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 school house, made way for the first version: a frame building that stood on site from 1871 until razed to make way for the nave, completed in 1894.

st-marks-episcopal-church-capitol-hill-washington-dcThe building designed by T. Buckler Ghequier, a Baltimore architect, is Late Victorian Neo-Gothic reflecting 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 1896-1902, St. Mark’s served as the Pro-Cathedra (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 2nd-floor landing.

Over the years, various renovations and restorations of the building took place as need and funds allowed. The single renovation that changed the parish significantly followed the 1965-66 restoration of the nave which led to the removal of the pews, replacing them with movable chairs and enabling services to be “in the round” far earlier than was 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 allows 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 St., 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 towards who we are today, was adequate for our space needs. By 1989, the parish was growing significantly so undertook the construction of an undercroft (under the “croft” or church), providing 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 slide panels featuring a photo of the weeping cherry trees in the courtyard which were given to us by President Lyndon B Johnson (1963-1969) 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 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 Cooper’s fantastic research.