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Levi Johnson Dean

Levi Johnson Dean, Architect [1878-1951]

Levi Johnson Dean [†] was a prominent and significant native born architect of the early 20th Century in West Virginia. He was born in Gassaway, Braxton County, in 1878. His father, George W., born in Pendleton County, Virginia served in the Confederate army. He was a boat builder and millwright. After the war he married Mary Jane Davis of Sutton, Braxton County, and settled at Wolf Creek. Levi was one of thirteen children.

He attended local schools and later studied architecture in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He began his practice, with mechanics, in Charleston and relocated to Huntington in 1906. He briefly formed a partnership, but later went into business alone in 1910.

He married in 1901 to Ada Leonora Johnson, and had three children. Ada died in 1910 and Mr. Dean remarried to Susie Ada Turner in 1912. This union resulted in three children. Two of these, Keith and Brooks, became architects and practiced with Levi in the Huntington firm of Dean and Dean. Mr. Dean designed and built an office for himself in 1927 in east Huntington. This is an interesting Moorish Revival commercial structure. During the Depression, the family moved into the building and the office was confined to one portion. After the depression an addition was added for the drafting room. After the sons joined the firm the offices were relocated to downtown Huntington.

Levi Dean completed a large number of commissions in his day. His work is distributed throughout West Virginia and into Kentucky and Ohio. He worked in practically every county in the state. The majority of his commissions are school buildings and churches. He also did a large number of banks, county courthouses and additions, and private residences. The majority of the residential commissions are centered in Huntington, where he had a loyal following.

Mr. Dean's designs follow the Revival styles that were popular during the period, though he was not imitative or mundane. His structures contain a great attention to detail and the use of "modern" techniques and materials where appropriate. His use of the Colonial Revival motifs indicates a strong knowledge and understanding of the historical basis of architectural forms.

Most of the commissions can be divided into particular styles for categories of structures:

Stylistically, Mr. Dean took a turn during the Depression, when he performed a number of commissions for the WPA. Two of these are the addition to the Summersville, Nicholas County Courthouse and Jail, and the Gassaway Municipal Building. Both of these commissions are in the modified Art Deco style that was popular for WPA projects In residential architecture Mr. Dean focused on the Colonial and Tudor Revival Style, using masonry materials with tile roofs and casement multi-paned windows. There are some early examples of his work in Huntington that are in the Four Square and Bungalow Style, the Mossman Residences, but these are not indicative of his work.

His finest residential structure is the Ricketts Residence in Huntington. In Mr. Dean's records it is indicated as having cost $125,000 when constructed, ca. 1930. It is evident that this was one of his better commissions, The house is a large rambling low structure in the Craftsman style, with a broad roof with deep overhangs. The most notable of its features is the wave coursed shingling on the roof, originally wood, and the eyebrow dormers with curved sides. The facades are coursed rusticated ashlar stone. There is a massive central chimney. Other exterior materials used are deep patterned stucco for soffits and ceilings. In his commercial work Dean used the popular glazed Terra Cotta blocks to produce the textures, colors, and ornamental detailing necessary for Classical and Beaux Arts Style buildings. O.J. Morrison's building in Huntington is a good example of this with a facade of white glazed tile imitative of carved limestone.

The Morrison commissions were a boon to Dean's work, as they developed into a major retailing firm throughout the state. They began in Ripley prior to 1910, then followed with stores in Spencer, Charleston, 1910, Huntington, 1920, Logan 1918, Fairmont, West Union, Morgantown and Clendenin. Mr. Dean was the architect for all of the Morrison buildings, which spread his influence all over the state. Mr. Dean's own office, constructed in 1927, is a good example of a fanciful revival style of architecture. The exterior is stucco with brick accents in a modified Moorish Revival Style structure. Windows and other fenestration on the facades are accented with ceramic tiles in various motifs and colors. The interior finishes of the public spaces are covered with deeply sculptured stucco with a mottled finish. This gives a pleasing effect of a very solid "ancient" structure.

Michael Gioulis, Historic Preservation Consultant, R. T. Price House, Mingo County, WV, nomination document, 1990, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.