The Riordans grew up in Chicago. Matt Riordan went west and settled in Flagstaff, Arizona. His sister stayed in Chicago and raised 11 children. His 2 brothers joined Matt in Flagstaff, and the 3 of them bought a lumber mill on credit for $145,000 in 1887. They thrived. Matt moved to California in 1897, but his brothers Tim and Michael stayed in Flagstaff and ran the mill together. By the early 20th century they had 500 employees. The population of Flagstaff at the time was only 1,400. In 1904, the year that the United States began building the Panama Canal, Tim and Michael decided to build a house together. It was and still is far from ordinary.
Being from Chicago, they hired an architect, Charles Whittlesey, who had studied with Louis Sullivan and knew Frank Lloyd Wright. Being lumbermen, they approved of Whittlesey’s design, basically a gigantic 40 room log house with volcanic stone arches, fireplaces, etc. Being fans of the Arts and Crafts movement, they bought Stickley furniture. Being a bit too close, in my opinion, they lived side by side next to their lumber mill in what is basically a 6,000 square feet duplex connected by a communal space that doubled as a playroom. Being good Irish Catholics, both brothers married and had children. At least their front doors faced away from each other.
Because generations of Riordans lived in it, the double house wasn’t acquired by Arizona State Parks until 1978 (East) and 1983 (West). It opened to the public bordering the campus of Northern Arizona University in 2002. Today, travelers like Ruth & me must take guided tours limited to 15 people to see it. The East House is furnished as if Riordans still lived there with original artifacts including 20 examples of Stickley furniture. My favorite piece of furniture was an enormous leaf-shaped dining table that I can now see only in the main Riordan Mansion brochure. The West House has a museum on the first floor. Its upstairs is not opened to visitors. Since photography is forbidden in the East House, those, like me, who want examples of the Arts and Crafts Movement’s style are limited to the museum area.
Reservations are recommended. The money collected from tours is this project’s only source of revenue other than the gift shop, weddings, etc. Seeing the Riordan Mansion is a 4 Compass experience.