COOLEY HOUSE FOUNDATION!
By Paul Kruty
The Gilbert Cooley house in Monroe, Louisiana, in now in safe hands. One of Griffin’s most important houses, it is also the only building in the United States to reflect the Griffins’ Australian developments. Designed in 1908 but not constructed until 1925 under the direction of a young architect from Australia who had worked for the Griffins, the Cooley survives in remarkably originalif precariouscondition.
Now, thanks to a consortium of amazingly dedicated individuals and groups, the Cooley house is undergoing a complete renovation and restoration, with the ultimate goal of opening it to the public as a house museum and extension of Monroe’s Masur Museum of Art.
This incredible development, which began in earnest less than a year ago, is worth recounting in some detail. Following its adaptive reuse as a law office, among several other light business uses, the house was given to the G. B. Cooley Foundation, a local philanthropic organization that carried the name of Captain Cooley but had no legal interest in the house until that point. When I last visited the house nearly a decade ago, it was already showing signs of neglect, including a leaking roof and other problems of general maintenance. In recent years I have exchanged e-mail messages with Mil Bodron, an architect from Monroe living in Dallas, about possible solutions to the looming problems settling over a monument that was beloved by a contingent of Monroe natives, local and ex-patriot but virtually unnoticed by everyone else. Following its dubious distinction of being named to the “Ten Most Endangered Sites in Louisiana” last year, the Cooley house inspired a renewed effort to preserve it. In December, Sue Prudhomme, Director of the Masur Museum, wrote to the Griffin Society asking for advice. We sent them encouragement and suggestions, plus eventually I mailed a set of Griffin Newsletters and various publications on the Griffins.
In Monroe, the large group of people who were clearly committed to the project organized into a “Friends of the Cooley House” and eventually incorporated as a non-profit organization under the name “Cooley House Foundation, Inc.” The group is now headed by Lauren Beach, a Monroe architect who has become the guiding force (at least it appears to me from the voluminous e-mails!). In June, the city of Monroe and the G. B. Cooley Foundation negotiated a lease agreement which was put before the city council and passed several weeks later. The whole development was given extensive local press coverage. On June 30 the group announced a short-term fund drive to raise $15,000 by July 11and had reached 54% by July 7. On July 12 the Monroe City Council unanimously passed the Cooley House lease/purchase resolution, by which time the Foundation had collected $15,050, enough to keep the house operating while a major fundraising operation could get underway, and also enough to show the strong interest in the project. The next day the Monroe News-Star announced in a banner headline, “Cooley House to Open in 2 Months; the building, one of the most endangered historical sites in La., will showcase Monroe’s past.”
In September, the group held an official news conference to announce their lease agreement, their incorporation, and delivered several PowerPoint presentations to local groups. Meanwhile, work on stabilizing the building has already begun. A temporary plastic membrane has been placed over the leaking roof after the original tiles were removed and stored in the garage. This revealed that only 10% of the tiles showed damage and a replacement source (the original manufacturer!) has been located. A group of students led by Professor Guy Carwile has begun documentation of the house interior for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).
We will periodically update you on this exciting development. Meanwhile, if you wish to know more, or to offer your own advice, please contact Lauren Beach at: firstname.lastname@example.org