Catherine Boulet
Philadelphia Historic Preservation Corporation
Inspired January-February 1989

A Creative Solution:

Inside St. Paul's Church Mart, products are displayed in their natural setting.

There's no mystery to the success of St. Paul's Church Mart in Cincinnati, Ohio. The only mystery is why no one else thought of creating a shopping mall for church products in an abandoned church building before the I.T. Verdin Company did in 1981.

Today in restored St. Paul's Church, liturgical designers and architects, pastors and priests, and laity such as building committee members, can see church products exhibited in their natural setting--a church. Such an idea is not new to residential and commercial design centers, but this is the first time a design center for church products has been placed in a church building. The Church Mart has become only one component of the larger Pendleton Design Center, a broad residential and commercial design source.

The preservation and subsequent adaptive reuse of St. Paul's occurred be cause the building was recognized as a significant part of the fabric of Cincinnati's historic architecture. The church and several surrounding buildings were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the same year that St. Paul's Church closed. Seven years later, that listing made a difference in its restoration and reuse: because the property was listed on the Register, the developer was able to take advantage of rehabilitation tax-credits for the project.

The city of Cincinnati also played an important role in the building's rehabilitation. When 1. T. Merdin Company President Jim Verdin indicated his interest in developing the property, the city purchased the church from the owner and sold it to Verdin for $10 In addition, the city created parking space adjacent to the building and created grassy knoll in front of the church.

The church complex certainly looks different today than when it was first  constructed but then again, St. Paul's Church has experienced many to repair and restore the exterior and interior of the structure to their previous glory and to find a way to adaptively reprise the interior as a showroom space for Verdin's bell and carillons, together with other companies' products. Cincinnati architect Ken Jones was responsible for the work on the building, which included restoration of terrazzo flooring, interior marble and plaster decorations; repairs to windows; restoration of the altar; and gold painting of the cross and dome.

Jones also came up with an interesting design solution for exhibiting materials. He placed a free-standing, grid-like frame within the nave, from which exhibit lights and materials are hung (see photo on page 8). Platforms and movable walls for the exhibits allow for individual design and free circulation. Since nearly no original fabric of the church has been removed or altered, theoretically the building could be restored to its original use as a church at some point in the future.

Along with Verdin's own company, Church Mart exhibitors include Baldwin Piano and Organ Company and firms selling items from towers, stained glass windows and pews, to altar brasses, sound systems and choir robes and vestments.

The Church Mart is open to both religious and lay representatives from individual churches which are planning either new construction or restoration work. Design decisions, says Mart Director Marta Tovkach, may be made by one individual from the church or an entire committee. However, she continues, input from professional interior designers has become more important when churches want to achieve a coordinated effect. Unlike the Pendleton Design Center, which basically serves the regional area, the Church Mart has clients from all over the country. Averaging about 50 visitors each month, said Tovkach, St. Paul's attracts many more people for special events. Seminars are held periodically to offer church representatives an opportunity to meet with craftsmen, salesmen and designers.

After the Church Mart opened, other St. Paul's buildings were purchased to house different center functions. St. Paul's Boys School is now the Pendleton Design Center building and contains showrooms. More showrooms will be in the Girls School, located adjacent to the church, and the 1802 Pendleton House which was moved to its present location in 1848 to become the church rectory. All these buildings were listed along with the church on the National Register.

The effect of the renovation on the surrounding neighborhood is yet unclear, although some offices and small businesses have moved into the area. The surrounding residential areas are still impoverished, and the Archdiocese maintains a presence in the neighborhood- -sisters in a convent near the Mart offer social services to the poor.

The St. Paul's solution  to finding an appropriate use for an empty church building is unique in the Country. Such a venture could not easily be copied in another city without the guaranteed support of an anchor company arid developer like I.T. Verdin and the cooperation of municipal government. Yet, with patience and creative minds, a solution was found in Cincinnati-- as it can also be found for religious buildings in other cities across the country.