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Board recommends historic landmark status for former Catholic church in Evanston

Artist's drawing of St. Mark's Church in Evanston
Artist's drawing of St. Mark's Church in Evanston(Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board)
Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 8:04 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - The Historic Conservation Board on Monday unanimously recommended approval of historic landmark designation for the former St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Evanston.

“If not this, what is the Historic Conservation Board for? This is an amazing building, and until we are shown that there is no way it can be used, this is the ground on which I think we need to choose to fight,” HCB Chairman Tim Voss said.

The recommendation comes amid a fight to save the 105-year-old church.

St. Mark was decommissioned in 2010, meaning it is no longer a Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, according to Archdiocese Media Relations Director Jennifer Schack.

The Archdiocese is the trustee of the property, but Schack says its administration and decisions about its future are being made by a parishional entity called “the Church of the Resurrection.”

The Church of the Resurrection entered into a purchase contract with Kingsley Realty Investments in July 2021. That contract, according to Schack, acknowledges the possibility of demolition and includes an agreement of “how to go about that.”

Once under contract, Schack says a representative of the Church of the Resurrection requested that a construction company apply for the demolition permit. The permit was signed on Sept. 14 and was intended to be executed upon the completion of the property sale.

No one from the archdiocese or the Church of the Resurrection was present for Monday’s virtual public comment or vote.

Barring an appeal, the recommendation goes to the Planning Commission, which will vote to approve or disapprove of the designation. If approved, an ordinance will be drafted for a City Council vote.

The former St. Mark opened in 1916 on Montgomery Road with its basilica and 130-ft. campanile providing a visual focal point beside the Evanston business district.

It was modeled after St Marie Church in Cosmedio, Italy and designed by Henry Schlacks, a famous ecclesiastical architect and founder of the Architecture School at Notre Dame.

The designation report submitted to the HCB describes it as “a locally rare and significant example of the Italian Renaissance Revival style applied to a church building.”

In the 1950′s, more than 1,200 families worshipped at the former St. Mark regularly, according to the HCB.

But Evanston fell victim to suburban flight and highway-building. Hundreds of homes were razed as the construction of Interstate 71 cut a route through the same business district the former St. Mark once abutted.

The parish held its last service in July 2010. Since then, the former St. Mark has sat vacant.

It remains structurally sound, but according to the designation application, it is in “urgent need” of repairs.

The Evanston Community Council applied for the landmark designation on the church’s behalf.

>> Read the landmark application and public comments here.

More than 50 letters of public comment are included in the HCB report, two of which back up a purchase offer for redevelopment. A total of 717 signatures across two petitions were also submitted.

In 2020, a nonprofit group called “The Mark” was formed to purchase and renovate the church as a center for non-profit organizations such as the Evanston Food Pantry. There would also be businesses and events.

An architect with Elevar Design Group has also submitted a backup offer to purchase the property, according to a letter from the architect submitted via public comment.

The interior knave of St. Mark's Catholic Church in Evanston, complete with a barrel-vaulted,...
The interior knave of St. Mark's Catholic Church in Evanston, complete with a barrel-vaulted, coffered ceiling and arcaded aisles.(Cincinnati Historic Conservation Board)

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