Washington, DC’s Pennsylvania Avenue is called “America’s Main Street” and is home to historic parades and events. Less than a month ago it was packed with people for the second inauguration of President Barack Obama and on other occasions for solemn funeral processions.
Yesterday afternoon it looked very much like an ordinary street with people commuting, leaving work, finishing shopping, and enjoying a beautiful afternoon. Traffic was mild and it looked like an ordinary city street draped with unique federal buildings. It bounces back and forth between being America’s Main Street and main street to a lot of ordinary people.
Today many head home to Waldorf, MD and beyond on US 301 and have no idea of the history that they are driving past everyday. It was only this week while researching for a project for a client that I learned about this lively side of Waldorf and Southern Maryland‘s history. This post is not about the pros or cons of gambling. Instead it is an attempt to point out some of the relics of a time gone by that can still be seen.
US 301 from Waldorf to the Potomac River Bridge was known as “Little Vegas” or “Slot Machine Alley” during the 1950s. Las Vegas had nothing on Southern Maryland as far as the number of slot machines and the revenue from gambling at that time. US 301 was known as Sin Strip — bright lights, lots of celebrities like Guy Lombardo, Paul Newman, Conway Twitty, Dolly Parton. They all performed on the Strip according to an article in the Baltimore City Paper. Waldorf was the Mecca of this Strip and was described in an article as a tiny little truck stop town along a major shipping route that hosted slot machines in every building and restroom along route 301. Casinos were legal in Charles County for about 20 years ending in 1968.
There are two icons that can still be seen today and though many of us pass them few have any idea what they are. One is the sign for Wall’s Bakery with the Tepee on top and the other is the Waldorf Motel which is shown in the video above and one of the pictures below. Both are on the right side as you enter Waldorf from the north. Neither will probably be there much longer.
Wall’s Bakery known for its eclairs was housed in the Wigwam building after it closed in the early 70’s*. Gambling ended on July 1, 1968 when the last slot machines were hauled out of the bars, taverns, and roadhouses of Southern Maryland, piled onto trucks, and hauled away to be destroyed.1 The Wigwam — originally opened as a Native American themed casino. The Tepee-shaped building sported dancing girls, fine food, and performances by Doris Day and Brenda Lee according to Louise Lockhart, an 18 year employee. The Wigwam/Wall’s Bakery building has been recently torn down and this sign is all that remains. According to Wikimapia apartments are planned for this site.
The Waldorf Motel was a popular gambling casino and motel. Today it stands empty though in recent years a Rip’s Restaurant occupied space in this building. It is probably one of the few casino buildings still standing.
Well, it sounds like Waldorf and the 301 corridor have changed quite a bit since the 50s and the many times I have driven to Waldorf never would I have thought of Waldorf as a Little Vegas. Never! What about you?
Lonnie Dawkins is a Washington, DC portrait and documentary photographer
A carnival visited New Carrollton, MD several years ago one hot summer night. There is something about carnivals and night-time. The lights and the darkness. I can still smell the food and see the people trying their hands at the games to win prizes. I remember summers in the south and how it was a big deal when the carnival came to town.
This location used to host a Toys ‘R Us which had been destroyed by a storm. Now it’s the location for a bank and a drug store.
Picture was taken using existing light (no flash)