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Residents work to save old Upper Marlboro stone building:
Demolition halted as committee considers site usage
By Chase Cook Staff Writer
Greg Dohler/The Gazette


Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Some area residents hope to renovate this historic stone building on Church Road in Upper Marlboro.

While the Upper Marlboro Historical Committee is trying to find a way to save a 1948 stone building set for demolition, other community members want what they call “an eyesore” torn down.

The one-story stone building is located on Church Street near Old Crain Highway and was used as a telephone switch station and a Prince George’s County Fire/EMS district command center, but has since been vacant for several years, said Town Commissioners’ President Steve Sonnett. The building has been damaged from an earthquake and a car running into it, he said.

County officials asked if the town wanted the land after the condemned building was demolished, so the town said yes and there was talk of putting in a garden, Sonnett said.

“When someone offers you a gift, with conditions, you take the gift with the conditions,” he said.

That demolition has been put on hold now after the town’s Historical Committee discovered on Jan. 21 that the building was set for demolition, said Kate Germano, committee chairwoman and Upper Marlboro resident.

The Historical Committee is a group of residents who meet on weekends to archive historical documents and items related to town history.

“We had no idea it was going to be demolished,” Germano said. “Our efforts are more active now since the town already agreed to demolish the building.”

The building is within the town’s National Historic Registrar boundaries, so if the town wants to protect its history the building should be reused, Germano said.

“Taking the building down would be a negative thing for the town while trying to capitalize on our history,” Germano said. “We think it adds value to the town.”

Helen Ford, a former town commissioner and resident who lives near the building, said the county isn’t using the building and a new garden would have been an improvement over the building, which is an eyesore.

“If it was a historic building I would be all in favor of saving it,” Ford said. “Just because something is over 50 years old doesn’t make something historic.”

Sonnett said he supports the committee’s efforts to save the building as long as they can find a good use for the building.

“Everybody likes that building ... but it has been in disrepair for years,” Sonnett said. “It is worth putting the demolition on hold to see if the committee can come up with something feasible.”

Germano said the building could be used to store the committee’s archived documents and historical items, but first they have to determine how much it will cost to fix. She also said she wants to poll residents on the building’s use. The committee is working with the county to get it on the county’s historic registrar as well.

“We need to have a couple of ideas put forth in the local community to find what they want to do with the space,” Germano said.


Prince George’s Olde Towne Inn mirrors the history of African Americans in the countyBy DeNeen L. Brown, Washington Post

View Photo Gallery -- Olde Towne Inn is the place to be seen: The Prince George’s County restaurant has become a multiracial destination owned by a black chef with his own story of transformation.

“This is the place to be in Prince George’s,” says Stone, who explains that not so long ago much of the conversation overheard in the restaurant would have been about keeping people like him out.

“The first black judge in the county had to come to the back door of the restaurant,” Stone says, pointing over the booth and to the kitchen. “They sold slaves right up thestreet,” he says pointing in the opposite direction where, behind a house, there remains a stone auction block upon which black people were displayed.

Long after Prince George’s became the most affluent majority black county in the country, the Olde Towne Inn remained one of the few places where some blacks said they felt unwelcome.

“And now, here is a black man that has transformed a restaurant that used to be an all-white watering hole into a cosmopolitan restaurant,” says Stone of owner Donnell Long.

This restaurant with its Tiffany chandeliers, exposed brick walls and top-notch chef, turning out crab-stuffed salmon, pulled pork sandwiches, waffles and chicken, was segregated until after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act against discrimination in public accommodations and remained unofficially so long after. Now it is a multiracial destination owned by a black chef with his own story of transformation.

“I wanted it to be a place where everybody feels like it’s their spot,” says Long, 41, who took over the restaurant’s long-term lease in 2006. “I felt if they walked in these doors, I can kill them with kindness.”

This is where the powerful in Prince George’s go between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to see and be seen. It’s a place where deals are made and broken. A place where people of all races dine together now with little thought of the past.

Long greets Stone, the county administrator, who greets a fleet of walking titles: School Board member Carolyn Boston, who is black, passes the table and stops to say hello. She turns, and behind her is vice chair of the County Council William A. Campos, who is Latino. State Del. Aisha A. Braveboy (D), who is black, waves as she takes the next booth.

“Campaigns are set in here,” Long says. “You have folks coming here who are going to run for office. Developers are here meeting lobbyists. You can see if they are trying to hire a lobbying firm. You’d be surprised what you learn over a good burger.”

Discrimination

When Long signed the lease on the Olde Towne Inn, it had been called the Judges Chambers. For more than 80 years, the restaurant has been the main watering hole in the county’s seat. It sits next door to the old courthouse, a block away from the county administration building. It is one of only a few sit-down restaurants on Main Street, and miles from the next town center. Its location is essential to its evolution.

“When I came into the county in 1980, blacks were using all the facilities in Upper Marlboro,” says June White Dillard, executive director of the Prince George’s African American Heritage Preservation Group. “But before that, that was not true. It was strictly segregated, and blacks simply were not allowed in most establishments except at the back door.”

DeVan Daniel Washington, a prominent lawyer in the county, remembers coming here after he won a big case about 10 years ago. He brought with him clients and expert witnesses.

“We had about five people. I was going to pick up the tab,” Washington says. “I sat here and sat here, and I realized they didn’t seem to want to provide me service. So I took my money and left. They seemed indifferent.”

“I don’t know whether it” was racist, he says. “I didn’t care. What it was was stupid. I hardly ever came here after, until I heard it was bought by a black guy.”

Alexander Williams Jr., senior judge in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, worked in the early 1970s as a law clerk to Judge James H. Taylor, one of the first black judges in the county. Taylor told Williams that the restaurant wouldn’t even serve him. “He said it was a tough place at a tough time of resistance to open housing and public accommodations,” Williams says.

Stone, who first came to the restaurant when he started working in Upper Marlboro in the 1970s, remembers “it was a restaurant that catered to policemen, state’s attorneys and investigators. It had a sense about it.” He says he would come in for lunch and hear patrons talk about how they “had to beat back” the black people coming into the county along Southern Avenue. Only they didn’t say “black people.”

“That was the tenor of the times in Upper Marlboro,” Stone says.

The owners, who were white, “would come to me and apologize for the conversations. But it has transformed just like the county, from a hostile environment to minorities to being owned by a minority.”

Transformation

The chef has no written history of the restaurant he now calls his own. But he knows what it takes to transform something and change its narrative. Long, who was born in Great Barrington, Mass., and his older brother were found abandoned in a car in New York City.

“I was 3, and my brother was 9,” Long says. He has a vague memory of a police station in New York; his next memory is in Washington. He doesn’t know how he and his brother got to Washington.

After being placed in a series of foster homes, he and his brother were taken in by a woman he calls Mrs. Sharp. “I believe she saved my life. I was bad. And everybody I knew was getting shot and killed. A lot of my friends are not here.”

After graduating high school, he went to Washington Culinary Arts School. His first job was in a deli in Potomac. From there he moved to a restaurant in Montgomery Mall, then the Cheesecake Factory. He was partner at Stonefish Grill on Capital Centre Boulevard, which ended with a legal dispute about ownership. Because of the lawsuit, Long spent months traveling from Largo to Upper Marlboro. One day, his attorney came across a notice that the lease on the Olde Town Inn was available. He persuaded Long to take it over.

Long gutted the restaurant and brought in upscale furniture, installed six booths covered in burgundy leather and marble tables. He hired 15 employees and repaired the tin ceilings and hung photos of Redskins players behind the bar. Long, who now works with a foster care foundation and hosts annual Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners for children in foster homes, says he wants his customers to feel comfortable when they come in the restaurant.


Maureen Lewandowski, who is white and works at the bank across the street, says she loves the restaurant. She says she never heard about the time when blacks did not feel comfortable here. “It’s a community place,” she says. “Not just for courthouse people. . . .Donnell cooks me my special meal. If I come in by myself, he will introduce me to the person sitting at the next table.”

The restaurant is filling up with its evening crowd. At the bar sits a white man, next to a black man, next to a black woman. They listen to a Marvin Gaye song playing on the speakers and talk football. A white man in a blue overcoat walks in and shakes the hand of a black man at the bar and joins the conversation.

“The transformation of this place,” Stone says, “has been remarkable.”


City museums sponsoring historic bicentennial
The Bowie Blade-News
  • Posted: Thursday, February 6, 2014 1:00 pm
This year marks the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the “coming of age” of the new republic, of the United States. Prince Georges’ County not only stood witness to that war — it arrived on county soil with a roar as the British made their way to Washington, D.C., intent upon teaching upstart Americans a lesson. Fortunately, they failed!

Prince George’s County plays a pivotal role in the conflict. Terror spread as the British presence made itself known. Fearing their destruction, state officials moved important records from Annapolis to Upper Marlboro for safekeeping. When the British “captured” Upper Marlboro, the records were safely removed to Mt. Lubentia, a plantation in present day Largo, where they remained intact. Upper Marlboro resident Dr. William Beanes, taken captive by the British (along with three others including local resident Robert Bowie), was aboard ship with Francis Scott Key off Ft. McHenry as bombs burst in air, inspiring our national anthem. The Battle of Bladensburg, in August 1814, has a special place in our nation’s history, as well.

Most certainly, the Ogle family living at Belair had grave concerns for their family members in Annapolis, Bladensburg and Washington. Henrietta Hill Ogle of Belair and Annapolis filed a claim to be reimbursed for 20 slaves that fled her property in Annapolis for sanctuary with the British. Anne Ogle Tayloe, a Belair granddaughter, opened her home — the Octagon in Washington — to President and Mrs. Madison as their temporary residence after the burning of the White House. The Treaty of Ghent, ending the war, was signed by Madison at the Octagon. Other Ogle family members and friends (the Lowndes of Bostwick and the Calverts of Riversdale) witnessed the war in a very close and personal fashion — they lived in walking distance of the infamous battle. Every family in this county had a story, a connection, and the war had an impact on them all.

When war came to the shores of the Chesapeake, what was it like for these everyday citizens and local militiamen, as well as slaves, freedmen, and women? What happened to the runaway slaves?

Discover the answers at Belair Mansion, 12207 Tulip Grove Drive, Feb. 28 at 10:30 a.m. Historian Mike Dixon will present “Often in the Dead of Night: Untold Stories of Everyday People in the War of 1812.” Bring a brown bag lunch (beverages will be provided). After lunch, Maya Davis from the Maryland State Archives will also hold a discussion.

The program is free and open to the public. Dixon appears courtesy of the Maryland Humanities Council.

For information and to reserve a seat, email museums@cityofbowie.org or call 301-809-3089.

Information provided by Pam Williams, historic properties and museums manager.


Tuesday, January 08, 2013
Upper Marlboro gains historic designationTown joins 11 other county municipalities on National Register

Staff Writer
Daniel J. Gross/The Gazette
Upper Marlboro resident Brian Calicott lives in the “Compton House,” which was originally built in 1787 and had been home to prominent town residents over the years. The Compton House is one of many historic homes in the town that helped the area become a historic district on the national register of historic places.

Upper Marlboro contains nearly 100 acres of historic homes dating back to the mid-18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Thanks to the town’s architectural progression and notable housing styles, the National Park Service added Upper Marlboro to its list of historic districts in the National Register of Historic Places.

Town officials and residents alike say the Dec. 12 designation will help provide a sense of pride and preservation among those living within the historic district, which encompasses much of the town’s boundaries.

Officially, being named on the historic registry prevents state and federal projects such as major highways from being built over the district without conducting a number of additional requests and studies.

Steve Sonnett, chairman of the town’s board of commissioners, said a more than 45-page application detailing the town’s makeup was submitted to the National Park Service for review of Upper Marlboro’s historic qualities.

“The thrust of the designation is that it’s an old town and has old houses and has period houses. The houses have shown a progression of an old town through time,” said Sonnett, remarking on the variety of homes built over various centuries. “There was an effect on our part to say, ‘Look, you’re living in a neat little town here and it should be recognized as such. Let’s work on preserving that and building upon that.’”

To be considered for the “historic district” designation, neighborhood houses and structures must be at least 50 years old, Sonnett said. There are more than 90 homes and structures listed in the application.

In 1695, settlers came to Upper Marlboro, which was established as a port town for tobacco shipments in 1706. The town has been the county’s headquarters since 1721.

The actual historic district boundary encompasses the residential neighborhoods; but excludes the town’s downtown area, which houses the county’s district courthouse, administration building and various shops and businesses, and the more than 100 newer townhouses on the north edge of town.

Brian Callicott, 45, a self-proclaimed “history enthusiast,” said he moved to Upper Marlboro for its historic homes and has visited many historic places around the region after finding them on the register.

“If it’s a historic district it must have enough stuff there that I would want to check it out,” Callicott said. “Lots of history-minded folks jump online and say, ‘Where are these historic districts?’”

Upper Marlboro is one of 12 historic districts in Prince George’s County. The others are
Greenbelt, Hyattsville, Mount Rainier, University Park, Calvert Hills, Riverdale Park, West Riverdale, North Brentwood, Old Town College Park, College Heights Estates and Brandywine.

Howard Burger, supervisor of the county’s historic preservation section, said the designation provides recognition of the significant aspects of such towns.

“We find it’s a great way for local communities to recognize their significance,” Burger said. “It really allows people to have an interest in their community and take pride in it.”

djgross@gazette.net

Story Correction:  Brian Callicott lives in “Content,” which was originally built in 1787 and had been home to prominent town residents over the years.