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Oklahoma City panel takes step to preserve First Christian Church

Large glass panels comprise most of the southwest side of First Christian Church of Oklahoma City. The property is for on the market and has been for three years. [Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman Archives]

Oklahoma City’s Historic Preservation Commission agreed Wednesday to begin a process, known as a proposal for designation, that could lead to rezoning First Christian Church as a historic landmark.

At NW 36 and Walker Avenue, the church is recognizable by its white dome.

The 32-acre property, occupying part of a former golf course, includes the domed sanctuary building and, connected to the sanctuary, an education building and theater.

In initiating the process, the commission directed city staff to compile a report of its eligibility for designation as a historic landmark, a move that would preserve the buildings and limit owners’ options for renovations.

Related Photos

First Christian Church, viewed from the air, is part of a 31-acre campus at NW 36 and Walker Avenue. The church is zoned for commercial development while the surrounding property is zoned for single family housing. [DAVE MORRIS/THE OKLAHOMAN]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-04f0f2b83fcd7610fd1b8a518d97c992.jpg" alt="Photo - First Christian Church, viewed from the air, is part of a 31-acre campus at NW 36 and Walker Avenue. The church is zoned for commercial development while the surrounding property is zoned for single family housing. [DAVE MORRIS/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" First Christian Church, viewed from the air, is part of a 31-acre campus at NW 36 and Walker Avenue. The church is zoned for commercial development while the surrounding property is zoned for single family housing. [DAVE MORRIS/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> First Christian Church, viewed from the air, is part of a 31-acre campus at NW 36 and Walker Avenue. The church is zoned for commercial development while the surrounding property is zoned for single family housing. [DAVE MORRIS/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3e1231e7e0fec230dd5b265d269f2f31.jpg" alt="Photo - Large glass panels comprise most of the southwest side of First Christian Church of Oklahoma City. The property is for on the market and has been for three years. [Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman Archives] " title=" Large glass panels comprise most of the southwest side of First Christian Church of Oklahoma City. The property is for on the market and has been for three years. [Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman Archives] "><figcaption> Large glass panels comprise most of the southwest side of First Christian Church of Oklahoma City. The property is for on the market and has been for three years. [Jim Beckel/The Oklahoman Archives] </figcaption></figure>

The immediate effect of Wednesday’s action could be to block demolition of the buildings for up to 180 days.

The property is for sale and has been for three years.

Preservation advocates and residents of nearby neighborhoods have expressed concern that the property could be sold and the buildings torn down.

The tract is adjacent to the Interstate 235 interchange at NW 36 Street, making it an attractive prospect for redevelopment.

City staff recommended the commission initiate the proposal for designation, a move the church opposes.

An attorney for the church, David Box, who is a zoning and land-use expert, said the limitations placed on the church would amount to an infringement of property rights, “imposing burdens that are not there today.”

The city council debated the same question last month and agreed to defer any action until at least next week.

Box asked the commission to drop the matter for a month “to allow us to work out a deal with the city council.”

The council is to consider a proposal on Tuesday under which the church would agree not to seek a demolition permit for 180 days in exchange for the council’s agreement not to initiate the rezoning process, Box said.

Both the commission and council have authority to initiate the process, as the commission did on Wednesday, but the council can override the commission’s decision.

The commission met behind closed doors for 30 minutes, in executive session, “concerning the threatened litigation related to initiating the Historic Landmark designation process” before spending an hour in open debate of its options.

The church's distinctive domed main building dates from 1956 and is described as an “excellent example” of neo-Expressionist design in American architecture’s Modern Movement.

The Oklahoman described its Dec. 23, 1956, opening in a story headlined, “Tradition-Breaking Church Dedicated.”

Thousands attended that service. Today, church officials say the congregation numbers about 60.

William Crum

OU and Norman High School graduate, formerly worked as a reporter and editor for the Associated Press, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the Norman Transcript. Married, two children, lives in... Read more ›

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