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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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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New Roof 6.4.19 002.jpg

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New Roof 6.4.19 001.jpg

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/

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

Gene Hardy 3.jpg

Gene Hardy 2.jpg

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