- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A Waldorf landmark, one of the last remnants of the community’s years as a gambling mecca, has been moved to a new home, saving it from demolition.
A sign featuring an American Indian and a teepee, which originally marked the Wigwam restaurant and casino, was donated to Charles County government, which erected the sign in White Plains to direct visitors to the eastern end of the Indian Head Rail Trail, a walking and biking trail. It was installed in late December, and county workers will begin restoration work in the spring, said Tom Roland, chief of grounds and parks for the county Department of Public Works.
“It will turn your head, won’t it?” said Roland. The enormous sign is visible from U.S. 301 and should attract out-of-county visitors to the trailhead, which is otherwise obscured by an industrial park, he said.
The Wigwam was a casino and restaurant, “one of the big ones, like the Stardust,” featuring food, family and nightclub entertainment, and slot machines, Roland said. Most of the establishments went out of business after 1968 because of a statewide gambling ban.
Moving the sign, which was erected in the 1950s, preserved one of Waldorf’s oldest artifacts, he said.
“From a historical standpoint, as the county continues to develop we tend to lose our heritage, from tobacco barns to places like this on 301. If we don’t preserve these, then it’s going be difficult for people to understand where we came from. These [casinos] were very much a popular attraction for tourist activities,” a tradition the sign continues by luring visitors to a new amenity, Roland said.
After the Wigwam’s demise, the building was purchased in the late 1960s as the home of Walls Bakery, locally famous for its chocolate eclairs, said Robert Walls Jr., the son of one of the business’ current owners.
Walls’ grandparents adapted the sign to advertise the bakery; its website still uses an image of the sign, and the Walls family plans to incorporate the distinctive picture into a sign advertising the bakery’s current Waldorf location, Walls said.
“It’s just a recognizable symbol. It’s got color. It’s got flashing lights. I guess it symbolizes something way back, the nostalgia of the late ’60s, when gambling was legal at that time before it was banned,” Walls said. “It just added a little pizzazz to it, a little color. For some reason, it just worked for us.”
Mary Pat Berry, president of the Charles County Historical Society, treasures childhood memories of Walls’ eclairs. She was glad to see the sign saved, although the society was not involved in its rescue, she said.
“It was a landmark for Waldorf for many years,” a reminder of a time when the city was known as “Little Las Vegas” because of its casinos.
The current owner of the Wigwam site, whom Roland declined to name, donated the sign at the county’s request, Roland said. The building was demolished in 2010.
County workers cut the sign’s steel beams, loaded it onto a truck and reassembled it in White Plains, Roland said. The whole process cost about $7,000, cheaper than erecting a new, similar sign, he said. Funds for the project came from the proceeds of selling as scrap metal the steel from the railroad tracks that were torn up to build the trail.