Glen Echo: “Then and Wow”

13 Mar

The sign marked the entrance to the park until the 1970s. Courtesy of Glen Echo Park

Glen Echo Park is a national arts, crafts, and dance park located a few miles across the D.C. boarder in Maryland

by Maria Hallas

Children and adults took a step back in time as Glen Echo Park celebrated its 91st season.  The“Then & Wow” festival explored the park’s past and present and featured roving performers, glass blowing and pottery stands, theater and puppet shows and lots of dancing.

  •         all of the buildings are renovated to their original art deco style

The "cuddle up" building -- an example of the park's art deco style -- was a romantic ride; now the building houses a puppet theater. By Maria Hallas

Glen Echo Park Ranger Franice Sewell gave a tour during the festival that explained the history of the
Park. Glen Echo became an amusement park in the late 1890s.  The park closed in the late 1960s during riots in D.C. and later reopened as an arts park that offers crafts, music, theater and dancing to adults and children.

Park Ranger Sewell in front of the private line street car that brought D.C. residents to the park until the late 1960s. By Maria Hallas

Massive renovations returned the outsides of park buildings to their original design — art deco.  Inside the buildings there are no longer rides but something entirely different.   For example, the park’s original arcade — that is, with real guns and bullets — is now a children’s theatre.   The snack and popcorn building now exhibits art.

  •         the carousel – the park’s only ride — is the oldest carousel in the nation

Michelle Schwartz explored the hand-painted horses. By Maria Hallas

“The carousel is the gem of the park and boasts a windpipe organ and 44 animals,” said Sewell.  “There are painted horses, giraffes, ostriches, rabbits, lions and tigers . . .  The kids love it.”

Children’s laughter came from all directions during the day but mostly from the carousel.

“The big animals don’t scare me.  They are fun . . . “said six-year-old Debbie Schwartz.  “Can I ride again?” she said, turning to her mother.  Debbie did ride the carousel again with her big brother and many other children.

  •        live music entertains adults in the Spanish Ballroom

Dancers swinging to live orchestra music. By Maria Hallas

Adults appeared to enjoyed the festival too.  A band played waltz music in the former bumper car pavilion and about 70 people danced for three hours there.   After waltzing, the park offered swing dancing in its Spanish Ballroom.

All of these dances are called “social dances.”  Listen to Ranger Sewell describe the Spanish Ballroom and what social dancing means at Glen Echo; hear patrons discuss their reactions.

“That couple told me today that they had their first kiss here forty years ago and now they’re dancing the waltz,” Sewell said, pointing to the bumper car pavilion.

The “Then & Wow” festival may be over but an exhibition with the same name continues through October. Also, there are many other events posted on its website calendar for children and adults. Glen Echo hosts some Halloween events throughout October. Two future dance events are the “Family Dance,” where families can square dance together, and “The D.C. Dance Challenge,” a one-day adult dance competition which promises to be lots of fun to watch.


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