Remembering Gene Szymczak

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

I pass Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine almost daily on my bike ride. Today was a poignant day, the first anniversary of the passing of Gene Szymczak, a dear friend who was the seventh steward of the house and the man who lovingly rehabilitated it after buying it in September, 2012. I wondered how to honor Gene today. As luck would have it, the light was right, and I took a photo with my phone as the sun cast a shadow from one of the entry hall windows on the wall next to the north door.Gene Shadow.jpg

I surmised from the cars parked in front that his family was gathered in the house. We each got to honor Gene at the house in our own way.

You have probably heard the story, but if not, the house was distressed when I took Gene through it as a prospective buyer. He said to me, “I don’t have children, but this is something I could do for Racine.” You did, indeed, Gene, and we are indebted to you. Gene was honored with a Wright Spirit Award in 2015 from the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy and was honored posthumously last June with the Kristin Visser Award for Historical Preservation.

Racine and the Wright community miss you, my friend.

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New BC web site design

The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy has just launched a redesigned website at www.savewright.org  The site includes a photo director of virtually all, if not all, of Wright’s extant works. Visit the site and join the BC if you are not already a member!

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Remembering Bonnie McCoy

(c) Mark Hertzberg

Bonnie E. McCoy of Mason City, Iowa died May 14. She and her husband, Bob, are well known as being instrumental in Mason City’s architectural preservation. Their home, Walter Burley Griffin’s Blythe House, is in the Rock Crest, Rock Glen development, near Frank Lloyd Wright’s Stockman House and the Architectural Interpretive Center named for Bob. These photos of Bonnie and Bob were taken when they received the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy’s Wright Spirit Award last October 3 at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee. The last photo shows them with the Building Conservancy’s late John Thorpe.

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Remembering John G. Thorpe

(c) Mark Hertzberg

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John Thorpe at the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy benefit at Steelcase, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Friday October 18, 2013. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

I was on my daily bike ride on my birthday just a month ago when my phone rang. I am never overly eager to answer the phone when I’m riding in the winter, because I have to take my gloves off after pulling off the road, and the weather was nasty, but I was glad I took the call. It was John Thorpe wishing me a happy birthday. I had no inkling that he knew my birth date. Today I awoke to an email telling me that John died yesterday of congestive heart failure. He was 71.  The world of Wright preservation is reeling from the news.

John was my mentor when I began my Wright adventures some 15 years ago. I had no background in Wright scholarship, but that did not matter to John. All he cared about was that I was writing about Wright’s work, striving to be as accurate as possible, doing as much original research as possible rather than rely on anecdotes and the existing literature. My mentor became a friend. I could not help but smile all the times he tweaked me for being a native New Yorker (Second City Syndrome, John?).

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Steve Sikora, left, John Thorpe, and Ron Scherubel at the 2014 Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy conference at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix , Thursday October 30, 2014. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Jonathan Lipman had introduced me to John when I was looking for advice about how to handle a sticky question about the alleged authorship of a house I was writing about. John in turn introduced me to the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy. I turned to him for advice often. His advice was always the same: let proven facts lead the way.

I had the pleasure of helping John chair the Building Conservancy’s 2007 annual conference in Northbrook and Racine.

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John Thorpe, right, leads a Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy planning meeting at Wingpsread for the 2007 conference, Friday February 17, 2007. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

In 2012 John was the person I called for advice from the basement of Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House when I was showing the house to a prospective buyer, Gene Szymczak. The house needed extensive repairs, and the Building Conservancy had fretted about its future. I wanted to know how much the house might be worth as a Wright property over its assessed value. John firmly told me it was time to bring in professional appraisers and to step out of the picture.

Gene ignored his advice, surprising the owners and me by making an offer out of the blue a week later, as they met over lemonade and cashews at the owners’ new apartment. It was an unexpected turn of events, and the house had a new steward. Gene completely rehabilitated the house over the next three years, earning a Wright Spirit Award last October. What better tribute to John than to have the house preserved for another century?

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Edith Payne, left, and John Thorpe at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church during the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy annual conference in Milwaukee, Friday October 2, 2015. (c) Mark Hertzberg

Next year’s Building Conservancy meeting in San Francisco…and each one thereafter…will be diminished without John’s presence. Indeed, so will the Building Conservancy itself, as well as Wright scholarship and preservation.

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John Thorpe, left, at the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy benefit at Steelcase, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Friday October 18, 2013. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Farewell, my friend.

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Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy annual conference, Pfister Hotel, Milwaukee, Wednesday September 30 – Sunday October 4, 2015. (c) Mark Hertzberg

Information about any memorial service for John will be posted to the Building Conservancy’s website: www.savewright.org  Blair Kamin’s feature obituary story for the Chicago Tribune is at:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/obituaries/ct-john-thorpe-obituary-0127-20160126-story.html

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John and Jack Quinan at the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy benefit at Steelcase, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Friday October 18, 2013. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

Wright Spirit Awards

John Thorpe presents one of the Wright Spirit Awards at the Gala Banquet, Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy meeting, Sheraton Society Hill Hotel, Philadelphia, Saturday September 24, 2011. / (c) Mark Hertzberg

A.D. German Warehouse has a new steward!

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From the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy’s release:

“The Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy learned recently that a new buyer for the A. D. German Warehouse (1916-1921) had stepped forward from among the residents of Richland Center, Wisconsin. The property was purchased from the estate of Harvey Glanzer and closed on August 15. The new owner will be working with a group of Richland Center citizens and institutions who are organizing to develop plans for strategic and financial planning, fundraising, restoration, partnering on adaptive use and future operations. The Conservancy began an initiative in May 2012 to chart a path for a new owner and a new future for the Warehouse, bringing together a group of interested parties and local citizens. The current steering committee includes several individuals from this group.”

Congratulations, and thanks, to all those from the BC who made this happen!

Photo (c) Mark Hertzberg