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Making History on DC’s Historic 16th Street

With its rich history and proximity to the important buildings and monuments of the United States capital, the history of DC’s 16th Street and its role in the city’s religious history can be easily overlooked. Join Nan as he explores why there are dozens of worship buildings on 16th Street, just minutes away from the White House. And see how the transformation of one of the worship buildings into an Iglesia Ni Cristo worship building continues to give hope and guidance to individuals living in that area.


BLUEPRINT – Washington, DC

Nan Zapanta: National monuments, government buildings, and museumsthere’s a lot to see and hear in Washington, D.C.. But today, we’re going to go in a completely different direction and introduce you to a side of the nation’s capital that many people may not even realize exists.

Carolyn Raskin: There’s so much more to D.C. than just downtown, and 16th Street is a really important artery for the city. So, it’s a critical Avenue and it runs straight into the White House. You walk down 16th, you walk right into the White House.

[Show open]

Nan: I’m Nan Zapanta. As an industrial designer, I spent years admiring the great designs of products, vehicles, and architecture from all over the world. But, I found architecture to be the most captivating. I love learning about each building and discovering the characteristics that make it unique and understanding the purpose behind its design. Most of all, I love hearing the stories behind each structure, seeing God’s plan, and putting it all together. 

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Voice announcement: This elevator is taking you up 500 feet to the observation level. The monument is actually 555 feet, 5 and ⅛ inches tall.

Nan: So, another really cool thing about being here in the Washington Monument, we’re approximately 500 feet above ground, and what you can see from here is the White House, like I mentioned before. But an interesting thing, in addition to the White House, is there’s a road that goes beyond the back of the White House and you see that’s 16th Street. And that’s a very interesting street, because there are rows and rows of places of worship there, and that’s actually one of the highlights that we want to feature on this episode and check out. So, we’ll get a closer look later in this episode, and just kind of learn more about the history of that street itself and its significance here in the nation’s capital.

Nan: The streets of Washington, D.C. famously follow the L’Enfant Plan named after Pierre L’Enfant.The plan laid out most of the streets in a grid, with lettered streets traveling east to west, while numbered streets like 16th travel north to south. And while 16th street isn’t the most famous street in D.C., its central location made it home to prominent architecture, recent protests, and to dozens of historic worship buildings, including a house of worship of the Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church Of Christ) located at 4115 16th Street NW, Washington, D.C..

But before we head out to 4115 16th Street, I wanted to learn more about the history of the street and how it even came to be. I met Carolyn Raskin, an architect and founder of D.C. design tours in Washington, D.C..

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Carolyn Raskin

Founder of DC Design Tours in Washington, DC

Carolyn Raskin: There’s so much more to DC than just downtown and 16th Street is a really important artery for the city. So, D.C. is shaped like a diamond, and 16th Street cuts the diamond in half. So, the top of the point to the bottom of the point, that’s 16th. So, it’s a critical Avenue, and it runs straight into the White House. You walk down 16th, you walk right into the White House, 

Nan: And I noticed that from … we were at the top of the monument. Such a clear…

Carolyn: It’s a great view.

Nan: Yeah, yeah.

Carolyn: So, originally, the city actually ended, what we now know as Florida Avenue, that was known as Boundary Road. That was the northern boundary of the city, and that’s to the south of us. So, everything north of that, that’s about 10 blocks from here, has all been developed post 1890. That’s kind of when things kick up here as the city starts to expand. The woman behind that expansion, her name is Mary Foote Henderson. She’s kind of an amazing character. Her husband drafted the 13th amendment that ended slavery in the United States, but she herself was a powerhouse of a woman.

[Photo source:]

[Photo source: The Washington Herald Archives]

[Photo source:]

[Photo source: Streets of Washington DC]

Nan: Mary was also a prospective real estate developer and had a vision of turning 16th Street into the very center of Federal society. So, after buying hundreds of lots, she started selling them to mansions, embassies, and of course, churches.

Carolyn: Yeah, so 16th, and sometimes people call it the highway to heaven, it’s only six and a half miles long. It has over 45 places of worship. That’s like seven churches a mile I think. But especially after World War I, and even more so after World War II, we have this huge population boom in Washington. It really starts even before that after the Civil War. So, the more people we have, the more the city expands, and these people need places to worship. So, that’s how the churches start to come about.

Nan: So, how does 16th Street accurately reflect just the community of Washington, D.C. and all the cultures that are here?

Carolyn: Well, this area, even with the music behind [us], it paints a good picture. We’re right on the corner of a neighborhood called Mount Pleasant, which is the center of our Latin American community. D.C. has the largest population of El Salvadorians outside of El Salvador, just as an example. So, there’s a lot of Spanish speaking churches in this area. And then as you go a little further north, you get into, like I said, sort of a Jewish section, there’s Hindu temples, Buddhist. Tao. Pretty much any religion you could look for. This is the old Mormon temple behind us, and now this is a Unification Church.

Nan: Have you seen the house of worship of the Church Of Christ there, further down 16th Street?

Carolyn: I know where it is, and I’ve looked at some photos since we started discussing it. It’s a beautiful building. 

Nan: Awesome. Yeah, I was just going to ask if you were aware of any of its history or anything that you might have known from your studies. 

Carolyn: So, it’s a little further north than we go on our walking tours, but it ties into, you know, that larger picture of church communities being built along the avenue. 

Nan: Right, and just expanding. 

Nan: It’s so nice to meet you. Thank you for meeting me.

Nan: Arlene Fernandez, a longtime Realtor in the DMV, or the District of Columbia/Maryland/Virginia area, was also the one who found the listing for the worship building. 

Nan: Can you tell us a little bit about the real estate market here in Washington D.C., especially on 16th Street for places of worship? How is it here?

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Arlene Fernandez


Arlene Fernandez: There’s not a lot of properties that are chapels or churches that go on sale on 16th Street as a matter of fact. So, it’s very, very seldom that a church or chapel is for sale on 16th Street.

Nan: Okay, so it’s rare. 

Arlene: Very rare.

Nan: If there’s an opportunity, that’s something that people need to jump on.

Arlene: Absolutely. If your church wants to be [on] the map or the national recognition,16th Street is the place to be.

Nan: Previously owned by Sts Constantine and Helen Greek Church, the architecture features domes reflecting its Byzantine heritage, as well as columns reminiscent of its Greek past. The original building featured a portico with three sets of double doors, framed with rounded arches and columns, as well as a window featuring glass art above it.

Arlene: This property was listed in 2008 but had expired in 2009. So, I called the agents and found out that the previous owners are building another chapel in Maryland, or moving to Maryland, and they are still interested in selling. So, immediately, I had asked for a viewing. And a year later exactly, September 10, 2012, we closed on the property and it’s ours.

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Nan: To transform the exterior, the Greek Orthodox artwork above the door as well as crosses were removed to reflect the Iglesia Ni Cristo’s worship practices. Then, the doors were replaced with heavy brown doors. The building was then repainted to give it a brighter, cleaner look. The two domes were also repainted to match the gold trim of the arches above each door. The window above the portico was also closed up so that the INC (Iglesia Ni Cristo) seal and nameplate could be added.

Geoffrey Nolasco: Good Morning. Nice to meet you.

Nan: Nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.

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Geoffrey Nolasco

Works in Washington, D.C.

Geoffrey: I’ve known about the new chapel, because I’ve worked in D.C. ever since I can remember working.  And every time I pass by 16th street, I would actually see this place when this was an Orthodox Church.

Nan: Geoffrey Nolasco has lived and worked in the D.C. area for decades.

Geoffrey: You know, you can see the structure of the building is different. So, it leaves a mark where, you know, you would remember it as a landmark basically. So it just added to the excitement when I heard about the news.

Nan: The story of the Church Of Christ in Washington, D.C., is like many of the stories we’ve featured on the show. 

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DMV – Washington Metropolitan Area (DC,Maryland, Virginia)

Nan: At the time, the small group of individuals, working and living in the DMV, worshiped primarily in Temple Hills, where there was already a house of worship. 

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Temple Hills, Maryland – Located 4 miles outside of Washington, D.C.

Nan: But as more and more people started to live and work closer to the nation’s capital, the need for another place of worship also grew. In 1997, the Church Of Christ purchased a building on Morton Street, the very first Church Of Christ house of worship in Washington, D.C..

Geoffrey: I still remember like it’s yesterday. Even though it’s smaller, it’s a place that we can call our own.

Nan: Right, right.

Nan: But as the story often goes, the congregation continued to grow. And once again the need for a bigger place presented itself.

Geoffrey: I definitely remember that day. So, before we found out about the place, I mean, we had been praying nightly especially with the head deacons. 

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Geoffrey Nolasco

Pioneering INC member in Washington, D.C.

Geoffrey: And then when we heard the news that this is the place that’s being recommended to be purchased, we were very happy. Tears actually overcame my happiness.

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Geoffrey Nolasco

Pioneer INC member in Washington, D.C.

Nan: Once the renovation process was underway, individuals like Geoffrey eagerly offered to help while the contractors completed the heavy work of the renovation.

Geoffrey: We gave them all the space that they needed. We don’t want to be a burden to the contractors during the renovation. However, after they’ve completed the work that they have to do, and in preparation [for] the dedication, that’s where it’s more of an all hands on deck. Everyone was chipping in, like the day of the dedication.

Nan: I’m excited to see the inside, if we can go ahead and go on inside?

Geoffrey:  Sure, let’s go.

Nan: How much of this was preserved and how much was changed due to the renovations here in the main sanctuary?

Geoffrey: When we first walked in here when we purchased the place, before renovation, you can actually see a lot of the Orthodox relics. They have a lot of images that they worship. Back then, the gold wall that we have now here, that used to be just one straight wall.

[On-screen architectural modeling]

Nan: One of the biggest challenges, in the renovation of the worship building, was the need to move the gold wall to make room for the choir loft. The goal was to preserve the wall while still transforming the space to reflect the INC’s worship practices.

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Geoffrey Nolasco

Head Deacon – Washington, D.C.

Geoffrey: I mean, I’m not an architect, but this is probably the biggest work that they had to do, and you can see them actually lifting it. They brought in hydraulic lifters out here, multiple ones. And you can see them actually had it lifted up. And it was quite amazing to actually see it done.

Nan: And that’s just a solid piece of concrete.

Geoffrey: And to be able to see the final outcome of that work is really amazing.

Nan: The rest of the interior transformation included replacing the stained glass with clear glass, to match the worship practices of the INC. This change also allowed for more light to come into the sanctuary. 

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Nan: Speaking of lighting, while the sanctuary already had chandeliers inside, new light fixtures, as well as canned lights, were added later to further brighten up the space. The interior dome was also painted multiple times, finally settling with a gold color to match the details of the back wall.

Nan: What does it mean to you, I guess when you think about the journey, right, of the congregation here in Washington, D.C. and then now to be in this beautiful house of worship? What does it make you feel?

Geoffrey: I mean first, we’re really blessed, or I am really blessed, to be able to be part of that 175 brethren that came from Temple Hills and then became Washington, D.C. again. 

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Geoffrey Nolasco

Head Deacon – Washington, D.C.

Geoffrey: To be able to endure all the, you know, all the hardships that we had to go through, in terms of the multiple hotels that we had to go through, you know, brethren having problems with their cars being vandalized. Being blessed now with this big house of worship, I’m always in awe and I’m always thankful to be able to receive this blessing.

Nan: Located in the middle of the Northeastern seaboard, Washington, D.C. is home to young professionals like Chester and his wife Erica. 

Nan: Nice to finally meet you. I keep hearing about you. What got you into architecture, like what was it? Do you remember? Like as a kid, you were like, “I want to be an architect,” or how did that happen? 

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Chester Fernando

Aspiring Architect


Chester Fernando: Well, my dad is an architect. He’s an architect in the Philippines, and he practiced architecture here as well as a designer. So, technically, he can’t call himself an architect here since he doesn’t have a license to practice here. 

Nan: Oh, got it.

Chester: Similar to me. I can’t call myself technically an architect yet. I’m a designer. I can call myself that. But I’m in the practice of architecture.

Nan: Awesome. Yes, it’s similar to engineering, right? You can graduate with your engineering degree, but you have to get your PE to be a practicing engineer, right?

Chester: Correct. Same thing with architecture. You have to be a registered architect to practice architecture.

Nan: Well, you’re on your way, right?

Chester: Correct. Yeah. Six exams, passed one so far. 

Nan: Nice. One of six. You’re on your way. So, when you first saw this, what were some design cues that stuck out to you?

Chester: Starting from the front of the building exterior, we have three arches and that motif carries on to the windows and all the way to the back. And even then to our, we adapted to it with our ‘tribuna’ (pulpit) right there. You can see the arches mimicking the ceiling right here.

Nan: Do you remember, before becoming an architect, was there something about the house of worship that stuck out to you and you were like, “Oh, this is cool.” Just purely, you know, aesthetically, or because it was different from the INC houses of worship in the Philippines, without having that trained eye I guess.

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Chester Fernando

Designer, Aspiring Architect

Cheseter: The trained eye. I really liked the dome area. So, the towers outside really anchors this building. It’s different from pretty much around the area, which are predominantly made of stone and you can see the steeples are pretty high. But this one, you have the gold accents.

Nan: Right, right. And yeah, the dome really sticks out, especially in comparison to the houses of worship that are along 16th Street, and I know there’s tons here on 16th. So that’s really cool.

Chester: Which is unusual actually, right?

Nan: Right, right. 

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Chester Fernando

Designer, Aspiring Architect

Chester: Usually the church is a landmark, usually the one that anchors you around the community. It’s slightly different, I mean 16th Street is a little bit different right? It’s too many churches.

Nan: But the design of the structure isn’t the only reason this building sticks out.

Chester: So, first of all, our activities are the ones that stand out a lot. I think people noticed that from the previous owners of the building to now, they’ve seen a lot of changes. It kind of tells the story, actually, in a way. 

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Care For Humanity Event

Chester: It’s a lot more active, a lot more people coming in, a lot more brethren coming in. They see there’s a big change and, you know, there’s a lot more going on in the chapel. There’s pretty much activities, every day, going on right? And you see these other churches, pretty much nothing is going on.

Nan: The Church Of Christ has been impacting the city for a long time, long before it relocated to 16th Street. 

Nan: So when you first saw it, the first time you visited, when you heard about it, what were your thoughts when you saw the building?

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Vincent Thomas

Grew up in the Washington, D.C. area

Vincent Thomas:  It was huge! Wow! This is a big congregation.

Nan: Vincent Thomas has always lived in Washington, D.C.. introduced to the Church Of Christ in the 1980s, along with his wife, he has seen the Church Of Christ grow in the region, specifically in the Washington, D.C. area. 

Nan: Yeah, and I guess along with that, because when you think about when you were on Morton Street, at that time when you all were worshiping in a smaller house of worship, could you have ever imagined that you’d have a house of worship like this one?

Vincent: No. Never imagined, never imagined. 

Nan: Never, huh?

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Vincent Thomas

Joined the Church Of Christ in 1990

Vincent: Never imagined. It was a big blessing for everyone, and when we heard the news that we had already purchased this, and we [were] eager to get into it, inside.

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December 15, 2012

Worship Service led by Brother Eduardo V. Manalo

Executive Minister of the Iglesia Ni Cristo, Church of Christ

Nan: The worship building was dedicated in 2012 in a worship service led by the Executive Minister, Brother Eduardo V. Manalo, a moment Vincent was able to personally witness. 

Vincent: We dedicated the Church right to God first. Yeah, and it was awesome. It was awesome. Yeah.

Nan: These days, you’re likely to find Vincent taking care of the surroundings of the worship building on 16th Avenue. 

Nan: Can you just share with us, what’s the importance of this house of worship, you know, to your life and even to the community?

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Vincent Thomas

Deacon – Washington, D.C.

Vincent: The importance is praising our Almighty God. That’s the importance. I mean, this is all dedicated to him. We pray for the people around this community to have the ability to come into, inside, the Church to even have experienced the blessings that we receive.

Nan: And that’s like, that’s what you want the most.

Vincent: That’s what we want the most, yeah, the congregation.

Nan: Like most of the world, Washington, D.C. found itself eerily quiet during the early days of the pandemic. 

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DC closes nonessential businesses, joining growing list of states and cities tightening restrictions amid coronavirus outbreak

Nan: Can you tell us, you know, exactly about how far you live away from the house of worship?

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Jobel and Joseph Nogar

Siblings, INC members

Joseph Nogar: Two blocks away from the house of worship.

Nan: You live two blocks away. 

Joseph: So, basically about a minute walk.

Nan: So, why is it that your mom wanted to live so close to the place of worship?

Jobel Nogar: She was just telling us about how convenient it was for her. Especially she told us a story about a few years back. There was a blizzard and she had to walk two hours just to attend a worship service. And that was like a wake up call for her. She’s like, she’s not going to experience that again.

Nan: Wow, that must have been such a difficult experience for her. 

Jobel: Yeah, she was saying something about [how] they would take a pause and break for five minutes, because they were crying. But the moment that they saw the chapel, they were five minutes away. The moment that they saw the chapel it was just so worth it, because they were able to make it to the worship service. 

Nan: Right. Wow. So it’s clear your mom’s priority was always to never [be] hindered from attending the worship service, so that’s why she found a place that’s only two blocks away. 

Nan: It was a decision that would later make it possible for her children to play an important role during the COVID-19 shutdown. 

Nan: And what was it like here in Washington, D.C. in general?

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Jobel Nogar

Family lives 2 minutes from Worship Building

Jobel: I remember waiting for a bus, and actually taking the bus to work, and there would be just me and two or three other people in the bus. And then it would roughly take me three minutes to walk to my work building, but that three minutes felt like it was too long because it was so empty.

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Business shutdowns extended into May around the Washington region amid signs that steps are helping slow coronavirus spread

Jobel: No one else was walking aside for me. No other cars were passing by, and you could actually hear the wind blowing. It was really quiet, especially living here on 16th Street. It’s such a busy street.

Nan: So, it’s kind of like in those movies, right? When you see that the streets are abandoned.

Jobel: Exactly. It felt like an abandoned town.

Nan: Wow, that must have been a difference. But then what did it mean to you to be so close to the house of worship?

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Joseph Nogar

Helped with Technical Support for Video Streaming

Joseph: For me, actually, it really helped me, since our worship services it was conducted via WebEx. You know, don’t get me wrong. It was so spiritual, but the feeling that I was longing [for] that feeling [of] being inside the chapel for a worship service.

Jobel: We could easily just walk and conduct our family devotional prayer, although it was a pandemic.

Joseph: During the pandemic, I felt so lost honestly. But since the chapel is walking distance, you know, it really helped me strengthen my faith honestly.

Jobel: It gives you the peace of mind. It really gives you the peace of mind, because we got each other’s back. If you hear that these brethren [are] thinking about, “Oh, you’re lucky. You can go to the house of prayer.” We will just send them pictures. Like, “Here you go. There’s the chapel. It’s still there.”

Nan: Yeah, to encourage and to just uplift your brothers and sisters, letting them know “Hey, the house of worship…” 

Joseph: We’ll be back soon.

Nan: Exactly, yeah. It’s still here, and if you really want to you can go inside and pray…

Jobel: Yes.

Nan: … no matter what is happening in your life or in the world.

Jobel: It’s not just the pandemic. There’s a lot happening and going on, but just seeing the place of worship and being able to be … knowing that I’m a member of the Church Of Christ gives you that peace and rest that everything will be okay.

Nan: There’s so much to see in Washington, D.C.; the White House, the monuments, the museums, the traffic. And while you could probably visit a different attraction each time you come into the city, for me, and for most of the people you met today, there’s one place that’s always on the must see listand it’s this worship building on 16th Street. 

Nan: Well, that does it for us here in Washington, D.C.. Thank you for joining us on this episode of Blueprint where, in the end, everything is part of God’s plan.

[Show close]


Available downloads

Making History on DC’s Historic 16th Street