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Maryland's National Register Properties

Photo credit: Jennifer Falkinburg, 09/9/2003
Glen Echo Park Historic District
Inventory No.: M: 35-41
Date Listed: 6/8/1984
Location: 7300 MacArthur Boulevard , Glen Echo, Montgomery County
Category: District
Period/Date of Construction: 1891-1892; 1899-1940s
Description: Glen Echo Park is an eclectic assembly of architectural styles which attest to the richly varied history of growth and change which the park has undergone. The Chautauqua Tower, a Richardsonian Romanesque structure of irregularly shaped, rough-faced stone, dominates the entrance to the park. Opposite the tower is the Dentzel Carousel, a whimsical structure of 1921 with a curved circular roof and elaborate and fanciful carved and painted animals in the Dentzel tradition of fine carousel building. Beyond the carousel is the Spanish Ballroom, erected in 1933 and reflecting many Spanish design elements, including stuccoed walls, an entry tower, projecting wood viga ends, and roof tiles. Designed by Edward Schoeppe of Philadelphia, the ballroom contains a 7,500 square foot dance floor built to accommodate 1800 dancers. The ballroom hosted big-name bands of the 1930s and World War II era. An original terrazzo floor leads through an arcade into the ballroom. Constructed in 1931, the Crystal Pool was designed by Alexander, Becker, and Shoeppe of Philadelphia, who specialized in amusement park swimming pool designs. Designed to accommodate 3,000 swimmers at a time, the Crystal Pool was the largest pool in the area at the time. Only the art deco entrance pylon and part of the pool's retaining wall remain. The 1923 Bumper Car Pavilion is the oldest surviving amusement park structure other than the carousel and its house. The roof of the 55' x 95' frame building forms a broad bell-shaped curve at the gable ends, which are decorated with open latticework, and a pediment centered on the front or long side upon which is a painting of a bumper car. The Administration Building and Arcade are two buildings built in 1940, joined and presenting a continuous facade along their west sides. The surfaces are predominantly stuccoed. Two lighted towers bearing stylized vertical strips flank a theater entrance in the middle of the arcade, and shorter towers are on either side. The building is ornamented with projecting concentric medallions and a low banded cornice. A flat roof with banded edges on columns between the northeast end of the administration building and the Chautauqua Tower served as the covered walkway to the amusement park. The overall stylistic influence is art moderne. The park grounds also feature a 1947 "Cuddle Up Pavilion", a maintenance shop, and a picnic grove. Significance: Glen Echo Park is significant as the site of the late-19th century Chautauqua movement at Glen Echo, Maryland; as a rare surviving regional example of an early-20th century amusement park of architectural and historical significance; and as a major commercial and recreational facility for area residents and visitors from its establishment in 1899 on the site of the short-lived Chautauqua until its closing in 1968. Although the rides and amusements are gone, sufficient major buildings and structures of this fragile kind of resource remain to convey the visual environment of the amusement park as it existed in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. The Chautauqua movement, so-called from the first assembly of its adherents on the shore of Lake Chautauqua, New York, in 1874, was an effort to democratize learning within an ecumenical Protestant religious framework by bringing the culture of the well-to-do to the masses. By 1891 the movement had expanded from its permanent home base to 52 more modest assemblies conducting two-week summer programs of educational lectures, classes, and entertainments in tents. The idea caught hold in Washington, D.C., where several groups formed a Chautauqua Union to plan programs from the area. By 1889, the Baltzley brothers, Edwin and Edward, had acquired some 1300 acres on the Maryland bank of the Potomac, and construction began quickly on two principal structures--the Amphitheater and the Hall of Philosophy--and on the stone tower, archway, and adjoining buildings forming the gateway to the campus. The assembly opened in 1891 with the buildings still unfinished, although the Amphitheater was sufficiently complete to accommodate the large dedication crowd. The array of Chautauqua programs was well attended by several hundred persons until August. But this first successful season proved to be the last. In late August, Dr. Henry Spencer, head of the Chautauqua's business school, died of pneumonia. Rumor spread that he had contracted malaria, making people reluctant to visit the area. In 1899 the National Chautauqua property was leased to the Glen Echo Company, an amusement park venture. In 1911, the Washington Railway and Electric Company bought Glen Echo and the modern amusement park was built. By 1913 a dance hall had been built, and a roller coaster was constructed. In 1921 the carousel was built, and in 1923 the bumper car pavilion was built to house the dodgem bumper car. The structures housing the carousel and bumper cards are significant for their late Queen Anne and Shingle Style influenced design which recall the original architectural styling of the first phase of the amusement park development. The park saw its most successful years between 1923 and 1939, and attendance began to decline in the 1950s when vacationing Washingtonians began to cross the Bay to Ocean City via the new Bay Bridge. In 1956 the amphitheater was deliberately burned down by park authorities to make way for a parking lot. In June 1960, picketers protested the park's policy of segregation, and Glen Echo was opened to African Americans for the first time on March 31, 1961. By 1968 however, the park was defunct and was purchased by the National Park Service.


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