A new project highlights the architecture and landscape of Laurel Hill Cemetery with nightly illumination, marking another addition in Philadelphia’s glowing skyline.
Laurel Hill Cemetery has been a Philadelphia landmark since 1836, when John Jay Smith founded it as, to use his words, a suitable, neat and orderly location for a rural cemetery. Today, the area surrounding the cemetery is far from rural. To promote community engagement and showcase its natural and architectural beauty, Laurel Hill is undergoing a three-phase project to illuminate the cemetery, enhancing nighttime visibility to passerby. With the implementation of phase one, the historic mausoleums and nearby trees along Kelly Drive and Hunting Park Avenue are stepping out of the shadows.
The Lighting Practice (TLP) designed the lighting master plan for the 78-acre National Historic Landmark cemetery and closely worked with Laurel Hill to implement phase one. Al Borden, Caitlin Bucari, John Conley, Alina Wolf, and Angela Banner developed a lighting system to illuminate the cemetery while respecting the integrity of the grounds, which serve as the final resting place for more than 75,000 people, including many prominent American figures.
TLP chose LED sources with precise options to eliminate glare and accurately light the intended structures. The 93 in-ground RGBW LEDs networked via a computerised control system will provide some colour-changing flexibility, however, the cemetery will be predominately lit in warm white light, not unlike candlelight, Al Borden explained to WHYY, “and a soft-focus to give it a respectful glow and draw attention in ways that are interesting to look at.” The fixtures will turn off every evening at a preset time to preserve normal day/night cycles for wildlife, eliminating disturbances to the natural habitat.
WHYY has also reported the conversation with Nancy Goldenberg, president and CEO of the Laurel Hill Cemetery. According to her, more than 30,000 cars zip by on Kelly Drive alongside the Schuylkill River every day, which overlooks the riverbank. Most of those drivers likely have no idea what is over the crest of the ridge above them.
But Goldenberg wanted them, however briefly, to look up because cemeteries are much more than cemeteries. “They have stories to tell, and beautiful trees. We hope that by lighting the cemetery more people will see us for the first time, even though they drive by every day.”
The Laurel Hill Cemetery just completed the first of a three-phase project to illuminate its historic grounds. Selected mausoleums and their accompanying trees perched above the intersection of Kelly Dr. and Hunting Park Ave. will be spotlighted with a gentle, warm glow after dark, from dusk to 1 a.m.
The most conspicuous mausoleum is the one holding the body of Henry Disston, the founder of the historic, 19th century saw works in Tacony. His is the largest mausoleum of the cemetery’s 78 acres. Also illuminated are the memorials for theatre entrepreneur J. Fred Zimmerman, sugar industrialist William W. Harrison, wine merchant Carl Lauber, and pioneering orthopedic surgeon Howard Steel, among others.
But the individuals are not the attraction. To which, it can be said that that passersby would notice the architecture and the landscaping, rather than the names. Goldenberg mentioned the topography, the views, the location, and the context – the trees, which can be viewed. “We are a certified arboretum. We have beautiful trees. In fact there are four state champion trees in our cemetery,” she was quoted as saying.
Since its establishment in 1836, Laurel Hill Cemetery has never been illuminated. Even its sign on the embankment at Kelly and Hunting Park has not been visible at night. After dark, the acreage had acted as a big, black hole in the middle of a procession of city lights. So, the Laurel Hill is illuminated and becomes the first cemetery to be designated as a national historic landmark, and the only one to be installed with permanent architectural lighting.
With a $6,00,000 budget, the cemetery approached Alfred Borden of The Lighting Practice to design the lighting scheme, involving 93 in-ground LED’s networked via a computerised control system. The ambiance has been created with colour warm, not unlike candlelight, and a soft focus to give it a respectful glow and draw attention in ways that are interesting to look at.
The illuminations at Laurel Hill Cemetery are soft and white, intended to evoke candlelight, but on special occasions can be changed to any colour. Trees are temporarily lit with blue light during the installation process. The largest and most prominently placed mausoleum in Laurel Hill Cemetery belongs to the family of Henry Disston, a Victorian era industrialist who developed the Tacony neighborhood of Philadelphia as a place for his workers.
TLP is proud to be part of the project to highlight this important Philadelphia landmark. The team looks forward to seeing the next two phases completed. The next phases of lighting will go up near the cemetery gatehouse on Ridge Avenue and along the northern edge of the property. A third phase will illuminate nighttime vistas across the interior. Those plans are contingent upon fundraising another millions dollars, at least, according to Goldenberg.