Rock Creek Park

Rock Creek Park

History

Background
Carter Barron Amphitheatre (CBA) is located in Rock Creek Park. Initial plans for an amphitheatre in the Brightwood area of Washington, DC began in 1943 when Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. reviewed and commented on the site selection for an amphitheatre. The original plan called for benches to seat about 1,500 and a stage equipped with a movie screen.

This plan was expanded upon by Carter T. Barron in 1947 as a way to memorialize the 150th Anniversary of Washington, DC as the Nation's Capital. As Vice Chairman of the Sesquicentennial Commission, Barron envisioned an amphitheatre where "all persons of every race, color and creed" in Washington could attend musical, ballet, theater and other performing arts productions. The Commission approved the drawings of National Capital Parks (now known as the National Capital Region of the National Park Service (NPS)) Architect William M. Hausman for the new 4,200 seat Sesquicentennial Amphitheatre. Plans called for outfitting the amphitheatre with state-of-the-art technology including a communication system which allowed the stage manager to speak to any actor or stagehand from his desk and the best lighting and sound equipment available at the time. (The original construction cost estimate was $200,000 but the actual cost totaled $563,676.90.)


The amphitheatre opened on August 5, 1950. Paul Green, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright and author of the symphonic outdoor drama "The Lost Colony", was commissioned to write the opening season production. "Faith of Our Fathers"was a tribute to George Washington. It met with mixed reviews while the press and theater professionals hailed the Sesquicentennial Amphitheatre itself as the best outdoor theater ever seen. The placement of the amphitheatre maximized the natural acoustics of the bowl of the hill and it quickly became known as a theater with "not a bad seat in the house." In 1965, a curtain and track were added to the stage. In the 1970s, the Feld Brothers added a three-pole circus tent to cover part of the stage which was changed to a truss and canvas roof system by the Shakespeare Theater in cooperation with NPS in 1993. In the early 1990s, the NPS renovated the public restrooms, repaired the roofs, and did some electrical upgrades in the backstage area. A major renovation project is scheduled to begin in the near future.


Performance History
After the first two seasons of "Faith of Our Fathers," the CBA began to feature a variety of acts and performances. In 1952, CBA hosted military bands and the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. In 1953, Washington Festival, Inc. operated by local television celebrity Constance Bennett Coulter, won the contract for the summer season which featured "Show Boat," "Annie Get Your Gun," and "Carousel." Audiences did not attend in large numbers and Washington Festival lost $200,000 in its first and only season. CBA was left in search of a savior.


It found two . . . the Feld brothers, Irvin and Israel, won the contract to host the 1954 season. Their company, Super Attractions, hosted performances such as the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO), "The Mikado," and numerous musicals. Their 1963 lineup changed performances to include more music and less ballet. Acts included the Kingston Trio, Victor Borge, Nat King Cole, Benny Goodman, Ethel Merman, Henry Mancini, Harry Belafonte, Andy Williams, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Israel Feld died in December 1972 and his wife, Shirley, took over management of CBA. The venue began to include soul and rock 'n' roll acts like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, B.B. King, the O'Jays, Smokey Robinson, and the Four Tops.
Due to competition from other centers for performing arts and changes in production values, the Feld's company Super Attractions began to incur heavy losses and asked to be released from its contract and in 1976 Cella-Door-Dimensions, Inc. was hired as new management. They scheduled acts such as Kool and the Gang, Bruce Springsteen, U.S. Navy Band, NSO, Shakespeare Festival, Richard Pryor, Chick Corea, and the D.C. Black Repertory Co. in order to attract a more diverse audience. Washington Post reporter Jacqueline Trescott wrote "The hordes of teenagers were back, but scattered among the visors and t-shirts were family groups, black and white couples in their 20s and 30s and a large number of women dressed in the latest fashions."


At the end of the 1976 season, the NPS decided to operate the theater on its own and continues to do so today. CBA continues to host a variety of performances. Shows today include reggae, Latin, classical, gospel, musical, pop, R&B, jazz, new age, theater, and dance. Ticket prices are still the best entertainment bargain in town and many of the performances are provided free of charge. The NPS still follows Carter T. Barron's original mission of providing quality performances to all residents in Washington, D.C. Partnerships, such as the Shakespeare Theater "Free for All", the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington Post "Weekend's Weekend Concerts" help fulfill this goal.

Carter T. Barron
Carter T. Barron, the Vice-Chairman for the Sesquicentennial Commission, was born in Clarksville, Georgia on January 30, 1905. He attended Georgia Tech where he played football for three years until a knee injury ended his career. He moved to Washington, D.C. in 1932 and remained until his death from cancer on November 16, 1950, just three months after the opening of the amphitheater. Barron was a community activist, and participated on numerous boards. He was manager of Lowe's Eastern Division of Theaters, MGM's point main in Washington, and an active promoter of the arts. He was known as "everyone's friend - the burly, red-headed, blue-eyed, smiling giant." President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and President Harry S. Truman both claimed Barron to be a great friend. Barron organized twelve birthday balls for President Roosevelt and worked on both Roosevelt's and Truman's inaugurations.

President Harry S. Truman dedicated the Sesquicentennial Amphitheatre on August 4, 1950, but following Barron's death, he rededicated the amphitheatre the Carter T. Barron Amphitheater in an official ceremony on May 25, 1951. Many people considered Carter Barron the link between the performing arts and the government. The amphitheatre is a legacy to his dedication.


Places

In the midst of Washington, D.C., a city of grand memorials to national leaders and significant events, stands an unassuming building commemorating the daily lives of ordinary Americans who made this city, and this nation, unique. The Old Stone House, one of the oldest known structures remaining in the nation's capital, is a simple 18th century dwelling built and inhabited by common people.

Peirce Mill was built in the 1820's, and operated commercially until 1897. The United States Government acquired the mill as part of Rock Creek Park in 1892. Currently the mill is not operating. It is being preserved and ultimately will be made operable again when sufficient funding for repairs is made available. Peirce Mill is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Meridian Hill Park is located in northwest Washington, D.C. and is bordered by 16th, Euclid, 15th, and W Streets.

Construction of the park was begun in 1914, but it was not until 1936 that Meridian Hill reached the full status of a formal park. In 1933 the grounds were transferred to the National Park Service.

Meridian Hill Park was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1994, as "an outstanding accomplishment of early 20th-century Neoclassicist park design in the United States"

Monuments and Memorials

A bronze seated statue of President Buchanan. The platform is granite, with two figures representing Law and Diplomacy. Buchanan, a Pennsylvanian, was the 15th President of the United States. He served in the War of 1812 and was later Representative in Congress, U.S. Minister to Russia and to Great Britain, a Senator, and Secretary of State. The statue a gift of Mrs. Harriet Lane Johnston Buchanan's niece, at a cost of $115,000. Approved by an Act of Congress June 27, 1918 (40 Stat. 632). Dedicated June 26, 1930.

A bronze standing figure of Dante, renowned poet, shows him in the gown of a scholar and crowned with a laurel wreath, on a pedestal of sea-green granite. An Act of Congress approved February 14, 1922 (42 Stat. 366) authorized its erection on public grounds. Presented at no cost to the United States by Carlo Barsotti of New York, in name of Americans of Italian birth living the United States. The cost was $50,000. Dedicated December 1, 1921.

The only equestrian statue of a woman in Washington. It is a bronze copy of the famous Dubois statue of Joan of Arc in the front of the Rheims Cathedral in France. A gift from the Society of French women in exile in New York to the Nation's Capital as a gesture of friendship between the two peoples. This statue of the girl who led the French armies against the British forces and raised the siege of Orleans was cast under the direction of the Ministre des Beaux Arts in Paris. Its erection at no cost to the United States was approved under an Act of Congress March 20, 1922 (42 Stat. 468). Dedicated January 6, 1922.

The Serenity statue is a seated figure of a woman made of white carrara marble, in memory of Lt. Commander William Henry Scheutze, US Navy. Erected as a gift to the people of the United States by Charles Dearing under an Act of Congress approved March 12, 1924 (43 Stat. 21) at a cost of $4,500. Completed in July 1925.

A bronze equestrian statue 10 1/2ft. high on a marble pedestal in memory of the pioneer Bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Erected by the Frances Asbury Memorial Association, at a cost of $50,000 under an Act of Congress approved February 28, 1919 (40 Stat. 1213). Dedicated October 15, 1924. Known as "The Prophet of the Long Road," Asbury is honored for greatly promoting patriotism, education, morality, and religion in the American Republic.

A bronze portrait bust in memory of the Italian who invented the wireless telegraphy, forerunner of the modern radio, is on a double pedestal. The granite base was a gift by the Marconi Memorial Foundation at a cost of $32,555 under an Act of Congress approved April 13, 1938. Completed June 30, 1941. (52 Stat. 217).

Cardinal Gibbons, born in Maryland, who served as priest, bishop, and chaplain at Ft. McHenry, was instrumental in establishing Catholic University here. He was created cardinal in 1886. The bronze statue shows him seated, in official robes of the church, on a granite pedestal with a granite, marble and reinforced concrete platform. It was erected by the Knights of Columbus without expense to the United States under an Act of Congress approved April 23, 1928 (45 Stat. 453). The cost of the statue was $35,998. Dedicated August 14, 1932.

A granite boulder with bronze plaque, given by the Associated Survivors, Sixth Army Corps commemorates the place where President Lincoln stood under enemy fire during the Battle of Fort Stevens. The boulder was placed in November 1911; the plaque was dedicated on July 12, 1920.

A Bronze plaque 4 feet by 2 feet on a mosaic concrete base depicts a scale model of Fort Stevens as it was at the time of the Civil War. The memorial, which cost $695, was erected by the Daughters of the Union Veterans of the Civil War 1861-1865, without expense to the United States under a permit from the National Capital Parks, issued May 11, 1936. Dedicated September 20, 1936.

A granite column erected by the State of Ohio for the Ohio National Guard Infantrymen who took part in the defense of Washington at Fort Stevens in July 1864. Erected under the authority of the War Department.

A granite column inscribed with the names of the dead and wounded who fought in the defense of Washington on July 11 and 12, 1864. Erected by the State of Pennsylvania under a permit from the War Department. Dedicated in 1891.

A marble fountain honoring the late Senator from Nevada. Senator Newlands established Chevy Chase and was associated with mediation and conciliation in labor disputes. The fountain is 60 feet in diameter and throws a two-inch jet of water 30 feet in the air. Erected by Mrs. Newlands at a cost of $12,000 without expense to the United States under Act of Congress approved April 8. 1932 (47 Stat. 78). Dedicated on October 12, 1933.

Public Resolution No. 30, approved May 2. 1928, authorized the memorial to the eminent statesman, clergyman, and soldier of the Revolutionary War era. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg fought in many major battles of the American Revolution and retired from the Army as a General. He had been a pastor when the war began, serving both Lutheran and Episcopal congregations. When he decided to become a soldier, he told his parishioners: "in the language of Holy Writ the is a time for all things... there is a time to pray and a time to fight... and that time has now come." Three hundred men from his congregations joined the Army.

The memorial consists of a bronze bust on a limestone pedestal located in a plaza surrounded by a low wall on which are bronze plaques highlighting the three phases of his career: soldier, clergyman and statesman. The memorial was constructed with private funds for $59,430, and dedicated on October 26, 1980.

This memorial to General Ward is a bronze standing figure and shows the General in a Continental Army uniform. It is on a granite pedestal. The model for his face was the life portrait by Charles Wilson Peale in Independence Hall at Philadelphia. General Ward was the first Commander-in-Chief of the American Armies in the Revolutionary War. He was relieved by General Washington at Boston. Erected by the President and Fellows of Harvard College at a cost of $50,000. Dedicated in 1938. (45 Stat. 689).

The memorial to Sarah Louise Rittenhouse (1845-1943) is an armillary sphere on a marble pedestal. She is considered the founder of Montrose Park in Georgetown and is given credit for saving the park area from a housing development planned in the early 1900's. This memorial was a gift from the Georgetown Garden Club under an Act of Congress July 27, 1953 (67 Stat. 196). Dedicated on November 9, 1956.

The standing figure of Robert Emmet, Irish patriot and an early leader in the cause of Irish Independence, was presented to the United States in 1916. It is on indefinite loan from the Smithsonian Institution. Dedicated April 22, 1966.

This bronze equestrian statue of General McClellan, who distinguished himself at the Battle of Antietam and was head of the Army of the Potomac, stands at the crest of a hill overlooking Connecticut Avenue. It was erected by the government at a cost of $50,000; the Society of the Army of the Potomac provided funds for the improvement of the site. It was cast in France and was dedicated on May 2, 1907. Approved under an Act of Congress March 3, 1901 (31 Stat. 1174).

A bench of pink granite honors Jules Jusserand, Ambassador from France and a close friend of President Theodore Roosevelt. The bench is semi-circular with 4 steps and is 10 feet long. Erected by the Jusserand Memorial Committee at cost of $5,461 under an Act of Congress approved June 17, 1935 (49 Stat. 386) without expense to the United States. It is the first memorial erected on Federal property to a foreign diplomat. Dedicated November 7, 1936.