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Greendale Named National Historic Landmark

A child peddles his tricycle on a sidewalk at the end of a cul de sac in his Greendale neighborhood, 1939
WHI 32013

Hundreds of buildings in the historic village of Greendale, Wisconsin, have officially been designated part of the Greendale Historic District National Historic Landmark by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. There are fewer than 2,500 National Historic Landmarks across the country, and all possess exceptional value and quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.

Greendale's Unique History

Greendale, along with Greenbelt, Maryland, and Greenhills, Ohio, is one of three government-sponsored "greenbelt" communities built during the Great Depression in response to the desperate unemployment and urgent need for housing reform for the urban working class. Out of 100 major industrial cities considered for an experimental greenbelt town, Milwaukee was chosen for its varied and stable manufacturing sector, inexpensive peripheral land, and progressive political climate. Preliminary plans were finished in March 1936, and the first model house opened in February 1937. Greendale was built under the Resettlement Administration, the Farm Security Administration, and with the assistance of labor funded by the Works Progress Administration.

The original plan for the community employed several innovative planning concepts. Residential areas were laid out within irregular "superblocks" with housing clustered along narrow residential lanes. Parks and common greenspace flowed through and along the edges of each superblock. Paved walkways separated pedestrian from vehicular traffic. Houses were "turned around" so that the kitchen and utility room were on the street side and the living room was on the rear, or garden, side of the house. The federal government screened housing applicants according to very subjective criteria and rented to families of moderate income ($1,000 to $2,000 per year). Greendale was incorporated as a village in November 1938, and in 1953 the undeveloped land, municipal and commercial buildings were purchased by the private Milwaukee Community Development Corporation.

Greendale Nationally Recognized

The Greendale Historic District was listed in the Wisconsin State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places in 2005. In 2011 Society staff conducted additional research and co-authored the 123-page report that led to the current National Historic Landmark designation. Daina Penkiunas, who presented the nomination to the Landmark Review Committee in Washington, DC, said: "At Greendale we see the development of the modern American suburb. It holds a unique and important place in the history of American urban planning."

The Greendale Historic District is just one of 41 other Wisconsin properties and sites that hold the distinctive National Historic Landmark status. The Society has many resources for learning more about this unique and historic Wisconsin place. For more on the history of Greendale, see our Wisconsin Historical Images gallery page and Arnold R. Alanen's and Joseph A. Eden's classic book, 'Main Street Ready-Made: The New Deal Community of Greendale, Wisconsin.' To learn more about the state and national register programs and National Historic Landmarks in Wisconsin, visit

:: Posted November 12, 2012

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