Internationally acclaimed architect Walter Burley Griffin designs The Cooley House for entrepreneur Gilbert Brian ‘Captain’ Cooley of Monroe, Louisiana. While designed, Cooley was not able to begin construction at that time. Before he was able to start, Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony won an international competition to design a new capital city for Australia. Griffin and Mahony went to Australia in 1912, and his career flourished. His success in Australia made it difficult to maintain an office in Chicago, and he closed his American office in 1917
THE COOLEY HOUSE TIMELINE
1908 - House Designed
1925 - Broke Ground
Construction begins on The Cooley House. And though having closed his American office in 1917, Griffin came back to the United States in 1925 and included a trip to Monroe. He made several revisions to the structure and added the characteristic green clay tiles that, with the 2008 restoration, again adorn the roof. Griffin returned to Australia, but he left an associate, Henry Pynor, in Monroe to oversee construction.
1926 - Construction Completed
The Cooley House was completed in 1926. It was constructed of concrete with wood trim. In addition to the green tile roof, the home also had a central vacuum system, central steam heating, an incinerator, a steam shower, and a sunken tub. Though non-functioning, these, as well as the original cork floor, are still in place. The home also has a detached carport. This was not part of the original 1908 plans, but in the teens Cooley became the first person in Monroe to own an automobile, and the structure was added to 1925 revisions. Before the levee system was constructed, the home also had a view and a walkway to the Ouachita River.
Contrary to popular belief, the home was not designed to look like a riverboat, nor was Captain Cooley a riverboat captain. His brother L.V. Cooley was the captain, and he was noted as one of the last great steamboat captains along the Mississippi and Ouachita Rivers. G.B. Cooley always loved the river, and he spent time working on his brother’s steamboat before settling in Monroe. G.B. Cooley did own a yacht, the Weto.
1952 - G.B. Cooley Died
Cooley lived in his dream home until his death in 1952.
1955 - Selena Cooley Died, Home Sold
Cooley lived in his dream home until his death in 1952.
1986 - Placed on the National Register of Historic Places
The Cooley house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
2006 - Listed in Louisiana's Top 10 Most Endangered Sites
It was added to the list of Top 10 Most Endangered Sites by the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation.
2008 - Purchased by the City of Monroe
The City of Monroe purchased the property and entered into a cooperative agreement with The Cooley House Foundation for the restoration of the historic home and gardens. The property will be owned by the City of Monroe, which will also provide staff. The Cooley House Foundation is raising the funds for the restoration of the property and will provide on-going board support when the home is opened as a museum.
SOURCES: Foreman, Larry. Special Collections, Ouachita Parish Public Library.Galicki, Marta McBride. “Walter Burley Griffin’s Oeuvre in the South,” Master Thesis, The Florida State University School of Visual Arts, December 1981; Kruty, Paul. “The Gilbert Cooley House, 1925: Walter Burley Griffin’s Last American Building,” FABRICATIONS: The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand 6 (June 1995): 8-23; Kruty, Paul and Mati Maldre. Walter Burley Griffin in America. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996; Legler, Dixie and Christian Korab. Prairie Style: Houses and Gardens by Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang.; The News-Star, Monroe, Louisiana, multiple articles.
Griffin was a young architect in Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. In 1901, he took a job working for architectural legend Frank Lloyd Wright. With Wright and a handful of others, he helped to define a new American style of architecture. This group of architects was deeply influenced by Louis Sullivan, who called for an architecture that was free from the influences of older European styles, one that would reflect the spirit of this new country. What developed became known as the Prairie School, named for the influence it took from the prairies of the Midwest. It was characterized by open floor plans, horizontal lines, and natural materials.
G.B. Cooley was born in Savanna, Illinois, but in 1894 he moved to Monroe with his wife Selena Kugler Cooley and started Monroe Steam Laundry. Cooley became one of the city’s most successful businessmen, and he soon set his mind to building a new home for him and his wife. Cooley’s brother and Griffin’s parents are believed to have been friends in Chicago. It is probably through this relationship that Cooley and Griffin became acquainted. Once they met, it is of little surprise that these two innovative men recognized a kinship. Beyond their entrepreneurial natures, they both took strides to improve the human condition. Griffin did this through his design. Cooley did this through his efforts against tuberculosis. Cooley was instrumental in rallying the support of wealthy Monroe families to build a hospital to treat the tuberculosis epidemic. Because of his leadership, the hospital bore his name, the G.B. Cooley Sanatorium. Over time, tuberculosis faded and the hospital’s focus shifted and became what is known today as the G.B. Cooley Hospital or the G.B. Cooley Services for Persons with Developmental Needs.