FDR Inspecting Plans for Greenbelt in 1937
Old Greenbelt is made up of two sections, the first planned and built by the Resettlement Administration (1935-38) and the second by the Federal Works Agency (1941-42). The WPA provided much of the labor.
“Greenbelt is one of three greenbelt towns envisioned by Rexford Guy Tugwell, friend and advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and created under the Resettlement Administration in 1935 under authority of the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act. (Greendale, Wisconsin, near Milwaukee, and Greenhills, Ohio, near Cincinnati, are the other two towns. A fourth town, to be located in New Jersey, was never built.)
Greenbelt was an experiment in both the physical and social planning that preceded its construction…
The architecture was streamlined in the Art Deco style popular at that timewith curving lines, glass brick inserts in the facades of apartment buildings, and buttresses along the front wall of the elementary school. These buttresses create vertical lines framing a set of bas reliefs by WPA sculptor Lenore Thomas. (These features make the original buildings of the city some of the finest examples of Art Deco to be found in the Washington area. Indeed, the Greenbelt Community Center is considered one of the ten best Art Deco style structures within the United States.) A sculpture by Thomas, a mother and child statue, graces the town center.
Greenbelt was also a social experiment. Designed to provide low-income housing, it drew 5,700 applicants for the original 885 residences. The first families were chosen not only to meet income criteria , but also to demonstrate willingness to participate in community organizations. (In 1941 another 1,000 homes were added to provide housing for families coming to Washington in connection with defense programs of World War II.)”
The “Microfilmed Index to WPA Projects” in the National Archives describes WPA work in Greenbelt in further detail: “General improvements to Greenbelt, including constructing fire stops and trails: installing water lines and fountains at picnic areas; building sidewalks and steps; altering firehouse; rebuilding manholes; resetting riprap; improving drainage ditches; erecting fences around playgrounds; planting shrubs; painting sewage plant, underpasses, and highway markers; grading and surfacing parking spaces; installing vales at rear of houses for sprinkling purposes; installing drains from experimental houses.”