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 –

 

A lasting last word from Gene Szymczak

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2016

Gene had a very wry sense of humor. I initially did not understand what was his last jab at one section of the World of Wright until he explained it to me. There was quite a kerfuffle on the Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy’s Wright Chat web forum a couple of years ago when I posted photos of the wood gates Gene had made for the entry way of the rehabilitated Hardy House.Hardy Gas Meter Cover 002 LR.jpg

The original gates were taken off by the Archers, the third stewards of the house (1947-1957). I pointed out that the design Gene asked carpenter Chad Nichols to build was Wright’s first gate design for the house, not the simpler one that Wright ultimately executed, shown in a photo by Anne Sporer Ruetz (Hardy House: 1938 – 1947) of her friend Mary Hill putting on her roller skates:LR Gates 035.jpg

Mary Hill and gate.jpg

Oh, how the forum lit up with criticism of Gene for ruining the project and for reinventing history. I wondered in response – as I pointed out that to me the most important thing to consider was that Gene had literally saved the house for another hundred years – if Gene should also be condemned for having a television set and a microwave oven in the house because those weren’t historically authentic either.

Gene was hurt by the blog comments. Genuinely hurt. If you knew him, you would understand his feelings. He was the CEO and president of Educators Credit Union which grew to become a major financial institution in Wisconsin under his stewardship so he was certainly a serious man when he had to be. But he was never too serious. He took umbrage at my photo of him smoking a cigar on the dining room terrace with his brother the day he closed on the house because he though it made him look like a “fat cat.” The dispute reinforced his feeling that some in the Wright World are too serious and judgmental.

He found a way to thumb his nose at them when he commissioned a shield to hide the unsightly gas meter in front of the house (moving it was not a practical option).

Hardy Gas Meter Cover 003 LR.jpg

I didn’t realize until Gene told me with a smile…he purposely designed it as one of the original gates, albeit turned on its side. Here’s to you, Gene! I laugh whenever I think of your joke on what a friend of mine called “Gategate.”

Postscript after reading an email this morning…Full house museum restoration was way out of budget consideration. I focus on Gene having literally saved the house. It was imperiled. I focus on several thousand people having the opportunity to see the house, which had been closed to the public for several decades. Many, many of them expressed their gratitude to Gene. They include recognized Wright scholars. Gene had told me “this is something I could do for the Racine community” when he considered buying the house. Indeed he did, for Racine and for the Wright community, even if not everyone agreed with all of his decisions.

New Gates for Hardy House

Words and photos (c) Mark Hertzberg, except historic photos, (c) Anne Sporer Ruetz

One of the most important finishing touches is coming to the Hardy House. It was built in 1904-06 with two wood gates, which we see in Anne Sporer Ruetz’s snapshots of her friends. Anne grew up in the house; her parents were the second owners (1938-1947) after Hardy lost the house at sheriff’s auction.

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New gates, based on the unrealized design by Wright on one of his drawings, are being built by Chad Nichols, the master carpenter who has done much of the work at the house. Chad measured the openings for the gates in January, 2013:

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He first made a model based on the design built for the house, before it was decided to use the unrealized design:

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There is nary a spare clamp to be found in his workshop as he now completes the red cedar gates. It was decided to wait until the house rehabilitation was almost completed before making the gates:

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The gates will be stained before they are installed, probably next week. Chad proudly invited me to his workshop today to see what they look like:

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