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.
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.
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!
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.
“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.”
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
We’ve had quite an eventful week! It started last Friday with an invitation to kick off Fox 5’s Zip Trip to Laurel. We filmed a quick segment bright and early at Towne Centre Laurel with Maureen Umeh, showing a few artifacts from Pete’s collection and explaining the interest in hyper-local history.
Maureen asked, “What makes Laurel so special? A lot of people pass through and probably don’t realize the history here.” Rich responded:
“There’s a lot of nostalgia…You think about the past, and the places you remember—but there’s a lot going on today that evokes that past. New places on Main Street like More Than Java Cafe—where I think, fifty years from now, people will still be talking about what a great cup of coffee they had there.”
We gave Maureen and the Fox 5 team t-shirts, and named them honorary Laurel History Boys!
The following weekend, we hosted our first ever Laurel History Trivia Night at Oliver’s Old Towne Tavern. The event, originally scheduled for the previous Saturday, had been postponed a week when our beloved Washington Capitals were playing for their first Stanley Cup!
We set up the game with six rounds of six questions each, followed by a bonus round. The questions got progressively harder as the game went on, and were worth more points.
The turnout was fantastic, with a great mixture of teams that included the likes of former mayor Joe Robison and family, current mayor Craig Moe, and City Council Members Carl DeWalt, Mike Leszcz, and Eddie Ricks. There was also a contingent of longtime Laurel Volunteer Firefighters, as well as the Laurel High Class of 1972.
The event was free, and prizes for the winning teams included Laurel History Boys t-shirts and stickers, vintage 1984 illustrated merchant maps of Laurel, and Laurel History Bucks—$12, $18, and $24 dollars off their teams’ tab, courtesy of Oliver’s!
Pete displayed a number of items from his collection, including one that folks were encouraged to interact with—the original Laurel Police Department mugshot slate board from the C Street location in the 1970s–80s!
We want to extend another huge thank you to Lenny Wohlfarth, Pamella Thompson, and everyone else at Oliver’s Old Towne Tavern for graciously hosting this event, and working so hard to ensure that everyone had a terrific time.
Think you know your hometown history? We’re talking about the people, places, and things—including the little details—that have defined Laurel over the past century.
Put together a team of friends (maximum team size is six people) who know Laurel extremely well, and head to Oliver’s on June 2nd. First, second, and third place winners will receive Laurel History Bucks—good for up to $24 off your food/drink tab!
There will be some other cool prizes, too, including t-shirts and vintage Laurel merchant map posters—just like the one at Oliver’s! (And if any other local merchants would like to donate gift cards, swag, or other prizes to be awarded, please contact us!)
This is a totally free event—just be sure to order something from the wonderful Oliver’s menu/bar and tip your waitstaff well!
We’ve heard that there may be some heavy competition in the crowd that night, including mayors, city council members, retired police officers, and others who truly know their stuff when it comes to Laurel history. So, choose your team wisely (or show up early and try to join one of theirs!)
Saturday, June 9
Oliver’s Old Towne Tavern
531 Main Street (at Sixth & Main Streets)