Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Building detective: Floy and Claude M. Gates house

From the southeast

Four distinctive houses designed by resident architect William L. Perkins are on the market in Chariton right now, if I'm counting right, so the selection's good --- for anyone interested in living in a fine example of his work from the 1920s or 1930s. Three are brick, one stucco over brick and tile; all nicely maintained and for the most part intact.

I wrote last week about the William G. Barber home at 715 Ashland Avenue, but have to admit that I like the Gates house, at 625 South Eighth Street, a little better. It was an expensive house to build in 1923 --- $12,000 --- and is beautifully detailed. Owners, including Steve and Lee, always have lived in it with a considerable degree of style.

From the northeast

It was a house built by a couple who liked to entertain but who had no children, so some find the fact it has only two bedrooms discouraging. I'm ready to move in, however.

Claude M. Gates was an entrepreneur, born June 6, 1874, in Marshall County. He got his start in the newspaper business, buying and selling, editing and publishing, across Iowa. His properties closest to Chariton included newspapers in Melrose (yes, Melrose once had a newspaper) and Osceola.

He married Floy Chambers (born Dec. 14, 1882), a Russell girl, on July 7, 1904, in Des Moines. He was 30 at the time, and she was 22. Claude does not seem to have had a large family, but Floy did --- and her parents and several of her sibling remained in Lucas County.

Claude ended his career as an active newspaperman during his late 40s in Osceola, where the couple was living in the early 1920s just before their move to Chariton. Just after World War I, Gates had begun investing in the emerging petroleum industry and, during the early 1920s, struck oil. 

Sale of oil leases financed the new house in Chariton and further investments turned Claude from a working journalist into an entrepreneur who could live anywhere he chose to, so long as he managed his assets well. Floy's ties to Chariton --- where her parents were living at the time --- tipped the balance in Lucas County's favor.

The Gates bought the lot on South Eight Street, in an area then known as the Spring Lake Addition, during 1922 and commenced to build during 1923, a year after Floy's father --- Columbus Chambers --- had died.

The Chariton Leader published this report on the front page of its April 24, 1923, edition:

"C.M. Gates has decided to erect a modern home in Chariton and wisely so, and to enroll as one of the permanent families. Recently he closed the contract for a residence building on South Eighth street, in Spring Lake, which will be a credit to the city and surroundings. The building is to be a brick structure and will cost in the neighborhood of $12,000. W.L. Perkins drew the plans and E.M. Johnson secured the general contract, and work will soon begin. Dunshee Bros. has the contract for the plumbing and heating and J.A. Jennings will do the painting. Months since, Mr. and Mrs. Gates decided on making Chairton their permanent home and had intended building here, but did not find it convenient to do so until now. Chariton is certainly making strides forward. It is a good place to live. Chariton is a good town in several other ways --- and has a future."

On July 24, The Leader reported, "The new brick bungalow being erected by Mr. and Mrs. Claude Gates in Spring Lake, is showing up fine in its dimensions. The walls are up and the roof is being put on. This is to be one of the prettiest and most substantial homes in the city. It is of an architectural model to be attractive."

Detail of brick work over dining room windows

Superb brick work is a Perkins signature, and he outdid himself on the Gates House. He was an early fan of tile roofs, which the Gates house has (recently restored), but later shifted his allegiance to slate. The exterior has changed little, although new windows have been installed in the porch room (fully integrated into the house) and Perkins never would have tolerated the fake shutters that now flank living room windows.

The original garage, built into the basement --- which opens at ground level to the west --- has been supplmented by a newer double garage in the generous back yard and extensive enclosed porches have been added to the rear, overlooking that yard. But the original layout of the home remains intact.

Like the Barber house on Ashland, built-in corner cupboards are a feature of the dining room and there is a generous fireplace in the large living room. The interiors are high, spacious and exceptionally well lighted.

Claude and Floy Gates lived in their new home until 1957, moving in what then were thought to be rather elevated social circles.

In that year, however, they sold out and moved to The Commodore, an upscale "apartment hotel" on Grand Avenue west of downtown Des Moines that catered to affluent people who no longer wished to maintain free-standing homes.

Claude died in Des Moines on March 5, 1963, and his remains were returned to the Chariton Cemetery for burial. Floy died on Dec. 8, 1971, also in Des Moines, and was laid to rest by his side. She, at least, was a member of Des Moines' First Church of Christ, Scientist. The death of neither received extensive coverage in Chariton newspapers, so detailed obituary information is lacking.

The Gates house currently is listed for $129,500 with Ray Thurlby at Iowa Realty. There is a slideshow of small interior photographs that will give you an idea of how this wonderful old home looks on the inside.

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