Taking a Fresh Look at Penwern

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

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Bill Orkild, the Wizard of Penwern, the magnificent estate that Frank Lloyd Wright designed for Fred B. Jones on Delavan Lake, Wisconsin in 1900 – 1903, invited us to an open house a few weeks ago. The occasion was to show off the new / old gate lodge greenhouse constructed this year. It replicates the original one which was demolished in 1983. I give Orkild that monniker because he is the construction master of virtually every phase of Penwern’s rehabilitation since Sue and John Major became its stewards in 1994.

https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/2020/04/06/the-coda-to-penwerns-rehabilitation/penwern-greenhouse-6/

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The visit also challenged me to see Penwern with fresh eyes, six months after my last visit. Arches are one of of the design themes of the grounds…this photo of the 28′ arch which spans the front porch, facing the lake, was a new angle for me, even after dozens of visits to Penwern. I also looked at the dormers on the west side of the house differently, as we sat by the pool and enjoyed a picnic lunch:

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Now, onto the greenhouse! The structure is virtually identical to the commercially – built one which Wright included in his design. The new one is an entertainment venue, rather than a greenhouse for growing flowers (Jones loved growing roses). It is surrounded on the east side by a semi-circular boulder wall, another recreated feature of the estate. Bob Hartmann, an architectural archaelogical sleuth from Racine, noticed the wall on the plans and commented that half the wall was missing. Say no more to the Majors and Orkild, there is a full wall again!

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There are now flowers in a planter atop the north wall at the end of the greenhouse. Orkild speculates that the original wall and greenhouse may have failed for lack of a liner to keep water from the plants from seeping down and weakening the structures.

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Now, invitations in hand, let’s go into the greenhouse:

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The design on the windows leading to the new space is reprised on the corners of the counters in the food preparation area:

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One of Orkild’s great contributions to preserving Penwern’s history is the museum he is creating in the stable:

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The work at the gate lodge included the arduous task of scraping off concrete that had been added atop boulders on the walls of the gate lodge water tower as cracks developed over the last 115 years:

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Orkild found an unexpected artifact, a pipe, 12″ into this wall. The pipe is now in the museum. He theorizes that either a mason put his pipe down and forgot about it, or one of his co-workers, annoyed by the smoke, took the pipe, and ensured that it could not be found (or smoked) again.

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This oak table, below, is another recent addition to the museum. The piece of wood from an alder tree is signficant, because one of the possible meanings of “penwern” in the native Welsh is “at the head of the alder tree.”

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Orkild’s wry sense of humor shows in this new display:

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Wizards sometimes don’t show their faces. I offer only this wizard’s shadow as he stands by the stable gate explaining some of the work he has done:

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Recreating the greenhouse was a team effort, and the Majors credited all who had a hand in it with a plaque outside the new structure:

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Remembering Randy Brandt

(c) Mark Hertzberg

None of you in the World of Wright have ever heard of Randolph Brandt, but you are reading this post because of him. Randy, 67, died recently in Texas where he moved after leaving Racine.

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Randy was my editor at The (Racine) Journal Times from 1998 – 2007. I was Director of Photography at the newspaper. I began my serious exploration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work in Racine around 2001. In September 2003 I was offered a contract by Pomegranate Publishing to write my first book, Wright in Racine. I had a four-month deadline: turn the book around by January 30, 2004 for publication in September. I was working fulltime, but the book was written and edited in many late-night and weekend writing stints, with Randy’s encouragement. He was no less encouraging two years later when Pomegranate gave me a contract to write my book about the Thomas P. Hardy House.

One day Randy came to me and told me that he wanted to expand the newspaper’s Internet presence by having me come up with a personal Frank Lloyd Wright website through the newspaper. Unfortunately many of my blog pieces until about 2012 were lost when there were changes in the companies handling the websites, but here we are today, with you reading this tribute to Randy.

Peter Jackel, one of the finest writers I ever worked with at the newspaper – he’s more than a mere reporter – has penned an obituary story for tomorrow’s paper. It’s on-line now:

https://journaltimes.com/news/local/brandt-former-journal-times-editor-dies-at-67/article_71d6faea-5459-5da3-8a30-00f372987399.html#tracking-source=home-top-story-1

Rest easy, my friend. Many of us in Racine miss your genial smile and manner.

Wright Galore in Elmhurst

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

Elmhurst, Illinois is not the first Chicago suburb that comes to mind when devotees of Frank Lloyd Wright play “name that house and location.” It is no Glencoe, Highland Park, Oak Park, or River Forest. After all, it has only (!) one house designed by Wright, the F.B. Henderson House, a fine Prairie-style house designed in 1901. But playing the numbers game is no reason to pass up a visit to the city, west and slightly north of the Big Two, Oak Park and River Forest, especially on October 24.

Let’s start with some photos of the house, which was recently sold to new stewards:

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October 24 is designated as “Frank Lloyd Wright Day” in Elmhurst. There will be two concurrent museum exhibitions to see. One, “Wright Before The ‘Lloyd,” opened at the Elmhurst Art Museum in September, and runs until February 14. It is curated by the incomparable source of Chicago architectural knowledge and artifacts, Tim Samuelson, the City of Chicago’s Cultural Historian. If the Smithsonian Institute is truly “America’s Attic,” as many people say, then Samuelson’s office and storage spaces are “Chicago’s attic” The second exhibition, “Frank Lloyd Wright: Architecture of the Interior,” opens at the Elmhurst History Museum on October 23, and runs through December 20. This is a national touring exhibition. The history museum showed its Wright-related chops with a fine exhibition, “In Her Own Right: Marion Mahony Griffin,” in 2016-2017.

“Before The ‘Lloyd'” focuses on Wright’s early career, before he formally replaced his given middle name, Lincoln, with “Lloyd,” in honor of his maternal family heritage. The artifacts come from Samuelson’s collection. Some – those from the Adler and Sullivan Schiller Building or Garrick Theater, and Wright’s Harlan House – were salvaged by the late Richard Nickel. [Samuelson asked me to clarify about the name: “There is some dispute about Wright’s middle name initially being “Lincoln”. It all depends on who you talk to.

“By the time of the exhibit’s theme, Wright definitely considered Lloyd his middle name.  There are some very early ink renderings where he signs them “Frank Ll Wright”.

“But when he went into architectural practice, he signed his drawings, press notices, etc. with the prosaic “Frank L. Wright”.  Just the initial. He never started signing drawings, press notices, etc with a full blown “Frank Lloyd Wright” until 1897-98. The exhibit is themed around a more modest period where he just used the initial “L” instead of writing out a more distinctive “Lloyd”.]

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You doubtless have read about the Froebel gifts umpteen times, but you may have never seen them except in illustrations in books. Now you can:

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How many of us thought of the game manufacturer Milton Bradley in any context other than “Chutes and Ladders” when we were children? Think again, they introduced the “gifts” to America in 1869.

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There are artifacts and historic photos of the Charnley House (1891-1892) and the Rolson Rowhouses (1894), among others. I have seen the Charnley House and I have seen many photos of it, but this is the first time that its entrance made me think of Wright’s Winslow House entry (please use the comments link to tell me what you think!).

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The floor plan, below, shows the layout of Adler and Sullivan’s offices when Wright worked there, showing how close Wright’s drafting space was to his “Leibermeister’s” office.

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Samuelson is the curator of record, but he refuses to take sole credit for the exhibition’s artifacts. Quoting from an email he wrote me, “But Eric O’Malley has a big presence in the show. His computer and graphic design skills were what created the electronic re-draws of patterns gleaned from burned and shattered original fragments, and putting them in a format to facilitate laser-cut complete patterns as they appeared on the buildings.  Wisconsin wood finish master Stan John Zachara recreated original wood finishes perfectly.

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“Much of Wright’s early ornamentation for exteriors was fret sawn wood, which weathers and deteriorated severely if not maintained.  And for those that were maintained with diligent painting have the patterns clogged to the point that it’s often no longer to discern the patterns.

“I chose to remove layered paint that compromised the design – and each piece was returned to its original color and finish.

“I never wanted to restore the pieces too much.  Repairs were made where damage compromised  the design, but I still maintained the effects of damage over time.”

This window is from the Rolson Rowhouses:

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The two museums are architectural opposites. The History Museum is in the historic Glos Mansion (1893), designed the year Wright left Adler and Sullivan. The Art Museum is in a contemporary building  (1997) designed by DeStefano + Partners of Chicago. It complements an architectural bonus for visitors to the Wright exhibition, the McCormick House, designed in 1952 by Mies van der Rohe, and later moved to the museum campus.

For more information:

https://www.elmhurstartmuseum.org

https://elmhursthistory.org/

 

 

Wright on the Move, The Finale

All photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

Today was moving day – again – for Frank Lloyd Wright’s diminutive Sherman Booth Cottage (1913) in Glencoe, Illinois. The house was moved a tenth of a mile to its new site on July 21, and placed on a temporary foundation. Now it was time to nudge it onto its permanent foundation.

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The cottage was threatened with demolition by the new owners of the lot it had stood on since 1916. With the help of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, the nonprofit Glencoe Historical Society acquired the home to remodel it and turn it into a museum and research center. The diminutive home, built for Wright’s attorney Sherman Booth while his larger Wright home was being built nearby, is said by some Wright aficionados to be a precursor to his post-1936 Usonian home designs. Wright scholar William Allin Storrer believes the house was actually designed by Lloyd Wright. Whoever designed, it is a historical structure and it was imporatnt to save it.

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Sherman Booth Cottage Moved 066.jpgThe house was nudged by the forks of a John Deere track loader on these rollers on 50′ long steel girders.

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Sherman Booth Cottage Moved 109.jpgAn overhanging tree limb unexpectedly had to be cut down.

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Sherman Booth Cottage Moved 121.jpgMeasurements were taken throughout the morning…then it was time for a lunch break:Sherman Booth Cottage Moved 130.jpg

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Sherman Booth Cottage Moved 136.jpgThe house is finally in place and finish work is underway.

Sherman Booth Cottage Moved 103.jpgRon Scherubel, former executive director of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy, has documented the entire project. He showed me a fire pit designed by Jens Jensen, just outside the fence line:

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While the July move – documented in an earlier post on this website – attracted dozens of media outlets, none came today. https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/?s=on+the+move

Oh, and as for the owners of the cottage who wanted to demolish it when they bought the former site, they have not had any work done there since the cottage was moved off their property July 21:

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Nature is Not Always Wright

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2020) unless otherwise noted

Frank Lloyd Wright embraced nature. But nature does not always embrace his work. Take for example the Thomas P. Hardy House (1904-05), built into a bluff above Lake Michigan, south of downtown Racine, Wisconsin.

Hardy 1906.jpgThis postcard, from the voluminous Patrick Mahoney Wright archives, shows what the house looked like in July 1906, around the time that Hardy moved in. Regrettably there is no companion photo showing the full expanse of land below the house.

Terrace 0506.004 raw.jpgThis photograph, also ca. 1906, shows the lake side of the house, but does not give us an idea of far away the lake was from the property line. Photo © 2020 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All rights reserved.

The house was above the 14th Street Beach, and many people mistook it for a bathhouse and stopped there to change into their swim suits, recalls Anne Sporer Ruetz, who grew up there between 1938-1947.

Archer Terrace 14.jpgThis photo, courtesy of David Archer, who grew up in the house between 1947 – 1957, shows a fence separating the public land from the private land.

Seward Beach.jpgSchuyler and Peterkin Seward, stewards of the house between 1957 – 1963, took a picture beyond the fenceline, showing how much land there was below the house. That land is now under water. Photo courtesy of Abbi Seward.

Below hill Yog.jpgThe landscape changed dramatically a few years after Jim and Margaret Yoghourtjian bought the house in 1968 and took this photograph.

The City of Racine decided to alter the nearby shoreline northeast of the house, over protests of the residents in the early 1970s. Jim Yoghourtjian told me that they lost an estimated 100 – 125′ of land below the house. And that brings us to today, when Lake Michigan is experiencing near-record high levels and has overtaken much of the land below the house. The fence put in a few years ago by the Szymczaks to give them some privacy from people walking along the shoreline is now largely under water…there is no more walking path. A small dock no longer stops short of the small beach area the owners could launch a kayak from. It was virtually at water’s edge last fall.

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Fear not, the house is not threatened, but the situation is serious enough that the Szymczak family and neighbors had to hire Ray Hintz, a local contractor, to place 3 – 5 ton boulders at the base of their property this summer. The Szymczaks estimated that they have lost 40 -50 feet of land in the last seven years. Neighbors’ land is more seriously threatened as parts of their bluffs have been eroded.

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Photograph courtesy of Ray Hintz

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Local and state government representatives have looked unsuccessfully for possible sources of Federal, state, and local funding to help underwrite or create a loan fund to help shoreline homeowners in Racine and Kenosha counties bear the expense of the revetment. One neighbor emailed me, “We paid full freight (the whole $$), further underscoring neighbors’ commitment to these historic properties.”

The lake, as viewed from the living room balcony and the base of the bluff is, indeed lovely. The sound of the waves lapping at the shore can be soothing. But these days, neither is always welcome.

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Rainy Day Post #3 – A Wright Potpourri

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

I have promised you one more “rainy day post,” cleaning up pictures that have been waiting on my desktop for the right context to post them in. This is a smattering of photos of Frank Lloyd Wright sites I have visited in one context or another since July 2018. While I shoot literal photos of Wright buildings (“head shots” we called them in the newsroom), I also look for photos of details of Wright’s designs. I am generally not sharing interior photos of private homes. I try to avoid looking at other photographers’ interpretations of Wright buildings before I visit them so that I see the structures through my own eye and lens, rather than possibly copy another photographer’s vision.

The photos are in chronological order, beginning with a wonderful trip to the Detroit area that July two years ago. We were with our good friends Bob and Jeanne Maushammer from Virginia. Jeanne’s exposure to Wright began when she was a teenager, hired to babysit at the Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine for Schuyler and Peterkin Seward, stewards of the house between 1957 – 1963. The Maushammers dutifully chronicle their Wright adventures in a well worn copy of William Allin Storrer’s The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright. I will copy and paste Jeanne’s recollections of the Hardy House from my 2006 book about the house at the end of this blog post.

Our first stop was at the Affleck House in Bloomfield Hills, where Dale Gyure graciously gave us a private tour:

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We were fortunate to next get a private tour of the Melvin Smith House. The light was not as subtle as the architecture in the early afternoon:

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Then we were off to the Turkel House, lovingly restored by our good friends Norm Silk and Dale Morgan. Jeanne has wonderful stories of having seen the then-distressed house ca. 2004 right after a questionable tenant had been evicted. We had bid on a dinner at the house, to benefit the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. Norm went above and beyond shopping for us in a Middle Eastern market, and we had a lovely meal in the garden. The Maushammers, Cindy (Hertzberg), and Norm:

Turkel House Dinner 010.jpgWe planned to stay only a couple of hours and not overstay our welcome, but we were like family enjoying the house in the living room after dinner until past 11 p.m.! The light was harsh when we arrived at 5 p.m., and I wondered how it would change through the evening:

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Our next adventure was when Bob and Jeanne treated us to a stay at the Palmer House in Ann Arbor:

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I was then on tour in familiar territory in Wisconsin, helping lead tours for Road Scholar, first in Racine at SC Johnson and at Wingspread. I have visited and photographed these wonderful spaces umpteen times, and always look for a fresh way to see them:

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I climbed these stairs at Wingspread countless times before seeing this photo:

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I was then taken, again, by the fixtures at the Annunication Greek Orthodox Church in Wauwatosa (suburban Milwaukee):

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After touring Racine and Milwaukee, we take our Road Scholar guests to Madison and Spring Green. First, a detail of the ceiling of Jacobs 1:

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Then, a light well in Anthony Puttnam’s interpretation of Monona Terrace:

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The trip culminates at Taliesin – of course – after seeing the Unitarian Meeting House in Madison and Wyoming Valley School, with lunch at Riverview Terrace. Our introduction to Taliesin is a pause at the dam:

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I finish with Jeanne’s recollection of babysitting at the Hardy House and a “selfie” there:

(From “Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House,” written and photographed by Mark Hertzberg, Pomegranate: 2006):

Jeanne (Weins) Maushammer, who baby-sat for the Sewards, recalls growing up nearby. “The house was well-known to everyone in the neighborhood.  People would go to the 14th Street public beach there and see the house just a short distance away.  It did not look like a private residence.  Visitors from outside the area – even across town – would see two openings that could easily be mistaken for bath house entrances, and try to go in to change their clothes.

“Sometimes when you were driving around with out-of-town folks, they would ask ‘What is that?’  They did not recognize it as a house, because it was so different from the other homes around it, and because it was next to the beach.  Neighbors knew what it really was.  The Johnson Wax complex was down the street from us, so the Hardy House seemed to be appropriate.  My folks often told me of their witnessing the construction of the Administration Building and of seeing Frank Lloyd Wright.  The Johnson buildings were understood and accepted by visitors, but not the ‘beach house.’

“My friends and I used to go down to the beach all the time.  We could not get close enough to the property to get a good look at it.  We always had to look through the trees.  We could not see how it blended into the hill side.  That added to the mystery of it.  From the street, all that people could see was just that box.

“I knew it was a Frank Lloyd Wright house before I first went inside.  What I did not realize was how he proportioned houses to his small frame.  I remember thinking when inside for the first time:  ‘I am 5’4” but wow, these doorways are low.’  It was dark and raining that particular day, so I did not get to appreciate the house’s real beauty.  After I had been there several times and had a chance to explore it, to stand in that living room and on the balcony, and to take in the view, I realized it was incredible.

“My husband has never seen the inside of the house, except in photos, but in our wildest dreams we would like to buy it and come back to Racine.”

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Rainy Day Post #2 – Guggenheim Dome Evolution

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

Saturday I wrote that it’s like a rainy day, and I am taking time to clean up my desktop and post some things that have been in limbo. There will be a third Rainy Day Frank Lloyd Wright post – the one with what I referred to as a “smattering” of photos from many Wright sites – possibly tomorrow.

I noted in my 2004 book Wright in Racine that Wright’s initial design for the dome of the Guggenheim Museum in 1943 was identical to the one he later used for the dome built over the advertising department in the SC Johnson Administration Building in Racine. That space was added concurrently with the construction of the SC Johnson Research Tower (designed in 1943/44, constructed 1947-1950). (The space is now home to the company’s Global Affairs and related departments)

The Advertising Department’s dramatic glass dome is now an architectural icon of the company. It embodies the design Wright proposed in 1943 for the Guggenheim Museum.
The dome now has a white cover now to lessen the heat from the sun.

Visitors to the 2017 “Unpacking the Archive” exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (MoMA) saw the Johnson version of the dome on the Guggenheim model in the exhibit:

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This exhibit was labled: “Tension ring study model for Johnson Wax Research Tower, Racine, Wisconsin  1943-50  Steel.” There was no mention of its similarity to the Guggenheim proposal.

Wright’s final design for the dome has been photographed many times:

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Rainy Day Post #1: Hardy House Roof

All photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2020), except as noted

Hardy Tafel photo.jpgEdgar Tafel, photographer, courtesy of John Clouse

It’s 84 degrees and sunny, but let’s pretend it’s raining out because this is a “rainy day projects” catch-up-on-loose-ends kind of day. I had a smattering of Frank Lloyd Wright files that have been sitting on my desktop in a couple of folders for up to two years, waiting for me to decide in what context to post them. Let’s have at it!

This post is about last year’s project to replace the roof on Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House (1904/05) in Racine. The second Rainy Day Post, in a day or two, will be a smattering (there goes that word again!) of photos from different Wright sites.

Tom and Joan Szymczak are now the stewards of the Hardy House. Their late brother and brother-in-law Gene Szymczak rescued the house in 2012, but fell ill and died unexpectedly in December 2016. They decided to replace the roof last summer. Our scene setter photograph is an undated one by Edgar Tafel, a photo lent to me by fellow Wright photographer John Clouse.

Our only description of the original roof is in a June 1906 article about the house in House Beautiful magazine: “The roof is shingled, with braided hips, and stained a lighter brown.” However, the author of the article clearly relied on descriptions provided to him by Wright and never saw this house. The article describes details, some on drawings by Marion Mahony, which were never executed.

We start with photos of charred timbers found by the roofers. Racine Fire Department records indicate there was a roof fire in the 1930s, put out with just a single fire extinguisher:

image1.jpegPhoto above courtesy of and (c) Tom Szymczak

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The best descritption of the roofing job comes in an article in the May 2020 issue of Roofing Magazine. Note, though, that while they say the fire was in the 1960s, fire department records indicate it was in the 1930s. The article is illustrated with wonderful drone views of the house.

Maybe I was prescient in sitting on my photos of the roofing job from June 6, 2019 because I just knew that Tom was going to send me a link to an article about the work this past week! I would be remiss to not credit John Waters of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy for his work with the Szymczaks as they planned the project.

http://www.roofingmagazine.com/tag/thomas-p-hardy-house/

Wright on the Move

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2020

It was moving day in suburban Glencoe, Illinois for Frank Lloyd Wright’s diminutive Sherman Booth Cottage (1913) on Tuesday July 20. The cottage, built for Sherman Booth, Wright’s attorney, while his larger Wright home was under construction, was threatened with demolition by new owners of its lot. The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and the Glencoe Historical Society worked together for the Society to acquire the home and move it about a tenth of a mile to a park, where they hope to remodel it and turn it into a museum.

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Former Conservancy board president and present board member Tim Quigley walks his dog past the site before the move. He came from Minneapolis to see the action.

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Clearances are checked as the house is moved off its lot.

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Lumber protects the windows on the front of the house.

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Many limbs had to be trimmed as the house moved down the street.

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The move was a spectator’s delight.

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It was also a journalist’s delight.

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The house moves past the Ravine Bluffs marker.

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Sherman Booth Cottage Moved 057.jpgWright luminaries included Ron Scherubel, former Executive Director of the Building Conservancy, and Barbara Gordon, current Executive Director, and Wright restoration architect John Eifler.

Sherman Booth Cottage Moved 060.jpgQuigley, left, chats with  Eifler.

Below, views of the foundation of the house:

 

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What is in your basement?

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg 2020

In the case of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside Theatre at Taliesin, there are some Pyrex-glass window tubes and thousands of roof tiles. The window tubes are thought to be related to the SC Johnson Research Tower, designed in 1943/44 and constructed 1947-1950, according to Kyle Dockery, Collections Coordinator for the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The Tower has 17.5 miles of the tube windows (the Administration Building, designed in 1936 has 43 miles of the window tubes).

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Dockery says there are between 30,000-50,000 clay roof tiles which were made by Ludowici Roof Tiles for the Theatre.

Hillside Theater 2018 016.jpg“They were removed and replaced with the rolled rubber roofing in 1968 after a stack of extra tiles which had been set aside to repair the roof fell over and damaged a truck. The structure of the roof meant that the tiles needed constant maintenance and replacement so plenty of extras were kept on hand.” 

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I unexpectedly got to see these generally unseen artifacts in the basement when I was working with Dockery to photograph the newly-restored curtain in the Hillside Theatre in June. A shortcut to the dining room to photograph the curtain from the dining room balcony took us through the basement.

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