Tafels’ Albert House Inches Along to Completion; Court Imposes Fine

Photos and story (c) Mark Hertzberg

Edgar Tafel's Carl and Marie Albert House, 4945 N. Main Street, Wind Point, Wisconsin, Friday May 8, 2015.  /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

A $25 per day fine levied by Racine County Circuit Court Judge Faye Flancher on May 8 against the owners of Edgar Tafel’s Carl and Marie Albert House (1948) in Wind Point, Wisconsin, may spur them to quickly complete restoration of the house, thereby ending a legal battle that is more than three years old. The exterior of the house, above, is largely repaired, but not enough interior work has been done to allow the village to issue an occupancy permit.

The house was deemed uninhabitable in December, 2011.

The house was deemed uninhabitable in December, 2011.

The house, at 4945 N. Main Street, is on a prominent intersection in the wealthy suburb of Racine. Its location at the corner of N. Main Street and Four Mile Road has likely spurred greater concern on the part of the village than if it were in a less visible location.

Court hearing for Edgar Tafel's Carl and Marie Albert House, 4945 N. Main Street, Wind Point, Wisconsin, Friday May 8, 2015.  /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

Village attorney Ed Bruner, left, and Peter Ludwig, the Schulz’s attorney, confer before the hearing.

The house fell into disrepair after Joan Shulz, who bought it in 1972 with her late husband, Dr. Gilbert Schulz, walked away from it more than seven years ago to care for an ill relative. The roof leaked and interior walls were covered with mold. A tarp covered the roof for a long time.

June 30, 2012: A tarp covers the roof and the front of the house is overgrown.

June 30, 2012: A tarp covers the roof and the front of the house is overgrown.

Court hearing for Edgar Tafel's Carl and Marie Albert House, 4945 N. Main Street, Wind Point, Wisconsin, Friday May 8, 2015.  /  (c) Mark Hertzberg

Linden Schulz leans forward to confer with Ludwig while Joan Schulz, right, listens to Bruner’s arguments on behalf of the village.

The house was deemed uninhabitable, and village sought a raze order in 2013. While the house was architecturally significant — Tafel was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s original Taliesin Fellowship apprentices from 1932-1941 — the village considered it an “eyesore,” according to Todd Terry, the Schulz’s former attorney.

Bruner confers with village board member Karen Van Lone. Her husband, Richard Britton, is with her.

Bruner confers with village board member Karen Van Lone. Her husband, Richard Britton, is with her.

Mrs. Schulz paid $11,200 in ordinance fines in November, 2012 rather than demolish the house. The village had run out of patience in early 2013 according to its attorney, Ed Bruner, “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.”

The Schulzes confer with attorney Ludwig after the hearing.

The Schulzes confer with attorney Ludwig after the hearing.

The house is eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Recognizing its architectural significance, Judge John Jude, who originally heard the case, gave Schulz and her son Linden, who was going to do most of the restoration work, consideration rather than order the house razed. Although Schulz missed several court-imposed deadlines, he slowly made enough progress to get extensions from Jude.

Village Administrator Michael Hawes, Bruner, Van Lone, and Britton leave the courthouse after the hearing.

Village Administrator Michael Hawes, Bruner, Van Lone, and Britton leave the courthouse after the hearing.

The Schulz family was told in February that fines might be imposed at the May 8 hearing if there was no occupancy permit by then. While acknowledging that progress has been made, the house is unfinished inside, and Flancher granted the village’s request for fines to push the work to completion.

“This has gone on way too long,” argued Ed Bruner, the village attorney. Referring to the first court hearing in May, 2013, he added, “Several new homes could have been built (in the time it has taken to repair the Albert House).”

Michael Hawes, the village administrator, acknowledges “What’s going on now is better than where we were,” with respect to the condition of the house, but says the village wants the property to be able to pass inspection and have an occupancy permit issued. “It’s not just that it’s a matter of it being part of the community as an occupied home with people living there and people caring for the property, but also so this doesn’t happen again in the future.” The village also wants to be able to assess the house as a habitable property.

The Schulz’s attorney, Peter Ludwig, blamed an electrical contractor for the latest delay, asserting that he is three weeks late returning to the job. Final drywalling, insulation, flooring, and plumbing work will quickly follow, he said, then “it could be a matter of days.”

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Tafel House: Raze order stayed until October 30

(c) Mark Hertzberg

 

Judge John S. Jude continued his stay of the raze order for Edgar Tafel’s Carl Albert House in Wind Point (Racine), Wis., after a two-hour evidentiary hearing in Racine County Circuit Court Friday September 13, 2013. 

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Linden Schulz, the son of Joan Schulz, who owns the house, was closely questioned why he had not met deadlines set at a June court hearing for having a professional structural assessment of the house completed, and having the roof repaired. Judge Jude said, as he ruled, “My goal is to save the house, but I still have great reservations whether it is feasible.” The next court hearing was scheduled for October 30. Judge Jude will likely order the house razed then if  structural repairs have not been completed, and if the house has not been re-roofed. 

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Joan Schulz, right, listens to testimony as her attorney Peter Ludwig, left, consults with her son, Linden Schulz. 

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Ed Bruner, representing the Village of Wind Point, asks Linden Schulz why he has not complied with provisions of a previous court order.

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Attorneys Ed Bruner, representing the Village of Wind Point, left, and Peter Ludwig, representing the Schulz family, meet after the conclusion of the hearing. 

Tafel home faces demolition

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg
(Portions of this article are reprised from an article posted last summer, but no longer on-line.)

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This is one of Edgar Tafel’s drawings of the Carl Albert House

An architectural “Catch-22” sits at 4945 N. Main Street, awaiting a demolition order for February 28.

The Carl and Marie Albert House at 4945 N. Main Street, a piece of Racine’s rich architectural history, sits forgotten, in disrepair, and possibly soon to be demolished by the Village of Wind Point. The cypress and limestone house was built by Robert Albert and Edgar Tafel between 1948-1950. Tafel signed most of the architectural drawings. The house is unknown as a Tafel work, overlooked in published inventories of Tafel’s work in Racine.

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These photos were taken of the front of the house in July.

Tafel was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s first Taliesin Fellowship apprentices (1932-1941). He designed a half dozen homes in Racine in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He had previously supervised construction of the SC Johnson Administration Building, Wingspread, the Bernard Schwartz House (in Two Rivers) and part of Fallingwater for Wright. He then had a distinguished career as an architect after World War II in his native New York City. He was almost 99 when he died January 18, 2011.

While the house is significant in terms of its architectural heritage, the village regards it as “an eyesore,” according to attorney Todd Terry, who represented Joan Schulz, the homeowner last summer. She dates the home’s problems to about five years ago, when she moved in with her daughter to care for her grandchildren, because her daughter worked a night shift. The house has been vacant since then. Terry said the Schulz family’s aim is simple, “We would like to get it (the house) back where it was.”

Schulz bought the house in 1972 with her late husband, Dr. Gilbert Schulz. He died just six months later. She hopes to stave off demolition, “First of all I hate to see it destroyed or razed, because of the design of the home, and the home itself.” Problems stemming from the damaged roof include widespread mold on the burlap which originally covered the dry wall, disintegrating dry wall, holes in some walls, and a rotted header. Much of the roof is covered by a black tarpaulin.

In July Terry said, “We are in municipal court on a nuisance matter, ordinance type of things, on habitability. My speculation is that in the very near future they probably will file with a circuit court judge asking them to allow them to tear it down or raze the property.” Until then, Schulz would be assessed a $50-a-day penalty, dating back to January, 2012.

Schulz paid the $11,200 ordinance fines in November, rather than demolish the house. She disputes the village’s contention that she had agreed to raze the home in November.

While she still hopes to save the house, the village has run out of patience according to its attorney, Ed Bruner. “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.” He could not answer why that should matter if the homeowner was willing to spend the money for repairs.

Nor did he have an answer about Schulz’ “Catch-22”conundrum, that she was told that even though the house needs repairs, no building permits would be issued for those repairs. The village’s appraiser values the house at $25,000. An appraiser hired by Schulz valued the land and house at $115,000. The village would not let her sell the house to an immediate family member, which negated a possible sale to one of her sons, she says. She says she also had an offer to purchase for $61,000, contingent on the buyer getting the building permits that the village will not issue.

“That may have been the case (that the village would not issue the needed building permits)” says Bruner. “Now they (the village board) have made the determination that will not be an option anymore. They want it down. My guess is that it has lasted long enough. I know that there were neighbors complaining and that is what initiated the contact with her. Now they are to the point where it needs to come down.”

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Though in disrepair, the home has notable architectural features, says Joshua Drew who lives in a Tafel-designed home at 4001 Haven Ave., “You can see how Edgar merged many of the Usonian details (indirect lighting, built in cabinets, plywood materials, and several of the rooms have shelving identical to my house) with some Prairie-Style details in the ceilings of the main living space.  The kitchen…still has the original appliances, metal cabinets, and layout.”

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Drew looks at the plans for the Albert House in his own Tafel-designed home.

There is yet another twist to the pedigree of the house, says Drew. “If someone took me into the Carl Albert house and asked me to guess the architect I would have initially have said John Randal McDonald. Some of the stone work details, stone shelves, and the art glass inserts in the stone work are almost identical to the JRMcD-2 house at 1001 Russet St.  However, the den has shelving EXACTLY like the ones in my [Tafel] house.”

McDonald, who was sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s Frank Lloyd Wright, designed 20 homes in Racine. He died in 2003. There is no documented record of collaboration between McDonald and Tafel, and Tafel expressed disdain for McDonald to me during a visit to Racine 10 years ago.

Bruner is clear about the village’s options, “If she does not comply with the raze order then the statute gives me two options: take the house down and put the cost on the tax roll, or take it to circuit court and get a court order which orders her to do that.”

Schulz acknowledges that the house is in disrepair, “I know we haven’t really done any work on it other than originally cleaning up the yard but we haven’t done anything to the building, because right from the beginning, village attorney Ed Bruner stated that no permits would be issued.” She quietly and sadly says she has one more hope, “I was thinking or hoping to take it into court to get a stay of that raze order.”

It seems that even if she gets a stay, the stand-off between Schulz and the village will continue: the house needs repairs, but no building permits will be issued. Demolition of the house seems inevitable.

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Edgar Tafel