Lighting makes a huge difference for any landmark or tourist attraction. For Laurel Hill, new lighting is a huge step for Philly’s beloved historic cemetery to feel even more relevant.
Just like the iconic view of the Boathouse Row lights from I-76 at night, travelers will be able to see even more of Laurel Hill Cemetery after the sun goes down. The Victorian cemetery recently debuted Phase 1 of a new lighting design throughout the grounds to help illuminate the landscape and the monuments within.
“Our goal is to both engage with the community and become part of these other structures,” says Laurel Hill Cemetery Company President Nancy Goldenberg. “Everything else along that part of Kelly Drive is beautifully lit, and our sign didn’t even have lighting. This is a new step toward putting us on the map and in people’s minds.”
More than 31,000 cars and 650 bikers, rowers and walkers pass by the cemetery every day. Before installing the new lighting, the cemetery would almost disappear after the sun went down. The cemetery embraces its Victorian roots by presenting the cemetery as a park or gathering place for the living instead of just a final resting place for their “residents.” Casting more light on the cemetery increases this visibility for a historic Philly destination.
“In a way, we very much consider Laurel Hill to be part of the city’s green infrastructure,” says Goldenberg. “We are surrounded by Fairmount Park. We are paying homage to our 70,000 residents and history in general. The lighting helps to signify that we are building and doing new things, and that Laurel Hill is a place of value today.”
The new lights provide even more possibilities in terms of events and celebrations held at the cemetery, including nighttime tours. The cemetery currently hosts outdoor movie screenings and other performances during the summer months in addition to their popular Halloween programming.
The recently completed first phase of the project lights up 11 monuments and other landmarks in the cemetery. Grants and other contributions from the William Penn Foundation, McLean Contributionship, and Laurel Hill Cemetery Company funded the $600,000 project that took more than 18 months to complete. Lighting designer The Lighting Practice, known for lighting other spaces around Philly including The Rail Park and Avenue of the Arts, took careful measures to ensure that the new lighting would make the monuments and surrounding headstones glow instead of adding harsh lighting. The lights will turn off at 1 a.m. each night in order to preserve natural light cycles for wildlife and minimize disturbance to trees and plants. Though Boathouse Row is known for regularly changing colors, viewers will see less lighting variations for Laurel Hill.
“It is still a cemetery so we want to be respectful,” says Goldenberg. “The lights will be white most of the time, unless the Eagles win the Super Bowl again or something like that.”