After suffering through years of unrepaired ceilings and crumbling sidewalks, the 90-year-old former Calvary Baptist Church is getting a full makeover by its new owner, the Dan Davis Law Firm.
Davis' wife, Joy, admits the project was a bit daunting at first. The law firm sold its old home at NW 13 and Dewey Avenue in 2011, and the couple quickly realized finding a new home in or near downtown wouldn't be easy.
“It's harder than one might think when you need parking spaces,” Joy Davis said. “We looked at a list online of downtown properties for sale, and I wondered why hadn't we looked at this?”
It was then that Dan Davis, following on his wife's discovery, visited the church and instantly realized he had found a new home for his firm. They bought the property last March for $700,000.
“He said, ‘You've got to see this — This is it,'” Joy Davis said. “All of his advisers were saying you've got to be kidding. You're crazy.”
The church, built in 1923, was the center of the city's civil rights movement. An estimated 1,500 people attended a rally at the church in 1960 to hear a speech from Martin Luther King Jr. — and that was a few years after the congregation passed on his application to become the church's full-time pastor.
The church also was the birthplace of the sit-in movement led by Clara Luper. The teacher led youths from the church to lunch counters downtown that discriminated against black customers.
The church survived the destruction of the surrounding Deep Deuce neighborhood in the 1970s and lived to see the area's revival as downtown's leading mixed-use neighborhood.
The 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building devastated the church, blasting out windows, and the city allocated $1.4 million in federal disaster funds to assist in repairs. That work is being credited with making the current makeover possible, said J.W. Peters, Titus Construction president.
“They put in all new mechanical systems, electrical, fire suppression, a handicap ramp in the back,” Peters said. “A lot of the infrastructure was here. It would have been prohibitive to do this if that had not been done.”
Peters estimates the current renovation will be completed this summer. He calls the $2 million makeover “cosmetic.”
“And there's a lot of it,” Peters said.
Respect for history
Joy Davis credits Peters, Moda Architecture and preservation architect Catherine Montgomery with sharing her vision for keeping the church intact while adapting for her husband's 20-member law firm.
Montgomery dug into historic archives to guide restoration of the stained-glass windows and ceiling oculus. The work was done by Jim Triffo, who restored the windows during the post-bombing repairs and also created the oculus in the state Capitol dome.
Moda Architecture created a design that kept the balconies and sanctuary intact. Glass walls and leveled flooring allow for the construction of offices lining the heart of the sanctuary. Peters' crews pulled and labeled each piece of wood flooring to be set back in place.
As part of their preparation, Joy Davis and Peters reached out to religious leaders in the black community to ensure the plans were respectful of their heritage and the church's history.
The pews, pulpit and stage also were kept intact. Davis isn't certain how the sanctuary will be used, but she is looking forward to making it available to visitors and for special events.
“We feel like this church is very important to the community and it doesn't just belong to us,” she said. “You walk in this building and it steals your heart. It's a gem in the community.”
Historic neon sign is missing
As the Dan Davis Law Firm completes its renovation of the Calvary Baptist Church, its owners are determined to either find the original neon sign that stood in front of the landmark for decades or replicate it.
The late Phillip Davis, pastor of the former congregation, was criticized by Willa Johnson, now a county commissioner, and preservationists when he chose to remove the sign in 2001. At the time, he told The Oklahoman the sign was being put into storage and would eventually be brought back for display. More than a decade later, however, the sign's location is unknown.
Contractor J.W. Peters asks that anyone with information about the sign's whereabouts contact his company at
Construction of Calvary Baptist Church, 300 N Walnut, began in 1921 and was completed in 1923. A member of the Calvary congregation, the late Russell Benton Bingham, designed the structure.
Low arches, stained glass and symbolic representation of the word “Calvary” on a window's mullions and rails characterize the building.