Board unanimously voted to protect local church designed by Xavier alums
By Katie Sanchez, Staff Writer
The Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board (CHCB) voted unanimously last Monday to designate 105-year-old St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Evanston a historical landmark, moving the church one step further from demolition.
St. Mark’s, located less than a mile from Xavier at 3500 Montgomery Rd., was decommissioned as a working church in 2010. In September, the Evanston Community Council (ECC) petitioned CHCB for historical designation to protect it from demolition efforts.
According to Cincinnati zoning code, a structure can be deemed historically significant if it is associated with important people or events in history or “embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period (or) method of construction.”
If the Cincinnati Planning Commission and City Council approve CHCB’s recommendation for historical designation, St. Mark’s will become a Local Historic Landmark, which will prohibit it from being destroyed or markedly altered.
St. Mark’s was built in 1916 to accommodate the growing Evanston suburb and designed in the locally-unique Italian Renaissance Revival style by Henry Schlacks, one of the most famous ecclesiastical architects of the time, as well as by Joseph and Bernard Steinkamp.
The Steinkamp brothers also designed some of the oldest Xavier University buildings, including Edgecliff Hall and Hinkle Hall, and were themselves graduates of the original St. Xavier University in downtown Cincinnati.
The church was a place of worship for over 1,200 families at its peak in the mid-20th century. Over time, urban sprawl pushed many church members to other suburbs, and the construction of Interstate 71 in 1972 demolished the homes of many former St. Mark’s parishioners.
This led to a decline in attendance until 2010, when the Archdiocese of Cincinnati merged St. Mark’s with three other parishes.
St. Mark’s stopped holding services after the merger and the building has stood mostly vacant for the past 11 years.
Recently, a volunteer group called “Save the Mark” has advocated for the church’s restoration and repurposing.
However, the Archbishop of Cincinnati requested a demolition permit in September that would allow the structure to be leveled.
“(‘Save the Mark’ was) in conversation with the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, so it was sort of a surprise and a serious setback to find out that someone had put in a permit to be able to knock it all down,” Shannon Hughes, Senior Assistant Director for Xavier’s Center for Faith and Justice, said.
Hughes recently moved to Evanston and has become invested in the community’s fight to save St. Mark’s.
“Churches and schools and places like that are often like anchors for communities where people come to meet each other. They don’t have to spend money, you can just be there and know your neighbors, so I think when a church becomes vacant there is a fear that you’re going to lose a community space that’s important to you,” she added.
Save the Mark and the ECC hope that the church’s architectural and community significance will save St. Mark’s and allow it to be turned into a community center.
Over 50 letters of public comment and 717 petition signatures from community members were submitted as evidence of community support for saving St. Mark’s.
Many Evanston community members and former St. Mark’s parishioners see the preservation of St. Mark’s as an important and symbolic step in restoring a formerly vibrant impacted neighborhood by suburbanization and highway-building.