In The News: Restoring glory to Calvary Baptist building: Work progresses on conversion to law office

By Molly M. Fleming
The Journal Record
Posted: 07:40 PM Thursday, April 4, 2013

Chaudry Clark, with J.R. Henderson Co., pressure-tests newly installed plumbing at the Calvary Baptist Church building in Oklahoma City. (Photo by Brent Fuchs)

OKLAHOMA CITY – The idea of an attorney moving his practice into a church may sound like an old joke, but Oklahoma City lawyer Daniel Davis plans to make that move by the middle of June. That’s when his new office at the former Calvary Baptist Church will be complete.

Davis and his wife, Joy, purchased the historic building at 300 N. Walnut Ave. nearly a year ago and have been working with the team at Moda Architecture to turn a space that once echoed with tunes of Jesus and cries for civil rights into a functioning office space.

Architect Omar Khoury said Davis gave him three specific instructions in regards to the building: keep the historical aspect intact, accommodate the building to do business, and do so within a reasonable cost.

“It’s not that we’re making the building historical,” Khoury said. “We’re just maintaining the historical aspect.”

The history of the building dates back to 1921, when it was built by black architect and church ember Russell Benton Bingham. More than 30 years later, the church became the organizational point for sit-ins at diners in downtown Oklahoma City. It even turned away the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as its pastor because the congregation thought he was too inexperienced at the time.

Led by Clara Luper, many civil rights marches started from the church. Moda architect Chong Branson had Luper as a teacher at John Marshall High School.

The church even suffered damage on April 19, 1995, when the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed. Plexiglas has since been installed on the outside of the stained glass to keep it from being damaged from thrown rocks or other obstructions.

All of that history, as well as the building’s importance to the Deep Deuce area of the city, convinced Davis that the building had to be revitalized, while keeping it as historic as possible.

“The job couldn’t be done unless you were respectful of the history and the role the church played in the whole desegregation process in Oklahoma City,” he said. “It would be a desecration to not be respectful of that church and what it means to the city.”

Davis said the total revitalization of the building will cost between $1.5 million and $2 million.

Since work has begun on the building, Khoury said they have received a number of visits from former members of the congregation who are curious about what is happening in their place of worship.

“They are elated that the building they once visited will still be around,” he said.

The centerpiece of the project is the sanctuary, which will be kept as a place for events and services. The ceiling in the sanctuary has been completely replaced after a bad roof repair caused the ceiling to leak water.

Davis said he has already had inquiries about the site for a wedding, a meeting space, and even church services.

The offices are being built around the sanctuary with glass walls separating the individual spaces, thus allowing the colors from the stained glass to reflect across the spaceThe offices had to be constructed on platforms in the lofts around the sanctuary where sloped pews once sat. The floor that once ran under the pews has been saved.

The doors to the offices can be locked for times when the space is used for events.

Of course, creating an office space in a building that was constructed in the 1920s came with technological challenges, including installing the Internet and hooking up an efficient heating and air-conditioning system. The church had central heat and air; however, with individual office spaces now occupying the space at various levels in the building, the employees would need to change the temperature as needed.

But challenges such as these were not new to Titus Construction, which is carrying out the plans drafted by Moda. This is the construction company’s fifth historical project.

“I learn something new every time,” said J.W. Peters, construction manager. “I love the challenge. When I first met Joy and she told me what they were going to do, I immediately saw the possibilities. I knew it was something we wanted to be involved in.”

The excitement of Peters, Davis, and the Moda team is what will make this project successful, Khoury said.

“The architect, the owner, and the contractor are all tuned in with the community and the presence, so we’re all tuned in with the goals of the project,” Khoury said.

Interior designer Julie Hornbeek is bringing her expertise to the project as well, including bringing back the legendary red carpet that once lined the halls of the building. The office spaces will have tan carpet. The sanctuary will feature a large graphic art piece behind the choir loft that will showcase a number of news articles highlighting the church’s ties to the civil rights movement. Those corresponding articles will be hung throughout the building to allow people to read about the history.

“Anything we’re adding to the building has a modern aesthetic,” Hornbeek said. “We wanted there to be a distinction between what was new in the building. We didn’t want to match any of the history of the building. We are bringing it back to its former glory.”

As a homage to the former church, the original Calvary Baptist Church sign will be re-created and feature the name of the church, with Dan Davis Law Firm at the bottom of the sign. The sign was removed in 2001 and was supposedly placed into storage; however, it hasn’t been seen since. The outside of the building will have a plaza area near the entrance.

“It will define the new entry, but it doesn’t take away from the existing façade,” Khoury said.

The only other additions on the exterior are new sidewalks, a retaining wall and landscaping.

The project is expected to be complete by the middle of May.

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