It was 2 a.m. on New Year's Day. People in tuxedos and elegant dresses were waiting to get into what had been an infamous Landover nightclub, when the crackle of explosions echoed across the parking lot.
Within minutes, Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, police officials and church leaders all were looking in the direction of the smoke coming from Dodge Plaza. But, curiously, everybody was smiling.
"At least everyone knows that y'all are in the neighborhood," Curry (D) told the Rev. Anthony G. Maclin, pastor of Glendale Baptist Church, which had the fireworks display to celebrate the opening of a church and community center in the former nightclub.
"We hope and pray to make a change in a community that has long been forgotten," Maclin said as he opened the Multicultural Worship Center. "These communities, where our people live, deserve healing."
Maclin said the worship center in Dodge Plaza will be equipped with a stage, plush seats, a recording studio and television cameras that he hopes will attract national gospel artists. In addition, Arlo Allen, a trombonist, will start a music school for children and teenagers at the center.
The Kentland section of Landover has had its share of violence and crime during the last two decades.
Dodge Plaza owner Arnold Berlin said Rhythms nightclub closed down in 1998 because of violence.
"Rhythms was a detriment to the community. We as landlords felt in response that we had to get rid of them even though they were paying a substantial rent," Berlin said.
Maclin is paying $700,000 a year to rent the space. Berlin gave him some assistance in renovating.
Dodge Plaza has about 20 tenants, including a grocery store, equipment rental store, a nail store, a beeper store and a liquor store. Berlin said he hopes the worship center will attract other tenants.
"This really helps community revitalization in the shopping center and serves the community," Berlin said. "It is tough getting tenants, but this is a tenant that is providing a much-needed service to the community."
Lt. Col. Charles Pollock, deputy chief of the Prince George's County police, said that although his officers have made many calls over the years to Dodge Plaza, he didn't mind being called to the worship center at 2 a.m. Jan. 1. "This is a great opportunity for the community. It needs this type of activity."
"This is the best thing that has happened in their neighborhood in a long time," said Maj. Darrell Odom, of the Prince George's County Fire Department. He said that over the years, many county emergency vehicles have been dispatched to the area because of violence.
Although Maclin and his members have a large church campus in Capitol Heights that includes a sanctuary, office building and restaurant, he reminded those gathered in the dusty theater space that their sanctuary on Central Avenue was once the abandoned showroom of a car dealership.
"This is how we started out on Central Avenue," Maclin said.
During the New Year's program, Allen, the trombonist, had folks dancing and tapping their toes as he played a brassy gospel. "Music not only can be an inspiration, but it raises one's self-esteem," Allen said.
About 125 people attended two Sunday services at the facility. Many were visitors from the neighborhood.
"I love it. I have been looking for something like this," said Beverly Clark, who lives in the nearby Kings Square Apartments and came to the service with her daughter, two grandchildren and a neighbor. "We need this in the neighborhood because our youth need something to do."
Gertrude Gray, 43, who also lives in Kings Square Apartments, came to the event with her son Michael, 30. Gray said she hopes that the church in a shopping strip two doors from a liquor store will help change lives. "I just hope that they will be able to get some of these addicts of the streets."
Her son said that even though he is a deacon at Greater Mount Carmel House of Prayer in the District, he plans to work with the new church because it is in his neighborhood. "This is what is needed in this community.
As she rounded up her two children--ages 8 and 5--Veverly Colding, 37, said she is excited about worshiping at a place she once came to do unspiritual things. "I used to party in this club."
CAPTION: Above left, Bruce Hyman prays during a Sunday morning service at the Multicultural Worship Center, under construction in Dodge Plaza in Landover. Above, the Rev. Anthony G. Maclin leads the congregation in prayer and, below, touches Mike Gray Jr. on the head as he delivers a sermon.