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 - Added to Louisiana's Most Endangered Places List
It was added to the Louisiana’s Most Endangered Places List by the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation. LTHP.org
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.
2010 - Significance elevated on the National Register of Historic Places
The level of importance of the Cooley House listing on the National Register of Historic Places was elevated from statewide significance to national significance.
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.
G.B. Cooley was born in Savannah, Illinois, but in 1894 he moved to Monroe with his wife, Selena Kugler Cooley and started the 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 his wife and him. Cooley’s brother and Walter Burley Griffin’s parents are believed to have been friends in Chicago. It is probably through this connection 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 to battle 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 was named in his honor: the G.B. Cooley Sanitorium. Over time, the large-scale threat of tuberculosis faded and the hospital’s focus shifted. It became known as the G.B. Cooley Hospital or G.B. Cooley Services for Persons with Developmental Needs. Captain Cooley died in November 1952, at the age of 87. Mr. and Mrs. Cooley are buried on the grounds of the hospital, located in West Monroe.
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.
Marion Mahony was born in Chicago in 1871 and moved to the suburb of Winnetka, following the 1880 Chicago Fire. She became the second female to graduate from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in 1897 and the first female licensed architect in Illinois. She worked in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Studio, producing watercolor renderings of his early designs. In 1911, while on honeymoon with Walter Burley Griffin, the couple learned of an international design competition for the new capital city of Australia. Marion’s watercolor renderings made a strong impression with the review committee and in 1914, the couple moved to Australia. Marion was in charge of the Sydney office as well as their private design commissions. From 1935 to 1937, she managed an office and construction projects in India. Marion closed the Australian and Indian offices and returned to Chicago, following Walter’s death in 1937. She worked extensively on a 1,400 memoir titled “The Magic of America” which was unpublished. Marion died in 1961, at the age of 90, and was buried in Graceland Cemetery.