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LANGSTON GOLF COURSE

The Langston Golf Course is located along the west banks of the Anacostia River, just north of the confluence with the Potomac River. It is part of Anacostia Park, Section G (US Reservation 343) and consists of an 18-hole parkland-style course, which was designed in two phases between 1935 and 1955. The course’s front 9 holes were designed in stages between 1935 and 1939 by various landscape professionals, with construction overseen by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). A “temporary” clubhouse, built concurrently with the golf course, was replaced by the current clubhouse in 1953, and the course was expanded to 18 holes in 1955. Several changes and improvements were subsequently made to the course, including the construction of the driving range (around 1980) under the management of famed African-American professional golfer Lee Elder and his wife.

 

The Langston Golf Course Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991. The nomination lists the historic district under Criterion A in the area of Ethnic (Black) Heritage. It lists the period of significance as 1939-1941, based on the dedication of the course’s original holes in 1939 and the efforts of Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to integrate DC’s golf courses and, by extension, all publicly-owned recreational facilities operated by the Department of the Interior. The terminating date of the period of significance was based on the National Register’s 50-year guideline for eligibility.

This CLI is currently underway, and evaluations of significance are in progress.

 
History

The Langston Golf Course cultural landscape was created from the swampy marshland of the reclaimed Anacostia River flats in the early twentieth century. The reclamation project sought to address not only the clogged and unhygienic condition of the river, but also to tame its erratic—and occasionally destructive—tidal flow. The publication of the McMillan Plan in 1902 further bolstered the efforts to reclaim the flats north of the Benning Road Bridge, although the use of the reclaimed land was not confirmed until the 1930s. The McMillan Plan served as a master plan for the development of the city’s recreational parkland, and it envisioned the future site of Langston Golf Course as a public
amenity—Anacostia Park—on the banks of the Anacostia River.

 

The reclamation efforts for Anacostia Park coincided with the rise in popularity of public recreation—and golf in particular—in Washington, D.C.. By the late 1920s, it was well known that the construction of the approaches to the new Memorial Bridge across the Potomac River would require the closure of the Lincoln Memorial golf course, the only course in the District of Columbia where African Americans could play. Other sites for a new course were considered and ultimately rejected for various reasons. Thus, the favored location for the new course and recommended by a planning committee was the newly-reclaimed area of Anacostia Park north of Benning Road, known as Section G. The committee considered the site to be well-suited for the course because it was near a section where a large number of African Americans lived, “namely, the area in the vicinity of Howard University, and from Florida Avenue, to the northeast corner of the District.” For these reasons, Section G was ultimately chosen for the new golf course.


In October 1935, National Capital Parks submitted the golf course project to the Works Progress Administration (WPA), and by the following month, the WPA had accepted the project. At an estimated cost of $150,000, it was the largest of six WPA projects in the District of Columbia. By June 1937, five holes had been built. In September 1937, the reclamation efforts in Section G of Anacostia Park were finally complete and 86 acres of land were transferred to the National Park Service. By February 1938, the “36-acre tract of waste land” for the golf course was nearing completion by WPA and CCC workers. By the time the course opened in 1939, it included nine parkland-style holes, all placed on the west side of Kingman Lake.

 

While the Langston Golf Course was an improvement over the sand green course on the Lincoln Memorial grounds, it still suffered from poor conditions, even shortly after its construction. The conditions of the course led many of the course regulars, in particular members of the Royal Golf Club and Wake Robin Golf Club, to play elsewhere and to challenge the segregation of the public golf courses in the District of Columbia. In January 1944, with pressure mounting from African American golfers and a proposed highway project that would affect the course, the National Park Service asked Langston’s concessionaire to study the possibility of expanding the course to eighteen holes. The expansion of the course was formally announced in January 1952.

 

William F. Gordon and David W. Gordon designed the additional nine holes, which were completed in 1955. The new holes were arranged on Kingman Island, supplementing the existing holes that remained intact west of the lake. A new clubhouse was also constructed in 1950-1952 as part of the course expansion, replacing the original temporary clubhouse and located adjacent to the miniature golf course and putting green that were constructed in 1948.

 

Several projects threatened the existence of the Langston Golf Course in the latter decades of the twentieth century, including a new stadium constructed south of the course (now Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium) and a proposed inner-loop highway that would have passed directly through the course. The golf course survived both threats, but by the 1970s, the course had once again fallen into poor condition and faced numerous management issues as several successive concessionaires found it difficult to operate the course on a profit. Ultimately, the National Park Service shuttered Langston for a year, ceasing operations from 1975 to 1976.

The beleaguered Langston course caught the attention of PGA golfer Lee Elder, who was the first black golfer to play in the prestigious Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Club in 1975. While Elder and Leoffler negotiated a settlement for the management of Langston, the National Park Service reopened the front nine of Langston’s course in September of 1976 and the back nine in April 1977. Elder finally received the contract as concessionaire of the Langston Golf Course in 1978.

 

By that point, he had already invested $10,000 into the project and estimated that it would take around $250,000 over a four-year period to fully improve the course. Elder immediately set upon upgrading the course and by the spring of 1979, numerous improvements had already been made. During this period, a driving range was added in 1980 to Kingman Island, which required the rearrangement of several holes
in the back nine.

Despite the popularity of Elder’s course upgrades, the National Park Service closed Langston Golf Course in December 1981, citing apparent financial losses and the cancellation of Elder’s insurance coverage for the course. The closure “came admit widespread reports that the golf course was again losing money, was in poor condition and was suffering a sharp drop in patronage.” The Langston Golf Course remained closed until 1983, when Golf Course Specialists Inc. took over the concessions contract. In 1991, the Langston Golf Course Historic District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, an effort led by the Committee to Save Langston to stymie plans for another stadium expansion in the area. Between 1999 and 2000, Golf Course Specialists oversaw the renovation of the back nine, including the addition of mounded bunkers at the perimeter of the driving range and around several holes, designed by local golf course architects Ault, Clark, and Associates.

 
Historic Maps and Images
 
Analysis and Evaluation

Today, Langston Golf Course is an eighteen-hole parkland-style golf course. Its front nine is generally consistent with the original construction of the course, while the back nine has undergone several remodeling efforts, the most recent being the 1999-2000 alterations to the course. The eighteen-hole course is supplemented with a driving range, a putting green, and four practice greens, all of which are located north of Benning Road and arranged around Kingman Lake.

Contributing landscape characteristics identified for the Langston Golf Course cultural landscape are: spatial organization, land use, topography, vegetation, circulation, buildings and structures, and views and vistas.

Spatial Organization: The spatial organization of the original nine-hole course arranged all nine holes on the west bank of Kingman Lake, with a counterclockwise progression of play that began and ended at the clubhouse in the southwest corner of the site. When the course was expanded to eighteen holes in the 1950s, the new holes were distributed around the east and north sides of the lake, maintaining the general counterclockwise routing of the course. The addition of the driving range in 1980 altered the design of some holes in the back nine, but their overall arrangement remained consistent with the period of significance. The site retains the integrity of its historic spatial organization.


Land Use: The land that hosts Langston Golf Course was not a complete permanent landscape until the early 20th century, when most of the site was reclaimed from the Anacostia River flats and immediately constructed as a golf course. Prior, the western section of the site, near the intersection of 26th Street and Benning Road NE was used as a public dump. Thus, the Langston Golf Course cultural landscape has been used exclusively for public recreation as a golf course since its original reclamation and construction, and its use has not changed since the period of significance. Land use at Langston Golf Course retains a high degree of integrity.


The Langston Golf Course cultural landscape was created from the Anacostia River flats in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and its topography was further manipulated to create the parkland-style course in the 1930s. As a reclaimed landscape on the river’s edge, the topography of the site is generally flat, with two hills in the northwest corner of the site. The topography of the back nine was altered with the addition of large mounded bunkers between 1999 and 2000, after the period of significance. The cultural landscape retains partial integrity of topography.


Vegetation: When Langston Golf Course was established in the 1930s, the construction of the course included planting of turf and several hundred trees (from varieties native to the area) along the fairways. This vegetation was planted to create a parkland-style course and to separate the greens and tees from adjacent holes. The historic vegetation pattern also included stands of trees around the perimeter of
Kingman Lake, which remained generally intact even as the course was expanded to eighteen holes in the 1950s. By the end of the period of significance, the vegetation was generally consistent with the growth pattern of the course today. Mature trees are located along several fairways, and clusters of flowering trees and shrubs are concentrated around the clubhouse. Langston Golf Course’s vegetation retains integrity from its period of significance.


Circulation: Historic circulation at Langston Golf Course consists of the routing of the golf holes, vehicular roads, parking areas, and driveways, pedestrian circulation around the clubhouse, and social trails throughout the course. The routing of the golf holes remained consistent, even as the designs of individual holes in the back nine were altered over the course of the twentieth century. The roads, parking areas, and driveways have remained generally consistent since the original construction and expansion of the course; the social trails have changed continuously both during and since the period of significance. The cultural landscape retains partial integrity with respect to its circulation features.


Buildings and Structures: The cultural landscape retains integrity of buildings and structures from the period of significance, although alterations to the back nine have detracted somewhat from the original design of Holes 10-18. Despite these changes, the overall course retains its significance as a structure, exhibiting the character-defining aspects of integrity from its original construction. Other significant buildings and
structures include the clubhouse and the putting green, which date to the period of significance and have undergone few exterior changes since their initial construction. They retain their integrity and contribute to the cultural landscape’s overall integrity of buildings and structures.


Views and Vistas: Based on the topography, spatial organization, and vegetation patterns of the site, significant vistas from the original nine holes included general views along the fairways toward the greens. The course also features general views toward Kingman Lake and from the back nine toward the Anacostia River. These views remained consistent throughout the period of significance, although the maturation of trees throughout the course limited the sightlines from some areas of the course. The views and vistas of the cultural landscape retain integrity.


Small Scale Features: Langston Golf Course’s small-scale features have little to no integrity. Drawings from the period of significance illustrated few small-scale features, emphasizing only the location of several water fountains throughout the course; these water fountains are no longer present on the course. Langston’s extant small-scale features were installed at the site after the period of significance and are non-contributing. These non-historic features include wayfinding signage and an interpretive plaque on the entrance gate, fencing, benches and picnic tables, water fountain stations, and a blind-hole bell at Hole 10. The small-scale features of Langston Golf Course therefore do not retain integrity or
contribute to the significance of the cultural landscape.

 
Current Photographs
Final Report
 

The final report is available on the National Park Service website here.

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