Tiffany-designed church interior a Baltimore landmark candidate

St. Mark's Lutheran features mosaics, lamps, stained glass

  • This is a view of stained glass windows behind the organ at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, whose interior is under consideration for historic landmark status.
This is a view of stained glass windows behind the organ at St.… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
November 26, 2012|By Edward Gunts, The Baltimore Sun

More than a few East Coast buildings contain a Tiffany stained-glass window or two. But one structure in Baltimore can boast much more — a complete interior created by the famed designer, Louis Comfort Tiffany.

St. Mark's Lutheran Church on St. Paul Street is considered such an exceptional example of Tiffany's work that it has been recommended for designation as a Baltimore landmark. Only one other city building — the Senator Theatre — has an interior that was singled out for landmark status.

"St. Mark's is one of only a few intact Tiffany-designed interiors left in the world," said Lauren Schiszik, preservation planner and landmarks coordinator with Baltimore's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation. "It's a glorious example of Tiffany's vision, and it's all there."

The designation would give the church a layer of protection by requiring that any changes proposed for the sanctuary be reviewed and approved by the preservation commission. The City Council is scheduled to take a final vote on the designation Dec. 3.

For the Rev. Dale Dusman, pastor of St. Mark's since 1985, the designation would be "a dream come true." He said church members have sought landmark protection for more than 40 years, and the exterior was listed several years ago. But it's the Tiffany-designed interior, he said, that really sets the building apart.

"This is a great tribute to the church and the people who have maintained it over the years," Dusman said. "We are unique. We are the only totally Tiffany interior in Baltimore."

St. Mark's is one of nine Baltimore buildings that are candidates to receive final City Council approval in December to become landmarks. Two others have been added to the list this year, and another was given a temporary designation.

The new and pending landmarks include the city's oldest documented concrete house, its first "skyscraper," a hotel and two schools. They would bring to more than 160 the number of individual landmarks designated since the commission was established in the 1960s.

Kathleen Kotarba, executive director of the preservation commission, said the push to designate more landmarks reflects a desire on the part of panel members and others to help save significant buildings by giving them additional attention and protection.

While many different types of buildings have been recommended for landmark listing, Kotarba said, the common thread is the desire to pass on the city's historical and cultural heritage to future generations.

"Every one of these is about legacy," she said. "It's for the children. It's for the future. That thought runs through every landmark."

The church sanctuary is benefiting from a relatively new initiative by the preservation commission to designate interior spaces separately from exteriors, making Baltimore one of a growing list of cities nationwide to do so. New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission has designated the most interiors — 115, including the Rainbow Room in Manhattan this fall.

For most of its history, Kotarba said, Baltimore's preservation panel had legal authority to designate only building exteriors as landmarks. This meant owners were free to remodel interiors without any public scrutiny or review. In 2009, the landmarks program was expanded to include a separate category for public interiors.

According to Schiszik, whose job includes researching landmarks and preparing reports to support designation, the preservation commission recommended landmark status for the St. Mark's interior largely because of its condition and its association with Tiffany. He was one of America's most famous interior designers and artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, best known for his stained-glass windows.

According to Schiszik and Kotarba, Tiffany's work was in great demand toward the end of the 1800s, and he established a separate ecclesiastical department to design religious buildings and objects.

Among the features of the St. Mark's interior that are attributed to Tiffany, they said, are its ornately decorated walls, mosaics, lamps and most of the stained-glass windows, including ones titled "The Good Shepherd" and "The Resurrection."

The church, in the 1900 block of St. Paul St., was built starting in 1897 and opened in 1898. It is the second home of the Lutheran congregation, which was established in 1860 on Eutaw Street.

Dusman said St. Mark's was able to bring Tiffany to Baltimore because its congregation included worshippers who were "well-traveled," knowledgeable about architecture and wanted a building that was unlike other Lutheran churches. They commissioned Joseph Evans Sperry to design the exterior in a Romanesque Revival style and Tiffany to design the sanctuary in a Byzantine style.

"I've been in some very beautiful Lutheran churches, but this style is very different. … It's very exuberant," he said.

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