Banner image by James Jones, via Wikimedia Commons
Built in 1903–1904 for Riordan brothers Timothy and Michael and their families, this evocative timber-clad Arts and Crafts duplex residence was designed by architect Charles Whittlesey, who also designed the Grand Canyon’s El Tovar Hotel. It features local materials such as basalt and Ponderosa pine, and was built by local workers.
The sons of Irish immigrants, Tim and Michael had come west from Chicago to manage a lumber business alongside their older half-brother, Denis, known as D. M. or Matt, in the 1880s. Soon, Matt bought the business from Ayers and after a short time sold it to Tim and Michael and their partner, as Arizona Lumber and Timber Company. Tim and Michael had also married two sisters, Caroline and Elizabeth Metz, respectively, who were Cincinnati first-cousins of the now-illustrious Babbitt family.
At the height of the business, Tim and Michael and their families had Kinlichi, as they called the house (from the Najavo for “red house”) and the Knoll it sits on, built as wing residences joined at the middle by what we today call a “great room,” Whittlesey called a “rendevous room,” and the families called the billiard room. Tim’s is the east wing and Michael’s is the west. Michael, a true aesthete, had a strong hand in the planning. The homes were, pragmatically yet innovatively, built with indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, central heat, and electric lights. Each side had a skylight–light well, which in the east wing illuminates Caroline’s Steinway grand piano from above. (Elizabeth had an upright in her home, and both women were accomplished pianists.) Tim’s incredible oval dining room with window seats, lozenge-shaped table, and curved-arm chairs for ease of conversation evidence his love for entertaining. Both homes had stairwell chapels, libraries, and inglenooks. Their first-floor footprints were mostly mirrored, with the second stories being partitioned differently according to the sizes and needs of the families.
The Riordans were important members of the Flagstaff and Arizona Territory communities for half a century; indeed, they were respected for their role in establishing a Normal (teachers’) School (which became Northern Arizona University), a public library, a public school system, Catholic parishes, Fort Valley Experimental Research Station, and Lowell Observatory. They helped bring electricity to the town, and Tim was instrumental in creating a reservoir, Lake Mary, that exists today. The Riordans also made sure their employees had housing and medical care, helping to create first a clinic and ultimately a hospital.
Tim and Caroline’s home remains furnished largely with family pieces—including Stickley and Harvey Ellis pieces, pieces commissioned to a skilled craftsman in their employ, and other family artifacts—and may be seen by guided tour only. Michael and Elizabeth’s home has self-guided exhibits on the first floor; the second floor is closed. Original Arts and Crafts wallpaper remains on the first floor of their west wing. The former garage is now the visitor center. Photography is generally not allowed inside the homes.
“When they first moved into this giant house, Michael wrote a letter to his sister, and he said that they had already figured out that the important things in life weren’t the kind of window coverings that you had, and that these new houses, while they enjoyed them, really only gave them more room to stretch in. It was more for him about family, about friendship, and about community, and that’s the legacy they left here in Flagstaff and is why people here in town who are grandchildren of their employees walk around and tell nice stories about the Riordans 100 years later. And that’s in my mind really what the Riordans are about.” — Kathy Faretta, Riordan mansion historian, quoted from the PBS Arizona Stories website.
To learn more about how this family came to leave this legacy to posterity, read on.