Neighbors seek grant to revitalize historic district

April 5, 2019 GMT

HUNTINGTON — Christopher Carson is determined to make more people aware of an overlooked architect who created a showplace for multiple architectural styles within one single neighborhood block.

The architect is Richard Mortimer Bates Jr., who left his mark on the city of Huntington in the early 1930s by creating 21 homes in a cul-de-sac near Ritter Park. Each home has unique design styles and characteristics, and they form what is now known as the Mortimer Place Historic District.

More than 80 years after Bates’ vision was realized, Carson and several neighbors are leading efforts to preserve parts of the district for years to come.

Carson lives with his family in a bungalow off 10th Street within the historic district. He and his neighbors are applying for a grant from the West Virginia State Historic Preservation Office to remake six Bates-designed carriage garages, which were used for horses and servant housing.

Reading from a biographical dictionary, Carson noted how Bates squeezed multiple popular architectural styles into the district, including Tudor Revival, Mission Revival, Colonial Revival and Flemish Revival.

Bates completed his architectural education in Paris, eventually taking a “grand tour” of nine European countries and West Africa in the 19th century.

“After seeing all of Europe, all that great architecture is reflected in Mortimer Place,” Carson said.

Remodeling the carriage houses will be a challenge because of failing roofing and other structural issues, said Daniel Lucas Hart, of DLH PLLC Architects in Lewisburg, West Virginia. Hart and Michael Gioulis, a historic preservation consultant, are working on the project with the Mortimer Place residents.

“The most important part of a historic building is the roof. The roofs of these garages have deteriorated to the point where the roofing material is compromised along with some of the structure beneath,” Hart said. “The best way to protect and preserve that nice row of garages would be to uniformly redo the roofs.”

Carson and several Mortimer Place neighbors, including Jack Klim and Sean Singleton, are asking for a State Development Grant that would match 50% of the garages’ renovation costs.

Klim and his late wife, Nancy, were instrumental in getting the district placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, Carson said. Singleton has lived in the district for more than 40 years and owns one of the garages.

“I would like to just get it back to as original as possible,” Singleton said. “I think they originally had barn doors on them rather than rolled doors. I’d like to go back to that.”

Cost estimates for the project haven’t been finalized, and the Historic Preservation Office makes decisions on grant applications in June.

In the meantime, Carson has been researching Bates and recently located a biographical dictionary linking him to Verus T. Ritter, a noted 19th-and 20th-century architect. Ritter is noted for having designed Huntington City Hall in 1915 and several other buildings, including the 15-story Huntington National Bank Building. Bates worked with Ritter on projects in Portsmouth, Ohio, according to the biography.

“Everybody seems to know that architect,” Carson said. “Richard Mortimer Bates Jr. is less well known but just as important.”

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.