I finally had the chance to tour my childhood apartment at Steward Manor this weekend—the first time I’ve stepped foot inside since my parents and I moved in the summer of 1987. It’s amazing how every inch of space still holds so many vivid memories.
Even before starting Lost Laurel, it was Steward Manor’s history that first fascinated me. I’d begun researching it in earnest in 2010, visiting the rental office to copy vintage photos; and tracking down original plat survey drawings from 1959 at Ben Dyer Associates—the civil engineering company that’s still in business today.
I’d gotten a message from my friend, Joe Leizear, a longtime Steward Manor resident who became a maintenance man there himself. Joe shares a fascination for this kind of stuff, and knew I’d love to tour my old apartment when the opportunity arose. Sure enough, shortly after the most recent tenants moved out, Joe invited me to see it.
The tour wouldn’t have been complete without my oldest friends, Rodney and Ronald Pressley—twin brothers I’ve known since the first grade, and grew up with at the apartment complex.
It’s a surreal experience, walking through such a familiar place again after all these years… and it’s amazing how vivid the memories remain. Even with the many upgrades and changes—and even vacant—it still feels like it did in the 1980s. It felt like home.
This experience was probably the closest I’ve come to actual time-travel yet.
From what I’ve heard, Steward Manor residents (along with millions of others in the DMV area) suffered a lengthy power outage as a result of severe storms this past Friday. Fortunately, power was restored late Sunday. And not a moment too soon, as the area is still coping with record high temps.
While sending best wishes for a speedy service restoration, I couldn’t help thinking back to the times when my family endured blackouts at our apartment on Bryan Court back in the 1980s. I don’t recall any lasting more than a couple of days, (or occurring frequently) but they were always massively frustrating—especially during these hot summer days.
Oddly enough, what I associate most with those outages is actually one of the smallest of architectural details—a functional tool that most of us who’ve moved on from Steward Manor have probably long forgotten about: the push-button light switches.
(Photo: Rodney Pressley)
It’s a device I’ve yet to see in any other apartment, house, or place of business since Steward Manor—in any part of the country. They were in place when James Smart was living on Sharon Court as a kid in the early 1960s, and many of them are still in use throughout the complex today.
I can recall pressing those buttons often during blackouts, hoping that—as if by magic—the lights would come back on. At least once, they actually did.
December was always one of my favorite times of year, growing up at Steward Manor in the 1980s. Football season was at its peak; and most of my friends were diehard Redskins or Cowboys fans during those halcyon days of the NFC East. I was inexplicably a Philadelphia Eagles fan at the time, but I digress. Needless to say, our football games on the main field behind the rental office on Morris Drive were always spirited and memorable—especially this time of year.
But more important than football, the arrival of December meant the countdown to Christmas. And, perhaps surprisingly, Steward Manor was always a most festive neighborhood.
Driving through the community at night, you’d see Christmas lights adorning windows on nearly every floor of every building. Some were strings of lights; others, like ours, were those simple five-light electric candoliers (shown below from an eBay listing for 10x the original cost), which my mom would place in our living room, dining room, and my parents’ bedroom windows at 100 Bryan Ct. #202.
Others would drape their windows with tinsel—something many residents would also string around the frames of their doors. In any given building, you’d find wreaths strung to door knockers, and countless colorful Santa Claus faces taped just below peepholes. And if you looked closely enough (and before the efficient cleaning crews made their rounds), you might notice Christmas tree needles throughout the stairwells. And speaking of Christmas trees, while most tended to keep their blinds and curtains closed at night, there were always a few who proudly displayed their lit trees for all to see. Many glowed throughout the entire night.
Wherever I am, and no matter how old I get, I’ll always think of Steward Manor this time of year—and smile.
Is everyone ready for Halloween?
Steward Manor was a fantastic place to go trick-or-treating in the 1980s, as I (and my dentist) can attest. This 1993 photo from the Rental Office’s collection shows some costumed staff members getting a head start on the festivities by distributing treats at the bus stop.
As a kid, it was your mission to make it through all 33 buildings in the complex—a feat some brave ghouls were actually able to accomplish twice in one night! 😉 It was also a time when nearly everyone opened their doors to trick-or-treaters, so you were guaranteed a hefty Halloween haul.
While most residents didn’t necessarily go all-out with Halloween lights in the windows (did such things even exist at the time?), you could find plenty of doors in every building decorated with cardboard cutout pumpkins, Frankensteins, and other icons that signaled a candy-friendly abode.
I received this great overhead shot of Laurel Rescue 49 leaving its station and turning onto Lafayette Avenue in September, 1974 from retired Captain John Floyd II.
In the background is the familiar footpath behind Morris Drive, with an old aluminum lamppost and bench also clearly visible. There’s also an old Volkswagen Karmann Ghia in the satellite parking area, which I can recall still parked there frequently in the 1980s!
There was a fire at 10 Morris Drive earlier this year, which has fortunately been a surprisingly rare occurrence for Steward Manor throughout the decades. It’s ironic, too, that the complex sits just a few yards from the Laurel Volunteer Rescue Squad.
Captain Floyd provided some insight into why Steward Manor has fared so well against fire—especially compared to its neighbors:
“Unlike nearby garden apartments, such as Laurel Pines and Milestone Manor (or ‘Summerland’ as it’s called today), Steward Manor has been remarkably free of major fires over the years. The flat-roofed buildings that join only at the corners tend to prevent the rapid spread of cockloft fires that plague other complexes (Fox Rest, just down Bowie Road, had a major 2nd alarm last Saturday). I went to only one fire there as an LVFD fireman in the 1970s and ’80s”.
That’s a pretty remarkable record for a complex with 33 buildings that are perpetually filled—we’re talking nearly 400 apartment units.
Here’s to continued protection against fire… and all other catastrophes!
Many former residents have posted some phenomenal old photos on our Facebook page, some of which are also archived here in the Photos section.
Most depict kids who were several years older than I was at the time, (we’re talking late 1970s, early 1980s here) so I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing them back then. I have, however, had the chance to meet and get to know some in recent years as a result of this project, which has been awesome.
I originally planned to use some of these submitted images on their own in my book, (and still hope to) but will ultimately need higher-resolution scans to do so. (Please let me know if you have any old photos of the neighborhood—it doesn’t matter how random they might be!) If possible, please scan them at a high resolution (full size at 300 dpi would be great), or I would be more than happy to borrow your originals to have them scanned professionally. I’ll take excellent care of the photos and will return them to you promptly.
In the meantime, I had another idea—I printed out small, low-res versions (simulating the original prints) and actually took them to Steward Manor. There, standing in roughly the same spot that the original photographer stood all those years ago, I photographed the prints. The result, I think, will be an interesting collision of past and present.
Here are just a few test shots so far:
This July 28, 1960 land survey by Ben Dyer Associates illustrates the layout of Parcel C—the third and final construction phase of Steward Manor Apartments.
The most ambitious of the three phases, Parcel C essentially included three entirely new streets: Sharon Court west of Parkside Drive, Bryan Court, and last but not least, the full stretch of Morris Drive. That’s three buildings on Sharon, four on Bryan, and a whopping eleven on Morris. Parcel A had included eight buildings, and Parcel B had seven, respectively.
We know from this brief piece in the Washington Post that the first finished units of Parcel C opened for business on November 1, 1960, making Steward Manor Apartments nearly complete.
And thanks to historian Jim Smart, who first pointed out that the Post inadvertently used a photo from the earlier Parcel A. Notice the rows of three bedroom windows? That’s a distinctive feature that only two buildings in the entire community have: 106 Sharon and 100 Woodland. Like many people for the decades to come, (including residents ourselves) the author likely assumed that all 33 buildings that made up Steward Manor were identical. As we’re finding out, nothing could be further from the truth. 😉
On a beautiful, late summer day like today, who wouldn’t want to take a dip in the Steward Manor swimming pool?
These various photos from the rental office collection are undated, but most appear to be from the mid 1990s to the early 2000s. The very last one, showing the bath houses in red, may even be earlier—as it looks just as I remember the pool growing up in the early 1980s.
The pool is still open today and features some significant upgrades from the time when I used to frequent it, including a large gazebo area, and privacy fencing. The red bath houses, lifeguard office, and storage areas are now white and blue. The most conspicuous change, however, is the kiddie pool, which is no longer there. (Its removal made way for the gazebo).
The Steward Manor pool was always the high point of the summer for any kid in the neighborhood. While it isn’t the biggest, deepest pool, it was well designed and fit the environment perfectly. It was also meticulously maintained—much like the rest of the community—and proudly remains so to this day.
For earlier pool photos submitted by residents from the 70s and 80s, see the Photos section.
This survey, originally dated 12/4/59 and signed by Ben Dyer, shows “Parcel B”—the second of three phases of construction that produced Steward Manor Apartments. Parcel B is comprised of the block of Woodland Ct. west of Parkside Dr. (building numbers 2 through 14, respectively). It also includes the asphalt street and parking spaces of Sharon Ct. west of Parkside Dr., although the buildings themselves would come later as part of Parcel C.
The drawing shows incredible detail—much of which hasn’t changed in the nearly 52 years since it was rendered.
Below is a storm drainage plan—also from Ben Dyer Associates in 1959—showing the “existing buildings” of Parcel A (the blocks of Woodland and Sharon Ct. east of Parkside Dr.) as well as the extension of Woodland Ct. that would complete Parcel B.
With 15 buildings, Steward Manor Apartments was nearing the halfway mark. Parcel C would be the final and most ambitious phase yet.
Click the images to view at a larger size.