The Village of Greenhills is pleased to report that on Wednesday, January 11, 2017, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced the designation of the Greenhills Historic District as a National Historic Landmark!
National Historic Landmarks (NHLs) are nationally significant historic places designated by the Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. Working with citizens throughout the nation, the National Historic Landmarks Program draws upon the expertise of National Park Service (NPS) staff who guide the nomination process for new Landmarks and provide assistance to existing Landmarks.
Greenhills was one of 24 new designations, “which depict different threads of the American story that have been told through activism, architecture, music, and religious observance,” said Secretary Jewell. “Their designation ensures future generations have the ability to learn from the past as we preserve and protect the historic value of these properties and the more than 2,500 other landmarks nationwide.”
Obtaining the NHL designation was a multi-year process, going back to its inclusion as a goal in the Village’s 2009 Comprehensive Plan. The process to designate the existing National Register-listed Greenhills Historic District as an NHL picked up momentum in September 2012, when three senior officials from NPS visited the community to assess how well the physical integrity of the original Greenhills plan reflects the trend of Greenbelt towns built during the New Deal era.
After receiving the go-ahead from NPS and the Village, Glendale-based preservation consultant Beth Sullebarger began work on the nomination in earnest in collaboration with retired NPS architectural historian Linda McClelland. The nomination was submitted for NPS staff review in November 2015. At their meeting in May 2016 in Washington, DC, the Landmarks Committee of the NPS Advisory Board unanimously recommended the nomination for NHL designation. Final review by the Advisory Board in November 2016 then sent the nomination to the Secretary of Interior for signature.
The Village of Greenhills represents significant aspects of New Deal policy, an important period in the evolution of the American suburb, and pioneering innovations in house and neighborhood design. An adaptation of American garden-city planning to the climate, topography, and cultural preferences of the Midwestern United States, the Village of Greenhills was one of the three New Deal greenbelt towns built by the Resettlement Administration's Division of Suburban Resettlement. It is nationally significant for its association with the Federal response to the Great Depression by providing economic relief in the form of employment for skilled and unskilled labor and making use of modern principles of design and lower-cost methods and materials of home construction in an effort to stimulate the building industry and raise the quality of life for working-class Americans.
The design of Greenhills resulted from the collaboration of town planners Justin R. Hartzog and William A. Strong and principal architects Roland A. Wank and F. Frank Cordner. Working with a team of more than 150 persons, the four designers interpreted garden-city principles and American planning traditions, modified by environmental conditions and target population preferences, to create a community with an innovative site plan that safely accommodated the automobile while conserving natural features, and that incorporated abundant parks, a surrounding greenbelt, pedestrian pathways, underground wiring, and high-quality housing that was modern yet economical in layout and materials. The plan for Greenhills also reduced costs by minimizing the size and length of water and sewer mains and the extent of paved surfaces.
Layouts of the townhomes are also noteworthy, using a reverse-front floor plan, with utility spaces—kitchens, coal storage and laundry—facing the street and the living spaces facing gardens in the rear. This design feature, combined with the elimination of a wide setback from the street, resulted in reduced construction costs and gave each house a larger yard with gardens which could be viewed from the living room. There was also a concerted effort in the original siting of the housing to work with the topography to allow maximum light and air and to break the monotony of the housing through a variety of setbacks, angles and porches to give each unit a sense of privacy.
In 1989, the oldest portion of Greenhills was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). That National Register District included all the areas built and owned by the federal government between 1935 and 1938 on superblocks “A” through “F”. The boundaries for the NHL district are larger than the NRHP district, including all areas built between 1935 and 1950, adding single-family houses built for World War II veterans on Damon Road, Gambier Circle and the south side of Ingram. The year 1950 is significant because that was the year the federal government divested itself of the property.
Greenhills property owners are eligible to be considered for federal grants for historic preservation and/or tax credits for rehabilitating historic commercial or rental residential buildings. The ability to maintain the designation over time could be enhanced by the establishment of a local historic district that would involve design guidelines for alterations and new construction for properties within the boundaries.