View Full Version : Deep Deuce church future uncertain

01-09-2009, 09:47 AM
Future uncertain for historic Deep Deuce church building
Journal Record
by Kelley Chambers
January 9, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY – Phillip Davis was preaching a Sunday morning sermon at one of Oklahoma City’s most storied churches when a piece of the plaster ceiling fell, barely missing a parishioner.
Pastor Phillip Davis presides over the Covenant Life Family Worship Center, which is housed in the historic Calvary Baptist Church in Deep Deuce. PHOTO BY MAIKE SABOLICH

That was in 2001; over the next months cracks appeared in the sanctuary of the Covenant Life Family Worship Center and more pieces of the ceiling fell two stories onto the wooden floors below. Several walls began to crack and drip water.“When that happened I started looking at everything more closely,” Davis said.

Davis knew something would have to be done for his congregation and their church building, which was built in the early 1920s as Calvary Baptist Church at 300 N. Walnut Ave.

About five years ago church services were moved to the basement and now the congregation of 150 is trying to sell the historic church for $1.2 million and find a new home.

The building is intertwined with the history of the black community in Oklahoma City. It will always be known as the church that declined to hire a young minister named Martin Luther King Jr., when he was fresh out of seminary, and was ground zero for much of the Civil Rights movement in the city in the 1950s and 1960s.

But as the decades wore on, the Deep Deuce area, along with the building, fell into decline and by the mid 1990s church membership was at about 50.
The building was already in need of repair when it sustained damage from the federal building bombing in 1995. The blast took out most of the numerous stained-glass windows.

As part of the Murrah District Revitalization Program, the church received $1.4 million for renovations and repair and replacement of the stained glass.
After work was completed in the late 1990s, services resumed in the sanctuary, which Davis said can seat more than 1,000 people.

When leaks, cracks and other damage began to surface, the church sued those involved in the renovations but lost the case because the claims were filed too long after the work was done.

The church has had an independent evaluation that showed renovations and roof repair would likely cost millions.

Dal Shannon, with Capital Commercial OKC, is helping the church look for a buyer.

“Everyone who looks at is says this is great,” Shannon said.

But the main problem, aside from renovation costs, is the building’s place on the National Historic Register and within a city Historic Landmark zone, which do not allow alterations to the exterior. Those bodies would also have to approve a demolition.

Susan Miller, with the Oklahoma City Planning Department, said the historic landmark zoning requires any alterations to the exterior to come before the Historic Preservation Commission.

“Anything that has HL zoning that wants to do any exterior alterations has to submit to the city unless it’s something really minor,” she said.

Miller said the city has no issue with a change of use for the building, as long as the exterior is left intact, stained glass windows and all.

“We’re not concerned about a change in use so much,” she said. “It’s just the exterior changes they would want to do to the building to accommodate that use.”

Shannon said that has deterred some interested parties that would likely not be able to replace the stained glass with windows overlooking downtown.
That has severely limited the pool of potential buyers.

“The church can’t afford to fix it but may not be able to sell it,” Shannon said.
Oklahoma County Commissioner Willa Johnson, who is also a former city council member, said she is not pleased with the church’s leadership or uncertain plans for the building.

“I didn’t go to church there but the church just meant so much to the African-American community in Oklahoma City for so long,” she said. “And now just what I feared would happen is happening and I hate it.”
Johnson also takes umbrage at the name change from Calvary to Covenant, and would like the name restored.

“I’d like to see that church turned into a museum that would offer art classes, exhibit space, and performing arts space for the African-American community,” she said.

With the building crumbling around them, Davis said the church may have to move with or without an immediate sale.

Without a buyer the building could continue to sit and deteriorate.
Johnson said neither she, nor anyone she knows, has the money to buy the building and do the renovations, but said the worst thing would be for the building to be razed.

Davis said his focus is finding a new home for his church, which he would like to keep near downtown, even with an uncertain future for the old building.
“We’re looking to get out of here as soon as possible,” he said. “After the sale it’s out of our hands.”

01-09-2009, 09:54 AM
It would be a historical and cultural tragedy for this building to be destroyed.

01-09-2009, 11:10 AM
A little "Then and Now"

01-09-2009, 12:05 PM
If we can spend millions to bring/support basketball, new office towers, river boats, etc;, sureky we can step up and save this valuable peice of Oklahoma / African American History. I also agree with Mrs. Johnson that the origanl name should return, and this would be the perfect location for a museum.

01-09-2009, 12:48 PM
It would be a travesty if it was allowed to be demolished.

01-09-2009, 01:21 PM
so what can we do about this?

01-09-2009, 02:22 PM
so what can we do about this?

Some entrepreneurial-minded person should buy it, hire a young charismatic preacher, create one of these new hip churches and treat it like a business. There is lots of money to be made in this type of thing.

01-09-2009, 02:26 PM
That is actually a very workable idea...and that's sad.

01-09-2009, 06:36 PM
That is actually a very workable idea...and that's sad.

Very sad...