Demolition "imminent" for landmark First Christian Church?
For weeks word has been going around town that a buyer is set to close on the First Christian Church at NW 36 and Walker.
Now Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid is warning that news may be true:
"Demolition of the First Christian Church appears imminent," Shadid announced on his Facebook page. "I received notice from a member of the Church Board that the property was under contract contingent on the buyer being able to demolish the buildings."
Opposition to such a move is already building with a group led by Lynne Rostochil, circulating a petition signed by 4,100 to date. A similar effort led by Rostochil successful persuaded Braum's Ice Cream and Dairy to abandon its plans to demolish another Mid-Century landmark, the Donnay Building on Classen Circle.
This time, Shadid is pledging to present a resolution at the March 12th City Council meeting to have the property deemed a historic landmark which he explains would then require the Historic Preservation Commission to hold a hearing and approve demolition.
"Without such a designation it can be demolished any day without public process/input," Shadid said. "Without property owner support, it would require 7/9 votes on the council. The Church contends that they have 40 people left in the congregation, asbestos is omnipresent in the building, and their reserve fund built up in stronger days is near depletion."
Based on the cases I've covered over the years, the question usually comes down to whether there are other buyers who would keep the landmark. Those wanting to demolish historic landmarks claim they are too far gone, that there is no other buyer ready to step up and get the job done.
Apparently Shadid is well aware of this history as well.
"I want to make sure that there is a public hearing so that we have every opportunity to make sure that there is not a third party interested in renovating the complex such as happened with the Donnay building," Shadid wrote. "Trinity, the school for special needs children, requires demolition? The Jewel Box Theatre, the oldest community theatre in OKC, currently has a play "Wedding Belles" there. Is there not any university or entity which could re-purpose such a spectacular building and its amazing acoustics into a 1,000 seat auditorium?"
Now let me add a tidbit: yes, there are other capable potential buyers who have shown an interest in buying the property and keeping the church intact.
Shadid notes the building is already on the National Register of Historic Places and would be eligible for historic tax credits. Those tools, by the way, could have been used to redevelop the old Founders Bank, another Mid Century gem, at Northwest Expressway and May. Texas developers with a history of doing meaningless fast food and big box development bought the bank and tore it down within minutes of applying for the demolition permit.
So yeah, this is on folks' minds as well.
"I have such fear for what this (and all the other recent/pending demolitions) means for us as a community," Shadid wrote. "We build things for short-term use and fail to understand that destroying our communal history directly impacts our mental and emotional health/happiness; our sense of identity and belonging to something larger than ourselves."
I asked Rostochil what she would say to the potential buyer of First Christian. This is a property close to her heart - her father Duane Conner was its architect.
"I would stress to the buyer that this doesn't have to be an all or nothing proposition because there is plenty of land that could be developed while keeping the church buildings intact and re-purposing them, Rostochil said. "Since it on the National Register, the church could qualify for tax credits and even city funding to re-adapt it. The buyer could be a real hero and save this unique structure that is beloved by the community for both its architectural merits and for the crucial role it played in the horrific days after the bombing when it was the gathering place for families, the media and caregivers. So, instead of demolishing this integral part of Oklahoma City's history and identity, I would encourage the buyer to use a bit of imagination and figure out a way to incorporate the church into future development plans."