Wednesday, April 25, 2012




Another Robert Dyer @ Bethesda Row Exclusive!!!

Glen Echo Park is a ruin and shell of its former self.  Only a handful of powerful symbols remain of its past glory, such as the famous carousel.  What a shock it was yesterday to find out another such symbol has been stolen away:  the 1947 PCC Streetcar, from its place of honor at the gate to the park.

No public announcement was made regarding the trolley by either the Glen Echo board or the National Park Service.  As a fan of just about anything on rails, I am a streetcar buff.  My favorite streetcar is the DC Transit PCC.   I had actually planned to take some pictures and video of the PCC at Glen Echo in the near future for this very reason - that it might suddenly be taken away.

Imagine my horror when Justin Fidler tweeted a photo yesterday morning, showing the old PCC being spirited out of town.  Apparently, Glen Echo thought they could do this quietly, and by the time people noticed, it would be gone.  Fortunately, they were caught in the act on camera.

Now, I have to note that this is not the tragedy it would have been if the car had actually been an original DC Transit PCC.  This car was a veteran of Philadelphia's SEPTA system - which has its own rich history (score yourself bonus points if you know what a "flying coffin" is on the Main Line).

That said...  Once I received word of this legal heist of the People's Streetcar, I was immediately on the case.  Within minutes, I had dashed off an email to Glen Echo Park.  In addition to asking for an explanation of yesterday's events, I reminded them that Glen Echo - the town and the park - only exist because of the streetcar.  To remove the only prominent symbol of that legacy is outrageous.  

Strangely, even though I emailed them long before the close of business, I received no response from Glen Echo.  When I wrote the lettter, I still had some hope that the streetcar was going to be refurbished.  It had been left to rust by Glen Echo and NPS, which was shameful.

But as my investigation continued, that hope was dashed.

I knew it was a 1947 SEPTA PCC, so I started searching on the internet.  Alas, I found a bulletin board discussion from last week with bad news:  Apparently, the smart NPS ranger who arranged for Glen Echo to acquire the car is no longer at the park.  Push has come to shove, apparently, and the streetcar was determined expendable.

Yet, Glen Echo never alerted the community.  Certainly, there are enough streetcar enthusiasts in the DC area to raise funds to give the old PCC a new coat of paint.  Yet, they did not engage them.  They made no public effort to keep it there.

Here's the best (or worst) part:

The GSA - yes, that GSA - tried to sell our Glen Echo streetcar on Ebay.  Ebay!

Stay classy, GSA.  Just don't stay at any more Vegas resorts at taxpayer expense.

Apparently, the GSA drives a much harder bargain when they're selling, than when they're buying conferences and handbags.  Their asking price was $30,000.  Now, I'm a huge streetcar fan, but not an expert on them.  Even I know that $30,000 is way above the real price of a '47 PCC.  In fact, some of the more knowledgable folks on the internet say they can go for $250-$5000 these days.

In the message board discussion, one person asserted the PCC was operational when Glen Echo acquired it.  Its current operational status is unknown.  I know the rust has been increasing over time.

Anyway, the Ebay auction failed to draw a buyer.

Then we jump to yesterday's haulaway.  So what happened?

Well, it turns out the NPS decided to ignore my email yesterday, and tried to give the exclusive to, at a minimum, The Gazette.  The Gazette is now reporting that exclusive given to it by NPS,  stating that the streetcar was sold to General Machine and Tool Company of Cheverly.

This kind of thing happens sometimes, particularly with government stories.  They will shut out a blogger like me, and give a corporate media outlet (or outlets) an exclusive.  My guess is they think the coverage will be favorable, if the media outlet knows they'll get scoops in the future.  I don't know why they didn't respond; that's just a guess on my part.

But when somebody disses me, I don't get discouraged; I get energized and work harder.

And that's how I got the exclusive details and links above.  As you may have noticed, the details I uncovered are not quite as flattering to Glen Echo and NPS.  I don't think they wanted you to know they tried to peddle our streetcar on Ebay!

Furthermore, the Gazette printed the NPS assertion that it would cost $100,000 to refurbish the streetcar.  That sounds pretty exaggerated to me, considering the car's Ebay listing says the interior is 89% in good shape.  And that it basically needs a rust treatment and paint job for display purposes.  $100,000?  Please.

Even worse, the Gazette didn't fact check the NPS claim that the agency had made "failed attempts to raise money" to keep the streetcar.  I've been right here in Bethesda all along.  If I had heard the word "streetcar," believe me, I would have noticed it!  I challenge NPS to produce the local newspaper article(s) and/or advertisement(s) asking for donations to restore the trolley.  I think we'll be waiting a good, long time for NPS to produce those.  Forever, most likely.

It's pretty sad when a government agency funded by the taxpayer can't answer a highly relevant email from a taxpayer by the close of business.  It says something about their regard for the public.  And that's one of the reasons Glen Echo Park continues to be an underperforming resource, when it was - and could again be - a national treasure providing enjoyment for the masses.

What a statement, when NPS sells off a streetcar, when Glen Echo was created by and for the streetcar!  It's absolutely absurd, and the public had a right to know.  We the public owned that trolley, and we should be notified of its sale in advance.  And once again, our elected officials failed to intervene, just as they have with the wacky choice for the new Bethesda Post Office.

The sale of this streetcar is the last straw in Glen Echo's long decline, as far as I'm concerned.  This is a turning point, if we in the community can make our voices heard.

Frankly, today I want to start a serious, public conversation on the future of Glen Echo Park and the importance of the streetcar line that extended to it from Georgetown.  The fact that Glen Echo, the NPS and the GSA would just sell one of the only historic symbols at the park, is just the latest example of intentional decline there.

Glen Echo Park is a wasted resource, refashioned as a niche arts and crafts spot with appeal to a very narrow audience.  And that was an intentional devolution by the community and the powers that be.

What I've wondered for years is, why can't Glen Echo Park be restored to glory?   Not as a Six Flags, but in its original dimensions, with accurate replicas of its historic attractions.  The spectacular roller coaster.  The bumper cars.  The Crystal Pool.  The Tunnel of Love.  And so many more.

A place of the sort we don't have in Montgomery County, and frankly, anywhere in the immediate DC area.  A place where families can go, or where a young person can take a date.

And a potential revenue source, if Montgomery County were to buy the park, perhaps in a public-private partnership.  Clearly the current stewards have little interest in the park's massively-undertapped potential.

All of the drive-in theaters, miniature golf courses, and nearly all of the bowling alleys are gone.  For all the talk about making the county appealing to young people, and reducing long automobile trips, we insist on sending them elsewhere for most entertainment.

The critical piece of the restoration of Glen Echo Park would be the restoration of the Glen Echo (Cabin John) streetcar line.  Believe it or not, the right-of-way is still there from Prospect Street and Georgetown University, through the elite bastion of The Palisades, and out through the woods to Glen Echo.  Parts of the trestle remain.  And, of course, DC is launching a streetcar system.  The potential to cooperate on a Glen Echo route is there.  (Although, wouldn't it be great to run a couple of restored PCCs on the route, instead of those red toaster ovens DC is planning to use?  The PCC has something they don't: character and style.  I'm hoping the next set of USA-built cars DC is buying will have a better exterior design).

I haven't met a senior citizen yet who doesn't have fond memories of the old Glen Echo Park, and of the streetcar ride there several described as "more exciting than the rides in the park."

When you consider those memories of Glen Echo and a similar park at Chevy Chase Lake, you realize that the plans put forward by developers today suggest a future less engaging than the past.  Which should be a red flag that our planning is going in the wrong direction.

Was there some point that drive-in movies, miniature golf and amusement parks stopped being fun?  Of course not.  So why did our great-grandparents have more fun things to do in Montgomery County than we do today?  If that isn't a devolution, what is?  Not surprisingly, developers had a big part in this coming about.

But we have the power to change this.

And one small first start, is to bring a PCC streetcar back to the gates of Glen Echo.   Let's hope the GSA's streetcar profits aren't going to their next Vegas getaway.


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

I grew up in the area - As a child I used to ride the carosell and swim in the pool. Mt grandma took me to ride the streetcars back in the day and I marvelled at the streetcar outside Glen Echo park when i used to go there for the Irish Folk Festivals that used to be held there on Memorial Day ... I would have kicked in money towards a restoration of that old street car if anyone was doing such a thing, but to sell off our heritage without even asking is just COLD! I know it was a philly streetcar, but in restoration it could have been painted the DC Transit colors. Just shameful - thanks for sharing this back story

Anonymous said...

The PCC car was never once painted during the entire time it was displayed. Meanwhile the overpaid parasites at the Park Service felt the cost of eight gallons of high quality automotive paint was too much for their budget. Then the manner in which the car was disposed of stinks to high heaven.

Robert Dyer said...

I'll say! Check the NPS budget requests: they want millions to buy more land, but not for routine maintenance of the historical assets they're charged with the care of. It's ridiculous.

Bruce Fleischer said...

Hello, I read your article about the trolly at Glen Echo. I am a photography teacher and took many field trips there over the last 10 years. Seeing the trolly was the students photo highlight. I have not been to Glen Echo for several years. I enjoyed seeing the new renovations today. I took my college age daughter to Glen Echo to photograph. We saved the trolly for last. I was deeply saddened that the trolly was not there. The shoot was incomplete without the trolly. The logic does not make sense. There are areas that are in crumples at the Park but they still stand. A big mistake to take it away. I had many discussions with my photo students grades elementary through college age after they photographed the great old trolly. Thanks for your article. I agree it was not a great choice. We all lost a piece of history.
Bruce Fleischer
Feb. 10,2013

Robert Dyer said...

Thanks for reading, Bruce! That's one thing I've noticed: visitors of all ages have always loved the streetcar while it was there. I'm only one person, but I've never heard any tourist or local park visitor say the streetcar was junk, even when NPS failed to maintain the exterior. Now with their attempt to seize part of the streetcar right-of-way for a bike path, NPS continues a pattern of erasing, rather than preserving, history.

Bruce Fleischer said...

Hello All, Is there a way to petition the Parks to start over and obtain one more donation of a Trolly? Then a fund for paint and a simple roof over it for protection. Glen Echo is not the same without " our Trolly" Shalom, Bruce Fleischer

Robert Dyer said...

You could write to the Secretary of the Interior, who oversees NPS, or set up a petition on or similar petition website. The White House has a petition page, but it requires 100,000 signatures to get a formal response.

If they could build a short track spur from the gate to a storage cover or shed, they could protect it while still allowing the authentic scene of the streetcar at the gate. Then move it back under cover after hours.

Vista Bill said...