AN has learned that Oklahoma City’s preeminent ovate landmark, the First Christian Church, was demolished this morning. The destruction of the National Register of Historic Places–listed structure follows a lengthy preservation battle that first kicked off in 2019 when a new, redevelopment-minded owner was reported to be in play to acquire the property in 2019 after the church, its congregation numbers rapidly dwindling, had spent three years languishing on the market. That deal ultimately fell through. As reported by The Oklahoman, a glimmer of hope emerged that same year when Crossings Church signed a purchase contract to acquire the 32-acre property; that deal, however, also never came to be after Crossings Church concluded that the cost of renovations exceeded its available budget. First Christian Church has remained in a state of limbo ever since.
Christened in 1956 with a highly idiosyncratic design by local firm Conner & Pojezny, the modernist house of worship—then-minister William Bill Alexander declared it “the church of tomorrow” upon its opening—enjoyed enduring local icon status throughout the decades thanks to the thin-shell concrete dome topping the main sanctuary. The idiosyncratic feature was considered a feat of engineering upon the church’s completion and subsequently garnered more than a few comparisons to a jumbo-sized egg.
Located near Northwest 36th Street and Walker Avenue off the Centennial Expressway in Northwest Oklahoma City, First Christian Church also served as a place of spiritual solace and aid for the Oklahoma City community during the aftermath of the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, an act of domestic terrorism that killed 168 people and injured hundreds of others. As noted by local media outlet Fox 23 News, the church, which was located roughly 4 miles north of the Murrah Federal Building, was transformed into a post-disaster assistance hub known as the Compassion Center immediately following the bombing. For 16 days, the church housed workers from the American Red Cross as well as local first responders, mental health professionals, and media.
In addition to the main sanctuary building locally known as The Egg, there are a trio of additional buildings on the First Christian Church campus, all designed by Conner & Pojezny. They include a four-story education building and a small fine arts complex that serves as home to the Jewel Box Theatre, the city’s oldest, continuously-operating community playhouse.
Per The Oklahoman, today’s early morning church-razing comes as a surprise, beginning just as word began to spread among the community that a demolition permit had even been obtained. There had been recent asbestos removal efforts at the church but those weren’t known to be part of a larger demolition plan. The paper’s efforts to reach the congregation’s attorney and the church’s broker for comment went unanswered.
Despite its 2001 listing on the NRHP, First Christian Church was obviously not immune to destruction. Mid-century architecture-focused preservation Group Okie Mod Squad had rallied to have the church be granted with local landmark status, which would offer the building with at least some layers of protection. The nonprofit Preservation Oklahoma also included the imperiled church on its annual Oklahoma’s Most Endangered list in both 2017 and 2019 to raise awareness of its vulnerable status.
Following news of the demolition of First National Church, AN reached out to Chantry Banks, executive director of Preservation Oklahoma. He provided the following statement:
“We are saddened by the sudden demolition of the First Christian Church here in Oklahoma City. Several concerned citizens in the community had been assured over the last few months that the structure was safe and nothing was being done, except for asbestos abatement. We were told this was going to make the property more attractive for potential buyers. As recently as a few weeks ago, the property had received offers and we were fairly certain a deal was about to go through. I was alerted this morning that a demolition permit had been obtained, and less than an hour later, learned that demo had already begun. Preservation Oklahoma arrived on scene to an already demolished dome. Many people were wandering around, taking photos and videos of the demolition. There were zero barriers in place and I was able to stand just a few feet from the building.
We lost a significant part of our mid-century modern architecture today. We also lost an icon of our skyline. The architects were told that the dome would not be able to stand under its own weight when constructed, but look at it! It stood proudly for over 60 years. Many Oklahoma City residents are in shock today and we now have more questions than answers.”
With The Egg now flattened, it’s unclear of what will become of the property, although mixed-use redevelopment is likely.
We’ll update this breaking news story as we learn more details.