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.
Dusman said he enjoys worshipping in Tiffany's sanctuary and believes the congregation does, too. "The style of the building helps to shape our traditional approach to worship. It helps to reinforce my personal appreciation for the liturgy. The setting is very inspiring."
Kotarba said the preservation commission wants to designate more landmarks in 2013 — both exteriors and interiors. This fall, City Council members introduced legislation that would add Union Mill in the Jones Falls Valley, the Florence Crittenton Home in Hampden and Frederick Douglass High School on Gwynns Falls Parkway.
Potential candidates for interior designation, Kotarba and Schiszik said, include the banking floor and lobby of 10 Light Street, the Peabody Library in Mount Vernon, the former Masonic Temple on Charles Street, the City Council chambers and Mayor's Ceremonial Room in City Hall, and numerous other church sanctuaries.
Kotarba and Schiszik said recent nominations have come from a wide range of people, including City Council members, community leaders, members of the preservation commission and building owners. They credit the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore with leading the effort to designate historically significant properties in the central business district.
"This is not something that one group of people can particularly schedule," Kotarba said. "It's more about relationships. It's about stewards who care about these buildings and want to preserve and protect them for the future."
New Baltimore landmarks
Twelve buildings have received landmark status or have been recommended for landmark listing in 2012. The City Council will take a final vote Dec. 3 on nine pending designations.
Buildings added this year:
Old Dunbar High School, 540 N. Caroline St., now housing a charter school.
Shelley House, 3849 Roland Ave., Baltimore's oldest documented concrete house.
Hamilton Library, 3006 Hamilton Ave., a former public library, now dormant.
Buildings awaiting approval:
Abell Building, 320-335 W. Baltimore St., now apartments with commercial space.
Appold-Faust Building, 307-309 W. Baltimore St., loft building with two cast-iron facades, converted to offices and gallery space.
Baltimore Equitable Society Building, 21 N. Eutaw St., home of the Alewife tavern.
Equitable Building, 10-12 N. Calvert St., considered Baltimore's first "skyscraper."
Old Town National Bank Building, 221 N. Gay St., converted to a Holiday Inn Express hotel.
St. Alphonsus Hall, 125 W. Saratoga St., now the Saratoga Lofts apartments.
Terminal Warehouse Building, 320 Guilford Ave., a storage facility proposed for conversion to residences.
Turnbull Building, 311-313 W. Baltimore St., proposed for residential use.
St. Mark's Lutheran Church interior, 1900 St. Paul St., designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun