The Benjamin J. and Mabel T. Ricker House

The Benjamin J. and Mabel T. Ricker House was designed by Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin in 1911 and completed in 1912.

It was the first of seven houses the Griffins designed for Iowa clients, six of which were built; the other five were built in Mason City, Iowa.

Ricker House was purchased by Grinnell College in 2000 and is operated as a short-term residence for guests of the College.

The House

Benjamin Ricker served on the committee that commissioned Walter Burley Griffin in 1911 to design a memorial fountain for Dr. Elbert Clark, a prominent Grinnell resident and civil servant who had died the previous year.

As Griffin worked on the fountain, Ricker commissioned him privately to design a residence for him and his wife, Mabel, to be constructed on two lots Ricker had acquired at the intersection of Broad Street and 10th Avenue, then at the extreme north end of the city of Grinnell.

Built by local contractor Ross V. Coutts and completed in 1912, the five-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath home bears many of the hallmarks of the mature Griffin style.

Notable on the exterior is the brick-and-tile decoration framing the windows on all four fa├žades, a signature of Marion Mahony Griffin.

This work continued on the inside with tile murals adorning both the library and living room fireplaces (shown).

The Rickers

Benjamin Jewett Ricker (1868-1950) was born and raised in Grinnell and graduated from Grinnell College in 1891. In 1895 he joined the firm of Morrison, McIntosh & Company, a Grinnell-based maker of high quality leather gloves. Upon the retirement of Andrew McIntosh in 1907, the firm changed its name to the Morrison-Ricker Manufacturing Company.

Mabel Ella Tompkins (1874-1954) was born in Kewanee, Illinois, the daughter of James Tompkins, a Congregationalist minister, and Ella Kelley Tompkins. As a resident of Oak Park, Illinois, in the mid-1890s, it is possible that Mabel Tompkins knew Walter Burley Griffin as a student at Oak Park High School. Mabel and Benjamin were married in Oak Park in 1897, thereafter residing in Grinnell until 1925, when they moved to northern California.

The Griffins

Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937) graduated from the University of Illinois in 1899. An enthusiastic follower of Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, Griffin began his career in the Oak Park practice of another Sullivan disciple, Frank Lloyd Wright, in 1901. There he met Marion Lucy Mahony, whom Wright had hired as his first employee in 1895, a graduate of the MIT School of Architecture and the first licensed woman architect in the state of Illinois.

Both contributed their own expertise and innovations to the residential and landscape designs credited to Wright before leaving his employ, Walter in 1906 and Marion in 1909, when Wright left for Europe with Mrs. Cheney, the wife of one of his clients. (She continued contributing to Wright's commissions, however, which Wright had left in the hands of fellow architect Hermann V. von Holst.)

Griffin's and Mahony's professional partnership blossomed into a personal relationship and they married in 1911, which turned out to be a pivotal year in their history. It was not only the year of their marriage and the year of the Ricker House commission, but also the year in which, with Marion's aid and encouragement, Walter entered the competition to design the master plan for Canberra, the new capital city of Australia. In 1912 he was declared the winner of that competition, and shortly thereafter the Griffins moved to Australia, never to return to their American practice.

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