Photos and story (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, 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”