Marshall Hall, the amusement park across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon that has entertained Washington area residents since 1888, may close its gates this fall, two years before the National Park Service is due to shut it down.
The park lost its main attraction, its roller coaster, in a wind storm July 21 and has since been open only three days a week. The Park Service, which took control of Marshall Hall in 1974 under an act of Congress that permits the amusement park to operate until 1980, was not aware of the collapse of the roller coaster until last week.
Nor are visitors to the park aware of it until they arrive and see a sign saying "Roller Coaster not working due to tornadoes." (The National Weather Service said there were no tornadoes, although winds gusted up to 70 miles an hour in some parts of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties). The park is 25 miles from Washington on the Prince George's-Charles County line, and until two years ago was a major stop on Wilson Boat Line trips to Mount Vernon.
"We don't want a lot of publicity . . . we don't want to advertise that the roller coaster isn't working because a lot of people come down here just for the roller coaster," says Margaret Adison, who has managed the park for almost 20 years. Mrs. Addison said she would not allow a Post photographer into the park to photograph the damaged roller coaster.
Despite its somewhat run-down appearance, and the fact that many of its rides are inoperative - and others have frequent breakdowns - crowds of more than 1,000 children fill Marshall Hall almost every weekend, according to employees. The admission price of $3 a person, with all rides free, has not changed since the roller coaster collapsed. Most of the park's visitors now are District church, camp and school groups.
Mrs. Addison refused to discuss the condition of the park or its future, "because it's on the touchy side . . . and the owner is out of town." However, the Park Service has been informed unofficially that the park may not reopen after this summer and many Marshall Hall employees say the same thing.
Both Marshall Hall and the Wilson Line are owned by Joseph I. Goldstein, the financially troubled developer who first attempted to turn Marshall Hall into a Disneyland and then won himself publicity - and a $1,000 fine - in 1971 when he began cutting down "five trees a day" along the river's edge to force the federal government to pay his asking price for Marshall Hall or a scenic easement on it.
Although Goldstein was convicted of violating an 1899 antipollution law by dumping the 40 trees he cut into a navigable waterway (the Potomac), the government eventually bought Marshall Hall and adjacent Goldstein lands for $10 million, slightly more than Goldstein's $9.5 million asking price. The dilapidated amusement rides are to be razed in 1980 when the Park Service adds Marshall Hall to neighboring Piscataway Park, created by congress in 1961 to preserve the view from Mount Vernon.
The Maryland riverfront opposite Mount Vernon has been subject of dispute since the mid 1950s when oil companies planned to build a huge industrial oil tank farm directly opposite the first President's home. Rep. Frances Bolton (R-Ohio), a member of the Mount Vernon Ladies Assn., which restored and owns Mount Vernon, bought the land and created the Accokeek Foundation to protect Mount Vernon's view.
However, Congress authorized inclusion of the land in a park in 1961 when the Prince George's County sewer agency threatened to acquire it by eminent domain and build a giant sewage treatment plant directly opposite Mount Vernon. The 5,000-acre park, designed to preserve and protect the "view enjoyed by George Washington," is unique in that the federal government actually owns less than a third of the land. The rest is protected by scenic easements either purchased or donated by local residents.
Marshall Hall, which is a large, dignified 17th century plantation home still standing in the midst of the shooting galleries and rides, was not included in the original Piscataway Park although it is clearly visible from Mount Vernon. Federal officials claimed Goldstein promised "donations" of scenic easements if Marshall Hall were excluded from the new park. However, Goldstein later denied this, saying he couldn't have made such promises since at the time he owned only the concessions at the park, not the land.
Goldstein, brother of Maryland Comptroller Louis Goldstein, bought the concessions and the Wilson Line in 1958 and purchased Marshall Hall itself in 1966 for a reported $1.2 million. He planned to build a $14-million "Spirit of America" amusement center, like Disneyland, on the site and won a zoning change from Charles County Commissioners. But this was overturned in the courts in 1971 as an illegal and unjustified rezoning.
Goldstein's investments became public record this month when creditors seeking repayment of almost $10 million in loans forced him into bankruptcy court. He has asked the court to protect his tour boat business, land holdings and several newspapers, but has sold four other weekly newspapers to satisfy some of the debts. Goldstein has called the action a "reorganization, not a bankruptcy."
Although the Park Service has title to the land, and U.S. Park Police patrol it. Goldstein has concession rights until the end of 1979 but may not bring in additional rides or tear down any structures. Who actually is running the park is not clear. Although Park Service officials have been told Mrs. Addison had contracted with Goldstein, those working in the park say a third person actually is running it. Mrs. Addison declined to discuss it.