Center
8103 Sandy Spring Road
Laurel, MD 20707

Diner Appreciation Day


Join us Saturday morning, January 19th from 9:00–12:00 PM at the Tastee Diner, as we hope to draw an an extra-large breakfast crowd of Save the Diner supporters! It will be the last weekend before the pivotal Board of Appeals meeting that will decide whether or not Pure Hana Synergy can purchase the site and convert it to a medical marijuana dispensary. That hearing is tentatively set for Thursday, January 24th at 7 PM at the Laurel Municipal Center.

The hearing, originally scheduled for December 20th, was delayed by over a month at Pure Hana’s request after the Planning Commission unanimously voted to deny their application at the December 11th meeting.

While it’s expected that the Board of Appeals committee will uphold the ruling, Tastee Diner owner Gene Wilkes has made it clear that he still intends to sell the property. After nearly 43 years of operating the Laurel location, he’s earned the right to retire.

When Mr. Wilkes took over the diner in 1976, he technically saved it, himself. Had it not become part of his Tastee Diner chain when it did, there’s a very good chance that it wouldn’t have survived into the next decade. Much like Outrider’s Diner just up the street in North Laurel, it would have disappeared from the landscape before generations of Laurelites could enjoy its affordable fare and authentic 1950s ambiance.

As a way of saying thank you to Mr. Wilkes—and showing the City of Laurel that the diner remains a relevant and vital part of this town—we’re asking you to come out to the diner in force Saturday morning, January 19th.

Whether it’s just for a cup of coffee or a full-blown breakfast, please come support the diner and its hardworking staff. With over 2,300 petition signatures, we’ve already shown the City leaders that people want to save the diner. Now let’s show them in person, en masse.

With the Pure Hana deal out of the picture, this is the opportunity for the City of Laurel’s Community Redevelopment Authority to step in and make an offer for the property—or, at the very least, to negotiate a purchase of the diner itself—in order to relocate it to property that the City owns at 312 Main Street.


Adding the diner to the Historic District would bring long-term benefits the likes of which the CRA will probably never see again. Once it receives historic designation, the diner would qualify for state and county preservation grants, among other funding. The Maryland Main Street Program, which Laurel is now a part of, would provide further aide in this transition.

But most importantly, the City should, by now, see the economic potential that this diner would bring to Main Street. If they don’t, a large turnout with media coverage will make the picture even clearer.

Diner Appreciation Day
Saturday, January 19, 2019
9 AM – 12 PM
Tastee Diner Laurel
118 Washington Blvd.



Real Men Wear Pink

A very special “Thank You” from Pete to a good friend—former Laurel police officer and newly-elected city councilman Carl DeWalt for this special addition to his collection:

Pete & Martha (Kalbach) Lewnes Collection

In October 2013, the Laurel Police Department went pink for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in an effort to raise awareness and support those with the disease.

On a related note, the Laurel History Boys are excited to announce the formation of our team in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life—a tremendous event held in Laurel on Saturday, June 8th. You can help us raise proceeds for the American Cancer Society by making even a small donation. We’d also welcome you to join our team, or volunteer in any capacity.

Can you help us? The “Donate” button below will take you to our team page.

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Thank you!