NORMAN — Norman architect Mike Kertok said he fell into his niche in the architectural world when he began the research for the restoration of Harvey House in Waynoka. He was with an Oklahoma City firm then, and he enjoyed the research necessary to draw plans for bringing the railroad stopping point back to its 1910 beginning stage.
He became steeped in both the history of the small Oklahoma town and the structure that residents were wanting to restore.
Waynoka was a major stop on Charles Lindbergh’s Transcontinental Air Transport air and rail route between New York City and Los Angeles. The Harvey House played a major role in respite for Santa Fe passengers when trains crisscrossed the country.
After that experience in the mid 1990s, Kertok said “one thing led to another. It snowballed.” Soon, he realized he had found a niche for his practice: historical restoration projects.
His portfolio of restoration projects name many of the most well-known sites in Oklahoma: the Arcadia Round Barn, Nuway Cleaners in Oklahoma City, the Okmulgee Colored Hospital building, the Phillips 66 gas station in Chandler, the historic Chickasha Hotel exterior and the Overholser Mansion exterior in Oklahoma City.
Ongoing projects include Trinity Episcopal Church in Guthrie, constructed in 1913 to replace the building built in 1890 for the state’s first Episcopal congregation.
“It takes study, and I am always learning,” he said.
In the construction, he sees the technology of the day and has great respect for the construction on these old buildings. “They were built to last,” he said, and his work is helping make sure that they are preserved.
As each project is finished, Kertok produces a project binder filled with documentation of the history of the building: photographs, newspaper clippings, legal documents and drawings of every detail that will guide the restoration of the building to its original glory.
Not all of the buildings are as striking as the Overholser House or the Gold Dome in Oklahoma City. For instance, the Nuway Cleaners building on Western Avenue in Oklahoma City, which opened in the early 1900s, had nearly a dozen major additions and changes.
“I evaluated all elements of the building and how to restore it,” Kertok said. The building’s significance “is representative of a commercial building of that time period.”
The Chandler Phillips 66 station project launched a hobby of sorts. His office in his home has a wall map of the U.S. with pins denoting the location of many of the more than 500 such stations built by Phillips Oil. Kertok has visited many of the stations, though most have not been restored.
“There is even one in Norman,” he said.
Now used by Ellison Feed and Seed, the gables of the bricked cottage can be seen at Porter Avenue and Comanche Street.
Typical of many of the projects, photos provide the information he needs to draw plans for the restoration.
The projects take an enormous amount of measuring, he said, showing field drawings he made as a part of the exterior restoration of the three-story Overholser Mansion. Efforts are under way to bring the 1903 mansion back to its original glory, with Kertok’s work as the guide.
The Colored Hospital in Okmulgee is another project that he has completed, and the fundraising for the restoration is under way. His research drew a picture of the segregated society that was of the time in Oklahoma.
The building was built in 1922 by the city of Okmulgee, but the city provided no money for operating the facility, he discovered. It served the community’s black residents until the 1950s going by several names during those years: the negro hospital, the Okmulgee Black Hospital and the Colored Hospital, according to his research.
“Then it fell into disrepair, but its significance is that it was a segregated hospital and the Okmulgee Colored Hospital Association wants to restore the building as an important part of the history of Okmulgee,” Kertok said.
Kertok, who grew up in Norman and has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from the University of Oklahoma, said he had driven by the round barn on Route 66 at Arcadia dozens of times and never paid any attention to it.
After being engaged to research the building and provide the plans for its most recent restoration about five years ago, he was surprised to find that the building had been featured in publications throughout its life.
Built by hand in 1898 by farmer William Harrison Odor and his hired hands, it had gone through an earlier restoration project, but some of the finer details of the original had been bypassed.
His research showed that Odor “was a self-taught engineer who used unconventional techniques,” yet the building was in use until the roof collapsed in 1988.
A volunteer group undertook a restoration in the early 1990s, and Kertok was engaged to document the original processes and plans for the restoration to the original build.
“For instance, there are no Philips-head screws used in the barn, as they didn’t exist in 1898. Odor had used two types of siding, probably because he couldn’t get enough of one kind,” Kertok said; much of it had to be specially milled for the recent restoration work.
Many of his projects are on the state and national registry as historic projects, although that is not part of his responsibility.
“There are tax benefits to the owner if it is listed,” Kertok said.
In addition to historical restoration projects, Kertok’s work also includes commercial buildings. In Norman, he recently completed a doctor’s office and designed the Brookhaven Mansions independent living project on 36th Avenue Northwest. That work led to another project, a multi-story independent living project in Atlanta.
Most of his work is done on the computer, but he still prefers to do the design phase with pen in hand. He developed his architectural skills before computers facilitated the architectural processes.
“I still think there is a better connection between the brain, the hand and paper. It is easier to get ideas down when doing it by hand,” Kertok said.