(c) Mark Hertzberg, 2017, with all photos (c) Robert Hartmann, 2017
Robert Hartmann’s passions when he was growing up included Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and photography. The result? Thirty historic photos by him of the construction of Wright’s Spring Green Restaurant, the building now known as the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. It houses the Taliesin Bookstore and Riverview Terrace Cafe. The building also serves as the starting point for all tours of Taliesin.
A vintage color photo from winter, 1967, of the recently completed Spring Green Restaurant. Hartmann notes that the original location of the old Wisconsin River bridge abuttment can be seen in the upper left of the photo. The pavilion which is still wrapped in plastic sheets, right, originally served as the sales and marketing office of the Wisconsin River Development Corporation headed by Racine businessman Willard Keland.
The building overlooks the Wisconsin River. Wright first designed an auto showroom, restaurant and home for Glen and Ruth Richardson for the site in 1943. His next proposal for the site, ten years later, was for a bridge-like restaurant. Construction had started when Wright died in 1959. Taliesin Associated Architects completed his design and construction in 1967 as part of a Wisconsin River Development Corporation plan from the late Willard Keland (of Wright’s Keland House in Racine).
Hartmann became interested in Wright’s work when he was just eight years old and saw Wright’s newly completed SC Johnson Research Tower in Racine in 1950. Six years later he borrowed his father’s Argus model C-3 35mm camera (which he notes, he never returned). He was working on his Master’s degree in Environmental Design at the University of Wisconsin in 1967. It was an opportunity for Hartmann to follow the progress of the construction of a Wright design. He thought, “It appeared that Wright’s Broadacre City was actually being built.”
An accomplished photographer, Hartmann often drove the half hour to Spring Green to document the construction in his compact gray Sunbeam Imp. He recalls, “Getting to The Spring Green Restaurant was as rewarding as reaching my destination. Driving west on Highway 14 took me through the wonderful small towns of Cross Plains, Black Earth, Mazomanie, Arena and Spring Green. These were the places that Wright had passed through so many times in his lifetime and have now become immortalized by way of mention in the many books and articles by and about Wright.”This summer 1967 photo,with scaffolding still in place, captures The Spring Green restaurant as windows and exterior trim are nearing completion.
This detail view shows the gable roof and original open terrace shortly after Wright’s building was completed. The open terrace on the right was later enclosed and covered with a flat roof by Taliesin Associated Architects, the successor firm to Frank Lloyd Wright.
The young graduate student – he was 25 – carefully filed his three dozen color and black and white negatives and Polaroid instant photos of the construction, and moved onto a career as an architectural and industrial designer. He opened his own practice in Racine in 1980. The negatives would remain unprinted until this year.
Hartmann never lost his passion for Wright’s work. He is a former board member and past president of Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin (Wright in Wisconsin). This past spring Hartmann learned that Erik Flesch, director of development for Taliesin Preservation, Inc., was looking for ways to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the structure. Turning to the notebook with his negatives, Hartmann told Flesch about his archival photos. They arranged for 24 framed prints of the construction and an early renovation to be exhibited at the visitor center through the end of the year.
Hartmann is a meticulous craftsman. Although he shot each photo in perhaps 1/125th of a second, he spent an estimated 1200 hours digitizing and making archival ink jet prints for the exhibition. The prints are 11″x14″ matted and framed to 16”x20”.
Hartmann, left, and Flesch review the installation of Hartmann’s photos.
Lady Bird Johnson, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s wife, attended the dedication on September 22, 1967. A free public celebration of the 50th anniversary of the dedication will be held Friday September 22 be from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. with limited food service and a cash bar. A centerpiece of the anniversary celebration is the on-going exhibit of Hartmann’s photos which he never printed until this year.