Text and photos by Mark Hertzberg (c) For The Journal Times
The fate of an historic house at 4945 N. Main Street may be determined at a hearing in Judge John Jude’s courtroom Friday afternoon. At issue is whether or not the house is too badly damaged to restore.
The cypress and limestone house was designed by Edgar Tafel in 1948 for Carl and Marie Albert. It has recently been judged eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
Tafel was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s original Taliesin Fellowship apprentices. The house was overlooked in published inventories of Tafel’s Racine work, which includes six other homes. Tafel had supervised construction of Wright’s SC Johnson Administration Building, Wingspread, and part of Fallingwater before leaving Taliesin after nine years, in 1941. He died in 2011 at age 98.
Dr. Gilbert and Joan Schulz bought the house in 1972. He died six months later. She left the house about six years ago to help care for her grandchildren. It has suffered significant water damage since being unoccupied. She and her sons, Linden and Nathan Schulz, insist the house can be repaired.
The disagreement is between the Village of Wind Point and the Schulz family. “The village is putting the cart before the horse,” according to Peter Ludwig, the Schulzes’ attorney.
The damaged roof of the house has been covered by a plastic tarp. The village declared the house “uninhabitable” in December, 2011, and the water service was shut off. The village also labeled the house a “public nuisance.” Mrs. Schulz staved off several raze orders. In February, Ed Bruner, the village attorney, said the village had run out of patience. “There’s been a determination made by the building inspector that the cost to repair the house far exceeds 50% of its value, so that’s the problem.”
After hearings in May and June Judge Jude ordered water service be restored. He ordered the village to issue building permits, so the Schulzes could make exterior structural repairs and repair the roof by Labor Day. Jude also ordered the Schulzes to submit a construction plan, timetable, and a professional structural assessment, to the court by July 31.
The construction plan and timetable have been submitted to the court, and the structural assessment is being prepared, according to Linden Schulz. The roof has not been repaired, because village building inspector Lee Greivell will not issue a permit, without the structural assessment. Greivell referred questions to Bruner.
Friday, Bruner said permits will not be issued without a report certifying that the house can support a new roof, “As long as you can establish that the house is in sufficient shape that a roof can go on there, we are happy to provide a permit. But we will not just issue a permit to do that. It would be a dereliction of duties if he (Greivell) did. It doesn’t make sense to put a roof on something that is not structurally sound. If that report exists, I don’t understand why they have not shared that with us. That would get the whole process moving.”
The Schulzes’ engineer, Larry Ruka, agrees that the house needs major repairs, but says, “It’s all repairable.” He adds that he has never been required to provide proof of the soundness of a building before getting “dozens, no hundreds” of building permits in his career, as the village is now insisting.
“Therein lies the rub,” says Ludwig. “In talking with Ruka, his indication is that there is often unsoundness in a home before repairs begin, for example after a serious fire. In that case, the purpose of doing work is to correct unsoundness.” He quotes Ruka, “Give us a permit, and we will repair the structural unsoundness. And then you’ll determine the structural soundness after the work has been done.”
Houses with black plastic tarps covering the roof are not common in Wind Point. Nathan Schulz looks beyond the damage and speaks with passion about the home he grew up in, “It’s not a cookie cutter McMansion. It’s a piece of art work. It doesn’t deserve to be destroyed. The whole city loses, if it’s destroyed.”