Riordan State Historic Park Architectural Assessment

Author(s): Kathleen Hoeft; Gary Long

Year: 1991


Riordan State Historic Park is a rare and special place, a splendid building of the craftsman style housing an equally splendid collection of craftsman furnishings.

The architectural assessment of the Park is a companion to the collections assessment by Nancy Odegaard of the Arizona State Museum and was made by Kathleen Hoeft and Gary Long, Long Hoeft Architects, with the assistance of John Marvin, Park Manager, and Larry Busby, Assistant Park Manager on 26-27 September 1991.

The Riordan Mansion is a balanced complex of two two-story houses of similar plan joined by a common one story grand hall-game room. Constructed in 1904 by the Riordan brothers Timothy and Michael, owners of the Arizona Lumber Company, and designed by architect Charles Wittlesey, designer of the El Tovar Hotel at the Grand Canyon, the structure is a commanding architectural monument.

The property remained in the family with very few changes to either building or furnishings until acquisition by the State in 1977. The east house, the home of Timothy and Caroline, was opened to the public in 1983, and is shown with the game room as a house museum. Furnishings from both houses have been combined in a comprehensive and effective display of the craftsman style and period. The west house, home of Michael and Elizabeth, remained in the custody of one of their daughters until her death in 1985. The west house is not shown, and awaits restoration before continued use. The garage, built in 1914 in a central location behind the game room, is now the visitor's center. A small addition to the garage was constructed in 1983 to house park offices.

The original siting for the paired houses was a fifty-four acre knoll, approached from the north, marked at the entry with a gatehouse. The site is now reduced to five acres, closed on the north with apartments, on the east by Northern Arizona University, and the south by a shopping center. Entry to the site is from the west off a side street, and the entry drive approaches the rear of the mansion from behind the visitor's center. This less-than-desirable approach will be improved with additional access now being readied from the cast through an easement on University land. An uncomfortable result of the rear drive to the site is the tour entry to the east house from the back door. The new cast drive will be from a more heavily used street, and will enter the site with a view of the east house from the side, which includes the front door entry. A revised tour circulation using this entry as the beginning of the house tour is recommended.

A second problem resulting from the rear entry to the site is the position of the 1905 gatehouse. This small building, a fine rustic one-bedroom house, originally flanked the north gate. It has been moved back up the hill toward the mansion, but, with no entry to guard, is rather forlorn with no visible purpose to serve. Though it will not be a historic position, we recommend that the gatehouse be moved again to flank the new cast drive and be put to use for some to-be-decided new function. Interpretation through the use of original and existing site plans can explain the situation for the visitor.

Much of the original pathways, driveways, and landscaping remain, and contribute to a splendid park for visitors who use the State Historic Park but do not take the guided house tour. When the east drive is opened the students of the University will add to this casual park use. These uses can be enhanced with self-guided trail tours and with botanical identification of the plant species in the park.

Riordan State Historic Park has received regular funding for improvements and for long-deferred maintenance from the Arizona State Parks Board. A major architectural study completed in 1981 provided guidance for needed structural and roofing repairs accomplished in 1986. Exterior wood preservation and window restoration continue. A fire suppression sprinkler system has been installed in the east house. The buildings are sensitively and effectively cared for. In the assessment which follows, additional problems are noted and recommendations are made for work outstanding, but, in general, the structures are in fine condition. The mansion is a museum restoration project in progress, and will be so for many years to come.

As a compliment to the restoration all records of the building, both historic and current, should be collected and maintained as an essential and important archive of the Riordan collections. These are essential to investigators who might be asked to assist later restoration work. They are valuable to researchers in architectural history. Blueprints of the original working drawings for the east house are in Park custody, and are a beginning for this archive. Efforts should be continued in the search for historic photographs and other documentary material to add to this collection.

Records should be carefully preserved for all work done on the buildings including drawings, specifications, contracts, and job correspondence. A schedule of expected routine maintenance should be developed and a diary kept of work actually performed. Both of these records should be included in the building archive.

Two major building projects remain in the development of the Park: finishes restoration in the east house, and general rehabilitation of the west house.

Finishes in the east house have been changed significantly and will need restoration to better interpret the craftsman style. In support of this effort a limited historic structure report by a preservation architect should be commissioned for the research necessary to determine original finishes and to help plan the finishes restoration.

The west house is in a lesser state of repair than the east house, and plans are not clear at this time as to its final use. Options now considered include use for meetings and for exhibits as well as restoration for interpretation. Here too, research by a preservation architect is in order before the work of rehabilitation is commenced such that clear and proper decisions may be made for the west house future.

Riordan State Historic Park is a treasure as a marker of persons who are important to local and state history. It is a resource of greater significance, however, as an architectural and decorative ensemble representative of craftsman art and ideals.

Cite this Record

Riordan State Historic Park Architectural Assessment. Kathleen Hoeft, Gary Long. Georgetown, CO: Long Hoeft Architects. 1991 ( tDAR id: 399365) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8DF6T1K

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Spatial Coverage

min long: -111.672; min lat: 35.173 ; max long: -111.646; max lat: 35.197 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Arizona State Parks

Contributor(s): John Marvin; Larry Busby

Prepared By(s): Long Hoeft Architects

File Information

  Name Size Creation Date Date Uploaded Access
Riordan-State-Historic-Park-Architectural-Assesment.pdf 3.52mb Sep 30, 2015 9:29:28 AM Public
This file is unredacted.