For the past 14 months, the municipality formerly known as Riverdale has officially been the town of Riverdale Park. But there's no sign of it.
On East West Highway, a sign directs drivers to turn left to the shops at "Riverdale Town Center." At city hall, the sign says "Riverdale: Police Headquarters, Municipal Administration, Offices, Public Works Department." A sign on nearby Queensbury Road says "Permit Parking by Authority of Riverdale Mayor and Council."
A few blocks west, there's the commuter parking lot sign for the "Riverdale Rail Station" and, nearby, another identifying "Riverdale Town Center."
You could be excused for thinking you were now in Riverdale.
But not by the powers that be in the municipality of 5,400 residents.
"We have noticed many instances of misidentification of Riverdale Park as 'Riverdale,' " wrote an irate council member, Christina A. Davis, in an e-mail to The Washington Post, which has been guilty of the transgression.
Real estate agents' concerns over slow sales and stagnant prices fueled the change in Riverdale Park.
"They put this whole idea in motion," said Mayor Ann M. Ferguson, who supported it. One in particular, who has moved to another state, "told me after I took office that 'whenever I show a property and I tell people I have this lovely house on a tree-lined street in Riverdale Park, it sells. I say Riverdale, they wrinkle their nose.' "
The change movement arose from image problems. Seems the U.S. Postal Service included the area east of Kenilworth Avenue, outside the municipal limits, in its Riverdale address and Zip code. So whenever a high-profile crime occurred in this unincorporated area of 24,000 residents, guess who got the rap?
The name change was approved by townspeople last year as a way to boost the town's image and, possibly, real estate values. But real estate values have risen only slightly. The image make-over is a work in progress in the town, which lies south of College Park between Route 1 and Kenilworth Avenue, with a small chunk stretching east of Kenilworth.
"It was my idea to change the name," said Davis, 34, a third-generation resident. "I think it better reflects who we are."
The name, Riverdale Park, does, as Davis notes, have roots in the town's past. The town's developer was Riverdale Park Co. It borrowed the name Riverdale from the Riversdale mansion, which still sits smack in the middle of the modest burg. And it took the name of the company and named the 1890s subdivision Riverdale park--though it soon became popularly known as Riverdale.
Eventually, residents and the developer parted ways, so when the town incorporated in 1920, it decided on the short form. And so Riverdale stayed Riverdale--until last year.
After heated debate, the name change was made by the City Council. It was then challenged by some longtime residents but eventually ratified, 418 to 252, by referendum Aug. 8, 1998.
The image problem also has arisen in neighboring Hyattsville, which the post office defines as a wide swath far beyond the town boundaries. But a movement there to change the name to Hyatt Park hasn't gotten off the municipal ground.
Davis said the real estate slump of the early to mid-1990s brought "the issue of image to the forefront. The easiest way to end the confusion seemed to be to revert to using the original [subdivision] name," Davis wrote. Then she introduced the enabling legislation and the rest, as they say, is history.
At the S&J Bar/Restaurant, Riverdale rules.
"This is real Riverdale," said diner Al Burek, 61, who moved four years ago to College Park from, as he would say, Riverdale. To say otherwise, "It's an attempt at gentrification. . . . It's these people trying to yuppify the whole thing. It started with the antique store. Now there's a place that sells $3 coffee."
Added S&J owner Julie Dement, 34: "Little Potomac it isn't and never is going to be. It is what it is, and there's nothing wrong with that."
Guy Tiberio is a City Council member and resident since 1950 who opposed the change but accepts it now as "a fait accompli," though he rarely utters the phrase Riverdale Park. "Probably 80 percent still say Riverdale. You know, it's just a habit," he said. "To all of a sudden say Riverdale Park, it just doesn't come out."
Said the mayor: "No magic dust required that one minute after midnight Sept. 8 [1998, when the change went into effect] we have to use the new name on everything." The street signs will be replaced when they deteriorate, she said.
"The only thing, we saw to it that a new town seal was purchased for sealing documents. That was $170. We're probably pushing $1,000 to $1,200 on conversion.
Two new "Riverdale Park" signs, donated by Cellular One and a developer, will be erected in the spring. Two new seals are to be installed in town hall next summer. Police and public works vehicles will get the new town seal as they are replaced.
Promised increases in property sales prices and decreases in insurance premiums--both touted by the pro-change forces--have yet to materialize, however.
"As far as real estate, I still don't think we're having houses sell quicker because of the name change," said Audrey Bragg, a 29-year resident and real estate agent who turned a used book shop near the train tracks into the Riverdale Bookshop and Coffee Depot, where you can spend a few bucks on a book or a cup of joe.
"I think it's going to have an impact," she said. "I just think it takes time. We just need to educate people."
Or, as Ferguson, the mayor, put it: "This isn't something on a fast express train. It's probably a slower freight, and we have our share of those."
CAPTION: Signs in the municipality still refer to Riverdale, not Riverdale Park, despite a vote by residents to change the name of the burg more than a year ago.