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In an 8-1 vote, The City of Oklahoma City Council approved a memorandum of understanding between the City, First Christian Church – OKC, and Crossings Community Church Tuesday. It will preserve the existing buildings.

The MOU will allow First Christian to move forward in their negotiations to sell the historic property at 3700 N Walker to the suburban Crossings Church and avoid the City establishing the site as a Historic Landmark Overlay District, which would limit options for the property’s future use.

First Christian agrees to not make significant changes to their buildings on the 31.5-acre tract and Crossings agrees to keep the main buildings intact.

Crossings also agrees to give the City “right of first refusal” to purchase the property if, in the future, Crossings decides to sell.

historic preservation of church
The Jewel Box Theater in the foreground is joined to the three-story Education Building. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

Earlier in the year, the Council initiated a resolution that First Christian’s property be declared a Historic Landmark Overlay District. When the Council rescinded their resolution, the Historic Preservation Commission then initiated a similar resolution to preserve the site as a Historic Landmark Overlay District.

The resolutions were in response to persistent rumors that First Christian was negotiating with a potential buyer that might tear down the existing buildings and repurpose the site.

The eggshell-shaped sanctuary, the modernistic education building, and Jewel Box Theater building were fixtures of that part of Oklahoma City since the campus was established in the late 1940s and the iconic sanctuary was completed in 1956.

End run

Tuesday, the Council made an end run around the Historic Preservation Commission by voting to accept the MOU and rescind the effort to protect the buildings with a historic designation.

Municipal Counselor Kenneth Jordan held that the Council has the authority to rescind the resolution because the Historic Preservation Commission submitted the application on behalf of the City.

Lynne Rostochil, a regular activist for preserving historic buildings in Oklahoma City and Oklahoma, voiced concern to the Council about the precedent such an action would set.

Lynne Rostochil came to the Oklahoma City Council meeting to find out about the MOU and to voice concerns about the Council taking a process away from the Historic Preservation Commission. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press

She argued that by taking the action to rescind the resolution absent of any consideration or recommendation of the Historic Preservation Commission, the Council could make it possible for others to avoid the consideration of the appropriate boards and commissions in the future.

“It could limit your powers,” said Rostochil. “And, it really undermines the whole process, a tried and true process that has been in place for a long time.”

After she left the meeting, Free Press asked Rostochil why she came and spoke.

“I wanted to see what the agreement was all about,” Rostochil said. “I also wanted to be a champion of the HP commission.”

She said she was all for the agreement, but had concerns about allowing an agreement to go out around a commission and just happen in the Council.

“I love the agreement,” Rostochil said. But, then added a scenario that she thinks might happen in the future.

“Say, we want to tear that building down so we’re just not going to mess with these guys. We’re going to go straight to city council. And that totally takes away the power of the HP commission.”

Ward 2 a part of the deal

After adjournment, Free Press asked Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper why he voted for the MOU.

He said that the resolution had started with the council in the first place, so it was appropriate for the Council to take action even though the HP had taken up the cause later.

Cooper also pointed to the fact that four of the council members had proposed rescinding the resolution without him in the first place and this was an opportunity to preserve the buildings and get Ward 2 back in the process.

“So, this was the best approach I had at my disposal as the council person who had not even been consulted in that initial removal process of removing the designation,” Cooper told Free Press.

“This was my way of making sure that Ward 2, where that church resides, had a say in the destiny of that historic building.”

historic building remains
The iconic “eggshell” sanctuary at NW 36th and N Walker may not fall under the wrecking ball or be included in a historic preservation district, either. Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press