Speedway Land an ideal playground for rich and poor of the District


Speedway Land an ideal playground for rich and poor of the District


This newspaper article describes the recreational activities which were free or low-cost in the area today known as East and West Potomac Park. In the 1920s, the part of Independence Avenue which stretches into West Potomac Park was called the Speedway. There was a beach, tennis courts, a golf course, baseball diamonds, a picnic area, and even garden plots rented by the year. However, while most of these activities were free, at least some of them was segregated by race.


The Washington Post.





The average Washingtonian, when his doctor orders a rest cure or exercise, immediately jumps to the conclusion that this means an Expensive trip to seaside or mountain resort. The proverbial "two weeks of rest" have come to be almost an inalienable right of Americans who must toil for their daily bread. Yet, for the great mass of the citizens of the District who are deprived by financial or business reasons from indulging in even a two weeks' vacation from the National Capital, Uncle Sam has provided all the requisites for both rest cure and health building in his Speedway playground for rich and poor. 

Little by little the people are beginning the realize the great treasure in the way of health building, rest, and recreation centered in the great stretch of playground below the mall. If it were fully realized the facilities there would be taxed from morning until night with eager citizens intent on play and pleasure. 

President Enjoys Foursome.

The possibilities there have not been lost on President Harding. Early one morning he appeared at the field house of the public golf links, walked up the custodian in a most democratic manner, paid his quarter free, and enjoyed a foursome with accompanying friends over the nine-hole public golf course. 

The President is said to have expressed admiration for the carefully kept course and certainly the view from the links is one of the most beautiful in the world. 

One of the custodians of the course laughingly said the other day, that the links should be named "The Congressional Course" because legislators, following the example of the executive, come in great numbers to play early in the morning before committee meetings and hearings, and before the gavels drop in the houses of Congress and the flags rise on the flagstaff announcing a new legislative day.

From long stretches of marsh land unattractive, uninviting and filled with mosquitoes, the patient labors of the office of public buildings and grounds, under several chiefs, have achieved the wonderful transformation in the territory immediately adjacent to the Speedway.

Open to Rich and Poor.

The inspiration of the transformation may be said to be due, in part at least, to a former first lady of the land, Mrs. William Howard Taft. Mrs. Taft saw the possibilities of the Speedway tract as a municipal playground, as it were, and a common recreation center for rich and poor. When she comes to Washington next fall, after an absence of nine years, the progress on the project should not fail to surprise and delight her. 

Speedway land - Washington's great outdoors free amusement park - provides with a lavish hand the three requisites of rest-curing and health-building - that is, space and air, water, and recreational facilities.

There are three modes of entrance into Speedway land: on foot, in itself one of the best of exercises, recommended by all doctors, especially by Old Doctor Thrift whose recipe "A balance in bank maketh a happy heart" is not in the least to be sneezed at; by motor, or via a regularly running bus line - a concession for which has been granted by the office of public buildings and grounds in order to facilitate use of the area. 

The only admission fee is good behavior and a more or less respectable appearance.

Jones Faces Wrong Way.

At the foot of Seventeenth street where doughty John Paul Jones stands in marble with his back to the water for the first time in his life, Speedway Land begins. And the devotees of Isaak Walton hove into view, patently gathering philosophy, health, patience and an occasional fish from the limpid waters of the basin which is ordinarily muddy but now and then dresses up in a gorgeous green blue hue that makes the scene one for the artist. The fishermen are a contented lot and while the subjects of their devotions require no great skill to catch, yet it is a pleasant occupation for a July afternoon. By motor the popular course is past he stately Lincoln monument with the lonely figure of Lincoln by Daniel French, in the center of the work of art, majestic in its simplicity and in keeping with its great subject. A short run and the polo fields are reached.

While every one cannot play polo, largely because of the high cost of oats for the polo ponies, yet for those blessed with means of supporting these expensive playthings the fields are a joy and delight. And the game itself when played is the source of much please to the hundreds of onlookers who congregate afoot and a wheel to watch the contests. And when the polo matches are held there, thousands turn out to witness them.

Bathing Beach Popular.

Without doubt the most popular feature of Speedway Land is the bathing beach on the southeast side of the Tidal basin. From early morning the bathers march in a never ending line to the beach. While the water is not salt, there is every other feature of the seashore there - sand piles, "hot dogs," pretty girls, life guards, fake drownings, splashing, merriment - nor price of admission and - joy of joys - reduced rates for lockers and suit privileges. The high sign of the bathing beach is the bathing trunks worn over the shoulders - a convenient way to carry them and the modern substitute to the three-finger invitation "to go swimming."

The new "ladies only" beach has proven productive of spare coins for the small boy. For the wanderers outside this female paradise need a means of communication with their best girls and the little boys are good mercuries. The other day a "peacherine" of a bather in the sacred precincts was accosted by a small boy of not more than 4 or 5 summers.

"Hello," he greeted her. "Say, there's a feller over there wants to take a swim with you."

"Tell him not today, thanks" replied "Miss Peach."

The small boy runs back with his message and his thrill voice rings out "Now gimmie my penny. I done told her."

Tennis Courses Excellent

Nearby are the tennis courts, 28 of them in all, counting the ones on the Monument grounds, beautifully leveled and cared for. No country clubs can boast better ones. The favorite courts are those situated near the bathing beach, where, after a fiercely contested game, a swim is most restful and the cold shower which follows it, heaven sent.

Tennis nets, backstops and other apparatus are provided for all tennis courts, which were maintained in excellent condition and properly marked. Some idea of the use made of these courts can be seen when the official figures for the spring and summer season last year show that they were used by 84,143 individual tennis players. Permits to play are easily obtained from the office of public buildings and grounds, and assignments of regular time will be made upon application/

The demand on the courts is unusually heavy after government office ours, when the clerks find time for "45, love" and tennis rackets are quite the fashion in many government departments in place of the war knitting bags which are still in use as conveyors of bathing suits to and from the beach.

Baseball Open to All.

Twelve baseball diamonds in the Monument grounds division of Speedway land, and elsewhere on the area, are kept in constant service. Basebags, pitchers plates, and home plates are provided for these by a thoughtful Uncle Sam, who does not forget that he was once a boy himself and is still an enthusiastic baseball fan. In a single month, 132 teams applied for the right to play. It looks like hot work, but there has no been a day hot enough in Washington to stop the playing of baseball. It has been estimated that as many as 200,000 spectators witness these games in the course of a season.

Incidentally, there is a way to conquer the high rent demon during the summer months. Ask Uncle Sam for a permit to pitch a tent down in Speedway land. It can be obtained, at least, temporarily, where the old barracks buildings were during the war. Get a permit and learn outdoors life and laugh in the very teeth of the wolf when he comes around to the back door of your tent asking for a bit of bread.

You will find other health seekers following the gentle art of doing nothing in shady sports and quiet nooks here and there through Speedway land. So the slow warm days pass under the trees with you basing dreamily across the basin or down the river where the big ships come and go to Norfolk. Now and then the President's trim yacht passes by. The Mayflower loaded with a party of the President's friends, Mrs. Harding's friends, trying to escape Washington's finest in the way of hot days. That gives an endless topic of conversation as you watch the beautiful boat gliding through the water. 

Discuss Health Cures.

The neighbors who share the nook with you idly converse. Around the corner from another group composed of elderly gentlemen, off for a day's rest in the big park, are discussing health and health cures. A sentence comes to you from one of them: "an my doctor said, "You'd better be glad you're alive at your age.' "

And at this zero hour of contentment and almost no thought a miracle occurs. A dancing fairy of light and color, a humming bird has alighted in the buds of a nearby rhododendron bush. With a laugh a baby boy dashes forward. He has seen the other mystery of life - the bird, and wants it. "See, see" his high pitched voice screams out. For an instant the bird hesitates then lights boldly on his shoulders for an infinite breath of a second - then sweeps away across the basin. The boy laughs in glee, clapping his hands after the bird.

How can one be dull and stodgy and full of regrets and ill when such sights are for the asking in Speedway land. The only thing is to go down there with your eyes wide open - not half closed as most of us go through life.

Art comes to Speedway land for the rhododendron bushes are being transferred to canvas daily. One artist (?) had a lovely time the day the writer was there. Under a spreading white hat of the Gibson period she say making her water colors. She put in all her pale greens first, then added the sky and basin in baby blue. The effect was striking if not strictly according to Landseer.

Picnic Grounds Are Free.

Kind Uncle Sam has provided picnic grounds in Speedway land for families. He asks that they keep it neat and clean, a request that is not always complied with. The picnickers give a little daily excitement to the park policemen and keep them from getting overweight. They know to the 't' the best way to lose a child.

The other day a sniveling little boy came up to one of the policemen. "It's our littler sister that's lost" he whispered. Then as visions of the latest motion pictures he had seen overcame him he wailed "O, suppose somebody's kidnapped her."

"There's a nice little boy back here that somebody found," suggested the policeman hopefully.

John stared back: "But we want a girl," he insisted. A little later the happy united family was seen leaving Speedway land. Sister's eyes still big with the adventure of wandering away from the rest and her rescue by a hero, aged 8, whose smutty, freckled face, bore small traces of the heroic quality.

Garden Plots $5 Each.

Uncle Same takes into account as well the fact that gardening for some people is one of the best sports in the world. So he has allotted land in speedwayville where disciples of agriculture may secure plots of land 100 by 40 feet in area upon payment of a $5 fee which insures the plowing of the land preparatory to the planting. On these plots one may raise whatever his or her fancy dictates. The gardens in most instances are beautifully kept, trim rows of flowers ornamenting the vegetable rows in some cases. Others, however, have run to weeds because of the neglect of owners who soon tired of their "gardening fad." In the last report it was shown that 300 individual gardens were maintained that year with 400 people working them and that the total cash vale of crops per garden, $84. Old. H. C. L. got one of his best knockout blows from Speedway land gardens. One of the most attractive stretches of gardens this year is that tract maintained by the junior Red Cross near the golf links. The children of the order come regularly and work hard at fighting giant weed and grass and the results of their crusade are most commendable. 

Plans are on food to increase the nine-hole golf course to eighteen holes next spring. As it is now it is regarded as one of the best golf courses in the city. It covers an area of about 80 acres. Fourty-four hazards have been put in condition and sown with grass seed. Two splendid field houses, one for men and the other for women are features of the course. They are as well kept and attractive in appearance as in any private club in the country. Equipped with lockers and shower baths, the only fee charged is 25 cents which gives the use of a locker, shower bath, soap and towel. Urged by these advantages it is noticeable that golf is more and more growing in public favor. To experts some of the attempts of novices may appear humorous but at least the players are getting good exercise and in the words of the old refrain "It is nobody's business by their own."

Willow Tea House Open.

Haines point is another stop in Speedway land, where a lovely view and best of all ice cream cones may be obtained from Willow Tea House, the quaint hostelry run by the Washington Girl Scouts. The khaki figures add a touch of picturesque to the scene. President and Mrs. Harding frequently stop for a glass of their favorite ginger ale there win their afternoon rides. To the Girl Scouts these visits represent the acme of desire and within the organization there is growing up a group of scouts whose proud claim is that they waited on the President and his wife, who is the honorary President of the Girl Scouts of America.

Even the thrills of watching spectacular aerial stunts is furnished in Speedway land by the aviators of the navy in their Anacostia station just across the way from Haines point. 

You sip your ginger ale under one of the willow trees of the tea house and suddenly across the river a buzz grows in insistence and a hydroplane rushes out, dances for a while on the surface of the water, then with a swoop and flash of linen wings it mounts higher and higher into the air. You gaze after it down the river until it becomes a mere speck - then turn homeward well satisfied with this crowning touch to the day's rest, health building and amusement in Speedway land.

Original Format

newspaper article


This newspaper article describes the recreational activities which were free or low-cost in the area today known as East and West Potomac Park. In the 1920s, the part of Independence Avenue which stretches into West Potomac Park was called the Speedway. There was a beach, tennis courts, a golf course, baseball diamonds, a picnic area, and even garden plots rented by the year. However, while most of these activities were free, at least some of them was segregated by race.






The Washington Post.