Photo credit: Jennifer Falkinburg , 08/23/2003

Property Name: Greenbelt Historic District
Date Listed: 11/25/1980
Inventory No.: PG:67-4
Location: Greenbelt, Prince Georges County

Description: Greenbelt is an incorporated city located in northern Prince George's County at the intersection of Interstate 95/495 (the Capital Beltway) and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295). The city's original charter was granted by the Maryland State Legislature in June of 1937, three months before the first residents moved in. Greenbelt was the first municipality in Maryland to have the council-manager form of government. Originally conceived during the New Deal initiatives of the Roosevelt administration, the projects sought to create jobs as well as to demonstrate the applicability of certain garden-city planning techniques to a project designed for low-income residents. The building of historic Greenbelt took advantage of the natural topography in the form of a crescent-shaped plateau, or "green belt." Houses encircle the center, where stores, the post office, and community building/school are located. The apartment buildings form an inner circle. At a lower level, in a natural bowl, is the athletic field and the rec center. The government initially constructed a total of 574 rowhouse units, 306 apartment units, and five detached homes built as experiments in pre-fabrication techniques. Ten houses were also built by a private developer in a small subdivision called "Parkbelt" located on Forest Way. The government purchased a total of 3,371 acres for the community and surrounding "greenbelt." In 1941 the Federal Government constructed 1000 frame houses for workers engaged in the national defense effort. Greenbelt's "defense homes" were one of 43 such housing projects built throughout the United States to relieve the acute shortage of housing for persons engaged in wartime activities. The frame houses are located mainly to the north of the original planned community, and their interior design as well as the layout of the rows was intended to incorporate many of the plan features of the original homes. However, due to the need to construct housing quickly and at low cost, the defense homes are not as well constructed or as well planned as the original community. The homes, arranged in superblocks to reduce the number of streets, sidewalks, and utility lines, are clustered in rows in housing "courts", set back from the main streets. From two to ten homes in a row were constructed, all with what is called a "garden side" and a "service side." The service side was planned for access to parking and for deliveries and garbage pickup, while the garden side was designed to provide each family with a spacious and safe play and green area. Many homes face, on the garden side, common areas or small parks. In some cases, the garden side faces woods. Greenbelt's internal walkway system and pedestrian underpasses are credited with separating pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Three pedestrian underpasses cross Crescent Road and lead to the Commercial Center and the city's outstanding safety record is in part accredited to the use of these.

Significance: The Greenbelt Historic District is the original developed section of the City of Greenbelt which was established and expanded between 1935 and 1941 as one of three "green towns" founded by the United States government under the New Deal as an attempt to solve social and economic problems confronting the nation. The three towns are Greenbelt, Maryland; Greenhills, Ohio, (near Cincinnati); and Greendale, Wisconsin (near Milwaukee). A fourth community, Greenbrook, New Jersey, never passed the planning stage. Greenbelt differs from the other "green towns" in that the predominate type of building originally erected is the multi-storied apartment house whereas the duplex is the predominate type originally used in the other communities. Of the three towns, Greenbelt is the only one to still retain many of the original features such as the buildings and sections of the surrounding "greenbelt." Greenbelt also continues the concept of community responsibility as the majority of the housing is owned by a cooperative.


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