Remembering Jim Yoghourtjian

(c) Mark Hertzberg

Jim Yoghourtjian, steward of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hardy House with his wife, Margaret, from 1968 – 2012 died April 26. He was 91.

Margaret and Jim Yoghourtjian in their living room in the Hardy house, 1319 S. Main St., Wednesday September 1, 2004.  (c) Mark Hertzberg

He was a well known classical guitarist, who traveled to Siena, Italy, to study with Andres Segovia. His friends knew him for his devotion to Margaret, for his warmth, for his apple pies, as well as for his music.

Jim’s father did not understand how he could make a living as a musician and urged him to take a shop job in the factory where he worked. In 1957, though, his father went to Chicago to hear Jim play in the Fullerton Auditorium at the Art Institute of Chicago in conjunction with an exhibition honoring Pablo Picasso. After listening to the applause at the end of the concert, his father asked the person next to him if everyone there had come to hear the music. Assured that they had, he proudly said, “That’s my son!” Jim wrote in a 1996 memoir.

Jim had a wry sense of humor. Jim and Margaret had welcomed visitors to the house for many years until after some negative experiences. The house then understandably became strictly their home, not a Wright tourist destination. He chuckled when he told me how he then deflected Wright-related questions from strangers who pestered him when he was doing yard work, “I don’t know, I’m just the caretaker.”

I remember seeing him outside the house soon after moving to Racine in 1978, quickly pulling over to the curb, and asking if I could see the inside of his Frank Lloyd Wright house. He declined to let me invade their privacy. I never faulted him for that, wondering how often that happened to him.

There are certainly Wright aficionados who would criticize Jim for playing the role of ignorant caretaker of the house. Those of us lucky to have counted him as a friend would instead smile and think, “Yup, that’s Jim for you!” Rather than dwell on the question of whether or not he should have answered every Wright question, I prefer to dwell on the memory of seeing him tenderly kiss Margaret’s hand one day before going back to bed when they shared a room during a short hospital stay in 2011. He had told me that he used to write her poems for her birthday. That was Jim. And that is part of what made him such a special person.

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3 thoughts on “Remembering Jim Yoghourtjian

  1. My dad and I ride motorcycles all over the country, stopping at Wright sites along the way. Our policy is to never bother the owners/occupants, just see what we can see from public property, maybe snap a few pictures, and move on. I remember stopping at the Hardy House, and we parked across the street. We took a few pictures, then this gentleman came out to take his garbage to the curb, or something like that. He stopped, looked at us, and then gave us a look of death and made a dismissive hand gesture as if saying “bahh humbug” and went inside. Mind you, we had not said a word to him, nor even set foot on his property (indeed, we were across the street). My dad laughed and said that if he hated people looking at his house that much, then he bought the wrong house. To this day, we refer to him as the “bah humbug guy.” Oh, well. RIP.

  2. I am like the writer, in that my husband and I drive around the country to see Wright sites. We have seen approximately 250. I also grew up a block away from the Hardy house, moving to the neighborhood in 1950. The Hardy House is unlike many Wright sites, in that it sits openly on a major heavily trafficked street, next to a public walking park and used to be next to a major public beach (the land below the house abutted the public space). It is also in close proximity to a major Wright attraction, Johnson Administration building and tower. Given this, it is not unreasonable to say that the number of visitors who view it far exceeds other private Wright sites. Not all visitors exhibit the respect that the writer and his father did. Jim had people banging on his door night and day, some demanding that he share his home with them. In addition, when the beach was there, people believed the house to be a public bath house and stopped to ask which was the men’s or ladies’ room. After some vandalism, I, too, would have become cynical. I am sorry you took away a negative reaction, but all of us have our limits. You probably saw Jim on a bad day. He was a fine man and a talented musician. Jeanne Maushammer

    • Jeanne did not mention that she baby-sat at the Hardy House! I admittedly decades ago was one of the jerks who saw Jim outside the house, screeched to the curb, said I was interested in Wright, and asked if I could see the house. He politely turned me down. I deserved it. I’ve learned much better manners since then, and am fortunate to have become friends with them and been welcomed to write the book about their (then) house and home.

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