I learned of the passing of a member of my newspaper family yesterday. Bob Moon was the husband of Jean Moon, the General Manager of the Patuxent Publishing Newspaper chain located in Columbia Maryland. An Architect, Bob designed the Flier Building in Columbia where I worked for 17 years. His death has triggered a lot of memories for me and I’m sure many others.
I had started with the Times Newspapers when they were in Ellicott City on Main Street in an old run-down building that now houses LaPalapa, SuCasa Furniture, and Main Street ballroom. Yes, this was back in the ’70s. The age and character of the building matched the wild personalities on the inside. The place was blue-collar, rough, and tumble old school. Some might even say a bit of old country Howard County.
This was a full production facility. Pressroom, Mailroom, Engraving, Typesetting workers in production and with Editors, Writers, Designers, Salespeople, Truck drivers out front. The place was loud and dirty and it constant chaos. But I did love it also.
In 1979 Patuxent Publishing purchased several of the Times papers, others closed or were sold to other buyers. The Times building was sold along with most of the equipment and like the Clampets we packed up our bags and headed to Columbia.
There were many difficult days when this transition took place. First, we lost a lot of old friends. If memory serves me right before I look at the newspaper clipping I have on the wall of the sale we had a few hundred employees in EC. I think only about 60 of us were hired by Patuxent.
We had our tail between our legs because the competition had won and bought us out. Soon to be gone was the place where I learned my trade and a lot of people I loved working with. This transition was rough on both sides and took a lot of adapting by all involved. But two very different cultures and backgrounds soon developed into a new community of people working together. It was a wonderful transition to something that we all cherish dearly to this day even though decades have passed. Sometimes when your being handed a pass to Camalot you don’t really know it at the time.
The two buildings couldn’t have been any more different. Main Street was old and falling apart. The Flier building was brand new constructed in 1978 I believe. Main Street was dark and dirty. It was a brick building covered in many years of ink and newsprint dust. The Flier building was WHITE, clean, and pristine and didn’t smell bad. It has so many windows, some floor to roof, and skylights letting the days light and added a beautiful feel to the space inside. It had angles on top of angles, big staircases, and tall open ceilings in much of the upstairs.
There were planters filled with trees and flowers in a vast open lobby in Columbia. Kind of ironic if you think about it. The only trees that came into Main street were in the form of Newsprint rolls that weighed around 2 tons each. If you brought a plant into the Main Street office it would have been dead in 24 hours due to the chemical and ink smell, lack of light, and covered with the newsprint lint. The bathrooms were clean in this new office. You didn’t worry about ruining clothes by accidentally brushing a wall or door as you did on Main Street. It had air conditioning which that old drafty and dirty location in EC only had in the front offices. In the summer we would sweat like pigs and in the winter we would freeze our behinds off.
The new building was one of the first things I warmed up to. Maybe because it actually did have heat and A/C. But in meeting Bob I could see where his inspiration for the remarkable design of the Flier came from. He would always give me a warm smile just like the skylights scattered throughout the building did. He would stop and talk or invite me to his office which was next door to our photography/reproduction area to look at new architectural drawings. Bob was a talker. I know because they say it takes one to know one, and I am one. I think one of my first visits to the building for my interview for a job, Bob was out in the lobby and introduced himself with a welcoming smile. He wasn’t part of PPC but he was in a special way.
The longer I was there the more it felt like home. New friendships were made and many have lasted to this current day. It was a special place to work. With Bob’s design and Jean’s spirit that place was as alive as anything, I’ve experienced. Jean was a driving force for that organization. And their spirit was infectious to many who worked there for many years.
Thankfully many people above me allowed me opportunities that allowed my career to flourish. And in that, I got to work and touch many areas. There might be only a small handful of people who know that building better than I do. I think I crawled and worked in every inch of it several times over. I was there day and night so I got a great view from it. You always knew what the weather was because there was a window or skylight everywhere. Well, not the restrooms but everywhere else.
You could see your friends coming in from a good distance so you could prepare pranks on them. You could see who was having a rough day and was out walking or sitting in the parking lot or deck behind the building. You could look out the back windows at the huge daycare facility and watch the hundreds of little tykes in their Halloween costumes doing their annual parade around the parking lot. You could go up the ladder in the loading dock to the roof with a folding chair and look out over Columbia. Oops, that part wasn’t well known.
The place had a grand lobby. It was where we would gather for our company photos. It was where half my crew would be caught trying to chat up the receptionist of the day after dropping off reproductions to the design departments.
I lost count of the times the interior space was redesigned for our constant expansion. And Bob seemed to be part of that process often. The whole building felt like my home. It was small enough where you knew all the inhabitants but large enough to not be a mom and pop shop. We were the second-largest publisher in the state of Maryland behind the Baltimore Sun which eventually purchased the company shortly after I left.
They say the tone of a company comes from the top. Well, Bob and Jean created a beautiful place, filled with a beautiful spirit, a ton of ambition and dedication. And that feeling seemed to trickle down to everyone who walked through those doors to work there. And when I left there I had some tears in my eyes because I knew something special was passing.
Bob faced some daunting and huge medical challenges in his life but that smile remained.
So thank you Bob for designing a wonderful home and to you both for making it feel like a real family lived there. RIP Bob.
PS: Please forgive the quality of these pictures. I had the opportunity to visit the building after it closed and the staff had moved downtown Baltimore. So it’s far from its pristine and beautiful days. Especially when it was filled with a lot of great people doing wonderful work and having fun together.
November 20, 2020 at 10:21 AM
Great read mike! Thanks for the journey back through time. Lu man
November 21, 2020 at 1:14 PM
Thank you, Mike. This brought back many memories, including some lovely get togethers Jean and Bob hosted at their home, and summers at the beach house. I loved writing for the Flier, and later when Jean assigned me to Laurel as assistant editor, I was fairly apprehensive. But that didn’t last long as that paper, along with the two in Boosterland, where I had two separate stints, the last as editor, were all held to the same standards in editorial content, photography, and design. The whole Patuxent staff, what great teamwork always, with regular brainstorming sessions to plan cover stories—-lots of creatives and bagels. So even when working at one of the satellite locations, plenty of chances to come “home.” I always thrilled to walk in that building and will never forget my first day there…typing on I think a Selectric that sat atop a packing crate while a guy was installing wall molding over the raw edges of that green carpet. I was blessed to have that opportunity, all those early years, and the friendships, and even the yellowed clips I can’t bear to toss.
November 22, 2020 at 5:25 PM
Those were great days. So many fond memories. In my role I got to visit all the offices but spend most of my time at Columbia. So I got to meet a lot of great people.