Monroe works to restore Cooley House
A renowned historic property in Ouachita Parish, once endangered, is slowly being restored.
The rarest example of Prairie-style residential architecture in the South, Cooley House currently faces structural issues that have placed it on the state’s most endangered list. Electrical and plumbing systems are minimal and no longer serve all rooms in the house. Substantial upgrades have been made to the house to match the original design.
The house is important to the Monroe community and efforts to restore it must be detailed and meticulous, according to Brian Davis, executive director of the Louisiana Trust for Historic Preservation.
“We want to make sure we’re doing this restoration as true and fair,” Davis said. “We don’t want to spoil that because it’s such a rare prairie style of architecture. Most of the architecture in that style is built in Chicago or that kind of area, so it’s very rare that this design be in the south.”
The house was originally designed in 1908 by internationally renowned architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin for local businessman Gilbert Brian Cooley. Cooley was the owner of the Monroe Steamed Laundry, which once stood where the River Pavilion Amphitheater now stands. He led efforts to build a tuberculosis sanitarium in West Monroe, which opened in 1937. The facility later grew from a tuberculosis hospital to GB Cooley Life Services, which helps people with disabilities intellectual.
The City of Monroe purchased the house in 2008 and entered into a cooperative agreement with the Cooley House Foundation to help raise funds for the restoration of the historic house and gardens. In 2010, the significance level of Cooley House’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places was upgraded from statewide significance to national significance.
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Construction of Cooley House began in 1925 and was completed the following year. The house was built of cobblestone and steel masonry with wood paneling, which was a common aesthetic in northern states at the time, but uncommon for Louisiana. In addition to the green tile roof, the house also included a central vacuum system, a central heating system, an incinerator, a basement, a steam shower and a sunken bathtub, all of which were foreign concepts in the residential construction in northern Louisiana at the time. .
The house also included a detached carport, which was not included in the original 1908 plans. During the 1910s, Cooley became the first person in Monroe to own an automobile, and the structure was added to the 1925 revisions.
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The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986 and added to the list of Louisiana’s Most Endangered Places by the Louisiana Trust for Historic Perseveration in 2005.
The Cooley House Foundation has raised funds for the restoration through memberships, donations, grants, and special tours of historic sites in the area. In 2010, the house received a new roof and a partial electrical upgrade through a grant from the Louisiana Division of Historic Preservation.
In 2020 the cork flooring on the ground floor was replaced with materials and design to match the original, which had gone dry rotten after years of leaking towers and was covered in carpet and upholstery.
The Monroe City Council approved plans in February to secure funding to continue restoration of the home.
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