Government officials broke ground on the Greenbelt project in 1935, just a year after the Century of Progress International Exposition, or Chicago World's Fair, (1933-1934) ended. Though Greenbelt is more often associated with the New York World's Fair of 1939, there's no doubt that the 1933 fair, which commemorated Chicago's centennial, influenced the Greenbelt project. The fair's emphasis on progress, science, and technology all displayed in striking, colorful, modern buildings caught the world's attention - Greenbelt's planners and architects surely among them. In the days before television, world's fairs and expositions were an important way that information and innovation were shared and experienced. They could also be economic engines, important during the Depression. According to the Chicago Historical Society's online encyclopedia of the city, this fair was so successful that FDR asked that it be reopened for another season in 1934. One of the elements of the fair that was most striking was the colorful architecture of the pavilions, temporary buildings constructed by large companies like Chrysler, Sears Roebuck and Western Union and foreign countries such as Italy, China,and Sweden.
The language used to describe the architecture in one of the short promotional films about the fair was particularly poetic. "Seen from the deck of a launch or across the rippling waters, this group makes an unforgettable impression. Visual music with chords of rainbow hues, the dream of the artist come true, the hope of design made real." Watch the film here, courtesy of Periscope Films. In so many ways, that last phrase - the hope of design made real - could apply to Greenbelt. The fair provided more concrete (no pun intended!) influences on Greenbelt, as well, in particular a section called the Century of Progress Homes. This area was comprised of ten experimental houses which featured new building materials. Stay tuned for more - we'll cover that in a future #museumfromhome!
Extra credit: Read the entire entry from the Encyclopedia of Chicago to to learn more about the fair, its organizers, and how African Americans lobbied for more equal treatment on the grounds.