This week the Marine Latin Jazz Ensemble will perform at 8 p.m., Wednesday, June 14, on the west terrace of the U.S. Capitol, and at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, June 15, at Glen Echo Park. The Thursday evening performance marks the return of "The President's Own" to charming Glen Echo Park to perform in the Bumper Car Pavilion once a month. “The program will showcase both New York style big band Latin jazz and traditional Afro-Cuban music,” noted euphonium player Staff Sgt. Hiram Diaz, who also serves as group leader and vocalist. “The Bumper Car Pavilion is a great intimate setting that brings us close to the audience, but also allows people in other areas of the park to enjoy the music too.”
The Latin Jazz concert will feature a mix of standard tunes and contemporary charts. Highlights include the Theme from “I Love Lucy,” Consuelo Velazquez’s “Besame Mucho,” and “Dulce Amor.”
While this may be a new venue for the modern day Marine Band, the relationship with Glen Echo Park dates back more than 100 years. In 1891, Washington, D.C. was one year past its centennial and the city was bustling. Streetcars ran throughout the district, the population had grown by more than 100,000 people in just 10 years, and John Philip Sousa was making headlines as director of the world famous Marine Band.
The streetcars not only connected neighborhoods, but helped spur growth beyond the district’s limits. For many, the transportation offered a quick ride for those looking to escape the noise and dirt of the burgeoning city. The National Chautauqua Assembly intended to capitalize on this demand when it established a new park in Glen Echo, Md., just outside of northwest Washington. The assembly was dedicated to the sciences, arts, languages, and literature. The goal of the founders, real estate developers Edwin and Edward Baltzley, was to offer resort-style amenities to attract potential buyers for their newly planned suburban community in the immediate neighborhood.
As the summer approached, excitement started to spread throughout the area, and the assembly was poised to offer courses, lectures, Bible studies, and concerts. On May 12, 1891, the Washington Post added to the hype and reported that the assembly had received a letter from Sousa promising a Marine Band performance for the grand opening, stating: “I shall give you one of the finest programmes we have ever rendered.” The newspaper went on to predict that every one of the 6,000 seats would be filled that day.
Sousa delivered on that promise. The amphitheater dedication took place June 16, 1891, and according to the Evening Star, “The program for the afternoon and evening contains some splendid music. It is as follows: Four p.m.— Grand concert. The Washington Marine Band, assisted by Alice Raymond, cornetist, and selections on the chorus organ by Prof. Harry Brown, organist of the Brooklyn Tabernacle.”
The program included Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin, Sousa’s “The Ben-Hur Chariot Race,” Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Coronation March, and Gioachino Rossini’s “Inflammatus” from Stabat Mater.
Despite its well-publicized opening and a successful summer season, the Chautauqua Assembly quickly fell on hard times. By spring 1892 the investors were plagued with debt. Their misfortune was compounded by a rumor that spread throughout the district that Glen Echo was infested with malaria, which led to the closing of the park.
In the early 1900s, the site changed ownership and became Glen Echo Amusement Park. Attractions included a Ferris wheel, the Crystal swimming pool, the Coaster Dips roller coaster, and a Dentzel Carousel.
According to the National Park Service, “During Glen Echo Amusement Park’s glory days as an amusement park, the Dentzel Carousel was the jewel of the park. … Dentzel Carousels are known for their realistic, graceful animals and elaborate carvings. The Glen Echo carousel is called a ‘menagerie carousel’ because it is made up of many different animals. The 40 horses, 4 rabbits, 4 ostriches, giraffe, deer, lion, and tiger stand in three concentric rings.”
The amusement park remained popular until the 1940s, but ultimately closed in 1968. In 1971, the federal government obtained the land and the National Park Service managed the park. Today it is managed by Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture, Inc., on behalf of Montgomery County, Md., and remains dedicated to arts and cultural programs.
Many relics from Glen Echo’s heyday still remain for visitors to enjoy while taking part in these programs. These include the Art Deco buildings, Dentzel Carousel, and Spanish Ballroom. A few ruins can be found of the amphitheater opened by Sousa, but free summer concerts are now held in the Bumper Car Pavilion, which was built in 1923.
Washington, DC -- The Marine Latin Jazz concert is free and no tickets are required. Dancing is welcome! The carousel and Pralines café will be open during the concert. For directions and parking information, visit www.glenechopark.org.
Marine Latin Jazz Program