A Brief History of St. Mark’s

St. Mark’s was founded in 1867 at the Sewall-Belmont House, on the corner of 2nd Street & Constitution Avenue, as a mission of Christ Church+Capitol Hill. A market house, then schoolhouse, made way for the first version: a frame building that stood on the site from 1871 until it was razed to make way for the nave, completed in 1894.

st-marks-episcopal-church-capitol-hill-washington-dcDesigned by T. Buckler Ghequier, a Baltimore architect, the building is in a Late Victorian Neo-Gothic style that reflects the Neo-Romanesque style popular at that time. It is filled with stained glass created by two of the finest designers of this craft: Mayer of Munich and J&R Lamb of New York. The baptistery is dominated by the large Tiffany window, the only Tiffany in Washington, DC, still in its original location.

From 1896 to 1902, St. Mark’s served as the Pro-Cathedral (temporary) for the newly formed Diocese of Washington during construction of the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. A bronze plaque on the tower corner marks the building as ‘historic’, serving, too, as a reminder of the government’s failed 1971 effort to confiscate the property to build an addition to the Library of Congress.

In 1926 the parish house was constructed, providing additional space for parish activities. From 1958 until the renovations in 2014, the parish hall’s most notable feature was a mural painted by parishioner Ralph DeBurgos, depicting life on Capitol Hill in the 1950s. A photograph of the mural is now a feature of the second floor landing.

Over the years, various renovations and restorations of the building took place as need and funds allowed. The renovation that changed the parish most significantly followed the 1965-66 restoration of the nave, which led to the removal of the pews, which were replaced with movable chairs that made possible services “in the round” far earlier than seen in other houses of worship. The original chairs have since been replaced with the current style, but worship in the round remains an integral part of our communal life and the movable chairs allow the nave to be the center of all our activity: from worship to dances, concerts, plays, and recitals.

In 1973 then-Rector Jim Adams returned from his sabbatical with the idea of expanding the social opportunities for the parish and instituted the Winged Lion Pub, after the British practice of retiring to the local pub after Sunday service. Originally in the unexcavated basement, it moved into a corner of the parish hall in 1990 until the 2014 renovations, when it opened in its own space.

In the 1980s, the late Josephine Turner gave St. Mark’s a brownstone at 118 3rd Street, SE, which served as classrooms and offices until it was sold in 2012 to jump-start the next renovation. Baxter House, named after the 9th Rector, who turned the community toward who we are today, was adequate for our space needs, but by 1989 the parish was growing significantly so we undertook the construction of an undercroft (under the “croft” or church) to provide permanent classrooms and a large meeting room. The courtyard had served as a playground for a Head-Start program until the 1989 renovations, when a committee of volunteers developed the beautiful garden now enjoyed by parishioners and neighbors.

From July 2013-September 2014, our parish house underwent another massive renovation and restoration. A new basement was dug, expanding the existing undercroft and providing three additional meeting rooms, a choir room, and a lounge. The renovated parish hall has a state-of-the-art kitchen and storage rooms covered by sliding panels featuring a photo of the weeping cherry trees in the courtyard, which were given to us by President Lyndon B Johnson (1963-69) and Lady Bird Johnson, who were frequent attendees both before and during his presidency.

Archives and Parish History Committee

Mary Cooper and her late husband, Bert, began compiling the history of our historic building, its beautiful windows, and the key events in our life as a parish when they first arrived in the 1960s. Bert’s book, last updated in 2010, chronicles St. Mark’s from its founding as a mission church serving government workers in the neighborhood, through its period as the pro-cathedral prior to the building of the Washington National Cathedral and on to the development of the church we are today. After Bert’s death—and with the first space truly dedicated to preserving historic documents—a small committee, including Mary, began the enormous task of sorting and cataloging these documents. Contact Kenn Allen or Mary Cooper with any questions you might have. Download a PDF of the Coopers’ fantastic research.