In its heyday, Glen Echo Park was a bustling amusement park. But that was more than half a century ago. Now, seemingly untouched by time, Glen Echo Park is a surreal place to visit. Walking in, you feel as though you’re stepping onto the set of a movie based in the early 20th century. Even the 1921 carousel and art deco neon lights calling out “Arcade” and “Cuddle Up” are well-preserved. The preservation effort is thanks to Montgomery County, Maryland, and the National Park Service (NPS), which stepped up and took over maintenance of the site decades ago when the park ran into difficult financial times. But to understand why a nearly century-old amusement park is still worth visiting, you need to know Glen Echo Park’s significance in the history of Washington, D.C., and civil rights.
The first important piece of information is that segregation was still rampant in the 1960s at many locations across the United States. Businesses in Washington, D.C., were no different, and admission to Glen Echo Park was restricted to whites only. This came to a head in 1960 when several college students protested with a peaceful sit-in on the carousel. Five students were charged with trespassing, and the ensuing case to appeal their conviction made its way to Supreme Court. Four years later, they were successful in reversing their convictions. There are various information markers around the park that go into greater detail about this case and park’s significance in the area.
Now, the Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture, Inc., manages the park. It plays host to a range of creative activities, from art classes and exhibitions to dance lessons and a free summer concert series. With such a wide variety of activities on offer, in addition to the architecture and the park’s history, there are numerous reasons to visit.
Located at 7300 MacArthur Boulevard in Glen Echo, Maryland, the park is open from 6 a.m. until 1 a.m. With such long hours of operation, there is really no excuse not to visit. Free parking is adjacent to the park, but for those without a car, a public bus (Route #29) operates from Friendship Heights and Bethesda metro stops.
Their historic Dentzel Carousel has been in operation since 1921. The carousel does not run all year, so if you fancy a spin or two on it, you will have to time your visit between May and September (the current cost is $1.25 per ride).
||Days of Operation||Hours of Operation|
|…..May 1-August 31
||Wednesday-FridaySaturday & Sunday||10 a.m. – 2 p.m.noon -6 p.m.|
||Saturday & Sunday||noon -6 p.m.|
Besides the carousel, the park has a beautiful wooden-paneled ballroom that hosts various dances, from swing to tango to salsa, through the year (here’s their schedule). Dances typically cost money to participate. When we visited, a waltzing lesson was taking place for $10 per person, and while the crowd skewed to older participants, it seemed like everyone in attendance was having a really, really good time. Next time we visit we might even hit the hardwood to test our own dance moves.