The Church Studio Belfry

There comes a time in life when one is moved to reflect upon major events in his or her life as old friends, relatives, family members “cash in their chips” and depart the game of life. As the days, months and years come and go, the hectic responsibilities of life take the greater majority of a person’s time to give much thought to details of a full Christian life being lived.  When the Lord has given a person four score and more years of life, each remaining day becomes more precious.  And so it is, as I take time to reflect on a most important event in my own life.  How, where and when I became fully aware of the price my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ paid for my sins, past, present and future as well as those of each and every one of us and of His assurance of life everlasting guaranteed through Faith in the Grace of The Man born in Bethlehem.

It was during the “war years” when a young boy, then a bit more than six years of age came to know Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. This writing is, in part, a tribute to all the Sunday School and Vacation Bible School teachers who tell and teach “the old, old story of Jesus and His Glory” In my case, her name is now known only to God, but the role she played in my life is as part of me as the blood in my veins.  In short, I can not say it was on that day and at that time and in the place I “found God”, because he wasn’t lost.  Rather, that a young boy “found out” about God” in a way, at a time and in a place I will always remember.

With loving parents, I lived at 1635 East 4th Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  A very modest dwelling but one filled with a measure of love not nearly enough children today are fortunate enough to experience.  A few years later, my one and only sister was born and the four of us shared the three room side of a duplex which might still be standing. We were poor, but didn’t know it, because all of our family friends were in similar circumstances.  While we didn’t have much, we had something in our lives which provided hope as well as happiness, we had the love of one another and that of God Almighty..

Down the street and around the corner, about a city block away and well within walking distance was a church at the corner of 3rd and Trenton Ave, it was then a United Brethren of Christ Church. On important dates, my family attended services at church, but since my Dad worked long hours, Sundays were essentially the only time my parents had alone.  More often than not, I went with my pal from across the street, Tommy, to Sunday School, Church and, in the summer months, Vacation Bible School.  I’ll mention Tommy later as this story unfolds in greater detail, but for now, walking to “church” and to Jefferson Elementary School were part of the bonding process of two guys whose fathers worked at Continental Oil Company as truck drivers..

It was during a Vacation Bible School session, a volunteer teacher had each of the young people attending her class, to kneel down, in front of a folding chair, fold our hands and ask Jesus to “Come live in our hearts.”  We all knew the “Christmas Story” and also the “Easter Story” in the rather simple terms understandable by young children but the full impact of the significance of those events to each of us personally, really had not theretofore made a lot of sense.. We had learned John 3:16, but the full meaning was a bit beyond the grasp of little children….until that day, at that time, in that way and in that place, each of us had our own epiphany.  It was at the UB Church at third and Trenton streets, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, kneeling at a folding chair, asking Jesus Christ to come and live in my heart I came to know and fully understand what many years later I referred to as “Everlasting Life Assurance” and how it became the center of my life as a man, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a businessman and additionally as leader of men in the military.  Thanks be to God!.

A couple of months ago, while trolling the internet, I asked Google about the church mentioned above.  It is now referred to as The Church Studio.  You can see a picture of that place which later became the “Historic Recording Studio of Leon Russell” and one that played a significant role in American Music History. The story of how that structure sat empty for years after Russell’s death, how it was purchased by Teresa Knox, how it became a National Landmark and what is in store for the future of that special place can be found by logging onto The Church Studio on Facebook.  But like another Tulsa Central High School graduate many years before me – Paul Harvey would say at the close of his broadcasts, “And now you know, The Rest of The Story.”

One evening Ms. Knox was lamenting on the internet, how she could only find about the “church” as far back as the 1950s.  After sending her an email and letting her know I could fill in the blanks back to the early 1940, she call and we had a long and enjoyable telephone conversation.  I learned that Teresa and her associates were going to invest a lot in turning The Church Studio into a “world class’ recording facility. In jest, I told her that, as a young boy I learned and sang many of our favorite hymns in that building and how ironic it would be if I could ever win the Lottery and afford to come back to that place and record some of those good old hymns while I still had a reasonably good voice. After laughing about winning the Lottery and putting the recording event in my “bucket list” Teresa made a statement to me which did something to me which seldom happens….she caught me speechless.  She told me that my sharing the history of that building with her that she now owns so far back in history, “made her day” and that when the recording studio was finished, I could come down and do recordings at no expense.  While I would never hold that sweet lady to her offer, if it still is open when the time comes, this old gaffer who grew up around the corner from that historic place as a little boy, will at least return for the dedication of its new life in music.  Something to dream about!  Thank you Teresa, and Thanks be to God for The Church, The Chair – from A Boy whose Prayer was most certainly answered.
Author:  Bob Van Valkenburg


Teresa Knox

Teresa Knox

Posted in


  1. Claudia Ruiz on April 26, 2018 at 1:32 pm

    Wonderful Article and shared memories! I used to live near the Church Studio, just up the street actually.

    I was an 18yr newly wed hippie dippy girl, born and raised in Tulsa. Money was a bit tight, but I wanted to own a home so I found the house at 1619 E 4th St. in 1974, and bought it! It was in the Vision 200 plan atm, and we thought the neighborhood might come back in a few years. Lived there for almost 14yrs in the end. The revitalization never occurred. We redecorated, new sheet rock walls, refinished floors, back yard completely turned into an organic garden, new roof, insulation, refinished the thick ancient oak interior trim, everything we could do. It was the 70’s, sometimes fishing and expanding our minds were more important lol! 🙂 ALL of our neighbors were very elderly and slowly the neighborhood emptied out as people passed away, and family turned houses from tenderly cared for family homes, to ignored rental properties. I watched the Church studio go from an empty building, to what seemed like a secret studio with the random limo out front (always intriguing seeing who was going in and out!), to what looked like an empty bldg again.

    So fun to hear this gentleman’s memories, the actual Church was already closed when I moved in there tho I remember driving by it as a child and seeing the church sign on 3rd street.

    Last time I was in Tulsa, I ran by my old house to see it and peek at the Studio. Most of the street is empty, houses demolished from Utica to Trenton with the exception of 2 or 3, and mine. My little house stands there all alone on the north side of the street, houses gone on both sides like an icon to my early years. I pretend its in memory of me since I can’t move back atm, and miss Tulsa so much lol! I have no idea why it’s still there, looks empty, and it’s been 2yrs since I was home. It may finally be gone.

    Anyway, thanks again for sharing this story with your readers! Brought back all my early memories of that neighborhood and the enigmatic Church Studio we always wanted to sneak into 🙂 I’m so excited to watch its renewal via the web, and the Oklahoma artists that use it still. Nothing better than Oklahoma sound, nothing.

    Sorry to go on and on. This story just brought back all my memories of 4th and the Studio years and I had to share them hehe

    Best of luck to you all, can’t wait to see the renovation!

    • Teresa Knox on April 26, 2018 at 6:10 pm

      Thank you for sharing this great comment Claudia! You truly are a genuine Leon fan and a great advocate for what we are doing with the church! Thank you for being who you are!! 🙂

  2. Andrew M. Treat on October 4, 2018 at 10:26 am

    Mr. Van Valkenburg,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write what you did. As a fellow Christian, I was very happy to read of someone’s experience when the building still served as a church.

    I play electric and acoustic guitar at my church every week….and if you ever end up coming to record your hymns, I would be honored to play the accompaniment for you.

    Thank you for sharing the stories from that chapter of your life….my grandfather always said, “Tell me what life has taught you, and I will be your devout listener.”

    -Andrew M. Treat

    • Teresa Knox on October 4, 2018 at 1:27 pm

      Mr. Treat,
      Thank you for taking the time to respond to our guest blog. Mr. Van Valkenburg is a doll! We’ll be sure and pass your note on to him.
      Stay in touch with us!


Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.