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Friday
Apr252014

Improvements in Episcopal Church Wayfinding and Welcome

This is a drive-by post — literally! Brief background: Washington, D.C.'s oldest church, St. Paul's–Rock Creek Parish (founded 1712) sits in the middle of a huge, historic cemetery. The church is not easy to find within the cemetery, and the cemetery's main gates are hard to find in the streets of the adjacent neighborhood. To make matters more confusing, most people encounter the cemetery as they zoom past on a high-speed stretch of North Capitol Street, where there is a tantalizing view of the cemetery grounds, and a gate, but no place to stop, and no safe way to cross from the neighborhood just to the east. 

Google Map of Rock Creek Cemetery

Zooming down North Capitol Street. Orange arrow indicates location of gate.

For many years, this gate had two signs: a small, standard, and somewhat battered "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" sign, and, right next to it, a big ol' padlock and a sign saying, "Private Property, No Trespassing"! It was necessary to keep that gate locked almost all the time, because the isolation of the cemetery grounds and the great value of the monumental bronzes within meant that security became a major issue in recent years. The parish just did not have the resources to keep that gate open and secure – nor, as things stand, is the North Capitol Street gate ever going to be a pedestrian entrance to the grounds. Still, the optics were terrible — all the more so, because before it was integrated in the 1970s, Rock Creek Parish had a reputation for turning its back on its African-American neighbors. The church is now integrated, majority-African-American, and very welcoming, but the very public but unused gate remained a quandary.

I was, therefore, THRILLED to note as I drove down North Capitol towards Catholic University yesterday that there is a fantastic new sign at that gate. The no-trespassing sign is still there, but you no longer notice it, because right next to it, placed and sized for the convenience of commuters by car, is a gorgeous new sign.

New sign at the North Capitol Street gate, April 2014

It says:

ST. PAUL'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH

AND ROCK CREEK CEMETERY

This Entrance

Open Only on Sundays

<— MAIN ENTRANCE

Well done, St. Paul's-Rock Creek! It's clear, it's welcoming, it identifies the church (and its affiliation) and the historic site most people are seeking (the cemetery), and it has offers simple, practical help finding the actual entrance. It's a huge improvement — about as good a solution as one could imagine, given the traffic and security situation.

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