MHT File Photo
St. Leo's Church
221, Exeter St., S., Baltimore, Baltimore City
Saint Leo’s Church is located at the southeast corner of Exeter and Stiles Streets in the Little Italy section of East Baltimore. It is built of brick with stone trim, and has an asphalt shingle roof. Stylistically, the church combines Italianate, Romanesque, and Classical elements. Built in 1880-1881, the gable-front church is three bays wide and five bays deep. Its features include a high entrance porch, a turret with conical roof on the north wall, a square bell tower at the northeast corner, a large rose window in the main façade, and a variety of decorative brickwork. On the main (western) elevation, a large two-story extension protrudes from the center of the façade. At the ground level of this extension there are three segmental arches---the center one containing a door and the other two blind. Above these three segmental arches are three round arches that open onto an entrance porch. Above this porch, on the wall of the church itself, is the large round window inside a large arch. Above that is a small arched niche with a protruding shelf. Lining the gable of this central portion of the main façade is elaborate corbel work and stone coping. The porch and round window are flanked by two tall arched windows. The wall space above and below these windows is decorated with narrow recessed panels. The building has not been substantially altered since its construction, and thus its integrity is undiminished.
Saint Leo’s Church is significant both architecturally and for its association with 19th century Italian immigration and the establishment of the Italian community in Baltimore. Saint Leo’s is the first church in Maryland, and among the first in the nation, founded and built specifically for Italian immigrants. Besides providing Italian-language religious services, it also sponsored and housed a variety of social, humanitarian, and civic programs aimed at acclimating Italian immigrants to life in America. Its membership has produced several leaders active in the political life of both the Italian-American community and the city and nation at large. Thus it is associated with the broader patterns of immigration of Southern and Eastern European peoples that began in the early 19th century and mushroomed in the late 19th century. Architecturally, the building represents an unusual mix of Italianate, Romanesque, and Classical elements, and is a good example of High Victorian eclecticism applied to a church. Designed by E. Francis Baldwin, it represents the work of a major figure in late 19th century Baltimore architecture. It also presents an interesting contrast with the bulk of Baldwin’s better-known work, which was in commercial and industrial architecture.