Greenbelt 75th Anniversary Symposium: Session 1
When Greenbelt celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1987, an academic conference was held and it was titled “The Greenbelt Conference on New Towns.” This year the city is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and a highlight of this year’s celebration is a multi-disciplinary symposium titled “Sustaining Greenbelt’s Legacy.” The conference took place on Friday April 27 and Saturday April 28 in the Greenbelt Community Center, and the following is an account of the first of five sessions—“A Living Community: Greenbelt’s Enduring Legacies.”
The conference takes place in the art deco Greenbelt Community Center. This building was built in 1937 when the first residents moved into Greenbelt as the Greenbelt Center School, and it has also served as a community gathering place ever since. When a new elementary school was built in 1991 at the north end of the town, the building is converted to the Greenbelt Community Center. The building now houses a gym, offices, artist studios, multipurpose rooms and hosts an array of meetings and recreational activities daily.
Above the Community Center entrance is the first of six panels by the sculptor Lenore Thomas illustrating the preamble of the U.S. Constitution. This one is titled “We the People.”
Sign for the Greenbelt 75th Anniversary Symposium
The symposium takes place in the Community Center gym where generations of Greenbelt citizens have held important meetings. Here Lois Rosado (second from left), a member of the city’s 75th Anniversary Committee, directs an attendee to the welcome table. On the right, with her back to the camera is Barbara Havekost, another member of the 75th Anniversary Committee. The Committee was appointed by the Greenbelt City Council to plan and organize a year-long celebration of the city’s 75th anniversary and began meeting in April 2010.
75th Anniversary Committee members Betty Timer (left) and Sheila Maffay-Tuthill (third from left) hand out bags containing symposium programs.
At 9:30 am, Greenbelt Mayor Judith Davis opens the symposium. Mayor Davis was first elected to the City Council in 1993 and has served as mayor since 1997, the longest consecutively serving mayor in Greenbelt’s history. She talks about the academic conference 25 years ago and says that during the 50th and 60th anniversary years in 1987 and 1997, Greenbelt celebrated its roots and pioneer families.
In Greenbelt, those first residents who moved into the new town in 1937 are referred to as pioneers and are held in high regard. At the time Greenbelt was an isolated community in the middle of a forest not unlike the frontier towns of the West.
Mayor Davis ask those in attendance who are pioneers or sons and daughters of pioneers to stand. Here is Lee Shields who was born in August 1937 and moved with his family to Greenbelt in November 1937. His father Bill Shields was one of the first postal workers hired in Greenbelt in the 1940s.
Rena Hull’s parents Otto and Evelyn Voigt were pioneers, and Hull was named Greenbelt Outstanding Citizen in 1999.
Mayor Davis also asks the sponsors to stand up, and here Eldon Ralph, General Manager of Greenbelt Homes, Inc. (GHI), the cooperative which owns Greenbelt’s original New Deal townhouses, is recognized. Other sponsors include the Greenbelt Museum, Anacostia Trails Heritage Area (ATHA), City of Greenbelt, University of Maryland School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, and American Institute of Architects Potomac Valley Chapter.
The 75th Anniversary Committee members are recognized, and here are committee co-chairs Dave Mills (right) and Carol Malveaux.
Finally the Symposium Steering Committee members are recognized, and this is Symposium Chair Isabelle Gournay. Gournay is an associate professor at the University of Maryland, College Park School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and a GHI resident.
175 people pre-registered for the symposium, and about 20 registered on site this morning. The advanced registration fee is $30 for general admission and $15 for seniors and students, and registration at the door costs $5 more.
Throughout Greenbelt’s history, this gym is where elections and important community meetings are held, in addition to hosting basketball games, school plays, and Jazzercise classes.
The symposium has five sessions and the first is titled “A Living Community: Greenbelt’s Enduring Legacies.” Here Mary Corbin Sies speaks first about community planning. Sies is an associate professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park and lives in the Lakeside Drive neighborhood of Greenbelt.
Sies opens her talk by stating the three sources of influence for the New Deal green towns: Ebenezer Howard’s Garden City Movement of 1898 and Letchworth, the first Garden City, founded by Howard in 1903, with a modest-sized town surrounded by a green belt; Radburn, New Jersey of 1929, planned by Clarence Stein and Henry Wright, with superblocks, pedestrian pathways, and gardenside views; and Clarence Perry’s neighborhood unit concept, with the school at the center of the town as a meeting place and public park lands. Sies then talks about Hale Walker’s 1937 plan for Greenbelt with the Center School serving as a community center and an abundance of recreational facilities, more than Radburn. She talks about the “Greenbelt principles” of design: low-density housing with pedestrian pathways, outdoor recreational facilities, and landscaping, and she gives several examples of Greenbelt housing developments which include many elements of the “Greenbelt principles”: Woodland Hills, Lakeside North Apartments, Springhill Lake Apartments, Windsor Green, and Greenbriar. She concludes by saying Greenbelt has been successful because first the old town set a high standard and second generations of Greenbelt residents have enforced expectations and vigorously defended their vision for what Greenbelt should be.
Mayor Davis asks those who come from outside of Greenbelt to stand.
Sitting in the front row are from right Greenbelt Recreation Department Director Julie McHale, Mayor Judith Davis, and Greenbelt News Review Editor Mary Lou Williamson.
Sharon Bradley is a landscape architect and her firm undertook the renovation of Roosevelt Center in the 1990s. She starts with the redesign of Roosevelt Center in the 1970s when Bradford pear trees, then in fashion, were planted. When these pear trees grew up, the openness that characterized the original 1937 design was destroyed; the center was “shrouded in darkness,” businesses suffered from invisibility, and it gives rise to negative activities. For the renovation, the original blueprints were reviewed, new trees planted, and benches constructed. Outdoor eating areas are added and the center gathering place was restored for festivals and other outdoor events. Bradley concludes by telling the un-accomplished phase of the design including pedestrian pathways to the center through the parking lots that surround it, terraces behind the Mother and Child statue, and an amphitheatre at the bottom of the hill to serve the Arts Center and host summer concerts and plays.
Jim Giese (second from right) was Greenbelt’s City Manager from 1962 to 1991 and was named the city’s Outstanding Citizen in 2010. His article about this first session of the symposium has been published in the May 3 issue of the Greenbelt News Review, which can be downloaded here.
Virginia Beauchamp (second from right) came to Greenbelt in 1957 and has been involved with the Greenbelt News Review for more than 50 years, serving as a reporter, editor, editorial writer, and a member of the Board of Directors. On the right is her daughter Edith Beauchamp.
From left are Megan Searing Young, curator of the Greenbelt Museum, and Isabelle Gournay, Symposium Chair. Taping the proceedings is Beverly Palau, the city’s Public Info and Communications Coordinator.
Ben Fischler, a GHI resident, takes notes.
Julie McHale is Greenbelt’s Recreation Department Director. She says that the original planners emphasized recreation and recounts many achievements of the department: the public swimming pool opened in 1939, first in the Washington area; the Youth Center opened in 1962, and before that the recreation director rented out equipment; a state-of-the-art skate park was added recently; the department currently has a staff of 20 and organizes a host of programs for people of all ages including youth Circus Camp, Creative Camp, monthly Artful Afternoon art programs, Get Active Greenbelt (based on Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move America” initiative), and Be Happy, Be Healthy employee wellness program. She says that the department is working on programs to target changing demographics including aging baby boomers and Franklin Park residents in Greenbelt West.
Julie McHale shows the quarterly City of Greenbelt Recreation Activity Guide.
Leta Mach, a member of the Greenbelt City Council, has worked for GHI and the national Cooperative Business Association and has been involved in many of the cooperatives in the city, and she talks about cooperatives. She says that the first cooperative in this country was the mutual insurance established by Benjamin Franklin, and during the Great Depression, there were many cooperatives arising from New Deal legislations such as utility and agriculture cooperatives and federal credit unions. The cooperative principles include voluntary, open membership, democratic control, one member, one vote, and a board of directors. Mach tells that the first cooperative in Greenbelt was the Greenbelt Federal Credit Union which opened in October 1937, then there was the Cooperator, now the Greenbelt News Review. Then there were cooperatives such as the Greenbelt Internet Access Cooperative which served the needs of the community when internet access was unreliable and expensive that have gone away when the needs have been met. And there is the Greenbelt Consumer Cooperative whose predecessor grew too big to be managed locally and had to be reorganized. She ends her talk by mentioning a few other cooperatives such as the Nursery School and recreational camps. (Rapidan Camps in the Blue Ridge mountains is one of seven cooperatives operating in the city today.)
From right are John Henry Jones and Elaine Jones.
A few members of the Clarence Stein Institute of Cornell University are also in attendance. Clarence Stein (1882-1975) was an American urban planner. He and Henry Wright planned Radburn, New Jersey in 1929 and was influential in the design of the green towns including Greenbelt. The institute is holding a preservation short course on Saturday here in the Community Center right after the Greenbelt 75th Anniversary Symposium.
Mary Lou Williamson has been a staff member of the Greenbelt News Review for 50 years and its editor for 40 years. This is Greenbelt’s paper of the record, and it has not missed an issue in 75 years. Williamson reads from the first editorial published on November 24, 1937: “Life in Greenbelt is no accident. It is the result of foresight, careful planning, and engineering skill. If it isn’t a community for financial gain, it is a town for the enrichment of life, and for the encouragement of better housing in America.” Williamson recounts notable milestones in the history of the paper including battles against McCarthyism, re-organization in the town after the Federal government sold it, and the renaming of the paper from the Cooperator to the News Review. In the 1950s and 60s the paper struggled financially. She tells that Harry Zubkoff was appointed editor and when he came on Tuesday night to work, he found he was the only person there.
She recounts perhaps the finest moment in the paper’s history so far, a two million dollar law suit brought by the developer Charles Bresler. In city council meetings, some citizens called Bresler’s land related negotiating position “blackmail,” and the paper reported it. Bresler sued for libel and the paper lost twice in lower courts; however, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that Bresler was a public figure and “The Greenbelt News Review was performing its wholly legitimate function as a community newspaper when it published full reports of these public debates in its news columns.” “We celebrated,” Williamson says.
Williamson goes on to speak about challenges facing the paper today: there are competitions including an online local paper (the Greenbelt Patch) and a “gossipy” listserv (the Greenbelters Yahoo Group); advertising is down and the paper is in the red; and key staff members are aging and nowadays women of letters work. But Williamson states that the paper has faced worse challenges before, and she expects it to be invited back when the city celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Williamson concludes by inviting the audience members to look under their chairs: “One of you will find a gold star. You have just been appointed the next editor of the News Review.”
Mayor Davis asks those who have ever worked or are currently working at the News Review to stand. Here from left are Jim Giese, Virginia Beauchamp, Edith Beauchamp, Sandra Lange, and David Lange.
Susan Abramowitz Rosenbaum is the daughter of a pioneer, and here she points to the gym stage and says that she performed on this stage while at Greenbelt Elementary School. Rosenbaum first pays tribute to Barbara Simon with whom she went to every grade together and who is the president of the Greenbelt Association for the Visual Arts (GAVA). She says that Simon is traveling and can give an institutional history about art exhibitions in Greenbelt. She will today give some personal recollections.
From left are Ed Fallon and Bill Orleans.
Rosenbaum says that her father Benjamin Abramowitz came to Greenbelt in 1942 from inner city New York and thought this was paradise. He first lived at Parkway Apartments and then 3 Eastway and built the first screened porch in the city. He was a painter–Rosenbaum showed photos of many of his paintings of idyllic Greenbelt, and he organized the first art exhibition in the city in the Greenbelt Library. She mentions Al Herling, who was the first chair of the Prince George’s Arts Council, and says that her father organized the first art festival which is still held today as part of the Labor Day Festival. Rosenbaum says that her father lived in Greenbelt until January 2003 and passed away last November.
Kim Rush Lynch (left) and Joe Gareri are two founding members of the Greenbelt Farmers Market which will open its fifth season on May 13 and they tell about the market. Lynch says that they wanted to bring fresh, locally produced produce to the city, provide a community gathering place, and enhance foot traffic to Roosevelt Center.
Gareri says that it was not easy to obtain fresh, locally produced produce as the distributors of the Greenbelt Co-op Supermarket are supplying products from all over the country and the world. So they incorporated into a 501c3 organization so they can accept donations and apply for grants, and they received a start-up grant from the Greenbelt Community Foundation. Lynch adds that the market developed a handbook of policies and makes sure by site visits that products sold at the market are produced by the vendors themselves. As a 501c3 organization the market also has an educational component with cooking demos and craft activities for kids. The market would like to expand its offerings and perhaps offer crafts and wine tasting. Gareri says that they have applied for another grant from the Greenbelt Community Foundation for permanent signage along Route 193 (Greenbelt Road) and 202 (Kenilworth Avenue), and he looks forward to the day when the market becomes self sustaining.
Anna Socrates takes a photo. Her article about the symposium for the Greenbelt Patch can be found here.
Mary Konsoulis is a historian and editor with the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts and an adjunct faculty member in the School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her talk is based on research developed by graduate students under her supervision in the Historic Preservation program at the University of Maryland. For a studio course as part of the Greener Greenbelt Initiative in 2007, the students examined methods to facilitate the preservation of Old Greenbelt. These include administrative tools (such as local historic district designations and GHI guidelines), land management tools (zoning and easements), public outreach tools (local heritage areas), community revitalization tools (National Trust for Historic Preservation Main Street program and public art projects), financial incentive tools (tax credits and preservation grant programs), and sustainability tools (LEED program). The students offered a number of recommendations both for GHI and for the city. For GHI, they recommended for example developing guidelines regarding to additions and alterations and incentives to encourage compliance. For the city, the strategies include participation in the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area (ATHA) and National Trust for Historic Preservation Main Street program.
The student report is titled “Preservation of the Past for a Greener Future: An Analysis of Historic Preservation Tools as Methods for Guiding Change in Old Greenbelt” and can be downloaded here.
As a respondent, Cathy Knepper, author of “Greenbelt, Maryland: A Living Legacy of the New Deal,” sums up this first session of the symposium with two sentences: “Never before was so much knowledge in such as compact form put together in one place at one time. All I would add is that Greenbelt’s continued success relies on the transmittal of its past into the present and the future as it is happening today and tomorrow.”
Conference attendees look at Greenbelt 75th anniversary memorabilia. Here Mary Clarke (second from right) points at one of four 75th anniversary commemorative tiles. From left are Lee and Bonnie Shields.
Coffee and snacks are served at the break. The next session will start in 15 minutes at 11:15 and the title will be “The Greenbelt Museum at 25.”