Hardy Homecomings

Two people who grew up in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine, and a man who had the house on his paper route in the 1970s visited the house in May 2021. These are their stories.

© Mark Hertzberg (2021) with black and white photographs by Dave Archer and Anne Sporer Ruetz, used with their permission. Most of the photos in this article are Archer’s. A wide selection of Ruetz’s photographs are in the preceding article, below this one, or at:

https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/2021/05/22/hardy-house-photo-proof-positive/

IMG_7194.jpegDave Archer greets Anne Sporer Ruetz who last saw Archer was he was 8.

Many people remember getting their first bicycle for Christmas. But unlike Dave Archer, few can say that momentous event happened in a Frank Lloyd Wright house. Archer was six years old when his parents became the third stewards of Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine, Wisconsin in 1947. Two years later the young boy became the proud owner of a blue Huffy bicycle in the Prairie-style house built into a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan.

And, not many people can say that their future career – as a builder and developer in Florida – was inspired by listening as a youngster to Wright at the family dinner table as he told the story of his dendriform columns at the SC Johnson Administration Building. Wright was dining with the Archer family at the Hardy House, just blocks away from SC Johnson.

The Archers lived in the house until 1957, when they moved to Florida. Archer was back in Racine and visited the house May 28 for the first time in more than 40 years. He last saw the house, from outside, around 1980, on his way to Bozeman, Montana to go fishing. Archer was joined on his recent visit by Anne Sporer Ruetz, who grew up in the house from 1938-1947. Her parents had bought the house from the bank after Hardy lost the house in a court fight following its sale at sheriff’s auction in 1937. The last time she saw Dave, she said, he was just 8 years old. Our hosts were Curt and Mallory Szymczak who live there now. They were married in the house two years ago. Curt’s late uncle, Gene Szymczak, rehabilitated the house after buying it in 2012. 

Ruetz has visited the house more recently, so the morning was mostly Archer’s as they reminisced for three spell-binding hours. Before entering the house, Archer commented that there is no longer any evidence of window wells between the two entrances to the house. The window wells  are visible, along with what was likely a coal chute, in some of the photos young Anne took. Archer said the windows were in the sub-basement, or pantry level, below the kitchen level. There is no longer any evidence of the windows inside the house.

Sporer- Friends.jpg

Once inside, looking around the two-story living room, Archer first talked about bringing the family Christmas tree – the one the blue bicycle was under – in through the two story living room casement windows. He and Ruetz remembered decorating their family’s trees from the balcony above. Archer then talked about the two-story windows that look out on the lake. “These windows leaked when we had bad snowstorms. The windows bowed and we had snow on the seats. We had to get storm shutters.”

Archer tree.jpgArcher and Star, his beloved collie, by the family Christmas tree in the living room.

The pear trees that were in the north and south courtyards were so well known in the neighborhood that the Pfisterers, stewards from 1963-1968, once told me neighbors held a wake for one of the trees when it blew down in a storm. The trees were even with the upper level bedrooms. “I used to climb out the windows to get the pears,” remembered Archer. He also shimmied up one of them to get on the roof of the house to do mischief, mischief for which the statute of limitations has expired. Unlike Archer, Ruetz did not confess to any mischief on her watch.

Archer continued, “I crawled up (the pear tree) to the Shovers’ house next door. They had two windows there.” His friend Jimmy Shovers (and Anne’s friend, Suzy Shovers) lived there. I promised him I would not write about the mischief that ensued.

Pear Trees.jpgThe pear trees in the north courtyard are visible outside the upper bedroom windows in this photo that Dave Archer took of people watching the 4th of July parade passing the house, above, and in his photo of the south courtyard, below.

Pear trees 2.jpg

Then Archer said, still in wonderment at being back in his childhood home, “There are so many good memories of this house.” Ruetz agreed, “Me, too. I cried when we had to move.” Archer, replied, “I was too young to cry. The first time I cried, I saw Bambi.”

Archer snow gate 11.jpg

He remembered a big oil tank in the lower basement. “In heavy rains, water would raise up from the drain. My job was to clean the floor up.” He talked about an old gun he found in the basement and Ruetz mentioned that her father was a hunter. Said Archer, You didn’t have to go far to hunt. We had pheasants, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons (below the house)…What I loved was the kitchen. The kitchen windows opened up so they were pretty big. And I went down to make breakfast one morning and there was a rabbit that was trapped in the cul de sac (window well) and I fed him through the window. My mom came out and saved him and put him back in the wilderness behind us. I wanted to keep him.” 

Archer 13 pilings.jpgStar explores the area below the house, an area with lots of wildlife.

Then he turned his attention to the living room balcony. “My dad and mom were entertainers. I would sneak up and lie above this closet and I would watch (the parties below).” Ruetz has also confessed to spying on her parents’ parties.

Archer Balcony.jpgArcher shows his hiding spot for spying on his parents’ parties…a crawl space above the bedroom closets whose backs form the side living room walls.

Archer admired Gene Szymczak’s rehabilitation of the house. “This is such a beautiful job. When I lived here it was getting a bit old at the edges. But Frank Lloyd Wright slept here one or two nights. He had dinner with us once.” Wright remembered having designed a dining room table for the house (the table was no longer in the house when Wright visited). Ruetz chimed in, “We used to put a ping pong net across the middle and play ping pong on it.” A photographer for the Racine newspaper took a picture of she and her friends at the table during her 14th birthday party.

Birthday party.jpgThis is the only known photo of the Wright-designed dining room table. It was taken at Anne’s golden birthday party in 1946.

The house was designed in 1904/05 before automobiles were part of everyday life, so there is no garage (Wright did not design carports until the mid-1930s). Archer said his father “thought about opening up the courtyard on this side (the north side) so he could pull his car in there, make it an open kind of spot.”

Garage Top darker.jpg

Garage Title.jpgThe Sporers also thought about having a garage in the north courtyard. Plans were drawn by Edgar Tafel August 1, 1941, before he left the Frank Lloyd Wright Fellowship after nine years. © 2021 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art / Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

There used to be a public beach just south of the house. Both Archer and Ruetz remember people thinking the stucco Hardy House might be a bathhouse for the beach. Archer also remembers tour buses with Wright aficionados. “In summer sometimes buses would come.. People were get out and take pictures of the house. I came home one day and said, ‘Mom, I need some paper.’ She asked why. ‘I’m going to make some tickets.’ She turned him down. I said, ‘Damn! I could have made some good money!”

Terrace.jpgRobert Archer, Dave’s father, built wooden slats to go over the surface of the dining room terrace which was often too hot to walk on.

Dave, Mary, Star, terrace.jpgDave and Star with Mary Archer, Dave’s mother, on the dining room terrace.

Archer Mary Painting.jpgDave sits in the living room under a portrait by his mother. She was a well-known portrait painter in Racine.

St. Luke’s Hospital, a block from the Hardy House, was building an addition when Archer was young. “They had a workman’s shack they stored stuff in. They had a Coke machine, the kind you had put quarters in [Coca Cola was packaged only in bottles then]. One Sunday we went over there and decided we were going to get some Cokes. We got two pea shooters and a can opener.” He and his friends popped off the bottle caps and used the pea shooters at straws while the bottles were in the machine which had an open top.”  “They also had a big thing with wheels for carrying equipment on it. We took it and built a tank out of it. We used a baseball bat as a gun. We used it in the 4th of July parade.”

By 1957, Mrs. Archer had died and Mr. Archer wanted to start an airline and sell real estate in DelRay, Florida. He planned to buy a section of DelRay beach and develop it. He developed the Sherwood Park golf course, among others. Dave followed in his footsteps. “I started out digging ditches in construction. I got a carpenter’s license then foreman’s, then I took the Realtor’s and broker’s exams. My father built Lanikai (a housing development), with the first underground parking in DelRay Beach, Sherwood Park, Sherwood Forest, then he bought Sea Horse Bath and Tennis Club, then East Wind Beach Club. By then I had a broker’s license and designed and built Ocean Reach and two others. He helped build golf course at Quail Ridge and DelRay Dunes. He was pretty influential in a lot of places in DelRay.” Mr. Archer died in 2002 in North Carolina. 

“I got into designing and building because of Frank Lloyd Wright. I was so influenced by this house. He also fascinated me because when he was here (he talked about) how he designed the pillars at the Johnson Wax building and how he had to fight the city (for permission to use the dendriform columns). It got me interested in construction. I was probably 12 or 13.”

Archer added to the Hardy House lore with a new name for his upper level bedroom. Among all his designs, Wright unknowingly designed a penal institution at 1319 Main Street. As Archer related stories of his mischief and told about often being banished to his room, “I was up in jail again.”

He had one birthday story to relate. “My grandfather was in advertising and hired Buck Rogers and his cohort girl to come down for my 10th birthday party here. Boy, was I famous for awhile! I was looking so forward to my 10th because I would be a teenager. ‘No, son,’ my father said, ‘You aren’t a teenager yet.’  I was so peeved. What made up for it was when Buck Rogers came for my birthday!”

After listening to Archer and Ruetz, Curt chimed in about what the house means to him and Mallory. “It’s a whole other world being in here. The moment you are in here or out on the deck you are transported into a whole different world. It’s magic. You forget you are in Racine, in the Midwest, you are in a whole different world.”

Curt Archer Ruetz.jpgCurt Szymczak bids adieu to Archer and Ruetz in the front hallway.

I had stopped at the house one morning in early May when I saw Joan and Tom Szymczak, Curt’s parents, in front, doing yard work, when a man walked up and asked if we had any connection to the house. He explained that he is a Residential Designer/CAD Drafter/Estimator in Milwaukee, and that he was greatly influenced by the Hardy House when it was on his paper route when he was 12 – 16 years old. I asked him to email me his recollections of the house and how it influenced him. I have edited them for brevity. Paul Alan Perez’s story continues the tale that Dave Archer tells about Wright influencing his future career.

Perez Hardy.jpg

I had several paper routes (including the Racine and Milwaukee newspapers and the Chicago Tribune) from 1975 to 1979. One of my customers was the Hardy Residence on Main Street. I did not know much about the owners except that he was a nice middle aged man, (Jim Yoghourtjian), although I think he had black hair and glasses looked like a professor or an attorney who had two really big dogs that barked a lot when I came to collect at the residence semi-private front door entrance (Yoghourtjian was a famed classical guitarist). He liked his paper inside the screen door and not folded. He didn’t say much but tipped me well when I gave him the next years calendar at Christmas time. 

I finished delivering my routes everyday near Johnson Wax and back then in the Mid to late 1970s there was no gates surrounding the complex like there is today and I would enjoy riding my skate board thru the smooth pavement and very cool architecture of the Johnson Wax Parking Structure (carport) because it was always open. It was then and there that I feel in love with the wonderful art of architecture. 

Later in life as an adult when I was studying graduate architecture at UWM-SARUP (University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee) I saw the movie documentary about Louis Kahn’s life and career and his son told his father’s story as he roller blades thru all his famous works. I thought that was a very unique and special experience that I once shared as a young boy with Mr. Wright’s famous works in Racine.

So it was really that experience coupled with my 7th grade ‘World of Construction’ class where we saw a documentary of Eero Saarinen’s ‘Gateway Arch to the West’, the building of the St. Louis Arch, and me and my school buddy got to design and build our own house in class. I was hooked and madly in love with the architecture and building things like tree forts to hide out and play cowboys & Indians. We built one that was really big with 3 levels the city eventually came and demolished it. 

Once in high school I began taking more courses related to architecture and construction and excelling in architecture and mechanical drafting classes which gave me confidence and the curiosity to learn more and found a wealth of information on FLW at the Racine Public Library and then I remember my last paper route customer was Cong. Les Aspin whose office was at the Post Office. After him I usually went straight to the library to read FLW books cause they had lots on him and that is really what fascinated me so much about FLW was his art of architecture in all those books.

(Perez describes the intricacies of a private millwork commission which I have chosen not to identify) It is a typical example of architects designing things that physically can’t be done yet. FLW was the best at doing that and that’s why we LOVE him so much!

Over the course of my professional career in the construction industry I have become a highly conscientious, detailed minded architectural professional who has built an excellent reputation for quality and in-depth knowledge of all facets within the architectural and woodworking fields owing it all to the wonderful experiences I have been blessed with growing up in Racine on Park Avenue near all of Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpieces.

— 30 —

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hardy House: Photo Proof Positive

© Mark Hertzberg (2021)

Several features of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine have been the subject of speculation for years because of the dearth of historic photos. Three newly discovered 1908 photos of the house, which was completed in 1906, end the speculation.

The first of the 1908 photos, showing the Main Street side of the house, may have been taken on Flag Day or on Independence Day:

LR 1908 Hardy Main.jpg© 2021 The Organic Architecture + Design Archives, Inc.

 

We can now definitively answer questions about the two front gates to the house, front plantings, the seven front hall windows, the south first floor bedroom windows (on our right in the photo above), the original dining room windows, and the rear gutter and downspouts.

Many people contributed to our getting the new photos and to understanding them. They are credited at the end of this article.

Until we got the new photos, the only clear vintage photograph of the house we had was this one from the Wright archives, evidently taken as the house was nearing completion in 1906:

Terrace 0506.004 raw.jpg© 2021 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art | Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

I was sent this 1906 “real photo postcard” below by Patrick Mahoney in 2018:

LR 1906 Hardy Mahoney.jpg

The Gates: This 1906 photograph, taken around the time Hardy moved into his new home, is regrettably not clear enough to let us examine the windows, but we can now affirm that the gates were stucco. Until we got the 1908 photos, Mahoney and I thought we were looking at the stucco walls inside the gates rather than the gates themselves.

By the time that Henry-Russell Hitchcock photographed the house in the late 1930s or early 1940s for his book In the Nature of Materials, there were wood panels on the gates:

Hitchcock Hardy.jpg

The wood panels are also evident in photos that Anne Sporer Ruetz took in the early 1940s when she was growing up in the house (her parents were Hardy’s second stewards, from 1938 – 1947). You will see her photos further down in this article. The gates seem to have insets on which there could have been stucco panels. Did the stucco panels prove to be too heavy?

The gates were removed by the third stewards of the house (the Archer family, 1947 – 1957). The late Gene Szymczak, who became the seventh steward of the house in 2012 extensively rehabilitated the house, which needed major work. He also commissioned new gates for the house. He elected to use Wright’s first design, gates with diamonds atop the gates:

Drawing Main Street.jpg© 2021 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art / Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Plantings: Marion Mahony’s elevation drawing of the Main Street side of the house shows plantings below the front hall windows. Original to the house, they are long gone, as are the climbing plants:

LR Crop 1908 Hardy Main.jpg © 2021 The Organic Architecture + Design Archives, Inc.

Front Hall Windows: There has been speculation about the original design of the seven windows between the two front doors. The 1908 photograph and Anne’s affirm that the windows in the house when Szymczak bought 1319 Main Street in 2012 were original, but they did not conform to the only Wright drawing we have of them. The windows were badly deteriorated, below, and were replaced with new ones by Szymczak:

Floor Plan Window.jpg

Wright’s drawing, below, is shown in the correct orientation. The text block was positioned as if the drawing is to be viewed as a horizontal sheet, rather than vertical, says my friend Bob Hartmann. At the upper left we see the front hall window design. The five-panel living room windows are at right. Bottom center are the bedroom windows:

image004.jpg © 2021 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ. The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation Archives (The Museum of Modern Art / Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library, Columbia University, New York)

Robert Hartmann, an architectural designer in Racine, has been of invaluable help to me in all my Wright projects, helping me navigate design territory unfamiliar to me. He studied the drawing and photographs closely and observes: “The windows that we see in these photographs appear to be the same windows that were in the house when Gene [Szymczak] bought it. But, they are different than the window design that Wright put on paper. Wright’s design was symmetrical with less elements. His design (on paper) for the hall windows referred to the symmetry and simplicity of the living/dining and upper bedroom windows.

“However, the hall windows that we see in these photos are most likely original to the house. It is not unusual to see a design modification occur during construction.”

Bedroom Windows, Living Room windows: These are the second and third photos from the 1908 collection. You will see the original photos and my enlargements of them. The south bedroom windows are to the left and the two-story living room windows center. Pull down shades are evident on the windows. Anne told me that her parents removed the original living room windows because they leaked badly. They have been clear glass in recent memory. We had a hint of their design from the 1906 construction photo, but now we can clearly see Wright’s original leaded glass living room windows:

LR 1908 Hardy HIll.jpg© 2021 The Organic Architecture + Design Archives, Inc.

LR 1908 Hardy HIll Crop.jpg© 2021 The Organic Architecture + Design Archives, Inc.

Hartmann comments first on the first floor bedroom windows: “It looks like it is just clear glass in the bedroom windows.  If it were art glass we would be able to see some traces of the pattern. The key is in the window on the east side that is visible in the photo. Bright light is coming through the window and yet we do not pick up any representation of the art glass pattern. There is a curtain drawn to south side of the window in the foreground. It is pulled back to the window casing  and of a medium grey value. If the art glass were present it would stand out in contrast against the curtain. But, the photo is not in perfect focus so there is a percentage of doubt.”

LR 1908 Hardy Side.jpg© 2021 The Organic Architecture + Design Archives, Inc.

LR 1908 Hardy Side Crop.jpg© 2021 The Organic Architecture + Design Archives, Inc.

Gutter and downspouts: Many people have questioned me about the gutter and downspout on the rear (lake side) of the house. The historic photos show they are original or hew to the original design.

Anne was given a Brownie box camera, likely for Christmas, when she was around 10 years old (the same age I was when I was given my first Kodak Brownie camera!). “Not too many of my friends had a camera but I just thought it fun to take and get the pictures. It would take about a week to get them developed [at Red Cross Drug, 13th and Villa streets], hard to wait.” Her snapshots of her friends show us the windows, the gates, and what may be a coal chute in front of the house (there is no evidence of it anymore).

Dream house 1.jpg

Cushman Hill gate.jpg

Mary Hill and gate.jpg

Shovers.jpg

Sporer- Friends.jpg

Tag 1.jpg

Tag 2.jpgAnne is at left in this photo.

Turnball standing1.jpg

Hill and ball.jpg

I must credit the people who contributed to our being able to better understand how the house was built:

Mike Lilek, the force behind Frank Lloyd Wright’s Burnham Block in Milwaukee, alerted me April 16 to a 1908 photo album with photos of the Hardy House and one of the Mitchell House for sale on eBay (Mitchell is grist for a later separate article). He pointed to the 45 or 46-star flag (some of the stars are obscured). The former was in use from 1904 – 1908, the latter from 1908 – 1912. The album is dated 1908.

-Lilek’s email was followed by an alert from Racine historian Gerald Karwowski.

– I notified the stewards of the Hardy House as well as Eric O’Malley of the Organic Architecture and Design Archives (OA+D). OA+D entered the bidding to ensure that the photographs had a safe new repository. They successfully acquired the photos and quickly shared high resolution copies with the Hardy House stewards, with Hartmann, and with me.

I urge you to explore OA+D’s website, and to subscribe to their Journal:

https://www.oadarchives.com

I thank Anne Sporer Ruetz for her friendship and eagerness to share her memories of what she has called her “dream house.”

I also thank architect Patrick Mahoney of Buffalo, another friend and well known Wright Scholar, for the July 1906 “real photo postcard” he sent me in 2018.

    – 30 –

 

Rest in Peace, Maggie of the Hardy House

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

IMG_6406.jpegThere are long shadows at the Hardy House this week, or so I thought when I rode my bicycle past the house today and reflected on the deaths of two of its stewards. I took these  photos in their memory with my phone camera. Eugene “Gene” Szymczak, who rehabilitated the house from 2012 until his sudden death, died December 3, 2016, four years ago this Thursday. Margaret Yoghourtjian died yesterday evening.

IMG_6411.jpegThe afternoon sun shines through a window in the second floor north stairwell.

IMG_6408.jpegThe sun casts a shadow of the cantilever that shelters the north entryway to the house.

I lost a friend last night, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hardy House in Racine lost another of its stewards, when Margaret Yoghourtjian – Maggie to her family – died Monday November 30. Margaret, 98, and her late husband Jim, were stewards of the house from 1968 – 2012. Jim, a renowned classical guitarist, was 91 when he died in May 2015.

Margaret and Jim 9.1.04006.jpgMargaret and Jim in the Hardy House living room, August 2004. Jim wrote his beloved Maggie a poem every year for her birthday. They married in 1950.

It was initially hard for me to get to know Margaret, much less get close to her. She often referred me to as her “nemesis,” but in truth, we had a wonderful relationship. The Yoghourtjians had shared their house with Wright aficionados for many years. Two unpleasant incidents some years after they bought the house caused them to decide that it was their home, and no longer a semi-public site. I confess that not long after moving to Racine in 1978 I saw Jim in front of the house, pulled to the curb, proclaimed that I was interested in Wright’s work, and asked if I could see the house. He declined my request. I was disappointed, but years later I understood his reaction to my brash request. In later years when he was Wrighted-out, Jim told me that when people asked him about the house if they saw him gardening in front, he would tell them that he was only the caretaker, and knew nothing about it. (But if Jim liked you…well, his apple pie was legendary!)

Margaret Grape Leaves 004.jpgMargaret and Jim were Armenian. Their families suffered through the Armenian genocide. Margaret came to our house in 2014 to make stuffed grape leaves with my wife, Cindy, and with Joan Szymczak, whose brother-in-law Gene had bought the house from the Yoghourtjians in 2012.

I began my serious Wright studies in the early 2000s. I wanted permission to take a picture from the Hardy House living room balcony to show the view of Lake Michigan through the two-story living room windows. I knew that the house was off limits. Period. End of story. Don’t even bother to ask. But I called the house anyway on March 1, 2003. I was astonished when Margaret answered because she preferred to screen calls from the answering machine.

She knew me from my work at the newspaper (she worked there as a proofreader before my tenure there). I promised not to photograph any other part of the house. Margaret said she would consider the request. I was sure that meant “no” and that this was my single chance to talk to her. I stalled, thinking of any possible way to keep her on the phone. I told her that if she called me back during the weekend she would not be able to reach me because I was going home to New York City to help my brother celebrate his birthday, “He will be five-five on 03-03-03.” Her voice brightened. “His birthday is March 3? So is mine!” I sent her flowers. I had an entree into the house.

I learned that Margaret loved chocolate. I asked if she had ever had chocolate-covered marzipan slices from Larsen’s Bakery. She had not. I brought her some. She was smitten by them. I would periodically leave a package of them at the door – which was never answered – and leave a phone message for her to look outside for a special delivery. Would it be wrong of me to say she could sometimes be impish? She called me at work one day and said, “I got the package. I don’t want you doing this anymore. But if you insist, Tuesday is the best day for me!” (She had told me that she would have a bite and freeze the rest for later so the treats would last longer). How can you resist loving someone like that?

I gradually gained Margaret’s trust and got permission to take more photographs on the condition that they not be shown publicly. In June 2003 I gave my “Wright in Racine” presentation at the SC Johnson Golden Rondelle. I invited Margaret but she told me she would not come because she was angry, thinking I had broken my promise about not showing the photos publicly. I scanned the audience, and indeed, she was not there. Then I saw her come in – almost sneak in so I might not see her – and take a seat in the back row seconds before the lights went down. She saw the presentation and saw that I had kept my promise, and I was back in her good graces.

She signed off on the photos of the house that were in the book. Then came the next challenge. Pomegrante Publishing offered me a contract to write and photograph a book about the Hardy House, deadline January 2005. Margaret’s brother, Ardie Kaiserlian had warned her, she said. “If you give him an inch, he’ll try to take a mile.” We laughed about that warning many times, because Ardie was right.

One day Margaret gave me a box and said she had saved every letter written to the house since they bought it in 1968. There were about 180 letters, which I catalogued in a data base. My original concept for my Hardy House book was to write “Dear Frank Lloyd Wright House,” a book about letters to a Wright house. I contacted as many of the correspondents as I could find, to get their permission to use their letters, Most agreed. Pomegrante was less interested in that approach than I was, and so the book took a different turn, but those letters helped me gain context and perspective for the history of the house.

Hardy Letters029.jpg

Margaret zealously guarded her privacy. I made sure that she approved the photos I was submitting to Pomegrante. All was well until Katie Burke, the publisher, emailed me that there had to be at least one photo of one of the four bedrooms. I gulped. The bedrooms had been off-limits to my cameras. Katie was clear, no bedroom photo possibly meant no book. I called Margaret and got another “I’ll think about it.” No amount of marzipan would help me this time. I did what Ardie had warned her about, and pushed to go for that extra mile. She reluctantly agreed to the photo session. When I arrived to take the pictures she proudly told me that the afghan on her bed for the photos was one that her mother had made.

Bedroom 023.jpg

Bedroom 011.jpg

I took these rather pedestrian photos, and then I took one of my favorite photos, the view from her bedroom:

Triptych.jpg

I asked all the stewards of the house, or their descendants, to sign my copy of my Hardy House book. While Margaret had been leery about the book, she told me she was happy I had written it. She wrote: “Nemesises can change into angels. Mark has done that. M.”

Hardy Sale 078.jpg

Today Margaret’s niece, Pat Yoghourtjian, told me, “Nemesis? To get a nickname like that is special.” (I had also earlier been honored by Margaret with my own key to the house).

Pat also told me that every Christmas a mysterious plastic ornament appeared on their tree after Jim and Margaret’s visit. Inside was a $20 bill. No one ever saw Margaret pull her Santa trick.

Margaret was Ardie’s older sister. Ardie and his wife, Penny, chuckled today when I told them that Margaret – their Maggie – often told me about taking Ardie on the North Shore interurban train from Racine to Chicago to take him to Cubs baseball games at Wrigley Field.

Joan Szymczak, Gene’s sister-in-law, remembered Margaret fondly as a lover of nice clothes. Margaret and Jim went to Siena, Italy in the 1960s, so Jim could study with Segovia. She brought many new clothes home with her. In 2012, Margaret donated many of her clothes to a vintage clothing shop owned by Ginny Hintz, the mother of Joan’s future son-in-law. Ginny and Joan took Margaret out to lunch and they stopped at the shop on their way home. Ginny told her to pick out anything she wanted and take it with her. “She is going through all the lovely items Ginny had redone, from the 50s, and what does she come up with, but her own coat that she had donated! There was consistency, she had impeccable taste that never went away.”

She also had a smile that never went away. Rest in peace, dear Margaret.

I leave you with two photos that Margaret took of the house in 1968:Exterior Main 2.jpg

Below hill main.jpg

***

Gene Szymczak contacted me in 2012 when he gathered that the house was for sale (I was helping the Yoghourtjians sell the house, and we did not want to put a For Sale sign up in front of the house). While the late John G. Thorpe of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy sagely advised me to step aside and let professionals take over, I wanted Gene and the Yoghourtjians to meet at Jim and Margaret’s new apartment. I suggested that Gene bring Margaret some marzipan from Larsen’s. He did. He also brought a copy of a Japanese print that was reminiscent of Marion Mahony’s famous view of the lake elevation of the Hardy House from below. We were having lemonade and cashews in the Yoghourtjian’s living room when Gene turned to them and made an offer for the house. There was no need for professionals. The house had passed from one loving steward to another.

Hardy Sale 077.jpg

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/

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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Stewardship of a Wright Home

(c) Mark Hertzberg

What does it take to be the steward – a better term than ‘owner’ – of a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright?

Last week I posted pictures which the late Eugene (Gene) Szymczak took in 1977 of what became his beloved Thomas P. Hardy House when he became its seventh steward in 2012. A few days later his family sent me a copy of an email Gene sent me in 2012, an email I had forgotten about. In it he describes his thoughts about his new stewardship of the house. His writing “I don’t know how long I’ll be there” is poignant and particularly moved his family because Gene fell ill and died unexpectedly December 3.

As you read the email, remember that when I showed Gene the house, which was distressed, he told me, “I don’t have children, this (buying it and rehabilitating it) is something I could do for Racine.”

His note is particularly apt this week as the stewards of dozens of Wright-designed buildings gather in New York City for the annual conference of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy.

From: <EugeneS@>
Date: September 14, 2012 7:19:57 AM EDT
To: Mark Hertzberg
Subject: 1319
Hello Mark,

I have been born and raised in Racine.  I come from a working class family.  Racine has a reputation in history for doing the right thing.  It could be from fighting against slavery to having the first high school in the state to trying to rejuvenate River Bend. We do the right thing. We put others first and give back.  I am part of that heritage. I think that it was time for someone to assume stewardship of the house from Jim and Margaret.  The Youghourtjians have been good stewards for more than fourty years.  I don’t know how long I’ll be there.  It’s my turn to take care of the Hardy house.  It is a Racine and even a world landmark.

Attraction

The Hardy house is a home that most Racinians would recognize.  It evokes different reactions.  In 1905 it was called “kooky”.  To me it’s a song.  Wright was a middleman between humans and nature. He asks us where to we fit in nature?  How do we interact with living creatures?  What can we learn?  Do we enhance one another’s lives and the landscape?

Interest in Wright

I find that Wright looks a little deeper into life and introduces more questions than answers.  A little more understanding than strong judgement calls.  God (being Nature), has all the answers to what being here is all about.  To me he says be part of it all and share it unselfishly.

The black and white photo of the house were taken in 1978 [the prints indicate 1977] About when I bought a fancy camera.  I took pictures of my parents, the lake, and the Hardy house.  To me significant things.  I ended up returning the camera because I felt it was too expensive…lucky for you it was the end of my “career” in photography.

Gene

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Gene’s First Photos of the Hardy House

Mark Hertzberg (c) 2017

I have written before that the late Gene Szymczak was captivated by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House long before he ever thought of buying it (in 2012). He told me that the house was on his garbage route when he worked a summer job. A few years later, in 1977, he bought a Leica CL camera and took pictures of things that moved him, including the Hardy House. He returned the camera because he thought it too extravagant for him. Yesterday his sister-in-law, Joan Szymczak, excitedly called to tell me that she had found Gene’s Leica-Hardy photos, photos Gene couldn’t find when I asked him about them. Here they are:Gene Hardy 1.jpg

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Gene died unexpectedly December 3, but his family continues to share the house as he would have. Thank you, Gene, for your gift of having rehabilitated the house and wanting to share it. I will be taking a group of Road Scholar tour participants through the house this afternoon. When I took him through the house as a prospective buyer he said to me, “I don’t have children. This is something I could do for Racine.” And he did.Gene Szymczak 002.jpg

Hardy House Honors

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

Eugene (Gene) Szymczak was posthumously honored Sunday as recipient of the 2017 Kristin Visser Award for Historic Preservation for his rehabilitation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine. Szymczak, who died December 3, arguably saved the house for another 100 years when he bought it in September, 2012 and began four years of repairs. Gene Szymczak 002.jpg

The house was distressed when I showed it to him earlier that year on behalf of the owners. He said to me, “I don’t have children; this is something I could do for Racine.” The photos below are from November, 2012 and May, 2017:

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The award is presented by directors of the Seth Peterson Cottage Conservancy at the diminutive (but stunning) Wright-designed cottage on Mirror Lake. It is presented every other year to an individual or organization in recognition of past work in historical preservation of a Wright or Prairie School building in Wisconsin or a contiguous state. Buildings constructed between 1900 and 1925 are given preference, and the restoration work shall have been substantially completed within the two calendar years previous to the year of application.

The award is named in honor of Kristin Visser, who was instrumental in the restoration of the Seth Peterson Cottage and a tireless worker in its behalf. She is the author of Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School in Wisconsin, and, with John Eifler, A.I.A., Frank Lloyd Wright’s Seth Peterson Cottage: Rescuing a Lost Masterwork. Visser, who was a planner for the Wisconsin State Department of Natural Resources, died in 1998 at the age of 48. (Photo (c) by Brent Nicastro, and used with permission)

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Bill Martinelli of the Conservancy presented the award to Tom, left, Curt, Jim, and Joan Szymczak. Tom and Jim are Gene’s brothers and Curt is a nephew of his. Joan, who is married to Tom, tirelessly helped with the rehabilitation and staged the house for the many benefit tours which Gene generously opened the house for.

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Recognition includes a large plaque, a monetary award, and a small plaque affixed to a marker near the Cottage. The marker is mounted on a slab of sandstone shaped like the state of Wisconsin. Martinelli found the slab at a nearby quarry:

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Tom Szymczak wrote to the Conservancy after the presentation, “Our sincere thank you  for honoring Gene with the Visser award. On the surface Gene would not have like the attention but I believe deep down inside he would have seen it as a ‘thank you.’ I know at times, especially early on in the project, he would wonder what he had gotten himself into. But once he saw the public begin to cherish the house, he knew it was all worth it. Gene had plans of retiring in Hardy house and sharing it with visitors so they could feel the magic of a Wright-designed home. We truly lost a person that Lived by Example. Again, Thank You for honoring Gene with award.”

Jim Cairns, of Bukacek Construction, contractor for much of the work, wrote me, “We at Bukacek Construction were honored to be part of Gene’s rebuilding process. His home is truly a unique architectural treasure in Racine and Gene’s commitment to restore the property is a tremendous gift to all of us who live and work here.”

Szymczak had previously been awarded a Wright Spirit Award by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in 2014.

The inaugural award was given in 2007 to Steve Sikora and Lynette Erickson-Sikora, for their work in restoring the Malcolm and Nancy Willey House in Minneapolis. The 2009 award was granted to Paul A. Harding and Cheryl Harding, for their work in restoring the Davenport House, in River Forest, Illinois. The 2011 award was presented to Mary Arnold and Henry St. Maurice for their work on the E. Clarke Arnold Residence in Columbus, Wisconsin.  The 2013 award was presented to Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin for the restoration of the B-1 ASBH in Milwaukee and the 2015 award was given to John Eifler and Bonnie Phoenix for the restoration of the Ross house in Glencoe, Illinois.

The application deadline for the next award will be in early spring, 2019. Applications should be sent to award committee chairman Jerry Minnich, 821 Prospect Place, Madison, WI 53703. Questions may be submitted by e-mail: jminnich7@att.net.

http://sethpeterson.org

https://www.savewright.org

Honoring Gene Szymczak

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

Family and friends of Eugene (Gene) Szymczak gather in a cold rain in Sam Myers Park in Racine, Wisconsin Saturday May 20, 2017 for the dedication of a bench in his memory. Szymczak, president of Educators Credit Union, died suddenly December 3. A lover of architecture, he bought the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Thomas P. Hardy House in 2012 and then restored it. Designer Eric O’Malley was commissioned by the credit union, the YMCA, Kids First, and the United Way of Racine County to design a memorial bench to face the Hardy House. O’Malley chose a cantilevered design, evocative of the Prairie-style architecture in the Hardy House.  The dedication was preceded by a volunteer agency fair at Gateway Technical College in recognition of Szymczak’s numerous volunteer contributions to the community. Szymczak was honored with a Wright Spirit Award by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy in 2015 for his stewardship of the Hardy House. Gene was modest and did not like to be singled out. I think he ordered the morning’s cold rain to discourage people from gathering in his honor.

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Hardy House: New photos

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

One of the joys of experiencing Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture is to see his buildings in different ways no matter how often you have visited them. I stopped in at the Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine twice over the last week to take some new photos with a new lens.

I have descended the steps from the entry hallway to the dining room and kitchen level dozens of times, but never saw the stairway like this until last week:

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This is another view of the living room balcony and ceiling:

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I have photographed the afternoon shadow of the entry hall windows projected on the wall behind, but never with a shadow on the stairs to the living room until yesterday:

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My book about the Hardy House has a shot of three bedroom windows. Last week I shot the view south a bit wider:

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And, finally, this is what happens when you greatly underexpose the view south across the balcony above the living room from the north stairs landing. The window at left is in the living room; the middle one is in the south bedroom (photo above) with a circular hall light next to it; and the window at right is in the bathroom:

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We are indebted to Gene Szymczak for his loving rehabilitation of the house between September, 2012, and his sudden death December 3, 2016.