In the days before Bugle Boy jeans and blue mohawks, long before Pacman was the new kid on the block, troops of youths in tie-dyed shirts cruised Harundale Mall just like the teenyboppers of today.
Drawn by the chance to window shop, score a date or just hang out, groups of teen-agers gathered every day inside the first enclosed mall east of the Mississippi.
Irritated shoppers and store owners soon complained about the invasion of "longhairs," leading the mall developer, James W. Rouse, to suggest setting aside some space for a youth recreation center. The father of Columbia and Baltimore's Harborplace asked Bill Thomas, a sympathetic, youth-oriented psychiatrist from the Crownsville state hospital, to help find a solution. Thomas met with the teens, and the group settled on converting a deserted chapel in the mall into a hangout where teens could meet, munch snacks and play cards or pool.
They named their hide-out The Pipe Dream, a choice that only served to fan the flames of a community uproar.
It was 1968, a year of anti-war demonstrations and social upheaval, a year when assassins abruptly ended the lives of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Many conservative Glen Burnie residents felt threatened by the turmoil and thought the teen center was another symptom of coddling rebellious youths. Worried that The Pipe Dream would live up to its name, opponents dubbed the mall hangout a "hippie haven" and "drug den."
Although then-County Executive Joseph W. Alton Jr. joined the growing protest to shut down the teen center, the first director, Charles "Chuck" Tufts, and other youth advocates mustered enough community support to keep The Pipe Dream open.
Twenty-two years later, only faded newspaper clippings and the stories of old-timers bear witness to the hangout's bumpy start.
Little remains of the original Pipe Dream except a philosophy and location.
The pool tables and dart boards have been replaced by modern rooms with soft lights and comfortable furniture. The staff has changed from jeans-clad adults who enjoyed rapping with teens to professional counselors and social workers. And the center's controversial name was dropped long ago and switched to Harundale Youth & Family Service Center Inc.
"When I was hired as a counselor here eight years ago, we still had a drop-in area with ping-pong tables and board games in the front area," recalled center director Adel O'Rourke. "I do miss that drop-in component to a certain extent, but we just didn't have the room anymore."
The center's purpose changed in the early 1970s from just offering recreation to more of a counseling service. O'Rourke traces the shift back to an incident a few years after The Pipe Dream opened. A teen-ager who spent nearly every afternoon playing cards and ping-pong at the hangout returned home one night to discover his parents had moved, packing up all the furniture and leaving no address. He arrived back at the teen center in tears and desperate for a place to stay.
"What happened was a lot of kids were coming here and hanging out because of family problems," O'Rourke said. "They needed help because their families were in the throes of substance abuse or alcoholism, or they were being abused at home."
Harundale Youth & Family Service developed into a full-fledged counseling service to meet that demand. The teen center became one of the state's first youth-service bureaus in 1975 and served as a prototype for others that opened in the mid-to-late '70s. Maryland now has 22 youth bureaus to serve its 23 counties and Baltimore city, O'Rourke said.
Although the center still welcomes drop-in clients, most of the nearly 200 families served each year are referred more formally. The private, non-profit counseling service usually handles referrals from local churches, schools and county and state agencies, such as the Department of Social Services and Juvenile Services.
Problems changed over the years along with the service, O'Rourke said.
While counselors listened to more drug and alcohol abuse problems in the 1970s and early '80s, they now hear about everything from eating disorders to sexual abuse to suicide attempts.
"We try to work on issues within the family, although if a kid comes in alone and insists that he really doesn't want his family to know, we'll try to work with him," she said. "But we're pretty persistent usually about trying to bring the families in here."
One of the biggest attractions of the counseling service is that the service is still free. Youths and families typically receive counseling for five to six months, but sometimes for as long as two to three years.
The free ticket to professional counseling from one of the six psychologists or social workers, however, also is a drawback. The center's waiting list continues to grow each year, and the staff had to convert every nook and cranny of the old Pipe Dream into office space to cope with the demand for service.
"I'd love to have more room, but we don't want to leave the mall," said O'Rourke, adding that the center has received free use of the space from Rouse for all 22 years.
The center has reached a truce with the community, although a few of the older residents still echo the fears of bygone days, O'Rourke said. Most shoppers passing by the teen center during its anniversary celebration last Thursday said they considered it an asset to the community. One man dropped by to say that Bill Thomas had saved his life when he was a troubled teen years ago.
"This place used to be very different," said Beverly Chambers, a 57-year-old Ferndale resident who has served on the board of directors most of the past 22 years. "But one thing hasn't changed. It's always been a place where kids could be kids, where they had someone who listened and cared."