Spring Green Restaurant – Historic Photos

(c) Mark Hertzberg, 2017, with all photos (c) Robert Hartmann, 2017

Robert Hartmann’s passions when he was growing up included Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture and photography. The result? Thirty historic photos by him of the construction of Wright’s Spring Green Restaurant, the building now known as the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center. It houses the Taliesin Bookstore and Riverview Terrace Cafe. The building also serves as the starting point for all tours of Taliesin.

Riverview Terrace-Spring Green restaurant-3-.jpgA vintage color photo from winter, 1967, of the recently completed Spring Green Restaurant. Hartmann notes that the original location of the old Wisconsin River bridge abuttment can be seen in the upper left of the photo. The pavilion which is still wrapped in plastic sheets, right, originally served as the sales and marketing office of the Wisconsin River Development Corporation headed by Racine businessman Willard Keland.

The building overlooks the Wisconsin River. Wright first designed an auto showroom, restaurant and home for Glen and Ruth Richardson for the site in 1943. His next proposal for the site, ten years later, was for a bridge-like restaurant. Construction had started when Wright died in 1959. Taliesin Associated Architects completed his design and construction in 1967 as part of a Wisconsin River Development Corporation plan from the late Willard Keland (of Wright’s Keland House in Racine).

Hartmann became interested in Wright’s work when he was just eight years old and saw Wright’s newly completed SC Johnson Research Tower in Racine in 1950. Six years later he borrowed his father’s Argus model C-3 35mm camera (which he notes, he never returned). He was working on his Master’s degree in Environmental Design at the University of Wisconsin in 1967. It was an opportunity for Hartmann to follow the progress of the construction of a Wright design. He thought, “It appeared that Wright’s Broadacre City was actually being built.”

An accomplished photographer, Hartmann often drove the half hour to Spring Green to document the construction in his compact gray Sunbeam Imp. He recalls, “Getting to The Spring Green Restaurant was as rewarding as reaching my destination. Driving west on Highway 14 took me through the wonderful small towns of Cross Plains, Black Earth, Mazomanie, Arena and Spring Green. These were the places that Wright had passed through so many times in his lifetime and have now become immortalized by way of mention in the many books and articles by and about Wright.”Riverview Terrace-Spring Green restaurant-4-1060899.jpgThis summer 1967 photo,with scaffolding still in place, captures The Spring Green restaurant as windows and exterior trim are nearing completion.

Riverview Terrace-Spring Green restaurant-5-5.jpgThis detail view shows the gable roof and original open terrace shortly after Wright’s building was completed. The open terrace on the right was later enclosed and covered with a flat roof by Taliesin Associated Architects, the successor firm to Frank Lloyd Wright.

The young graduate student – he was 25 –  carefully filed his three dozen color and black and white negatives and Polaroid instant photos of the construction, and moved onto a career as an architectural and industrial designer. He opened his own practice in Racine in 1980. The negatives would remain unprinted until this year.

Hartmann never lost his passion for Wright’s work. He is a former board member and past president of Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin (Wright in Wisconsin). This past spring Hartmann learned that Erik Flesch, director of development for Taliesin Preservation, Inc., was looking for ways to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the structure. Turning to the notebook with his negatives, Hartmann told Flesch about his archival photos. They arranged for 24 framed prints of the construction and an early renovation to be exhibited at the visitor center through the end of the year.

Riverview Terrace-Spring Green restaurant-2-22.jpgHartmann is a meticulous craftsman. Although he shot each photo in perhaps 1/125th of a second, he spent an estimated 1200 hours digitizing and making archival ink jet prints for the exhibition. The prints are 11″x14″ matted and framed to 16”x20”.

Spring Green Hartmann Flesch LR.jpgHartmann, left, and Flesch review the installation of Hartmann’s photos.

Lady Bird Johnson, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s wife, attended the dedication on September 22, 1967. A free public celebration of the 50th anniversary of the dedication will be held Friday September 22 be from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. with limited food service and a cash bar. A centerpiece of the anniversary celebration is the on-going exhibit of Hartmann’s photos which he never printed until this year.

 

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Remembering Gene Szymczak of the Hardy House

by Mark Hertzberg (c) 2016

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Eugene Szymczak, who became the seventh steward of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine (1904-06) died suddenly in his sleep at home Saturday evening. He was 67.

To me, Gene was more than the man who rehabilitated a very distressed Wright home and saved it for another century, he was a dear friend. Gene’s fascination with the house began when he was a college student working one summer on a city garbage truck route. His route took him down Main Street, and once a week he picked up the garbage from the north courtyard of the Hardy House. He bought himself a nice camera and photographed places in Racine that moved him. One was the Hardy House (in Gene’s typically modest manner, though, shunning extravagant things, he soon returned the camera because he thought it too much of a luxury).

Our adventure together with the Hardy House began with an email from him August 8, 2012, when he surmised I was trying to sell the house for the owners by word-of-mouth: “I was wondering what the expectations are for the potential buyer for the Hardy house. Can we get together and talk?”

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Gene at the closing for the house, above, and with the house key, below:

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I took him through the house. Its condition was daunting. Equally daunting was the engineering study another potential buyer had commissioned. Gene wasn’t fazed. As we left the house he said, “I don’t have children this is something I could do for Racine.” Indeed. Gene, president of Educators Credit Union in southeastern Wisconsin, was altruistic. He gave of himself to countless community improvement efforts.

He then wrote me, “Thanks for taking my family and myself through the house. It was really a treat to have you take us on tour…It will be interesting to see how things move forward. It is an enormous responsibility as well as a source of joy and frustration.”

The late John G. Thorpe of the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy advised me to stay out of the sale to Gene, and leave it to professionals. Still, I wanted Gene and the then-owners to meet. A week later, over cashews and lemonade at their apartment, Gene made them an offer for the house, and suddenly it was sold. I had told Gene what pastry to bring Mrs. Yoghourtjian; he also brought her and her husband a Japanese print evocative of the famous Marion Mahony view of the Hardy House from the lake bank below.

Gene followed that visit with one more nice email before writing one that I just might forgive him for tonight, “I would hope that Margaret and I could become friends.  She makes great lemonade and I make killer baklava [he did!]. Life is all about being true to your beliefs and a blessing to others….Sincerely, Gene”

Although we were friends, I had not yet been exposed to Gene’s wry sense of humor. Five days before the scheduled closing he wrote that he was having second thoughts about the purchase and was thinking of buying the property, doing a tear-down, and putting up something with a three-car garage underneath. I was on the verge of calling the Yoghourtjians to call off the sale when I finally got hold of Gene (who was on his way to visit Lynda Waggoner at Fallingwater). “Just kidding!” was the crux of the conversation.

Below are photos of Gene during a planning meeting during the rehabilitation of the house in January, 2013:

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Gene’s stewardship of the house was recognized a year ago by the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy when he was awarded the prestigious Wright Spirit Award in the Private Home category at the annual meeting, fittingly in Milwaukee, following a tour of the house. I photographed him with architect and scholar Jonathan Lipman, author and curator of the Frank Lloyd Wright and the Johnson Wax Buildings book and national museum show, and with his brothers Tom, left, and Jim, before the award presentation.

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Anne Hasse, a teacher at Wakanda Elementary School in Menominee, Wisconsin, is one of the team that teaches a Wright and architecture immersion class that is another past Wright Spirit Award winner. Gene always welcomed her students when they visited Racine in the spring. When told of Gene’s passing she commented, “To open up that house to a bunch of kids, only Gene would do that. Just a big-hearted guy.”

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Wakanda students on the dining room terrace in May.

     When I told Gene’s neighbor of his passing Marco said, “Gene will finally get to meet Frank Lloyd Wright.” I told him, “No, Frank Lloyd Wright will finally get to meet Gene.”

Gene was unassuming. He bristled when I photographed him enjoying a cigar with his brother on the dining room terrace of the house after the closing because he feared it portrayed him as a “fat cat” who had just bought a house. To me it showed easy-going Gene.

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Wright scholar David Jameson, who toured the house this summer with Tim Samuelson, Chicago’s Cultural Historian, and Eric O’Malley, another Wright Spirit Award winner, wrote this evening, “What a shame Gene got so little use of the Hardy House. But he was a very good steward of it.  Anybody who has conserved a Wright house (particularly a Prairie one) knows just how expensive it turns out to be.  But to meticulously return it to its original (even more glorious, perhaps) condition is possibly the finest memorial one could actually have.

“I don’t worry about the Hardy House. Not only has it got good bones but it now has a civic hold on Racine. It’s their’s as much as Wright’s.

“Here’s to Gene.  May all private owners of remarkable Wright houses be as generous with history as him. I think Gene’s memorial will most likely be that the Hardy House will live on because he cared.”

Robert Hartmann of Racine, past president of Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin, also knew Gene. Told of his passing he asked to repeat what he wrote Gene, as president of the organization, when Gene bought the house: ”

Dear Gene,

All too often the words “Thank you” are left unspoken. So, as a fellow citizen of Racine, let me simply say thank you for purchasing the Hardy house. It is comforting to know that this iconic Wright design is in your caring hands. I believe that in future years Wright scholars ie Mark Hertzberg and architectural historians alike will chronicle September 17th 2012 as a benchmark date in the life story of the Hardy house. Your intention to restore the home…is further evidence that the future of the Hardy house is indeed a bright one. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that Racine will be a better place in which to live because of your recent actions.

Now, let me put on my other hat, president of Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin, and again say,thank you for purchasing the Hardy house. Our organization which is dedicated to the preservation of Wright’s architectural legacy in his native state congratulates you on the purchase of the Hardy house and views your plans for its restoration as not only having local and state significance but recognize, as you do, that the restoration of the Hardy house will be celebrated by a national and international audience as well.

Again, Thank you

Regards

Bob

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Eugene Szymczak accepting his Wright Spirit Award