Nature is Not Always Wright

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2020) unless otherwise noted

Frank Lloyd Wright embraced nature. But nature does not always embrace his work. Take for example the Thomas P. Hardy House (1904-05), built into a bluff above Lake Michigan, south of downtown Racine, Wisconsin.

Hardy 1906.jpgThis postcard, from the voluminous Patrick Mahoney Wright archives, shows what the house looked like in July 1906, around the time that Hardy moved in. Regrettably there is no companion photo showing the full expanse of land below the house.

Terrace 0506.004 raw.jpgThis photograph, also ca. 1906, shows the lake side of the house, but does not give us an idea of far away the lake was from the property line. Photo © 2020 Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. All rights reserved.

The house was above the 14th Street Beach, and many people mistook it for a bathhouse and stopped there to change into their swim suits, recalls Anne Sporer Ruetz, who grew up there between 1938-1947.

Archer Terrace 14.jpgThis photo, courtesy of David Archer, who grew up in the house between 1947 – 1957, shows a fence separating the public land from the private land.

Seward Beach.jpgSchuyler and Peterkin Seward, stewards of the house between 1957 – 1963, took a picture beyond the fenceline, showing how much land there was below the house. That land is now under water. Photo courtesy of Abbi Seward.

Below hill Yog.jpgThe landscape changed dramatically a few years after Jim and Margaret Yoghourtjian bought the house in 1968 and took this photograph.

The City of Racine decided to alter the nearby shoreline northeast of the house, over protests of the residents in the early 1970s. Jim Yoghourtjian told me that they lost an estimated 100 – 125′ of land below the house. And that brings us to today, when Lake Michigan is experiencing near-record high levels and has overtaken much of the land below the house. The fence put in a few years ago by the Szymczaks to give them some privacy from people walking along the shoreline is now largely under water…there is no more walking path. A small dock no longer stops short of the small beach area the owners could launch a kayak from. It was virtually at water’s edge last fall.

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Fear not, the house is not threatened, but the situation is serious enough that the Szymczak family and neighbors had to hire Ray Hintz, a local contractor, to place 3 – 5 ton boulders at the base of their property this summer. The Szymczaks estimated that they have lost 40 -50 feet of land in the last seven years. Neighbors’ land is more seriously threatened as parts of their bluffs have been eroded.

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Photograph courtesy of Ray Hintz

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Local and state government representatives have looked unsuccessfully for possible sources of Federal, state, and local funding to help underwrite or create a loan fund to help shoreline homeowners in Racine and Kenosha counties bear the expense of the revetment. One neighbor emailed me, “We paid full freight (the whole $$), further underscoring neighbors’ commitment to these historic properties.”

The lake, as viewed from the living room balcony and the base of the bluff is, indeed lovely. The sound of the waves lapping at the shore can be soothing. But these days, neither is always welcome.

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Rainy Day Post #2 – Guggenheim Dome Evolution

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg (2020)

Saturday I wrote that it’s like a rainy day, and I am taking time to clean up my desktop and post some things that have been in limbo. There will be a third Rainy Day Frank Lloyd Wright post – the one with what I referred to as a “smattering” of photos from many Wright sites – possibly tomorrow.

I noted in my 2004 book Wright in Racine that Wright’s initial design for the dome of the Guggenheim Museum in 1943 was identical to the one he later used for the dome built over the advertising department in the SC Johnson Administration Building in Racine. That space was added concurrently with the construction of the SC Johnson Research Tower (designed in 1943/44, constructed 1947-1950). (The space is now home to the company’s Global Affairs and related departments)

The Advertising Department’s dramatic glass dome is now an architectural icon of the company. It embodies the design Wright proposed in 1943 for the Guggenheim Museum.
The dome now has a white cover now to lessen the heat from the sun.

Visitors to the 2017 “Unpacking the Archive” exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City (MoMA) saw the Johnson version of the dome on the Guggenheim model in the exhibit:

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This exhibit was labled: “Tension ring study model for Johnson Wax Research Tower, Racine, Wisconsin  1943-50  Steel.” There was no mention of its similarity to the Guggenheim proposal.

Wright’s final design for the dome has been photographed many times:

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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/

SC Johnson Buildings

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2020

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There is something indescribable for me in Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs of the SC Johnson Administration Building (1936) and SC Johnson Research Tower (1943/44) in Racine, Wisconsin. I gaze at them every day during my daily bike ride.

I found the lighting particularly soft and nice the evening of June 16, riding after spending the day photographing the newly restored curtain at Hillside Theatre and the desolate empty drafting room at Hillside (the two previous posts on this website).

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The pictures were taken through the fence at the Golden Rondelle guest relations center which cannot reopen until the COVID-19 crisis passes. This is the first view that visitors have of the buildings, as they come onto campus at 14th Street. LR SC Johnson Admin Building Tower 6.16.20 005.jpg

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I look forward to being able to once again get past the fence and enjoy – and photograph – the wonderful interior spaces again.

 

Photographing my Friend Minerva Montooth

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2019)

Olgivanna Wright could not have picked a better and more congenial assistant for 25 years than Minerva Montooth, who I am privileged to call a friend. Make that “Friend” with a Capital F. We have been privileged to know Minerva Montooth since May 2003 when her late husband Charles invited me to give my “Wright in Racine” presentation in the theater at Hillside Home and School (that was indeed a heady invitation for a burgeoning journalist-student of Wright’s work!). Minerva has kindly invited us to the annual celebration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s birthday at Taliesin every year since then.

I visit Minerva in her apartment at Taliesin whenever I am on campus helping lead Road Scholar explorations of Wright’s work in Wisconsin https://www.roadscholar.org/find-an-adventure/22976/architectural-masterworks-of-frank-lloyd-wright

Last week Minerva told me how she came to join the Wright community at Taliesin West in 1952 (gosh, I was only 18 months old!). She has a keen photographic eye. I admired the magnificent lighting of a photo of Charles, who died in December 2014, in her living room, not knowing that she was the photographer. When it was time for me to leave, I couldn’t just leave; after all my camera first had to photograph Minerva and Fifi:

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Below are some of my earlier photos of Charles and Minerva:Evening at Taliesin 2004 008.jpg

Charles on the “Birdwalk” at Taliesin, Wright birthday celebration, 2004.

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Charles at The Prairie School in Wind Point (Racine), October 2003, with plans for the addition to the athletic center. Charles designed the original school building and each subsequent addition. He worked with Floyd Hamblen on the addition.

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Minerva and Charles at the dedication of the new facility, January 2005.

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Charles accepts accolades at the dedication.

By the way, if you email Minerva or write her something on Facebook, don’t expect a reply during your normal business hours: she is a confirmed computer night owl…1 a.m. is not an unusual time stamp for her.

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Minerva at the 2016 Wright birthday celebration.

We love you, Minerva!

 

SC Johnson Carport

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2019)

These are photos of the carport at the SC Johnson Administration Building in Racine on July 27, 2019 when we were taking a friend from New York City on his first tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed buildings:

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Wingspread Pool Rebuild is Finished

Words and photographs (c) Mark Hertzberg 2018

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The newly-rebuilt swimming pool at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wingspread (1937) is filled with water from a nearby fire hydrant Wednesday May 30, 2018. The pool, which holds an estimated 114,028 gallons of water, was an original water feature of the house. It had deteriorated, and was rebuilt because of its architectural significance to the house. It will remain as an architectural water feature, and will not be used for swimming. It measures 26’ wide and 96’ 4” at its longest dimension, and slopes to a depth of 12′. The original diving board will remain in storage because the ornate stand has been lost and there are no drawings from which to replicate it. The only known record of it is this undated low resolution photo, provided courtesy of The Johnson Foundation, and copyright by them:

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The pool deck fireplace regains visual prominence as it is no longer obscured by vines:

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New mechanical systems have been installed nearby, underground:

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Wright designed Wingspread as a home for H.F. Johnson Jr. and his family in 1937, the year after Wright designed the landmark SC Johnson Administration Building in Racine, Wisconsin. Wingspread, situated in the nearby village of Wind Point, was given by the family to the newly-created Johnson Foundation in 1959. It is now a conference center. National Public Radio, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the International Court of Justice are among the notable entities that evolved from Wingspread conferences. One of the founding meetings of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy was held there, as well.

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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SCJ Shapes

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

Circles seemed to be what caught my eye today when I shot a few quick pictures at SC Johnson today while accompanying 35 guests who are on a two-state Road Scholar / Jewish Community Center of Chicago architectural tour. These were taken in public areas where photos are allowed without special permission or arrangements.

SCJ 10.4.17 007.jpgThe Research Tower, upper right, peeks out from above the short columns on the walkway to the Administration Building carport.

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The carport presents a myriad of shapes to play with.

SCJ 10.4.17 014.jpgFinally, there is this picture at the entrance to the Administration Building.