This presentation is part of Are We There Yet? Preservation of Roadside Architecture & Attractions Symposium, Tulsa, Oklahoma, April 10-12, 2018.
By Mary Jean (MJ) Wojewodzki and Anath Ranon
Maryland’s Glen Echo Park and its charming structures owe their existence to the invention of a better egg beater. Today the flourishing Park represents four distinct and quintessential American experiences:
- The Chautauqua movement that flourished in the 1880s
- Trolley Car parks that were popular during the early 20th century
- Ongoing racial history and struggles
- National Park Service and non-profit arts group stewardship
The Chautauqua movement:
In 1888, the Baltzley brothers used the earnings from their egg beater invention to purchase 516 acres along the Potomac River and started building an educational center that they envisioned would serve as both a local assembly for Washington, DC residents and as a nationally significant Chautauqua center. They built a railroad and began erecting buildings, including the Stone Tower and Yellow Barn, and a 6,000 seat auditorium.
Trolley Car park years:
The Baltzley brothers stopped offering Chautauqua programs at Glen Echo after about ten years. Ownership of the park was transferred, and by 1903 Glen Echo Park was being promoted as an amusement park and family resort destination for trolley riders. During this time, numerous amusement park structures were built, including the Gravity Railway in 1912, the Whip in 1918, the Dentzel Carousel in 1921 and the Bumper Car ride in 1923. The Crystal Pool was built in 1931, accommodating 3,000 swimmers!
Racial history and struggles:
Glen Echo Park peaked in popularity in the 1940s. In the 1950s, park ownership and management changed several times. Growing awareness of the park’s segregated status climaxed in 1960, when students from Howard University and park neighbors began civil rights protects at the park entrance. The protests and changing public opinion caused the park owners to integrate the park in 1961. During the 1960s, a combination of racial tensions, increased car ownership (allowing residents to venture beyond trolley car lines for their entertainment) and the movement from city to suburbs reduced park attendance and Glen Echo Park closed in 1968.
National Park Service and beyond:
The National Park Service (NPS) assumed management of the park in 1970 and opened it to the public summer events. Although local artists established a strong presence in the park, funding for building upkeep was not available and many of the structures deteriorated substantially. In 2000, the NPS partnered with Montgomery County government, which set up a non-profit to manage and maintain the park’s facilities. Funding has since become available for phased building restoration that is supporting a rich arts program that remains in the spirit of the original Chautauqua movement.
This presentation will focus on the stories and restoration of the Chautauqua Tower, Yellow Barn and the Dentzel Carousel. During the restoration and renovation planning, the needs of the artist tenants and park activity coordinators were paramount. Each structure was carefully surveyed and assessed for reuse. Some required surface restoration while others required total reconstruction. The challenge was bringing these interests into a space steeped in history, making it fun to visit and ready for new adventures.
MJ Wojewodski adheres to the principle that every building type encountered is an opportunity for design. Her design skills and eye for sharp detailing result in well-crafted buildings for a broad range of institutional and government clients. Professional both in the challenge of suiting the needs of the client and daily consultation with the construction team, she takes all components of building development through the process of design in the most effective and dynamic manner. MJ’s thorough historic documentation and sensitivity to existing fabric breathes new life into old buildings.
Anath Ranon has a keen interest in historic preservation as well as adaptive reuse projects, as the intersection of old buildings with new ideas often inspires a design which brings the facilities to more useful and purposeful life for their owners. She is the founder of the AIA Baltimore Chapter Historic Resources Committee, serves on Baltimore’s preservation commission (CHAP), and has lectured and published on preservation issues. At Cho Benn Holback, a Quinn Evans Company, she has been involved in a diverse range of award winning projects including adaptive re-use, preservation, renovation, and tenant fit-outs of existing and historic buildings.