Surprise! The inaugural show at the Greenbelt Theatre was not the screening of a film. It was the live presentation of three one-act plays by Greenbelt's first civic theater group, the Greenbelt Players. The event took place on May 6, 1938, and it was front-page news in Greenbelt's town newspaper, The Greenbelt Cooperator (now The Greenbelt News Review).
The paper reported:
At the recent preview of the theater building, Greenbelt glimpsed the striking simplicity and impressiveness of its structure and of its lighting facilities, viewed its ultra-modern stage, and tested its comfortable seats. Now the doors swing wide, and – very appropriately – Greenbelt's citizens stage the opening show.
– Greenbelt Cooperator, May 4, 1938, p.1
The triple bill consisted of “The Bathroom Door”, “Danger”, and “Phipps.” The middle play, “Danger,” written by Richard Hughes, was a radio play with a distinguished pedigree. It was the first play ever commissioned for radio by the BBC.
When the Greenbelt Players had started rehearsing in February of 1938, the theater was not yet finished, and it was barely ready by the time they took the stage in May. Even then, the curtain had not yet arrived, and they had to borrow a curtain for the production.
The much-anticipated delivery of film projection equipment for the theater was delayed even longer, but after many weeks, the projector arrived at long last. The first film was shown at the theater on September 21, 1938. The film was Little Miss Broadway, starring Shirley Temple.
During the filming of Little Miss Broadway, the diminutive star received a distinguished visitor: First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Although Shirley Temple was the top box office star of 1938, Mrs. Roosevelt reported in her syndicated column, My Day, that she found the ten-year-old actress to be charming and unspoiled. Mrs. Roosevelt said, “She is simple and unaffected and accepts the inevitable photographers as naturally as if this was the way every little girl lived her life.”
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visits Shirley Temple on the set of Little Miss Broadway.
Photo source: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
Past Trivia Questions:
Aaron Copland, who became famous for his compositions Billy The Kid, Fanfare For The Common Man, Lincoln Portrait, Rodeo, and Appalachian Spring, among others, composed the score for the 1939 film The City. The film was commissioned by the American Institute Of Planners to be shown at the 1939 World's Fair, where it was seen by millions of visitors.
In the movie, scenes of the brand-new town of Greenbelt are used to illustrate the quality of life provided by the well-planned community. The idyllic scenes were filmed in Greenbelt during the late summer of 1938. The lake, the pedestrian walkways and underpasses, the community garden plots, playgrounds and outdoor recreation activities are all highlighted.
Many residents of the town, including children, appeared in the film. To thank the townsfolk for their participation, the producers hosted special free screenings at the Greenbelt movie theater in November 1939.
The City was Copland's first film score, and the music is an outstanding example of his distinctive American sound. The film was re-released on DVD in 2009, featuring a new recording of the complete score by the Post-Classical Ensemble, under the direction of Angel Gil-Ordonez. The score was recorded at the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Maryland.
Enjoy listening to an excerpt of the Post-Classical Ensemble's recording of Aaron Copland's music for the Greenbelt sequences in The City.
The Martha Graham Dance Company performs “Appalachian Spring” on the stage of the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on Oct. 30, 1944. Copland won the Pulitzer Prize for Music for the score.
Photo Credit: The Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge Foundation Collection, Library of Congress, Music Division.
Richard Lawrence Jones was born in Greenbelt on May 28, 1938 at 3:05 a.m. Baby Richard was born at home at 1-C Westway, arriving before the doctor could get there from Hyattsville. Consequently, the baby was delivered by a neighbor, Mr. James Lamb of 1-F Westway, who had read an emergency pamphlet about delivering babies. The Joneses and the Lambs were brand-new neighbors; both families had moved into their new houses only two weeks before!
Source: The Greenbelt Cooperator (now The Greenbelt News Review), June 1, 1938 issue.
Bonus Fact #1:
The first baby born to Greenbelt residents was Sonya Fulmer, whose birth was reported in the very first issue of The Greenbelt Cooperator. Born in Washington, Sonya was the daughter of Greenbelt's first assistant town manager, Kline Fulmer.
Starting in 1939, Greenbelt experienced a baby boom. According to the December 11, 1938 edition of The Sunday Star, some 200 babies were expected in the following months.
The Sunday Star, December 11, 1938.
During the Great Depression, heiress Evalyn Walsh McLean, owner of the Hope Diamond, leased her mansion on Massachusetts Avenue to the Federal Government to use as office space for a new agency, the Resettlement Administration. It was there that government architects drew up the blueprints for the town of Greenbelt's original homes and public buildings.
Today, the former Walsh mansion is the Indonesian Embassy. The Hope Diamond has been owned since 1958 by the Smithsonian Institution, where it is displayed at the National Museum of Natural History.
Bonus Fun Fact #1: Chris Cherry, Greenbelt Recreation's performing arts coordinator, worked at the Natural History Museum during high school, and he was once offered the chance to hold the Hope Diamond.
Bonus Fun Fact #2: He declined the offer, just in case the curse of the Hope Diamond was real!
For more about the Hope Diamond, Click Here
or visit our Virtual Field Trips Page for a National Museum of Natural History Tour
When the first families began moving into Greenbelt in the fall of 1937, the high schoolers initially were sent to Bladensburg High School. By the early spring of 1938, however, the high school students of Greenbelt were attending school on the upper floor of the town's central school and community building, now known as the Greenbelt Community Center.
Beginning in the fall of 1938, Greenbelt's high school students attended the newly finished Greenbelt High School on Edmonston Road. The students walked to school, crossing Edmonston Road via a pedestrian underpass similar to the below-grade passages under Crescent Road in the central part of town.
In the early 1950s, as the county school system responded to a burgeoning student population, the Greenbelt High School building was converted to Greenbelt Junior High, which later became Greenbelt Middle School. The historic 1938 portion of the building has been preserved and is still in use, housing the county's Dora Kennedy French Immersion School.
The last class to graduate from Greenbelt High School was the Class of 1951. The following fall, students from Greenbelt began attending the newly opened Northwestern High School in Hyattsville. Not long after, when High Point High School opened in Beltsville, the Greenbelt students attended there.
Today, Greenbelt's high schoolers attend Eleanor Roosevelt High School, named in honor of the extraordinary First Lady who advocated for Greenbelt and visited the town.
A formal dance in the school's gymnasium, decorated with streamers.
📷: Library of Congress
Members of the first graduating class.
📷 and caption: Prince George's Post
Greenbelt High School building during the years it was used as Greenbelt Junior High.
📷: Tom Scanlan