Glen Echo Park, Maryland
Glen Echo Park Historic District
|Location||7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo, Maryland|
|Architectural style||Moderne, Queen Anne, Shingle Style|
|Governing body||National Park Service|
|NRHP Reference #||84001850|
|Added to NRHP||June 08, 1984|
Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, Maryland is an arts and cultural center in Montgomery County, Maryland. It is managed by the Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture in cooperation with Montgomery County, Maryland, and the National Park Service. The site was first developed in 1891 as a National Chautauqua Assembly and then operated as an amusement park until 1968. Today, the park is one of the most lively community arts centers in the Washington area. It offers hundreds of classes and workshops in the visual and performing arts and is home to thirteen resident artists and arts organizations. The Park is well known for its antique Dentzel carousel, its Spanish Ballroom, its many public festivals, including Family Day and the Washington Folk Festival, its children's theaters, and its social dance program. The National Park Service offers park history tours and other programs and maintains a visitors area.
Edwin and Edward Baltzley, inventors, industrialists, and real estate developers, hoped to build upon the banks of the Potomac River a suburban community free of the urban pollution of late-nineteenth century Washington, DC. In order to compete with other suburban developments, the Baltzley brothers planned a series of opulent attractions for their would-be community.
On February 24, 1891, the Baltzley brothers incorporated the National Chautauqua of Glen Echo, the 53rd such assembly, and immediately set to building a stone citadel of culture to complement their real estate and resort enterprises. Starting in June 1891, their arts and culture program included lectures and concerts in a six thousand person amphitheater, special classes in Bible studies, Greek and Hebrew, physical training regiments, and university extension courses. Hundreds flocked to the site to picnic, attend lectures on American history by Jane Meade Welch, courses on ancient Egypt by Lysander Dickerman, and concerts by John Philip Sousa. Clara Barton, encouraged by the Baltzleys, not only located her home and American Red Cross headquarters at Glen Echo, but she presided over the Women’s Executive Committee for the Chautauqua itself. The inaugural season’s success warranted an extension well into August.
Reasons for the Chautauqua’s Failure
By the spring of 1892 the various Baltzley enterprises were gravely in debt. On April 7, 1892, the Glen Echo Sand and Building Company, a Baltzley subsidiary, borrowed a large sum of money giving the Chautauqua site as collateral. This was one of many Baltzley mortgages on the site. The financial difficulties spread to the Glen Echo Railroad Company, yet another Baltzley enterprise, which, because of the Army Corps of Engineers and the city aqueduct system, had failed to bring the much anticipated street car service to the Chautauqua site and Glen Echo Village.
Compounding their overextended credit, the Baltzley brothers found themselves the victim of common rumor. At the beginning of the 1892 season, rumor had spread throughout the District of Columbia that Glen Echo was rampant with malaria. Regardless of the validity of these accusations, when combined with the brother’s precarious finances, the Chautauqua site fell into disuse.
In the early 20th century it was turned into an amusement park, which operated until the late 1960s. Like many public facilities in and around the Washington area, Glen Echo was restricted to whites for 63 out of the first 70 years of its history.
However, on June 30, 1960 a group of college students (primarily from Howard University) staged a sit-in protest on the carousel and five African American students were subsequently arrested. (The arrests were later appealed to the Supreme Court and the convictions reversed in Griffin v. Maryland.) As a result, an eleven-week civil rights campaign began; students and residents of Bannockburn alike came out in force. The park opened the doors to all races in the 1961 season. Like most small suburban amusement parks, attendance at Glen Echo shrank in the late 1960s, and the park closed in 1968. Today, the park is served by a bus coming from the Bethesda and Friendship Heights Metro stations.
National Park Service
Since 1971, the Park has been part of the National Park Service. Various renovations, backed by government funds and individual donations, have taken place throughout the park, most notably the Spanish Ballroom, the Arcade building that now hosts art classes, and the art deco style neon sign. The park's carousel and large children's theaters remain an attraction for all ages in Bethesda and Glen Echo. Every weekend (Thursday through Sunday) the park hosts social dances in the Spanish Ballroom, the open-air Bumper Car Pavilion, and the Ballroom Annex. The venues host many styles of dances, including swing, contra, salsa, waltz, tango, and blues.
The last operating park ride, and one of the highlights of the park today, is a 1921 Dentzel menagerie carousel with 38 horses, 2 chariots, 4 rabbits, 4 ostriches, a lion, a tiger, a giraffe, and a prancing deer. The carousel operates from May through September, running from 12 to 6 on weekends and 10-2 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays all season and Fridays in July and August. In its heyday the carousel sported an operating brass ring game, in which daring riders could reach out and pull a ring out of a holder next to the carousel. Grabbing a brass ring would win the lucky rider a free ride. The brass ring arm is still visible today, although it no longer operates.
The face of the carousel had changed greatly since 1921, with the animals, rounding boards, inner drum panels, and band organ receiving several new coats of park paint over the years. An installation photograph from 1921, as compared to the carousel in 1983, showed an original design of the body and tack on the Indian horse that was very different from the present-day animal. Chipping away at the horse's paint revealed several strata of differently colored and styled paint jobs spanning the past sixty years, with the original 1921 paint at the bottom.
The carousel was restored by specialist Rosa Ragan, who has restored several other carousels in the US. She restored the Indian horse by removing the park paint, exposing as much of the original paint as possible, and filling in the gaps in the original paint, a process called inpainting, before covering the horse in a protective varnish. This process, however, exposed the original paint to damage from riders, thus rendering the horse unridable. In order to restore each animal without risking damage to the original paint, Ragan developed a new process of uncovering the original paint job, recording the colors and design, and then covering the original paint with a reversible varnish before giving the animal a white base coat and repainting it in the original colors. However, Ragan did leave a small window of original paint exposed on each animal for riders to find.
These glimpses of the original 1921 paint are called "windows to the past" and can be found on the plain side (the inward-facing side) of each animal. Ragan's 20-year restoration of the carousel completely overhauled the animals, the band organ, and the rounding boards and drum panels, returning the carousel to its original beauty and splendor.
Pictures of Glen Echo Park are available on Wikimedia Commons page on Glen Echo.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2008-04-15.
- ‘A Throng at Glen Echo,’ “Washington Post”, May 21, 1891; Richard Cook & Deborah Lange, “Glen Echo Park: A Story of Survival”, Bethesda: Bethesda Communication Group, 2000, 4-8; ‘Glen Echo Park Historic Structures Report’, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 1987, III-1 to III-8.
- ‘Report of the Women’s Executive Committee,’ “The National Chautauqua of Glen Echo”, Washington, DC: 1891; Richard Cook & Deborah Lange, “Glen Echo Park: A Story of Survival”, Bethesda: Bethesda Communication Group, 2000, 11-15.
- ‘Report of the Women’s Executive Committee,’ “The National Chautauqua of Glen Echo”, Washington, DC: 1891; ‘The Glen Echo Chautauqua’, “Washington Post”, June 21, 1891; ‘Glen Echo Advertisement’, “Washington Post”, May 12, 1891; ‘At Glen Echo Today’, “Washington Post”, June 16, 1891.
- Elizabeth Prior, “Clara Barton: Professional Angel”, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1987, 263-265.
- ‘Ho For Glen Echo!’, “Washington Post”, July 29, 1891.
- ‘Glen Echo Park Historic Structures Report’, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 1987, III-40 to III-54; ‘Glen Echo Road to be Sold at Auction’, “Washington Post”, June 23, 1895.
- Richard Cook & Deborah Lange, “Glen Echo Park: A Story of Survival”, Bethesda: Bethesda Communication Group, 2000, 30.
- Richard Cook & Deborah Lange, “Glen Echo Park: A Story of Survival”, Bethesda: Bethesda Communication Group, 2000, 30-33; ‘Glen Echo’s Future’, “Washington Post”, July 19, 1896.
- Glen Echo Park - Frequently Asked Questions (U.S. National Park Service)
- The Washington Post, Protest on a Sculpted Horse (June 29, 2004)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Glen Echo.|
- Glen Echo Park official website
- Glen Echo Park, from the National Park Service
- Glen Echo Park: Center for Education and Recreation, a National Park Service Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) lesson plan
- Town of Glen Echo
- Glen Echo Partnership for Arts and Culture website accessed June 12, 2007
- Maryland Historical Trust
- Glen Echo Park, Crystal Swimming Pool, 7300 McArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Montgomery, MD at the Historic American Engineering Record (HAER)
- Glen Echo Park, Dentzel Carousel & Building, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Montgomery, MD at (HABS)
- Glen Echo Park, Arcade, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Montgomery, MD at HABS
- Glen Echo Park, Spanish Ballroom, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Montgomery, MD at HABS
- Glen Echo Park, Yellow Barn, 7300 McArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Montgomery, MD at HABS
- Glen Echo Park, Chautauqua Tower, 7300 McArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Montgomery, MD at HABS
- Glen Echo Park, Administration Building, 7300 MacArthur Boulevard, Glen Echo, Montgomery, MD at HABS