As teenagers and Washingtonians in the 1950s, James and Tina Short wanted to visit Glen Echo Park. They watched television commercials and had visions of swimming in the crystal pool, lying on the beach and running around what was then an amusement park. But like other African Americans, they were not welcome at Glen Echo until 1961, when it was desegregated.
Fast forward 50 years, and the National Park Service site manager at Glen Echo is Kym Elder, the Shorts' daughter. And Elder is ready to welcome her parents to celebrate Saturday's "Glen Echo Family Festival: Then and Wow."
The festival, from noon to 6 p.m., will recall Glen Echo Park history and commemorate its recent $19 million multi-phase renovation.
Organized by the Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture in cooperation with the National Park Service, the festival will document both joyful and difficult events in the 114-year history of the park, which opened in 1891 as a National Chautauqua Assembly to promote education.
The park is now a cultural arts center offering art, theater, dance, outdoor education and unique architecture in a natural setting on the banks of the Potomac.
Visitors are encouraged to bring park memorabilia they may have collected over the years, including photographs, movies, ticket stubsand other items that will contribute to an exhibition telling the story of the park's history. These artifacts will be displayed in the Bumper Car Pavilion.
"We want to capture and celebrate positive memories, but also share the recollections of African Americans for whom the park was off-limits for many years," said Katey Boerner, executive director of the Glen Echo Park Partnership. "We hope this will be a fun and informative event that helps people get to know the history of their community a little better while they have a good time."
In addition, the festival will feature children's rides, arcade games, a historic trolley car, the park's 1921 Dentzel Carousel, dance instruction and performances in the Spanish Ballroom, and musical entertainment.
The Dentzel Carousel is one of only 135 functioning antique carousels in the country. Installed in 1921, it's one of the few to remain in its original location. The carousel was painstakingly renovated by restoration artist Rosa Patton Ragan.
Also featured at the festival will be a trolley car donated by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. It will be exhibited at the park's main entrance. The trolley car is similar to ones that transported visitors to Glen Echo from 1896 until the trolley line stopped running in 1960.
"The park is currently set up to address its original intent in the Chautauqua era, to bring about the arts and an appreciation for the arts and to have a better understanding educationally and culturally, coupled with having fun," said Elder, who has been the park's site manager for six months.
Following the daytime festival, Glen Echo will host "In The Mood," a reception from 7 to 9 p.m. Tickets cost $125, which includes cocktails, light food and dessert. Proceeds will benefit the park restoration project.
The swing dance afterward, featuring the Glenn Miller Orchestra, is scheduled from 9 p.m. to midnight. The Glenn Miller Orchestra is well known for its unique jazz sound. Tickets are $35 in advance, $40 at the door.
Glen Echo Park is at 7300 MacArthur Blvd. For more information, call 301-634-2228 or go to www.glenechopark.org.