Should Annapolis be embalmed? Preservation: Church seeks to expand underground, but historic foundation is opposed.

January 26, 1998

CHURCHES ARE NOT MUSEUMS. The effort to thwart the proposed expansion of St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Annapolis is misguided. If this historic church can't accommodate its flock, the congregation may decide to relocate. Annapolis would be worse off because of it.

The current building, a fixture at Church Circle for 137 years, no longer satisfies church members' needs.

Church social events now must be held in the parish house two blocks away. That is an inconvenience, and at times an impediment, especially for the oldest and youngest members of the church, landlocked in the middle of a busy traffic circle.

The church would like to dig out its basement for meeting rooms, a kitchen, day care center and restrooms. Congregants could go downstairs for gatherings. These plans seem reasonable; no one is talking about marring the exterior of one of the capital's most graceful buildings. Yet the plan has aroused opposition.

The Historic Annapolis Foundation, whose record of protecting Annapolis' treasured buildings is exceptional, opposes the church's plans. It is concerned that the entrance to the underground addition would require a plaza that would compromise the site's appearance. It also worries that hundreds of pre-Revolutionary War graves might have to be disturbed.

But Annapolis must look forward, too. Unless this building remains useful, St. Anne's could well move to the suburbs, as have other institutions. Sure, another church could take over the building, but encouraging a game of musical chairs among congregations isn't good for the city's civic life.

No one knows for sure what lies under the church. Archaeological exploration could help answer that question. If there are graves, they could be relocated. Any entrance to the proposed basement space should be designed to meld with the building's exterior.

If we want a well-maintained building on prominent Church Circle, St. Anne's must continue as a useful structure. Annapolitans boast that their city isn't a museum piece like Colonial Williamsburg. Indeed, it lives and breathes. It won't forever, though, if reasonable requests for change are blocked by uncompromising standards of preservation.

Pub Date: 1/26/98

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