Back in the Pool at End of Summer

(c) Mark Hertzberg (2017)

The late Sam Johnson recalled that he fretted when it was time to move to Wingspread, the 14,000 sq. ft. home Frank Lloyd Wright designed in 1937 for his father, H.F. Johnson Jr. He was afraid his friends would no longer want to visit him once he moved so far from his home south of downtown Racine, Wisconsin, about seven miles away. He later said that he had no reason to fret once his friends learned the house had a swimming pool.

The house became home to the newly-formed Johnson Foundation in 1959. In September, 1961, the Foundation hosted a party for new teachers by the pool:

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(Photo courtesy of The Johnson Foundation)

The pool eventually fell into disrepair, and has been covered for many years. These aerial views show the pool, first in 2003, and then in 2009:

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Wingspread aerials 2009 008aa.jpgHere is how it looked June 21 after the cover was removed and preparations began to reconstruct the pool:Wingspread Pool 004.jpgAnd then on August 18 after the pool was framed in:Wingspread Pool 8.18.17 006.jpg

About 80 cubic yards of concrete were poured in the deep end of the pool August 30:

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Tom Drabender, the construction foreman for Riley Construction, watches the pour.

Although the pool is being rebuilt, it will be used as a water feature of the estate, rather than as a place to swim. The project is slated for completion late this year.


Wingspread’s Swimming Pool

Photos (c) Mark Hertzberg 2017Wingspread aerials 2009 009.jpg

The swimming pool at Wingspread (shown covered by a tarp in 2009) is an integral part of the grounds. It was filled with water, but was ornamental for many years, rather than being used, when it was drained after leaks were discovered more than 10 years ago.

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The fireplace on the pool deck:

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The pool is now being renovated, to be filled and again be a water feature of the house.

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The are two wonderful anecdotes about the pool. The first was told by the late Sam Johnson, whose father, H.F. Johnson Jr., commissioned the home by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1937. Sam Johnson in 2000:

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The Johnsons would be moving more than five miles from their home on Racine’s south side, near the SC Johnson offices and factory, to their new home in Wind Point, beyond the city limits. Sam feared not seeing his friends anymore. He had no reason to worry: once his friends learned Sam’s new home had a swimming pool, they were anxious to bike out to visit him.

The second anecdote was told by Edgar Tafel, the young apprentice who was in his mid-20s when Wright trusted him to supervise construction of the SC Johnson Administration Building and then of Wingspread. Tafel, one of the original Taliesin Fellowship apprentices (1932-1941) recalled agreeing to a change in the location of some plumbing for the pool in consultation with contractor Ben Wilteschek while Wright was in the Soviet Union.

Tafel at this Greenwich Village townhouse in 2007:

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Wright was livid about the change when he visited the construction site after returning to the United States. Tafel kept backing up to get away from the angry architect, and fell into the excavation for the pool. He said Wright glared down at him and said, “That serves you right.”

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Scott Poritz, Utility and Grading Superintendent of Wanasek Contractors, moves concrete slabs from the pool Friday July 7, 2017:

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The work is expected to be completed late this year by Riley Construction, the general contractor.

Signs of Wright

(c) Mark Hertzberg 2017

Signs guiding people to Frank Lloyd Wright public sites in Wisconsin, including Wingspread in Wind Point, north of Racine, are being placed in communities to guide motorists once they leave the Interstate highways which were marked with “Frank Lloyd Wright Trail” signs last fall. The signs resulted from a bipartisan bill signed by Gov. Scott Walker at Taliesin a year ago.

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The signs above are on I94, near Highway 20, top, and on Seventh Street, just east of City Hall in Racine.

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The sign on the long arm is installed at N. Main and Hamilton streets, north of downtown Racine, Friday April 21 by Jeff Hoffman, John Dirkintis, and Jon Hanson of the city public works department.

FLW Heritage Trail Signs 003.jpgWalker Wright Trail 073.jpgWisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is applauded after he signs the bipartisan bill to fund a Frank Lloyd Wright Heritage Trail between Racine and Richland Center, in Wright’s drafting room at Taliesin, his home in Spring Green, Monday March 21, 2016.  Looking on are Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine), left,  State Sen. Howard Marklein (R- Spring Green), Rep. Todd Novak (R-Dodgeville), who introduced the bill, and State Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-Racine), a co-sponsor.

Reimagining Wingspread in 50,000 LEGO bricks

(c) Mark Hertzberg

LEGO Wingspread

LEGO Wingspread

This is how Jameson Gagnepain’s adventure at Wingspread starts: unloading two custom-built wood crates and four cardboard boxes, all stuffed with about 50,000 LEGO bricks. In two hours the bricks will have been reassembled into a model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 14,000 sq. ft. home for Herbert F. Johnson, Jr., which will be displayed on the second floor of Wingspread probably into December.

The model is stunning in its detail, the statistics -at the end of the story- are staggering.

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First, Gagnepain and his wife, Amy, assemble the five-foot square table the model will sit on.

Each storage box is carefully thought out, explains Gagnepain, “I pack everything as tightly as I can… It’s a little like Russian nesting dolls in there. Lots of sections fitting inside other sections, and every box has shelves in it to make good use of space.”

LEGO Wingspread

Gagnepain starts with a blank “canvas,” if you will, a broad expanse of green LEGOs representing the landscape around the house. There is no hesitation as he spends the next two hours assembling the model of the house.

LEGO Wingspread

He works in IT for a medical supplies company, but LEGOs have been his passion since he was young. The colorful plastic bricks were his expected presents for as long as he can remember. Amy is so understanding, he says, that she suggested their wedding have a LEGO theme.

LEGO Wingspread

Gagnepain scoured the Internet for photos of what the house looked like when it was built, and then took notes during a visit to Wingspread. His biggest challenge was in fashioning daughter Karen Johnson’s cantilevered balcony at the north end of the house. “It took me ages to get right, getting the wood texture right. I built it three or four different ways. I got it right then dropped it and had to start over.” He says the playroom at the east end was another challenge because of the dearth of photos of what it originally looked like.

Amy pours tiny blue bricks into the swimming pool to simulate water. Gagnepain was careful to even show the different levels in the swimming pool.

LEGO Wingspread

A LEGO car, which brings to mind a Mercedes sedan that Wright owned, is parked at the front door.

LEGO Wingspread

The crown of the model is the roof over the Great Room, with its Crow’s Nest:

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If the model is too detailed for some people, they can enjoy the bare-bones LEGO Wingspread he fashioned, as well:

There is even a red Wright “signature tile.” As for the lack of a Frank Lloyd Wright figure, Gagnepain says he will make one as soon as there is a LEGO porkpie hat.

LEGO Wingspread

LEGO Wingspread

Gagnepain and the model are feature in Tom Alphin’s newly released book The LEGO Architect.

LEGO Wingspread by the numbers:

Construction took 500 hours over six months (“Too long,” jokes Amy)

There are an estimated 50,000 LEGO bricks in an estimated 100 different shaped bricks. There are seven color in the building. Most of the home’s Cherokee red bricks are represented by about 10,000 “1×2 plate in Dark Orange” bricks. The grounds and foliage use the seven colors from the building as well as an additional eight colors.

Tafel House Saved From Demolition

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg

Wind Point (Racine), Wisconsin

Edgar Tafel’s Carl and Marie Albert House is officially saved from the threat of demolition, capping an almost two-year legal case.

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The Carl and Marie Albert House, Monday November 10, 2014

The condition of the stone house, designed ca. 1949, deteriorated significantly after homeowner Joan Schulz left the house more than five years ago to care for a relative. Dishes were reportedly left in the sink. The roof leaked, and the abandoned house was filled with mold. The Village of Wind Point, north of Racine, posted a sign declaring the house uninhabitable, and sought a raze order.

The house, at the intersection of Four Mile Road and N. Main Street, is at a busy corner, and was an eyesore. Although Schulz and her sons were willing to rebuild the house, the village argued that because the cost of repairs exceeded the then-value of the house, it should be torn down.

Friday village attorney Ed Bruner said that while he was frustrated with the slow progress of repairs, the village would no longer seek a raze order. “Yes, if I wanted to be punitive, but the house has come along enough. We would like it completed. It is frustrating to not see anything going forward. Every village meeting I am asked for update.”

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Village of Wind Point Attorney Ed Bruner, left, and Peter Ludwig, the Schulz’ attorney, confer before the court hearing. 

Bruner and Judge Faye Flancher pointed out that Schulz’ son, Linden Schulz, has been overseeing the repairs rather than Larry Ruka. Judge John Jude, who oversaw the case until the county’s judicial rotation in August, had appointed Ruka as construction manager. Ruka has not been on site since April.

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Linden Schulz, left, listens as construction manager Larry Ruka addresses the court during the hearing

The Schulz’ attorney, Peter Ludwig, said that the house is “next in queue” for the electrician. Once he finishes his work, plumbing fixtures can be reinstalled and insulation and drywalling will be done.

The house was scheduled for completion in September at a hearing in the spring. Judge Flancher set the case for review February 6. “You can’t push them but I can. If there is no other progress, I will consider fines, daily, as an impetus to get this done. When we come back in three months we will be at the two year mark. It is unconscionably long given schedule Judge Jude gave. I expect the home to be completed in 90 days. It sounds like it can be done.”

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Joan Schulz, left, Ludwig, Linden Schulz, and Larry Ruka talk after the hearing.

Another reprieve for Tafel house

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg

Edgar Tafel’s Carl and Marie Albert House got another reprieve from a raze order Wednesday in court in Racine. Joan Schulz had walked out of the house about seven years ago to care for a grandchild. The house deteriorated as it sat empty and neglected, eventually under a failed roof. The Village of Wind Point declared the house uninhabitable, and sought a raze order.



Much of the front portion of the Albert House roof is still covered with plastic tarp Tuesday November 12, but Schulz’s attorney, Peter Ludwig, and structural engineer told Judge John Jude that 75% of the roof has been repaired.


A temporary bracing, left of center, shows the extent of structural work that had to be done before the roof could be replaced.

Although the Schulzes have not met court deadlines to complete the roof repair, Judge Jude decided Wednesday to let repairs continue, rather than order the house razed, provided that the roof, structural repairs, electrical and plumbing work are completed by December 20. He appointed Larry Ruka, the structural engineer hired by the Schulz family, as construction manager. Work had been supervised until then by Linden Schulz, one of Joan Schulz’ sons. Jude said he would manage the project with Ruka.


Joan Schulz consults with her attorney, Peter Ludwig, before the court hearing Wednesday


Village president Pete Christensen, right, consults with village attorney Ed Bruner during the hearing. Bruner asserted that “Speaking on behalf of 1800 Wind Point residents, when I drove past the house today, it looked worse than it did in may at initial hearing.” Ruka disagreed, as he did when Bruner asked, “From the village point of view, what it looks like now, frankly, looks abandoned, does it not?” Bruner referred to the plywood covering the windows openings, among other things. He was told the windows had to be removed to complete structural repairs.


Bruner questions Ruka about data in the cost estimate provided by Linden Schulz


Linden Schulz, right, and Joan Schulz listen as Ludwig questions Ruka.



Holding Schulz’ cost estimates, Judge Jude appoints Ruka as construction manager of the project.


Ludwig reassures Joan Schulz as they leave the courtroom.

Judge Jude was concerned about having the roof completed by October 30, before the onset of winter. Although the roof is not quite finished, and there was a bit of snow Monday, warm temperatures are forecast into next week. Ruka expects that the roof will be finished in a few days.

Tafel house: two week reprieve

(c) Mark Hertzberg


The Carl and Marie Albert House, which was designed by Edgar Tafel, got a reprieve from a possible raze order when today’s court status hearing was postponed until November 13.

Judge John Jude had indicated in September that he wanted a new roof on the house by today’s court hearing, to ensure the work would be done before winter. Although significant structural progress has apparently been made, roof work has not begun.

Linden Schulz, the son of Joan Schulz, the homeowner, has a signed contract from a roofing contractor. He wrote me today in an email that he expects the roofers to begin work next Tuesday. He anticipates they will be done by the 13th. “That (the completed roof) is the primary thing the judge wanted to see,” says Ed Bruner, attorney for the Village of Wind Point. Both sides in the dispute agreed to reschedule today’s hearing.

Bruner would not predict if the house will definitely be saved if the roof work is done by the 13th. “The ball is in the judge’s court. It’s up to him. He asked for other things, such as estimates on costs from an engineer. Right now our priority is getting the roof done, because winter’s approaching. Hopefully it is going to be done by the next hearing.”

Tafel House: Raze order stayed until October 30

(c) Mark Hertzberg


Judge John S. Jude continued his stay of the raze order for Edgar Tafel’s Carl Albert House in Wind Point (Racine), Wis., after a two-hour evidentiary hearing in Racine County Circuit Court Friday September 13, 2013. 



Linden Schulz, the son of Joan Schulz, who owns the house, was closely questioned why he had not met deadlines set at a June court hearing for having a professional structural assessment of the house completed, and having the roof repaired. Judge Jude said, as he ruled, “My goal is to save the house, but I still have great reservations whether it is feasible.” The next court hearing was scheduled for October 30. Judge Jude will likely order the house razed then if  structural repairs have not been completed, and if the house has not been re-roofed. 


Joan Schulz, right, listens to testimony as her attorney Peter Ludwig, left, consults with her son, Linden Schulz. 


Ed Bruner, representing the Village of Wind Point, asks Linden Schulz why he has not complied with provisions of a previous court order.


Attorneys Ed Bruner, representing the Village of Wind Point, left, and Peter Ludwig, representing the Schulz family, meet after the conclusion of the hearing. 

Tafel home faces demolition

Photos and text (c) Mark Hertzberg
(Portions of this article are reprised from an article posted last summer, but no longer on-line.)

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This is one of Edgar Tafel’s drawings of the Carl Albert House

An architectural “Catch-22” sits at 4945 N. Main Street, awaiting a demolition order for February 28.

The Carl and Marie Albert House at 4945 N. Main Street, a piece of Racine’s rich architectural history, sits forgotten, in disrepair, and possibly soon to be demolished by the Village of Wind Point. The cypress and limestone house was built by Robert Albert and Edgar Tafel between 1948-1950. Tafel signed most of the architectural drawings. The house is unknown as a Tafel work, overlooked in published inventories of Tafel’s work in Racine.

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These photos were taken of the front of the house in July.

Tafel was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s first Taliesin Fellowship apprentices (1932-1941). He designed a half dozen homes in Racine in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He had previously supervised construction of the SC Johnson Administration Building, Wingspread, the Bernard Schwartz House (in Two Rivers) and part of Fallingwater for Wright. He then had a distinguished career as an architect after World War II in his native New York City. He was almost 99 when he died January 18, 2011.

While the house is significant in terms of its architectural heritage, the village regards it as “an eyesore,” according to attorney Todd Terry, who represented Joan Schulz, the homeowner last summer. She dates the home’s problems to about five years ago, when she moved in with her daughter to care for her grandchildren, because her daughter worked a night shift. The house has been vacant since then. Terry said the Schulz family’s aim is simple, “We would like to get it (the house) back where it was.”

Schulz bought the house in 1972 with her late husband, Dr. Gilbert Schulz. He died just six months later. She hopes to stave off demolition, “First of all I hate to see it destroyed or razed, because of the design of the home, and the home itself.” Problems stemming from the damaged roof include widespread mold on the burlap which originally covered the dry wall, disintegrating dry wall, holes in some walls, and a rotted header. Much of the roof is covered by a black tarpaulin.

In July Terry said, “We are in municipal court on a nuisance matter, ordinance type of things, on habitability. My speculation is that in the very near future they probably will file with a circuit court judge asking them to allow them to tear it down or raze the property.” Until then, Schulz would be assessed a $50-a-day penalty, dating back to January, 2012.

Schulz paid the $11,200 ordinance fines in November, rather than demolish the house. She disputes the village’s contention that she had agreed to raze the home in November.

While she still hopes to save the house, the village has run out of patience according to its attorney, Ed Bruner. “There’s been a determination made by the building inspector that the cost to repair the house far exceeds 50% of its value, so that’s the problem.” He could not answer why that should matter if the homeowner was willing to spend the money for repairs.

Nor did he have an answer about Schulz’ “Catch-22”conundrum, that she was told that even though the house needs repairs, no building permits would be issued for those repairs. The village’s appraiser values the house at $25,000. An appraiser hired by Schulz valued the land and house at $115,000. The village would not let her sell the house to an immediate family member, which negated a possible sale to one of her sons, she says. She says she also had an offer to purchase for $61,000, contingent on the buyer getting the building permits that the village will not issue.

“That may have been the case (that the village would not issue the needed building permits)” says Bruner. “Now they (the village board) have made the determination that will not be an option anymore. They want it down. My guess is that it has lasted long enough. I know that there were neighbors complaining and that is what initiated the contact with her. Now they are to the point where it needs to come down.”

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Though in disrepair, the home has notable architectural features, says Joshua Drew who lives in a Tafel-designed home at 4001 Haven Ave., “You can see how Edgar merged many of the Usonian details (indirect lighting, built in cabinets, plywood materials, and several of the rooms have shelving identical to my house) with some Prairie-Style details in the ceilings of the main living space.  The kitchen…still has the original appliances, metal cabinets, and layout.”

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Drew looks at the plans for the Albert House in his own Tafel-designed home.

There is yet another twist to the pedigree of the house, says Drew. “If someone took me into the Carl Albert house and asked me to guess the architect I would have initially have said John Randal McDonald. Some of the stone work details, stone shelves, and the art glass inserts in the stone work are almost identical to the JRMcD-2 house at 1001 Russet St.  However, the den has shelving EXACTLY like the ones in my [Tafel] house.”

McDonald, who was sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s Frank Lloyd Wright, designed 20 homes in Racine. He died in 2003. There is no documented record of collaboration between McDonald and Tafel, and Tafel expressed disdain for McDonald to me during a visit to Racine 10 years ago.

Bruner is clear about the village’s options, “If she does not comply with the raze order then the statute gives me two options: take the house down and put the cost on the tax roll, or take it to circuit court and get a court order which orders her to do that.”

Schulz acknowledges that the house is in disrepair, “I know we haven’t really done any work on it other than originally cleaning up the yard but we haven’t done anything to the building, because right from the beginning, village attorney Ed Bruner stated that no permits would be issued.” She quietly and sadly says she has one more hope, “I was thinking or hoping to take it into court to get a stay of that raze order.”

It seems that even if she gets a stay, the stand-off between Schulz and the village will continue: the house needs repairs, but no building permits will be issued. Demolition of the house seems inevitable.

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Edgar Tafel