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Images and items from Laurel's past, showcased online

The process has involved library research and community outreach, making connections with people online and on the streets of Laurel.

It's also involved scrolling through websites like eBay for items that evoke hometown nostalgia, that stir long-forgotten memories of a suburban childhood that seems both remote and immediate.

For Richard Friend, who grew up in the Steward Manor Apartments in Laurel and is now documenting the city's past on two popular blogs called Lost Laurel and Steward Manor Days the projects are "sort of like a puzzle," he said.

"Pieces come together every so often," he said.

But they are also more than that.

"It's kind of a genealogy of an apartment complex, and now a city," Friend said on a recent afternoon, outside the Steward Manor building that he lived in with his parents, Carol and Al Friend, during the 1980s.

Friend, 39 and now a Virginia resident, calls the fact that his sites have been viewed more than 10,000 times in the last few years "absurd."

He never thought his little part-time hobby would attract so much attention.

But, he said, he also understands why his blogs strike a chord with Laurel's former and current residents.

Back in 1998, when the visual designer first had the idea to create a "design book" about Steward Manor for friends, and started collecting old photos, he felt the same way, he said.

Little discoveries – an old match book from a now-closed Laurel restaurant, a toy truck from the former Dart Drug store – evoked strong emotions.

"It was like a project you didn't want to end," he said.

Eventually the "design book" turned into a Facebook page and then into the Steward Manor blog. More recently, Friend decided to expand his local digital footprint by creating the Lost Laurel blog as well, in order to showcase everything he was finding that was vintage Laurel but not necessarily linked to the apartment complex.

Hundreds of people have found the sites, from Laurel and elsewhere, and some have expressed their thanks to Friend in comment sections.

"Richard, thanks for putting this all together," wrote one commenter who signed his name as Bill Wellford. "It is a real treat to see and read about these awesome places that were here and reminisce about them."

People have also begun making recommendations for what Friend should document or write about next.

"This is a great site!" wrote a commenter who signed as Chrissy Nelson. "My friend and I were born in the mid-eighties – could you do a post on some things we remember? High's? Pal Jacks? Roller skating nights Friday Nights for LES?"

As the blogs started attracting more people, Friend started getting more dated photos and other items from the past from people who wanted to add to the dialogue and help fill out Friend's growing repository of Laurel imagery.

Friend said he hopes that sharing continues.

"Ideally, I'd like to find more people who were here in the very beginning who might have some photos stored away," he said.

He also welcomes suggestions and help from local residents. He's already gotten support from a number of folks at Steward Manor, including Jutta Heidelberger, the property manager, and Paul Blair, the service manager, who have both worked at the apartment complex at least since Friend lived there in the early 1980s, he said.

"They've kind of given me carte blanche" for exploring the apartment community, taking pictures and chatting with residents, he said.

As more changes occur in Laurel – like the looming redevelopment of Laurel Mall – more of what made Laurel distinguishable from other local cities will disappear, Friend said.

"Everything you know as a kid is just gone," he said.

Still, he'd like to help create a record of what was, a sentiment that sometimes strikes him as odd, he said.

Before he left for Corcoran College of Art + Design in Washington in the 1990s, he dreamed of leaving Steward Manor and Laurel behind, he said.

"If you grew up here, you couldn't wait to get out," he said.

Today, he said, those childhood days don't seem so bad.

Friend's blogs can be found at lostlaurel.wordpress.com and stewardmanordays.wordpress.com.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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