Remembering Jim Yoghourtjian

(c) Mark Hertzberg

Jim Yoghourtjian, steward of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hardy House with his wife, Margaret, from 1968 – 2012 died April 26. He was 91.

Margaret and Jim Yoghourtjian in their living room in the Hardy house, 1319 S. Main St., Wednesday September 1, 2004.  (c) Mark Hertzberg

He was a well known classical guitarist, who traveled to Siena, Italy, to study with Andres Segovia. His friends knew him for his devotion to Margaret, for his warmth, for his apple pies, as well as for his music.

Jim’s father did not understand how he could make a living as a musician and urged him to take a shop job in the factory where he worked. In 1957, though, his father went to Chicago to hear Jim play in the Fullerton Auditorium at the Art Institute of Chicago in conjunction with an exhibition honoring Pablo Picasso. After listening to the applause at the end of the concert, his father asked the person next to him if everyone there had come to hear the music. Assured that they had, he proudly said, “That’s my son!” Jim wrote in a 1996 memoir.

Jim had a wry sense of humor. Jim and Margaret had welcomed visitors to the house for many years until after some negative experiences. The house then understandably became strictly their home, not a Wright tourist destination. He chuckled when he told me how he then deflected Wright-related questions from strangers who pestered him when he was doing yard work, “I don’t know, I’m just the caretaker.”

I remember seeing him outside the house soon after moving to Racine in 1978, quickly pulling over to the curb, and asking if I could see the inside of his Frank Lloyd Wright house. He declined to let me invade their privacy. I never faulted him for that, wondering how often that happened to him.

There are certainly Wright aficionados who would criticize Jim for playing the role of ignorant caretaker of the house. Those of us lucky to have counted him as a friend would instead smile and think, “Yup, that’s Jim for you!” Rather than dwell on the question of whether or not he should have answered every Wright question, I prefer to dwell on the memory of seeing him tenderly kiss Margaret’s hand one day before going back to bed when they shared a room during a short hospital stay in 2011. He had told me that he used to write her poems for her birthday. That was Jim. And that is part of what made him such a special person.

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Work Begins Anew at Hardy House

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg

The Hardy House is a construction zone again after a two-year respite.

Lake Side Restoration

The east side of the house is sheathed in scaffolding, and scaffolding again fills the two-story living room as it did several years ago while plaster was repaired and the house was repainted.

Lake Side Restoration

Lake Side Restoration

     The living room and the dining room are walled-off in construction workers’ heavy plastic, diminishing the view of Lake Michigan from the living room balcony:

Lake Side Restoration

     The living room and dining room windows are being replaced, which may sound routine, but the work also entails rebuilding structural elements of the house above and below the windows. It will not be known how much needs to be rebuilt until workers begin the reconstruction. The center dining room windows lead to the dining room terrace, whose rubber membrane flooring (shown in a 2002 photo, below) needs to be replaced, as well.

LR Terrace, fall, 2

     The four square panels between the living room windows (above the panels) and the dining room windows (below the panels) were originally stucco, as shown in this 1906 photo taken as the house neared completion:

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(Photo courtesy of, and (c) Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation)

     It is believed that the stucco had cracked because the dining room windows leaked, and the panels were replaced by wood panels when Wright’s leaded glass living room windows were replaced with plate glass windows in 1947, concurrent with the rebuilding of the dining room terrace to create for a recreation room below.

     The dining room now serves as a construction office for the workers from Bane & Nelson contractors:

Lake Side Restoration

     It is impossible to estimate how long the work will take, but Bane & Nelson has a deadline of finishing in time for tours during the 2015 Frank Lloyd Wright Building Conservancy meeting in Milwaukee and Racine in early October.

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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Hardy House finish color revealed

(c) Mark Hertzberg

The package is being gift wrapped, if you will, and we now know what color the restored Thomas P. Hardy House will be. The house, which Gene Szymczak bought last September, is being restored. While some aspects of the house have been updated, Gene wanted to find the original color of the house. The stucco was painted gray when Gene bought it, as seen in this photo taken in the mid 1990s:

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The stucco and wood had weathered and deteriorated since that photo was taken. The next photo shows the house last fall, after the bushes had been removed. The crack in the pillar of the entryway, right, was caused by a worker:

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The next picture was taken just 10 days ago:

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Next, we see the layers of paint uncovered by painter Dennis Bishop, on the back of the house:

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And, the final color…drum roll…terra cotta, like Wright’s Gardener’s Cottage at the Darwin D. Martin House. The color is the final coat of the meticulous stucco repair by Paul Lemke of Top Notch Plastering of Racine, and his nephew, Sean Doyle:

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Hardy House update

Text and photos (c) Mark Hertzberg

       Work continues on the rehabilitation and restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine (1904/05) at a less frenetic pace than several months ago. The house was sold in September to Eugene Szymczak. Work through the fall, winter, and early spring ensured the stability of the house and saw the repair of most of the interior.

        Painters Dennis and Daniel Bishop used the bottom layer of paint chips uncovered throughout the house to paint the interior in what are thought to be the original colors. The exterior will likely be similar to Graycliff’s color.

       The second owners of the house – The Sporers, 1938-1947 – commissioned a recreation room to be built under the dining room terrace, adjacent to the basement, in 1941. The work was done after World War II. It included replacing the solid east stucco wall under the terrace with five full-length windows, one of which was a door opening to the hill above Lake Michigan. David Sinkler installed new energy-efficient windows in May.

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The bathroom has both been restored and updated. It was restored in that Szymczak opened up the south wall so that there are once again doors on the north and south ends, giving a view of the leaded glass windows at either end of the house. The third owner of the house (1947-1957) had walled in the south end of the bathroom. A portion of the ceiling has been raised, enabling the installation of a shower stall in place of the former 1949 bathtub. Chad Nichols has meticulously tiled the bathroom:

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        The dining room was replastered, as needed, by Paul Lemke and painted by Daniel Bishop:

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        With the interior work almost complete, Lemke will soon turn his skills to fixing the exterior stucco. The courtyards are among the areas that need attention. The original courtyard walls had a pine basket-weave lathe:Image

      Gordie Bishop built a new framework for Lemke’s nephew, Sean Doyle, to cover with board, rather than lathe, before Lemke plasters the courtyard walls:

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         The house originally had pocket, or sliding doors, as the two entry doors. They were removed by the third owner because the doors often stuck during winter. Szymczak commissioned new pocket doors. The new doors slide on a track, like patio doors, rather than being hinged by a cumbersome, out-dated heavy mechanism like the ones found in the entry way walls. The new doors have full length windows, which will enable Szymczak to look into the courtyards from the entry hallway:

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   The wood gates, which hung over the entry ways, were also removed by the third owner. The Sporer’s daughter, Anne Ruetz, took pictures of the gates as a child, and they will be reproduced by Nichols after the stucco work is completed. 

      A wood construction shelter has covered the front of the house since winter because the seven windows in the hallway had to be removed during construction. The original leaded glass windows were deemed too damaged to reinstall by Oakbrook Esser glass studios. They will be preserved, but reproduction windows will be installed in their place. Bishop installed a sample new window in the center position a week ago. Six plate glass windows were installed in the other window frames until the other reproductions are ready. Bishop expects to remove the wood shelter in a week. He says many passersby have asked when the shelter will come down…and he says it will be like unwrapping a Christmas present.

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     The rest of summer and fall will likely see stucco and wood repair work outside and then, finally, a new coat of paint for Wright’s wonderful house on the bluff above Lake Michigan.