“Parcel A”: The First Phase of Steward Manor Apartments

Above is one of the first surveys by Ben Dyer Associates showing construction of Steward Manor Apartments. The area oft-mentioned in deeds and other land records as “Parcel A” is very clearly represented here, in this drawing dated 4/11/58 (and revised 3/17/59). Four “existing buildings” are shown: the blocks of Woodland and Sharon Courts east of Parkside Dr. (Building numbers 100 through 106 of each street, respectively).

We can also see the major streets on the periphery of the neighborhood. To the north, New Fort Meade Road (Route. 198) and Irving Street (the original “Steward Manor” neighborhood); to the west, Lafayette Avenue; just south, Bowie Road (then Route 197); and to the east is the “Proposed Highway” which would eventually become the extended Route 197 we know today, which separates Steward Manor from Steward Tower.

Try to imagine Steward Manor as just eight buildings… For a brief period, that’s all it was. These were the first to be built. A more detailed survey drawn on 10/12/59 (below) reveals the precision throughout these first blocks of Woodland and Sharon Courts, right down to the chain link fences, play areas delineated by railroad ties, and the Baltimore Gas & Electric poles—the numbers of which are still there today.

These drawings also indicate where Parcel B and Parcel C will eventually be built, completing the neighborhood. We’ll look at those next.

(Click on the images for larger versions).

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Peephole to the Past

Here’s an unusual shot I took as a kid circa 1985, just to see if it would come out. It’s a distorted view from our our apartment door peephole at 100 Bryan Ct. #202.

Despite the focus (or lack thereof), I’m able to discern quite a few details: the doors/handrails were painted gloss black at the time; the outside light (through the doorway at the bottom of the stairs) appears to be late afternoon/early evening; and that’s our upstairs neighbor Charles Manning heading home.

Ironically, as far as I know, this is the only photo I ever took of a hallway while I lived at Steward Manor. If you have any, please share them! (info@stewardmanordays.com)

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Steward Manor | Original Plat Surveys, 1959/60s

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These are photos I shot last week of the original plat survey drawings by Ben Dyer Associates, Inc. (many signed by Mr. Dyer himself) of Steward Manor Apartments.

These drawings confirm that the community was built in three separate phases, labeled “Parcels A, B, & C”, respectively, and that the order of construction we’ve theorized is correct. I’ll be posting cleaner, detailed scans of each section; but for now, enjoy browsing through the originals—and see how Steward Manor comes into shape! Click the link above to see the entire set on Flickr.

Profound thanks to Mr. Stephen Mauersberg, Vice-President of Ben Dyer Associates, Inc. for sharing these fantastic pieces with me for the Steward Manor Days project.

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Another Friend… From Way Back

Thanks to the Maryland State Archives, I’ve begun to uncover a series of deeds and other land records pertaining to Steward Manor. I’m still in the early stages of deciphering and organizing them, (I’m not fluent in real estate jargon, so bear with me) so I’ll have a more detailed post on this topic in the near future. However, suffice it to say that documents of this sort tend to open lots of other doors and uncover even more intriguing pieces of information. For example, a brief reference to Ben Dyer Associates led me to discover that not only is Ben Dyer Associates, Inc. still in business today, but they still have a treasure trove of original survey drawings documenting the construction of Steward Manor Apartments… which they were happy to share with me! (And given the enormity of that discovery, it too definitely warrants its own post—coming soon!)

But without getting into too much detail, I’ve started by simply collecting everything I can find, and then trying to connect the dots. Typically, each deed lists a previous deed, as well as land and highway surveys that are associated with it. It’s literally like genealogy—but with land rather than relatives. In this case, however, it’s turning out to be a bit of both.

Below is one of the first contemporary deeds showing ownership of the parcel of land that Steward Manor Apartments rests upon, by the company that built it—Pollin Development Corporation. It lists the coordinates of the land boundaries, and cites State Roads Commission Plat No. 6384. These are exactly the kinds of linked documents I like to find to help make sense of the bigger picture.

Luckily, Plat No. 6384 is also available online at the Archives, and I was able to download it. Drawn in 1946, it predates Steward Manor Apartments by a good dozen years. But it’s interesting for a number of reasons, chiefly because it mentions the name “Steward Manor”, and Dr. N.B. Steward—for whom this area was named. (The original name “Steward Manor”—as we’ll also learn in yet another future post—was given in 1946 to the area comprised of Irving Street and what is essentially that whole intersection of Irving St., Rte. 198, and Rte. 197).

As I scanned Plat No. 6384, I noted Lafayette Ave. and the railroad tracks—clear landmarks that are still in place today. Again, I’m neither a real estate pro or an architect (or a cartographer for that matter), so it takes me a few moments to get my bearings on things like this. Recognizing familiar things like Lafayette Ave. and the railroad tracks helps immensely.

So then I looked for more information in the slug at the bottom right, which typically contains the date and other key facts about the drawing. That’s when a completely unexpected name jumped off the page:

“Friend”. The Chief Draftsman was “Walter A. Friend“. How bizarre is that?

I have a fairly unique name, and I can safely say that I’ve never known another person named Friend in the Laurel, Maryland area—or associated with Laurel in any way—for as long as I’ve had anything to do with Laurel, Maryland myself. And now, out of the blue—and on the oldest survey I’ve found to date of this specific parcel of land I’ve become so interested in—I learn that a likely relative of mine actually drew it 65 years ago.

It’s funny how odd coincidences like this sometimes surface in one’s research. For me, it’s also a sign that I must be doing something right. This project has literally had my name on it from the very start. 🙂

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1998: Looking Back… Again

1998 was a special year for me. I’d been out of college for a year and working on exciting projects at my first design firm, Studio A. The previous 5 years had been a blur, between school and work; and I’d been living in Northern Virginia for many of them. Laurel, not to mention Steward Manor, seemed to be fast becoming a distant memory.

But at some point in 1998, I had the idea to revisit Steward Manor. Still in touch with a handful of close childhood friends—most of whom had also moved out of state years ago—I wanted to design a book that would recapture the essence of the Steward Manor we knew as kids. It wouldn’t be a book in the true sense, but just a personal project that I’d share only with those friends I’d grown up with. But before I could even begin to outline the book, I had to actually go back to Steward Manor to see and photograph it for myself; to see what had changed, and what had stayed the same since the last time I’d been there. And while the addition of glass doors and new wooden fencing took some getting used to, the change that I found most difficult to accept was the loss of our beloved basketball court—which had recently been converted to a community garden. I shot the following sequence of photos while experiencing it for the first time, to document the drastic change around this familiar corner.

But most importantly, I came back to photograph the buildings. Specifically, my building at 100 Bryan Ct., and those of my closest friends: 2 Woodland, 100 Sharon, and 106 Sharon, respectively.

Coming back in 1998 was a unique experience, because the community had indeed changed—in fact, it looked better than it had when I was growing up there over a decade earlier! But it had clearly retained the same unmistakeable character that I remembered so well. Yes, the numbers on the buildings were different; the old white wooden fencing was gone, as were the old wooden front doors with the reinforced glass. But it was as if the buildings had simply adapted, and actually improved with age.

What I had no way of knowing at the time, however, was that these photos would capture Steward Manor in the midst of yet another transitional period. Or, that more than another decade was about to fly by—and like the apartment complex itself, my Steward Manor Days project would also adapt… and improve with age.

Now, let’s fast-forward to the present day for a moment.

Most of us typically take for granted the “ordinary” things in life—the car we currently drive, our living room furniture, the grocery store around the corner. We never really think to photograph these things, because—well, they’re ordinary. This was particularly true in the years before digital photography, when we actually had to pay for prints. Limited to a roll of 24 shots, who’d really waste a photo on something that wasn’t extraordinary?

But as we later learn (and often regret), sometimes it’s the ordinary things that we miss the most.

Living in the moment, we just don’t think about the routine details, and how fleeting they might actually be. Those seemingly insignificant details are what define the different eras of our lives.

Looking back at these photos I took of Steward Manor in 1998, I’m struck by that. At the time, it all seemed so current—the minor changes as well as the major one. I remember having that familiar feeling after seeing the prints, that these were just more “ordinary” photos… for the time being.

As I mentioned, time really does have a way of flying by as we get older. And just over the past year, Steward Manor Days has taken on an entirely new and expanded role in my life, as I’ve learned so much more about the history of the community; and most importantly, how many other former residents share an interest in it.

Today, I look at these (and all) photos of Steward Manor so much differently. Much of what seemed ordinary and mundane at that moment in 1998 has already been lost to history. In these images, you can see what were new vertical blinds hanging in original double-hung windows. All of those windows—original from 1959/60—have been replaced in recent years, giving the buildings a subtle but distinctive facelift you can see today.

These photos also show actual building number signs—the last of which Steward Manor utilized before switching to the large blue entrance awnings which each bear address numbers. Many current residents may not recall a time when Steward Manor didn’t have blue awnings. And for that reason, it’s important to document them today as well.

Beyond these obvious changes to the buildings’ facades, other lost or evolving details can be seen in this collection from 1998: lamp posts, benches, trees, and more. Even the iconic Steward Manor back-lit signs are gone. Fortunately, I didn’t limit the photos to just those four buildings that day. Not knowing what might change over the next several years, I shot a number of key areas—including the creek, which was eventually fenced off completely.

With this in mind, let’s take a look back at Steward Manor in 1998. These were the photos that launched this project. They also serve to remind me to always keep a camera at the ready, and to never hesitate to photograph the ordinary. The difference between ordinary and extraordinary can sometimes only be a few short years.

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Gray, Brown, Black… and Butter Yellow?

Steward Manor’s hallways have seen many a coat of paint over the years, as these handrails at 104 Morris Dr. (above) and 106 Woodland Ct. (below) can attest. From behind the chipped edges of the current gray paint, we can see traces of the gloss black and brown eras, both of which I can recall on Bryan Ct. in the 1980s.

A chipped rub rail at 100 Sharon Ct. (below) gives us an idea of just how many layers its seen through the decades, including an unexpectedly bright butter yellow—a color that was also found behind the fire alarm card at 12 Woodland Ct. (bottom).

I seem to remember the yellow on Sharon Ct. at some point, now that I’ve seen it again. Does anyone remember (or better yet, have photos of) their hallways at specific points in time?

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Identifying Phases 1, 2, and 3

This Polaroid from the early 1980s gives a good look at the classic entrance of 104 Woodland, complete with its wooden door. But how do we know it’s Woodland Ct.—and not Sharon Ct., Bryan Ct., or Morris Dr.? Each has its own unique architectural characteristics, which we’ll now review. And whether you’re looking at photos that were taken yesterday or 30 years ago, you’ll be able to spot the differences.

The buildings that comprise Steward Manor might look identical at first glance, but look closely enough and you’ll start to notice differences. In some cases, these differences are minor—in others, they’re significant stylistic variations.

This goes back to the very beginning, when Steward Manor was built. More importantly, it goes back to the three distinct phases of construction—each of which contains key identifying characteristics that we can recognize today.

Historian Jim Smart and I believe we’ve pinpointed the general order in which the buildings were constructed. As illustrated in the diagram below, Phase 1 included Woodland Ct. and Sharon Ct. east of Parkside Dr. Phase 2 was Woodland Ct. west of Parkside Dr.; and Phase 3 was Sharon Ct. west of Parkside Dr., Bryan Ct., and all of
Morris Dr.

 

How do we know this? Again, it’s in the architectural details—both outside and inside the buildings.

Let’s start at the beginning, with Woodland Ct. In fact, let’s take another look at that photo of 104 Woodland from the 1980s, and compare it to some I just shot last week:

Now let’s take an even closer look at some key characteristics:

Highlighted in the photo above are some of the specific traits that are unique to Phase 1., and characteristics that you can clearly see in the old Polaroid photo of this building.

In the case of 104 Woodland, the characteristics are the flagstone porch on either side of the stairs, the thin white concrete panels framing the doorway, and the decorative brick sections above and below the 2nd floor living room windows. But the easiest element to recognize is the flagstone. If you see flagstone at the entrance, you’re looking at Woodland or Sharon Ct. east of Parkside Dr. Those are the only 8 buildings in Steward Manor that have it, and those 8 buildings comprise Phase 1.

Now let’s take a look at what else differentiates Phase 1, as well as Phases 2 and 3. Here’s an overview that Jim and I have developed based on our research and observations:

PHASE 1: Sharon Ct. and Woodland Ct. east of Parkside Dr.
• Flagstone entrances
• Living room windows (height)
• Large bathroom windows
• Stucco panels (height)
• Painted concrete hallways with rub rails
• Vinyl tile hallway floors
• Regency blue American Standard bath fixtures

PHASE 2: Woodland Ct. west of Parkside Dr.
• Bricked entrances (no flagstone)
• Taller living room windows
• Large bathroom windows
• Shorter stucco panels
• Painted concrete hallways with rub rails (like Phase 1)
• Vinyl tile hallway floors (like Phase 1)
• White American Standard bathroom fixtures with revised Cadet toilets (flange bolt hole only)

PHASE 3: Sharon Ct. west of Parkside Dr., Bryan Ct., & Morris Dr.
• Simplified entrances (neither brick or flagstone)
• Tall living room windows
• Small/high bathroom windows
• Short stucco panels
• Bricked hallways (different than Phases 1 and 2)
• Ceramic tile hallway floors  (different than Phases 1 and 2)
• White American Standard bath fixtures

Another interesting difference we noted between Phase 3 and its predecessors is a subtle pattern in the exterior bricks. First, take a look at the side of this building—14 Woodland Ct. (Phase 2):

At first glance, you probably only see the standard brick pattern, don’t you? Look more closely, and you’ll note that there is a row of short-side bricks spaced five rows apart. It’s a subtle device that breaks the visual monotony of the pattern, and likely reinforces the structure. All of the buildings on Woodland Ct. (both sides of Parkside Dr.) and Sharon Ct. east of Parkside Dr. utilize this pattern. In other words, everything in Phases 1 and 2.

Now look at the difference in the pattern on Morris Dr. (Phase 3):

This one is more subtle. There’s still a row with short-side bricks spaced five rows apart, but rather than continuous short-side bricks, they alternate with lengthwise bricks. The following diagram illustrates this more clearly:

Are you thoroughly confused yet? 🙂 Let’s take a more visual look at some of the key characteristics that define the three phases of construction.

PHASE 1:
Flagstone porch entrances

PHASES 1 and 2:
Painted concrete hallways with rub rails

Vinyl tile hallway floors

PHASE 2
Bricked entrances

Taller living room windows and shorter stucco panels between floors

PHASE 3
Simplified entrances—neither brick or flagstone porches

Bricked hallways

Ceramic tiled hallway floors

Small/high bathroom windows

Again, this is all theory until it can be definitively confirmed with original blueprints, work orders, and the like, which I’m trying to track down via Steward Manor, Southern Management, Berman Enterprises, Prince George’s County, and any other sources that arise.

Another major clue can (and hopefully will) be found in one of the unlikeliest places—toilets. That’s right, toilets.

Steward Manor likely still has at least a handful of original toilets on its premises, and these should actually contain date stamps inside the tank and under the tank lid. I’ve asked a few of the maintenance men to kindly keep an eye out for original toilets during their routine calls; and if they’re able to record the dates they find, we may be able to establish an even clearer picture of which buildings were constructed first.

So there you have it. The subtle (and some not-so-subtle) differences between the three construction phases of Steward Manor Apartments. And after all these years, you thought every building was the same… 😉

If you have any additional information, and/or are aware of any errors noted above, please let me know! (info@stewardmanordays.com)

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Postmark: 1960

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of an extensive walk-through of Steward Manor with fellow historian and former resident Jim Smart. Just one of many little details we discovered is this clear date stamp near the front leg of the old blue mailbox on Parkside Dr.

After noticing the condition of the mailbox about a year ago, I suspected that it was likely the same box that had been there all throughout my childhood in the 1980s—the same one that can be seen in the Super 8 home movie clip a few posts back. Seeing the 1960 stamp on its side likely confirms this. Moreover, it’s probably safe to assume that this is the only mailbox that has ever been in Steward Manor.

Details like that are fascinating to me, for whatever reason. I think of just how many people have lived at Steward Manor since 1960, and how many letters they mailed over the course of 50+ years. Christmas cards… love letters… pen pal notes to friends who’d moved away. If they mailed it from Steward Manor, they likely dropped it into this old mailbox.

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My Mom’s Camera/Time Machine

Here’s a photo of my mom standing in the playground beside 8 Morris Drive—the same playground that contained the big slide shown in the previous post. To the left is part of what was also the biggest see-saw in the neighborhood; and anyone who ever rode it can remember the distinct sound of that seat hitting the asphalt.

Like the previous picture, this one was taken in the summer of 1980 (likely on the very same day), but it’s special to me for another reason. I took it. In fact, as I was 7 years old at the time, it’s probably one of the very first photos I ever shot.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how about the camera that originally took it? I still have it sitting proudly on my desk—my mom’s little Kodak Instamatic 104.

For me, this camera is a virtual time machine. So many of the old photos from my family’s albums—those familiar 3.5-inch square pictures with the rounded corners and the satin finish—were taken with this very camera. It’s safe to say that every photo of me growing up at Steward Manor was taken with it as well.

Even though 126 film is long gone (with the exception of some limited stashes still in circulation), I’ll often pick up this camera and peer into its tiny square viewfinder, recalling the countless, priceless views that have passed through it for all time.

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The Big Slide

You probably wouldn’t want to be on Steward Manor’s tallest sliding board on a sweltering day like today, as that metal was HOT. On this nice September day in 1980, though, it wasn’t bad at all.

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