Teresa Knox found that her commute would frequently take her down Third Street past the iconic Church Studio.
Whenever she drove by, she was reminded of the impactful music created there by one of her favorite performers — Tulsa’s Leon Russell, who operated a recording studio in the 1970s out of the now more than 100-year-old building — and saw potential for more than just a return to its production of music. She saw the potential for preservation.
Knox purchased the building earlier this year and now has plans to restore it with the goal of having The Church Studio listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The significance of the Church is what Leon did in the ’70s,” Knox said. “We have to evidence what it did for culture not only in Tulsa or Oklahoma but in the United States.”
And the impact was large: Russell operated his label Shelter Records in the studio, which saw recording artists like Tom Petty, George Harrison, Dwight Twilley, JJ Cale, The Gap Band and many more come through the doors of the studio at Third Street and Trenton Avenue. A person driving by would never know who they would see congregating on the steps outside.
Knox is now working to document all of that history, while digging through the embellishments to find the real history of the building and its impact on music and on Tulsa.
“It has to be academic level,” Knox said.
With help from Rosin Preservation in researching the building’s history, Knox has already been able to learn more.
The structure was finished in 1915, though a temporary structure was on the site in 1913. She learned that Russell purchased the building in 1972, though many believe it was bought in the late 1960s. Among the names of the church before it became a recording studio are Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, First United Brethren Church and First Church of God.
“The truth is more exciting than the made-up stories,” Knox said.
But it was Russell’s work that Knox said she hopes will qualify it for recognition on the National Register of Historic Places. There are 85 sites in Tulsa County listed on the registry, including the Ambassador Hotel, the Circle Cinema, the Mayo Hotel, the Mount Zion Baptist Church and several residential districts throughout the city. The Church Studio’s inclusion on the registry is a natural, Knox said.
Part of their work will include renovating the building and restoring as much as possible, strengthening the building’s structure after several years of little use.
Once that is achieved, Knox said plans for the building include a space to continue recording, a space for community gatherings for the Pearl District and a space to learn about the building, its history and its contributions.
On the street outside the Church Studio is a sign that reads “Leon Russell Road,” named by the city in 2010. Knox said she sees their work as continuing the legacy he started in Tulsa.
“It’s an honor and huge responsibility,” Knox said. “He created something so special for Tulsa and the music scene that’s enduring.”