|Glen Echo Park Entrance Sign|
Glen Echo Park is a rare gem. Nestled in the Maryland woods just outside of Washington, D.C., this U.S. National Park was at one time a regional amusement park. One scenic trolley ride away from the city, and guests could spend their summers riding on the attractions, swimming in the pools, or dancing in the ballroom. When the park closed in 1968, it was acquired by the National Park Service, and was re-purposed as an arts and culture community hub (I'm skipping a lot of detail, see the bottom of this post for links to further reading).
I love all the different architectural styles scattered throughout. You have the Rustic Chautauqua Tower and carousel building, the Art Deco Arcade, the Spanish/Art Deco mix on the Spanish Ballroom, and then the 1970's wooden yurt colony. It's an eclectic mix, and differs so much from the predominantly Neoclassical/Brutalist landscape that makes up Washington, D.C.
|Carousel and Arcade Building|
|I remember the yurts seemed so alien to me|
Notably, I was drawn to the Crystal Pool. The Crystal Pool was an outdoor multi-swimming pool complex that could allow 3,000 guests to swim at once. After the amusement park closed, the pools were filled in and/or demolished. What remained was the monumental entry door and the remnants of the lower level of the diving pool. By the 90's, the diving pool had a forest growing out of it. Peering through the peep holes in the door, or looking down at the pool from the playground up the hill, it captured my imagination.
|Crystal Pool Facade in 2008 |
(CC Image courtesy of Tina Saey, "Crystal pool" on Flickr)
Looking back, Glen Echo was the first location I ever realized had a past. Everything I had seen previous had been in good condition and open for business. I started questioning what had been there before, and what had happened to have it reach its present condition? Most importantly, the Crystal Pool had me thinking, could this and the other closed structures reopen? Later on, that trail of thinking would lead to: how would this place reopen?, aka adaptive reuse/preservation!
So, what did I think the Crystal Pool was/could be? I remember it best in winter, so leaves and underbrush weren't obscuring the space. It looked like the trees were supposed to be there, or maybe I liked how the trees looked (These memories are going on 20ish years, please bear with me). What I thought it was/could be was a private contemplative walk around a pond. It didn't seem that exciting. It didn't really make sense why guests would want to pay to do that, but who was I to judge?
|Remnants of the Crystal Pool's diving pool in 2018. The |
entrance is to the right of the picture. The trees have been
cut down since my visits in the 1990's.
Well, I grew a little older, and puppet shows weren't as exciting, so my parents stopped taking me to Glen Echo (Anything else Glen Echo offered could be found a little closer to home). From then until now, the park has gone through some terrific renovations to revitalize its buildings. Things have been painted in the last 20 years. Buildings have been faithfully restored or reconstructed. I would not have come up with the same questions I had had back then if I visited now.
|Looking down the restored Arcade|
In 2017, architecture students from the University of Maryland proposed three master plan concepts to Glen Echo's board. Two of the plans suggested turning Crystal Pool into an outdoor amphitheater. I think that would be an excellent idea! The Bumper Car and Cuddle-Ups pavilions could serve in that capacity, but they lack the infrastructure and space required of most live theater/dance performances. Crystal Pool, a blank canvas past the doorway, would be a more ideal environment to have that happen in.
|Bumper Car Pavilion|
Glen Echo continues to exude its unique, magical charm. I look forward to see how it continues to evolve over the years. It's doing great things and is beloved by its community. I cannot wait until my next visit.
|Glen Echo Park Entrance Sign & Chautauqua Tower|
(It needs to get painted again)
Glen Echo on the Potomac TV Documentary
National Park Service - Glen Echo
Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture
The Historical Marker Database - Glen Echo Park’s Crystal Pool
The Historical Marker Database - The Glen Echo Park Yurts
Book - Glen Echo Park: A Story of Survival
A General History of Glen Echo Park (c. 1997)
Postcard From Past Glen Echo (pre-2000's renovation pictures)
“Fun is Where You Find It”: A New Plan for Glen Echo Park