Hardy House: Gene Szymczak + 10

© Mark Hertzberg (2022)

1319 Gene + 10 006.jpgSaturday’s afternoon sun projected the pattern of the entry hall windows onto the walls. Robert McCarter writes that the floor plan of the house is articulated in the windows.

Yesterday, September 17, marked the 10th anniversary of Eugene (Gene) Szymczak becoming the seventh steward of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House (1904-05) in Racine, Wisconsin. Gene fell ill and died December 3, 2016 after undertaking an extensive rehabilitation of the house. Its new stewards are Tom (one of Gene’s two brothers) and Joan Szymczak. Tom and Joan invited family to a low-key celebration of the anniversary on the dining room terrace yesterday. Anne Sporer Ruetz, who grew up in the house from 1938 – 1947 and two non-family couples were also invited.

Hardy Sale 022a.jpgGene signs papers transferring stewardship of the house to him, September 17, 2012.

I took Gene through the house, which was challenged, when he was considering buying it in 2012. As we left, he said to me, “I don’t have children. This is something I could do for Racine.” The late John G. Thorpe of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy advised me to step back and let professional appraisers and others take over. I understood, but I wanted Jim and Margaret Yoghourtjian, the longtime stewards of the house to first meet Gene. I told Gene what kind of pastry to bring Margaret (chocolate-covered marzipan loaves). He also brought them a Japanese print reminsicent of a famous drawing by Marion Mahony of their house. We were having lemonade and cashews in their new apartment when Gene surprised us and made them an offer for the house. There was a glitch though, or so I thought, when the week before the closing Gene emailed me that he was having second thoughts…it would make a good teardown and he could build something with a three car garage underneath. I held off calling the Yoghourtjians to cancel the sale so I could get hold of Gene. It was two days before he called me back, from Baltimore Washington Airport, on his way to visit Fallingwater, “Just kidding!”

Anne has often told me that it was like watching movies when the pattern of the leaded glass windows was projected onto her bedroom ceiling and walls by the headlights of passing cars at night. She was delighted that the “movies” were playing in full force in the entry way as we arrived at the celebration yesterday:

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Anne was a celebrity yesterday: one of the guests had brought a copy of my book about the Hardy House (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hardy House, Pomegranate: 2006) and asked her to sign two pages with photos related to her:

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1319 Gene + 10 020.jpgThis photo of Anne’s 14th birthday party at the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed dining room ensemble (which was lost after her parents sold the house) was in the Racine newspaper in 1946. She is holding the cake at the head of the table.

Coincidental with the celebration, a new Wright website, which I was not familiar with, pinged this morning to a piece I posted in 2014 about Gene’s work at the house:

https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/2014/02/17/hardy-house-restoration/

The new website is:

https://franklloydwrightsites.com/hardyhouse/

Gene was honored with a Wright Spirit Award from the Building Conservancy in 2015, and the Kristin Visser Award for Historic Preservation in 2017.

I posted this piece a year ago when Anne and David Archer, who grew up in the house between 1947 – 1957 were reunited at the house:

https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/2021/06/13/hardy-homecomings/

I challenge myself each time I visit a familiar Wright site to find something new to photograph. A week ago, before I was escorting my fourth Road Scholar tour of the summer, I told my wife that I was having trouble seeing anything new the first three tours of this year and was almost considering not even bringing a camera with me (these were my 10th – 13th tour with the same itinerary since 2017). I looked up as I was bringing our guests down to the dining room and looked at the bottom of the stairs to the living room for the first time. Out came the phone camera:

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The Road Scholar “Architectural Masterworks of Frank Lloyd Wright” tour is a week-long and begins in Chicago:

https://www.roadscholar.org/find-an-adventure/22976/architectural-masterworks-of-frank-lloyd-wright

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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