Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg
Step inside Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine with me to get an overview of the restoration project, since our last visit to the house in November…
Gene Szymczak become the seventh steward of the house in September. He is tackling the restoration from the inside first. Some work is the fun arguably cosmetic stuff, other work is the serious task of addressing some structural issues. Let’s look at the fun stuff first.
The house originally had two pocket (sliding doors), on either side of the entry hall. The entry ways to the doors had wood gates across them. The third owners of the house (1947-1957) took out the pocket doors because they would ice up. We do not know who removed the gates. Anne Sporer Ruetz, whose parents bought the house in 1938, took this picture of her friend Mary Hill putting on her roller skates in front of one of the gates:
Chad Nichols, a local master carpenter, has measured the entry ways and will use Anne’s photos to help him recreate the gates for Gene.
The pocket doors will be trickier, but the original mechanisms were found two weeks ago. The hardware for the north door is now on the living room floor, the hardware for the south door is still mostly in concrete in the doorway (although it is hanging down):
The living room balcony was deflected. The plaster face was removed so the balcony could be leveled. Electric wiring found on the face of the balcony tells us that there may once have been two light fixtures on it. Anne Sporer Ruetz and Mary Hill, who often played in the house, have good memories for details, but they do not recall the lights. We surmise that Mr. Hardy removed them at some point, or else while they were wired, they were never installed.
Wil and Eddie Sunderland remove trim from the balcony:
Paul Lemke does magnificent plaster work. He has been working in the bedrooms. He will replaster the balcony, front hallway, and the two-story living room.
The bathroom originally had doors at both the south and north ends. The south door was walled over when the bathroom was remodeled in the late 1940s (the tub had 1949 stamped in the bottom). Gene wants that door replaced so that people can look out Mr. Wright’s leaded glass windows as they exit the bathroom from either end. The bathroom is getting a complete makeover. First we see Ed Sunderland taking it down to brick, then we see plumber Mark Derouin working in the space to remove cast iron pipes as workers Kevin Grant and Gordon Hudson work below him framing for a new bathroom floor, above the entry hallway:
The house has some structural challenges. They are not where they might be expected, on the lake side of the house. There is no evidence of the house being unstable as it sits on the bluff above the lake. Rather, there are problems on the west or Main Street side of the house. Some of the concrete by the entry ways is cantilevered and has no support in the basement. Daylight is visible from the basement as one looks up at the concrete pad by the south door. Some wood in the basement has rotted, further eroding support for other concrete. Four permanent metal posts are being put in the hallway below the kitchen, a space which Mr. Wright called the Heater Room, to help stabilize the west side of the house. The post shown is a temporary one, but this photo illustrates the problem.
The leaded glass windows on the Main Street elevation of the house were removed by Grant and Paul Harvey to ensure that they did not crack when the jacks in the Heater Room were tightened during the stabilization of the Main Street elevation:
Grant marked pieces of trim as he removed them from the upstairs hallway so they can be replaced properly:
Sometimes there seem to be some steps back that offset the steps forward, other times there is a burst of steps forward. Gene has undertaken a project that is not easy, but the house is in good hands, both in terms of him and the people restoring it. There is no timetable for completion of the work, because that would be realistic. Substantial exterior work, like the stucco and replacing wood trim will wait until after the interior work is finished.
This will be Gene’s home. It is not a public building that must be completed by a certain deadline. Most of the house will be put back together they way Gene bought it, once repairs are completed. The kitchen and bathroom will be more contemporary, to reflect that 1319 Main Street will be his home, not a house museum.
I leave you with this picture of Gene smiling as he gets his first look at Paul Lemke’s plaster work in the south upstairs bedroom in January, before a work meeting to plan the next stages of the restoration.