Wright’s “Ship in the Woods”

© Mark Hertzberg (2022)

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Tallahassee, Florida is well off the beaten track in the World of Frank Lloyd Wright. It is 1151 miles southeast of Taliesin, 971 miles from Oak Park. And it is 270 miles from the Wright-designed campus at Florida Southern College where Clifton and George Lewis attended a World Federalist Conference in 1950. Florida Southern is the largest collection of Wright buildings at a single site, and Wright was on campus that day, too, for the opening of his new administration building.

LR Lewis Spring House 135.jpgThe Lewises met Wright at a reception, and, says their daughter Byrd Lewis Mashburn, asked him to design a house for their family of six. “We have a lot of children and not much money.” Wright agreed, and told them to “find your ground, not on a lot.” By 1952 they found a five acre parcel on the outskirts of Tallahassee, with a natural spring that flowed to Lake Jackson. The spring is what makes the house known more popularly as the Spring House, rather than the Clifton and George Lewis House. The house was built in just nine months in 1954.

LR Lewis Spring House 125.jpgMashburn has fond memories of growing up in the house

“It was a noisy, light filled, family fun, zoo! We were a loud and rambunctious bunch; when we got too rowdy, our dad would say, ‘No rough-housing, no monkey business!’ He was the oldest of eight children, five boys and three girls. He had already lived with a lot of rough-housing and monkey business.”

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“I moved away from Spring House when I was 20 and retuned to help my parents at the end of 1994. Our father died in 1996 and I continued to live with Mother until she could no longer live here in 2006. My brothers Ben and Van and a niece lived here together and separately until mid-2010. It took us a couple of years to empty the house of all family belongings and prepare for what we have been doing since the beginning of 2013, events and tours to raise funds for Spring House Institute, the 501(c)(3) tax exempt non-profit corporation which is doing this preservation project, to acquire, restore, complete, maintain and manage Lewis Spring House as the learning institute our parents dreamed for our home. Our mother died in 2014 and I moved back in the house in 2017. We continue to work towards those goals.”

The house has alternately been described as hemicycle and pod-shaped. This photo has wide angle distortion because I could only back up so far in the woods to show it all. This is now the master bedroom balcony, formerly the boys’ bedroom:

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The nautical theme of the house, from the prow-shape to porthole-like windows is not accidental.

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Lewis Spring House

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Mashburn explains: “Mother and I were both named for her mother, Clifton, and our dad named the sailboat he designed and built for our family after Mother…The “Clifton” was a huge, all year, part of our lives. It was 21’ long, 8’ wide and weighed 2 tons, constructed out of tidewater red cypress…

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“…They would pack the car the night before and wake us up in the dark to make the trip to Spring Creek where he kept the Clifton in fresh water to keep the barnacles from growing back so fast. He didn’t want to scrape and repaint the boat more often than he had to, and gave each of my brothers, George Edward, Van and Ben, a turn doing that with friends. He’d get them started. It was my turn when the boat was struck by lightning and needed a repair that my father wasn’t able to leave work to do himself…My parents gave me the Clifton in 1977 and I planned to build a square screen house around it and have it as the bedroom. It would have been wonderful. It is beyond repair but still holds us all in our hearts. 

“I believe that when our parents told Mr. Wright how much the Clifton was part of our lives all year, that is what inspired the design of our home. When I told William Storrer that, he heartily agreed with me. He said, ‘Absolutely! That is exactly the kind of thing Frank Lloyd Wright looked for, something the family treasured to somehow incorporate into the design of the family’s home.’ And look what he [Wright] gave us! A ship in the woods!”

Spring House is admittedly in rough shape. That is why the family formed a 501(c)(3) to raise money for the extensive repairs needed. And that is why visitors make a $50 tax-deductible donation on-line before paying $25 a person to schedule a tour of the house. It is money that goes to a worthwhile cause. Mashburn was not reticent to let me photograph the house in full detail, problems and all. I am interspersing my photos with her memories about growing up in Spring House.

LR Lewis Spring House 017.jpgThe living room, master bedroom balcony, and dining room face the woods.

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“The house was full of sound when we were home. It has amazing acoustics! Everyone in our family is deaf more or less and I really believe part of it is always trying so hard not to hear that we eventually couldn’t. At some point pretty early on, our parents bought a hifi stereo with an FM/AM radio and there was lots of music. In the beginning it was primarily classical music and some opera…We had a baby grand piano and a copy of the Great American Song Book, and we’d sing songs together. Van could play many of the songs.

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“We had room at the built-in dining table Mr. Wright designed for us, to all have our meals together, then get ready for school (we all did our homework on that table) or head out to the woods or play with our animals: a black dachshund named Princess Margaret Rose, my cat named Snicklefritz, my goat, Goatie, and 10 acres to explore. Van [one of her brothers] fed squirrels corn in a large bowl on the terrace wall were it ends, and had an incubator in the basement where he hatched out baby ducks for the pond. Our dad made homebrew and scuppernong wine in the basement. Years later, different boys I had gone to school with told me they had had the privilege of having some of our dad’s brew with him when we were in college.” 

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“…when weather called for it, our dad ALWAYS built a big roaring fire (to keep the furnace from kicking on as long as he could) so the house was full of those wonderful burning oak smells mixed in with aromas of the bacon and coffee in the kitchen.”

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“And he had a smoker on the half-pod concrete point out of the east double-glass doors. Winter was duck hunting season and my dad and brothers would hunt down the road at Lake Jackson (early Native American name was Okeeheepkee, our road’s name; it means disappearing waters!) so he would smoke or grill ducks, and later mullet out there. In and out of the right hand door he’d go, and those delicious smells would mix and mingle with the other things cooking and the firewood burning. A little breeze might come or go with him so occasionally smoke would blow out of the fireplace; some of what’s on the chimney hood. If as rarely happened, too much smoke was blown into the living room, one of us children would go outside to the porthole windows and open one or two until it dissipated inside.”

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LR Lewis Spring House 083.jpgThe balcony outside the master bedroom overlooks the living room and then continues outside, facing the woods.

“There was a croaker sack rope swing across the stream and a huge dead oak to cross over to the swing. We’d climb our dad’s 12’ step ladder (used to wash the windows with) and one of us would carry the rope over to the person on the ladder and we’d jump off and sail out over the stream! We’d yell as loud s as we could, “Ahh-ya-bah-yaaaaa!!! And when we’d swing back to the ladder another of us would jump on with us, in the other direction. There was enough water in the stream to drop and land on our behinds, one at a time. My brothers swam in the pond; I don’t remember doing that but I did used to sit in the pool of cold clear spring water below the 5’ waterfall before our dad had the dam built so we’d have the pond. The pond was always full until sometime after an unpermitted storm water pond was built next to our south property line and didn’t perk. It was built above pipe clay, or Fuller’s Earth, and changed the way the underground water worked. We hope to restore our spring so we have water all year again, instead of five or six months when the ground water level is high enough to fill up the pond.”

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The shape of the house is echoed in the curved lines in the living room floor:LR Lewis Spring House 121.jpg

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The kitchen is curved and diminutive. It is on the first floor of the round tower by the front door. The two bathrooms are on the second floor of the tower. These steel beams will support the roof between the front door and the washhouse (the small structure to the right of the stairs in the photo above) when funds are raised to rebuild the roof.

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LR Lewis Spring House 075.jpgThe photo above was taken looking up from the kitchen.

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The living room balcony is also the upstairs hallway:

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The master bedroom, formerly the boys’ bedroom:

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A wood screen overlooking the living room balcony can be opened and closed:

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Wright wanted one large bathroom, but the bank that was going to make the loan for the house specified two bathrooms for a home with six occupants:

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Clifton and George Lewis were civic minded and active in the local civil rights movement. Their accomplishments were recognized by the county board. Their footprints are among those permanently etched in a downtown sidewalk on the city’s Downtown Heritage Trail, along with those of 50 other civil rights “foot soldiers.” A bus boycott, like the famous one in Montgomery, Alabama, forced the desegregation of city buses:

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You can help support the restoration of Spring House with a donation:

https://www.preservespringhouse.org

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A Winter Day at Taliesin

All photos © Mark Hertzberg (2022)

I have been to Taliesin countless times, but never in winter, until Sunday when we had a lunch date with our friend, Minerva Montooth. It had snowed overnight. We would not be able to get to Spring Green until Noon, so there would be no photos in the morning’s “golden light.” I fared better in that respect in the late afternoon. But in between, at Noon, there was a rich, rich blue sky.

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Except for this first photo, I am taking you on a tour of Taliesin in the order I photographed the estate. Get comfortable, there are lots of photos. and you will see how my day’s take evolved. The first stop was a drive through the Visitor’s Center or Riverview Terrace. First, this establishing shot, and then a few details that caught my eye:

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Then onto Hillside, to enter the estate from that end…but I found that the driveway is closed for winter. No matter. I saw these views of Midway Barn and Romeo and Juliet windmill on the road to Hillside. The towers are vertical punctuation marks to the horizontal composition of Midway:

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I played with different ways to photograph Romeo and Juliet and Tan-y-Deri as we approached the driveway to Taliesin:

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The house as seen from the approach did not photograph well at midday, but I took record shots. I wish there was more snow on the hill below the birdwalk:

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I was happier with what I saw from below the house, starting with the lead photo in this piece.

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I am a photojournalist. As we say in our circles, after you find a photo, you “work it.” I have to thank John Clouse again for offering to sell me his 200-500mm lens at a good price last summer. While a newspaper colleague of mine in the early 1980s – before today’s fine zoom lenses – once said that “The best telephoto lens is your feet,” (i.e., walk toward and away from your subject rather than rely on the lens), this lens was especially welcome on a cold day after a fresh snowfall. I thought of the countless treks through the estate that the incomparable Pedro Guerrero made when he took his many memorable black and white winter photographs of Taliesin. What would he have done in color, or would he have stayed with black and white, which he printed so beautifully?

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The bird walk is an extraordinary cantilever:

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Caroline Hamblen was returning from feeding her chickens in the apple orchard as I crested the hill:

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Then it was time to park and explore on foot:

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The next photo is at Minerva’s front door:

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I saw this on my way in:

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I saw this on my way out after lunch and lively conversation:

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Then, one more swing through the estate with magic light at the “golden hour”:

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Farewell, Taliesin, until next time!

 

 

 

OA + D’s Encore 

© Mark Hertzberg (2022). Chandler photographs courtesy of, and © Michael Rust

There are seemingly not enough hours in the day for some people, including Randolph C. Henning, Eric M. O’Malley, and William B. Scott, Jr. 

O'Malley Henning Scott 6.28.19.jpgO’Malley, left, Henning, and Scott  June 28, 2019, at Taliesin for a meeting of the Taliesin Fellows.

They have “day jobs,” but because they are also three individuals who are passionate about, and collected material associated with, Frank Lloyd Wright, his students, and other organic practitioners, they founded Organic Architecture + Design (OA+D) in 2013. Their mission is to honor the past, celebrate the present and encourage the future of organic architecture and design through education, conservation of original design materials, publications and exhibitions.

RHM Iannelli Planning Meeting 005.jpgO’Malley, Tim Samuelson, left, then the City of Chicago Cultural Historian, and David Jameson meet in Samuelson’s archives near OA+D’s, in June 2018 to plan an exhibit about Alfonse Iannelli at the Racine, Wisconsin, Heritage Museum.

RHM Iannelli Planning Meeting 014.jpgChristopher Paulson, right, Executive Director of the Racine Heritage Museum looks at cartoons of windows Iannelli designed for Francis Barry Byrne’s St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Racine, which Samuelson was lending to the museum.

They felt that big institutions are selective about what is saved, often rejecting worthy collections. They perceived a rapid loss of material with historical value associated with the organic movement—especially regarding lesser known architects and designers. Drawing from their own personal collections, as well as others that they were aware of, they also felt that a journal promoting an awareness of Organic Architecture (past, present and future) could be of interest and sustained.

OA+D’s list of accomplishments since 2013 is impressive:

-They are in their ninth year of publishing the Journal of Organic Architecture + Design, a quality glossy journal produced three times a year, each issue guest edited by a scholar and devoted to a single topic supporting their mission.

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-In 2016 they built and placed on long term loan to the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation a replica of Wright’s model of the unrealized San Francisco Call newspaper building (1913) to replace the original model which left its longtime home in Hillside at Taliesin when Wright’s models were acquired by the Museum of Modern Art. 

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-They have published several books, including a monograph about the box projects of William Wesley Peters:

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-They maintain archive space in Chicago, in Los Angeles, and in Lexington, Kentucky, and now also in Chandler, Arizona. A link to their noteworthy holdings is at:

https://www.oadarchives.com/collection-s-list

So, what could Organic Architecture + Design (OA + D) do for an encore? How about recently adding a fourth archive site (Chandler) after being selected by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation in July to be the stewards of what remains of the vast archive of Taliesin Architects (TA), first known as Taliesin Associated Architects (TAA), formed after Wright’s death in 1959? After the Museum of Modern Art and Arizona State University took their share, the majority of the collection, which includes more than 50,000 drawings, is housed in OA+D’s new archive in Chandler, Arizona.

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The grand opening was in December. (While one of OA+D’s missions is to make their holdings available to scholars and aficionados of Wright’s and related work, the TA archive is so extensive that it will take time to ingest it, and there is no definite date for public access.)

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Scott says, “Probably the most exciting things they (the Foundation) gave us are these models.” Those models include a seven foot model of the 1963 proposal for the Belmont (N.Y.) Race Course, a proposal published in Architectural Forum, and a model built by the late David Dodge of a country club in Hawaii ( based on Wright’s design for a home for Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe). There is also a seven foot long rendition of the Court of the Seven Seas in San Francisco by Ling Po. He adds that Stuart Graff (President and CEO of the Foundation) “deserves a big thank you for this” as does the entire archive staff at Taliesin West.

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Some might step back and rest their laurels on an accomplishment like the TA acquisition. But that is not OA+D’s nature. Inevitably they will surprise us again. In the meantime, follow their work in the Journal. An annual subscription is $50, money well spent. 

Links:

OA+D: https://www.oadarchives.com

Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation on the transfer of the TA archive to OA+D: 

https://franklloydwright.org/frank-lloyd-wright-foundation-partners-with-oad-archives-to-steward-taliesin-architects-archive/

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Wright’s “Little Gem” in Rockford

© Mark Hertzberg (2021)

Excuse me, but did you say that Frank Lloyd Wright referred to a house in Rockford, Illinois as his “little gem?” Rockford, that industrial city 88.8 miles northwest of Chicago? Not in Oak Park or River Forest or Racine or Scottsdale? That’s right, the Ken and Phyllis Laurent House (1949) is indeed in Rockford, a bit off the beaten track when it comes to Wright tourism (bear with me, I have another nearby Wright suggestion for you at the end of this article).

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Although the Turkel House in Detroit had an elevator for Mrs. Turkel who used a wheelchair, this house is the only Wright commission entirely designed for a disabled client. A World War II veteran, Laurent was disabled after back surgery.

The approach to the house is deceptive. We seem to be approaching yet another Usonian home chock full of right angles. The original carport, visible at the end of the brick wall, was enclosed in 1959-1960 by John (Jack) Howe, working from plans by Wright. It became a bedroom, after the Laurents adopted children.

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Instead, Wright’s 1,400 sq. ft. “little gem” is a hemicycle design, with intersecting arcs.

LR Laurent House 10.30.21 098.jpgThe living room and hallway to the master bedroom look out over the backyard and a semi-circular patio, under a semi-circular roof.

LR Laurent House 10.30.21 105.jpgThe master bedroom and its semi-circular aspect are not readily visible from outside. They are truly in a private wing of the house.

Let’s now take a tour of the house as we did in late October, as the guests of our friends Curt and Susan Pruitt and Dave and Barb Lange. I will intersperse some abstract photos to keep things lively. While some of the interior photos were taken from my normal height, 5′ 7″ (coincidentally said to have been Wright’s height), Barb Lange had an excellent suggestion that I also take photos from Ken Laurent’s vantage point, and she offered to push me through the house in a wheelchair. We start in the entry hall, where Mr. Laurent would have laid his hat and gloves after returning home:

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LR Laurent House 10.30.21 028.jpgThe dining room table and part of the kitchen are visible at right.

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A sitting area and a small fireplace – which reminds me of the one in the Keland House in Racine (1954) – are at one end of the dining room:

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I enjoyed photographing the tables and hassocks in this space:

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A long hallway stretches along the windows that face the patio and backyard. Unlike the narrow hallways in many of Wright’s Usonian homes, it was wide enough for Mr. Laurent to easily navigate with his wheelchair. The built-in cabinets would have been within reach for him:

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Mr. Laurent’s desk in the master bedroom. Again, note the cabinets at his level:

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Let us now step outside onto the patio. We can see the hallway banquettes through the windows:

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Remember that I told you about another Wright building nearby? According to Google, the Pettit Memorial Chapel in the Belvidere Cemetery is only 11.4 miles away. Top your day with a visit to, and lunch at, the lovely Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford.

For more information:

https://www.laurenthouse.com

https://andersongardens.org

https://belviderecemetery.com/our-chapel/

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— 30 —

Where Famous Feet Did Tread

Photo and text © Mark Hertzberg (2021)

Procrastination sometimes pays off.

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I took this photograph August 29, on a photo exploration of the Hillside Drafting Room. It’s a single frame, in a folder of 18 photos. While I was concentrating on other aspects of the drafting room, I glanced at the floor and wondered what famous people have walked on it since it was installed in late 1938. Frank Lloyd Wright was obviously one of them, but who else?

I posted other photos of the drafting room soon after (they are toward the end of the link below), but I sat on this one, intending to one day write a “who walked here” post:

https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/2021/09/06/wright-through-the-lens/

It is fortunate that I held off because last week I read a new post from Keiran Murphy which tells the story of the floor, a backstory I never would have guessed. The floor is like a wafer cookie, and it has a relationship to the floor at Wingspread. That’s all I will tell you. Here is a link to Keiran’s post:

https://www.keiranmurphy.com/hillside-drafting-studio-flooring/?fbclid=IwAR3SSC_CAVWs7yuVtk-ah51JlWW535FWEgOXCJAwTfLX8NOxzLri9ggJ1rk

Julian Carlton in Black and White

© Mark Hertzberg (2021)

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Some Black guy from Barbados went berserk, setting fire to a house before slaying seven people with a roofing hatchet as they tried to flee the blaze. He never came to trial because he died from having ingested muriatic acid while hiding from authorities. That’s the story we have accepted for 107 years about what happened at Taliesin on August 15, 1914 when Wright’s partner, Mamah Borthwick, her two children, and four of Wright’s workers died a horrific death. 

Although Julian Carlton was the slayer, he was not legally guilty of the murders because he was never tried. There is only one known photo of him. It was taken in court and appeared in  a local newspaper six days later. I wrote about the photograph almost two years ago:

https://wrightinracine.wordpress.com/2020/01/19/reading-the-only-known-photograph-of-julian-carlton/

A comment about this article was posted on the website a few weeks ago by “whatever74,” an on-line email pseudonym. The comment gave me pause:

The account of this murder to me is very suspicious. So many things just dont add up. I dont think we have anywhere near the truth. Life for black people back then was so unfair, so hidden, so corrupted, we really have no clue what transpired. He sure doesnt look insane in this photo. He looks resigned to a fate determined by people in power that couldnt care less about anything except maintaining that power. Who dies of starvation while in prison? How does that even happen? And look at him in this courtroom shot. Does he look like someone that cant consume food? He looks perfectly healthy, hardly someone that is wasting away from lack of food.

It just shows you how dangerous it is when one group gets a lot of power. And it happens all over the world. We fear what we could lose and tend to do irrational things to protect against that loss.

I thought that the commenter is likely African-American, suspicious of a white narrative of the crime. It would be easy to dismiss the comment but we should not, especially with the awakening many people who are not of color have had since the murder of George Floyd. Why not believe the initial explanation of the Minneapolis Police Department that Floyd died after some sort of medical incident. Isnt law enforcement trustworthy?

Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction:…Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later…”

The phone video that Darnella Frazier showed us otherwise. That kind of gulf between fact and fiction is not limited to George Floyd’s murder at the hand of police in Minneapolis.

I believe that what we generally know about the massacre at Taliesin is true, but we need to be careful about some of the nuances. It took more than 100 years, until Paul Hendrickson wore out the soles of his shoes with his gumshoe detective work and wrote Plagued by Fire in 2019 in which he established conclusively that Carlton was a native of Alabama, not Barbados. That undid a century-old “fact” about the killings.

Did it matter for some people that this crazed Negro (I am purposely using pejoratives) was, you know, from down there, from the West Indies? Wright described Carlton as “a thin-lipped Barbados negro.” The lead of the next day’s Chicago Sunday Tribune story was “A Barbados negro with a handax yesterday…” Maybe as a West Indian Carlton didn’t understand how “house Negroes” should do things in America. Conversely, Hendrickson wonders if Carlton wanted people to think that he was from Barbados and thus think that he wasn’t just a plain-old American Negro or N-word, with every connotation that came with such a description.

Hendrickson writes that race was an important identifier in describing Carlton: “The black butcher.” “The black beast.” “The Negro fiend.” “And,” writes Hendrickson, “in a few places worse than that.” Indeed, one of the witnesses to the massacre quotes the father of one the victims as saying, “That [N-word] up there. He killed my boy.” The late Ron McCrea makes a similar point in his 2012 book Building Taliesin.  He quotes Ernest Wittwer who was just four years old when his father took him to the jail in Dodgeville to look at Carlton. “He held me up so I could see him through the window. I had never seen a black man before. I never felt the same about black people after that.”

Hendrickson posits that Carlton’s race may have influenced how Richard Lloyd Jones, Wright’s cousin, may have skewed editorial coverage in his newspaper, the Tulsa Tribune, in 1921 and helped fuel the Tulsa Race Massacre.

I shared “whatever 74’s” comments with a handful of Wright scholars. One wrote:

“whatever74” brings an interesting and plausible perspective (albeit clearly unsubstantiated by any evidence or proof) to the final days of JC placed in the larger context of American culture and society in 1914…PS:  it certainly makes you think . . .

I emailed “whatever 74” and asked what prompted his comment. He replied: I was just reading about FLW.  As I reread my comment now I wish there was an edit option.  If he had swallowed that acid that made it impossible for him to eat he could have looked just fine and healthy for weeks depending on his condition when he swallowed it.  I’ve water fasted for weeks and its surprising how healthy you look when you don’t eat…I suppose is pointless to even discuss an event where we have no idea what really happened.  I’ve seen so much prejudice in my life I guess I’m hypersensitive to it.  Videos today just showcase how often people in authority misuse that authority to maintain their position of power.  I can’t imagine what transpired back then when so many people got away with so much behind closed doors.

Then came another email from “whatever 74”: Just a white guy that has spent quite a bit of time in black culture.

Just what I’ve seen and experienced.

But as we really don’t know what happened and can’t possibly ascertain

what really happened, its probably better to focus on what is happening

today.

Keiran Murphy, the esteemed Taliesin historian, has an unpublished nine page manuscript entitled “The human toll taken by madness:  Truth and Myth Surrounding the 1914 Murders at Frank Lloyd Wrights Taliesin.” It cites numerous inaccurate contemporary accounts, including in The New York Times, which many people consider “the paper of record.” The Times wrote that Carlton was arrested 16 miles away from Taliesin after being tracked down by bloodhounds. In fact, he was hiding in a boiler at Taliesin. 

Since 2007 many people have asked on social media what kind of soup was being served for lunch that day. The first mention of any soup (on an August day!) is in William Drennan’s woefully inaccurate 2007 book Death in a Prairie House. There is no documentation for his assertion that soup was on the luncheon menu that August day. And so the myths are created even the century after the events of that summer day at Taliesin.

There has been much speculation about whether Borthwick was the intended victim, or was it Emil Brodelle, a draftsman who had allegedly racially insulted Carlton, or was it indirectly Wright himself by killing his lover?  Was Carlton upset at being fired by Wright? Murphy sets the record straight that Carlton’s departure from Taliesin was quite possibly voluntary, and that he had told Wright some time before that he would be returning to Chicago.

I talked to a friend who is the steward of a Wright home, and who was recently asked to review an unpublished, but thoroughly documented Wright manuscript. One of the things that struck him was the description of Borthwick as a person of privilege, who, he thought, seemed to not be above using that privilege when addressing servants. Wright, according to the manuscript, was not above using the N-word. Last night, as I finish this article, a Wright scholar told me of a second-hand account from the son of one of the workers at Taliesin that another worker may have been sexually harassing Carlton’s wife. 

I appreciate whatever74 giving us something to ponder, although he undid much of the good in his questions with some things he later wrote that I think are gross negative generalizations about African-Americans who, he feels, have not reached their potential.

I do not doubt the general outline of what we have read and believed to be true about the events of August 15, 1914 at Taliesin. But whatever74’s initial comments and Daniella Frazier’s video are stark reminders for us to think twice before accepting a narrative involving race, even from “authorities,” as the unvarnished truth. Carltons motive is secondary to my point.

There have been discussions about whether or not Frank Lloyd Wright was racist. Some people dismiss his use of the N-word as a norm 100 years ago, and not perceived by whites as racially insensitive as it would be today. 

This is 2021, not 1914 and I daresay that your initial reaction about the veracity of “Some Black guy from Barbados went berserk, setting fire to a house before slaying seven people with a roofing hatchet as they tried to flee the blaze. He never came to trial because he died from having ingested muriatic acid while hiding from authorities.” would reasonably be different depending on whether you are white or Black. I welcome your comments.

–30–

Wright Through My Lens

All photos © Mark Hertzberg (2021)

I had not been to many Frank Lloyd Wright sites outside of Racine in more than two years until a week ago. I had a gracious lunch invitation from Minerva Montooth for Sunday, and a last-minute photo assignment in Sparta, Wisconsin (west of Spring Green) Saturday, so I overnighted in Spring Green. I have always enjoyed challenging myself to see new things at familiar Wright sites on return visits. These are some of the many fruits of last week’s visit.

I photographed at the famous cantilevered Birdwalk terrace from below:

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I noticed visitors taking pictures above me while photographing the Birdwalk:

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I do not plan my photo visits for a particular time of day / lighting…I shoot what is there when I am there. I explored Taliesin and the grounds of the newly-restored Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Center in wonderful evening light Saturday, before dinner with Keiran Murphy and “Mr. Keiran.” I visited both again in Sunday’s morning light. I saw the familiar sign for Taliesin in a different way, thanks to the sharp angle of the morning light:

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The first thing I saw at Taliesin Saturday as I drove onto the grounds was the corn crib, dramatically lit by evening light:

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Sunday morning I saw something different with a long lens as I drove up:

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I used a powerful zoom lens to photograph Romeo and Juliet and Tan-y-deri from a distance both days:

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I continued to explore with the long lens:

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I sat on the floor to photograph through one of the fireplaces inside Taliesin:

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I explored Wright’s office – with its own cantilevered balcony – and the original drafting room:

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I photographed Taliesin itself with long and short lenses:

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Going to Taliesin means also exploring Hillside Theatre and the drafting room. The theatre is currently being restored.

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After photographing the ghost-like seats with the sheets covering them I looked for photos under the seats:

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I also looked up:

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Outside is a view of the theatre and nearby farm:

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Then I went to explore the silent drafting room, first reflected in the theatre’s windows:

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And, Hillside itself:

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I photographed Midway Barn from the road, on my trips between Taliesin and Wyoming Valley School and once from Hillside:

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The last set of photos is of the Wyoming Valley School, now known as the Wyoming Valley School Cultural Arts Center. One of the only upsides of the pandemic is that the restoration of the school was able to proceed without having to work around visitors. Many of the changes are structural and not visible. Perhaps the most visible change is that the bricks inside now approximate their original natural color…the yellow of recent years was painted over with a grayish tone.

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The desks in the classroom today are not original, but I enjoyed photographing them through the mitered glass in the evening light nonetheless. This historic black and white photo shows the original desks.

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Robert Hartmann’s wonderful 1960s black and white photos of Taliesin and the school still hang on the walls. His photos documenting the construction of Riverview Terrace are in the rear of the dining room at the Visitors Center.

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I leave you with a photo of the Marvelous Minerva Montooth and my Taliesin selfie. Technical notes: I do no “post processing” on my photos…I do not sharpen them or increase the color saturation. What I shoot is what I get. I sometimes open the midtones a bit and do a bit of dodging and burning in…nothing that could not be done in a traditional chemical darkroom. I use two camera bodies, one has a DX or crop frame sensor, the other is FX or full frame (equivalent to what would be recorded on a 35mm piece of film). The lenses used are: 14-24mm (used on the FX body); 17-35mm (on the DX body);  a 70-200mm on the FX body, and a 200-500mm, used on both bodies. When the 200-500 is on the DX body, it is approximately the equivalent in 35mm terms of a 350-750mm lens. I thank John Clouse for selling me that lens recently…I had a wonderful time exploring Taliesin and Wyoming Valley School with it!

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30-

 

 

A man, his camera, and Wright

© Mark Hertzberg (2021) Vintage photos © Estate of Al Krescanko. Portrait of Krescanko by Mark Hertzberg / The (Racine) Journal Times

Frank Lloyd Wright likely would have had conniptions if anyone had dared alter one of his drawings, but he thought nothing of altering one of photographer Al Krescanko’s negatives before signing and returning it to him. What had the architect retouched? He thought his hair looked too long, so he shaded it in on the negative.

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Krescanko was one of those quiet guys who said he was just doing his job when he photographed Wright some 60 years ago, but his insightful 1957 candid photos of the master architect have been republished in at least two landmark books about Wright. Yet, Krescanko’s byline has remained largely unknown. Among photographers of Wright, it has less name recognition than the work of Pedro Guerrero, Balthazar Korab, and Ed Obma.

Krescanko photographed Wright during the course of his work as a photographer for SC Johnson in Racine, Wisconsin. He also extensively photographed the construction of the Wright-designed Keland House (1954) for Willard and Karen Johnson Keland (later Karen Johnson Boyd), and took pictures for Willard Keland’s unrealized Wisconsin River Development Corporation in Spring Green.

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Krescanko died in 2005, at age 78. A few of his photos of Wright have previously been published, but the Keland House photos were unknown until recently, when the Organic Architecture + Design Archives were lent Krescanko’s photos to digitize by Mary Jo Armstrong, his daughter, for a magazine article. The Keland House photos include the only known view of the original carport which became the master bedroom after a garage was built and the house modified by John (Jack) Howe in 1961.

I would be delighted to tell you more and share more photos, but I will instead direct you to OA + D’s website where you can buy Vol. 9 No. 2 of their excellent thrice-yearly journal. Each issue is devoted to a single topic. Eric O’Malley at OA + D has long been intrigued by Krescanko’s story and photos. Armstrong readily agreed to share her father’s photos with him when he proposed devoting an issue of the Journal to him.

The full story of Krescanko’s career and 41 of his photographs of Wright at Taliesin and at SC Johnson, and of the Keland House construction are in this 40 page issue. Bill Keland, Willard and Karen’s son, helped write the captions for the construction photos as he viewed them for the first time. (I am the “Guest Editor” of this issue of the Journal and wrote the profile. It is a much more extensive profile of Krescanko than the one I wrote in 2002 when I worked for the Racine newspaper. The profile includes interviews with his brother and his two surviving children).

If we have whet your appetite to see and read more about quiet, unassuming Al Krescanko and his not-unassuming subject, follow the link below. As they (whoever ‘they’ are!) say on late night television, “Operators are standing by to take your call!”

https://www.oadarchives.com/product/journal-oa-d-9-2

Mitchell House: Corwin/Wright’s Coda?

© Photos and text Mark Hertzberg (2021) unless otherwise noted

Mitchell House 1895.jpgThe Mitchell House in 1895, from the Racine Headlight, a railroad publication. Courtesy Racine Public Library. Note the second and third floor porch railings in this photograph and the 1908 one.

Perhaps no house linked to Frank Lloyd Wright has generated as much give-and-take about its provenance as the Henry G. and Lily Mitchell House at 905 Main Street in Racine, Wisconsin. Note that I wrote “linked to” and not “designed by.” 

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Paul Hendrickson devotes four pages to the Mitchell House in Plagued by Fire (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2019, pp. 75-78) in the context of his writing about Corwin and Wright’s close friendship and professional association:

“This is the greatest house Cecil Corwin will ever design…”

“Call it the Last Fine Building Moment of Cecil S. Corwin.” 

There is no documentation of Wright’s involvement – if any – in the design of the stately house, but there is much thought that Corwin likely designed the house in collaboration with Wright. A definitive answer to “Who Did What?” remains the proverbial “million dollar question” even after 20 years of sometimes contentious discussion. The lack of documentation means that the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation is unable to ascribe any of its design to Wright.

John Eifler, a well-known Wright restoration architect who grew up in Racine and practices in Chicago, in 2001 was one of the first to suggest Wright’s influence on the design. He told me in an interview in 2003 that “It was Corwin and Wright who did that job together. I imagine that it was Corwin who was responsible for presenting the thing to his client because he probably got the job through his Dad.” (The Mitchells were members of the First Presbyterian Church in Racine. Corwin’s father, the Rev. Eli Corwin, was the pastor of the church from 1880 -1888). “This collaborative thing that happens between architects happens a lot. It’s a collaboration, I think between two people, two young architects.”

His conclusions were bolstered this summer with the discovery of a 1908 photograph of the house. The photograph is in a photo album that also included 1908 photos of Wright’s nearby Hardy House [scroll down at the end of this article to see a post with those photos]. The album pages were acquired for the Organic Architecture + Design archives to ensure their preservation and accessibility for research. I will give more history about the sometimes contentious history of the house before I get to Eifler’s reaction to the 1908 photograph .

1908 Mitchell House OA+D toned.jpgCourtesy of, and copyright by, Organic Architecture + Design (2021). All rights reserved.

In terms of official records, the house was designed by Cecil Corwin in 1894. It was so stated in the April 15 Chicago Inter Ocean newspaper and in the March issue of the Journal of the Inland Architect. This was the year after Wright left Adler & Sullivan, so he no longer had any reason to hide his work. In fact, his Bagley House is listed in his name a few lines below the Mitchell House listing in the Inland Architect.

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In addition, Corwin’s proposal to remodel Herbert and Flora Miles’s house in Racine in 1899 shows a mini-Mitchell House grafted onto the existing house (the remodeling commission passed on to Wright in 1901 but was not realized).

Miles Existing? Wright.jpgCorwin’s 1899 proposal to remodel the Miles House. Copied by the author at the McCormick Library of Special Collections at Northwestern University.

The “Who Did What” intensified in 2002 when William Allin Storrer visited the house on July 12. He photographed it extensively and declared it to be by Wright in a story in the Racine Journal Times and in stories that ran in USA Today and on the Associated Press news wire. Storrer was quoted as saying “Maybe it (the design) is only 75 percent Wright’s, but it’s still Wright. If it’s 51 percent, it’s still Wright’s.” He included the house in a subsequent edition of his The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright: A Complete Catalogue (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017). 

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Storrer once speculated that Wright may have designed the house as a gift to Corwin to thank him for letting Wright use his name on his “bootleg houses.” Those were houses that Wright surreptitiously designed while at Adler & Sullivan because his contract forbade him from taking on private commissions. 

As the discussion about the provenance of the house intensified, I asked Edgar Tafel about the house on April 7, 2003. Tafel, one of the original Taliesin Fellowship apprentices (1932 – 1941) told me, “On the very first trip to Racine (in 1936 for the SC Johnson Administration Building) we came down Main Street. In all the times I was there, we came down the Main Street, any number of times. He never mentioned anything about any house other than the Hardy House (four blocks south of the Mitchell House).

Fast forward to May and June 2021 after Eric O’Malley [of OA+D] emailed the 1908 photo to Eifler:

Eric sent the photograph to me as well, and when I saw the railings on the second and third floor, as well as the little bit of ornament adjacent to the dormer I became even more convinced of Wright’s involvement.  Most architects of the period would have interrupted the continuous rail with newel posts, or intermediate supports – I believe only FLW would have run the curved rail continuously.  I have also attached a stair photo from the Goodrich House in Oak Park (1896), with identically shaped balusters.” (Email to me June 17).

Goodrich House.jpgThe stairs in the Goodrich House, courtesy of John Eifler

For comparison, my 2002 photo of the stairs in the Mitchell House:

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And, in a follow-up email on June 21: (interspersed with more of my 2002 photos of Mitchell and 2019 photo of the Blossom House, left, and McArthur House, and a vintage photo of Blossom and McArthur, courtesy of John Eifler):

“1. the Bagley House in Hinsdale and the McArthur House in Hyde Park both utilize Gambrel Roofs and date from the same period.

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2. The Front Porch is similar to that on the Blossom House from one or two years before.  The continuous railing on top of the porch matches Blossom, as do the shapes of the “pickets”.

3. The trim on the interior of the Mitchell House has many similarities with Blossom and Charnley – for example, the window and door heads all align with the picture rail, there is no trim where the wall meets the ceiling.

4. The Art Glass in the south facing study of Mitchell is similar to some of the art glass in the living room of the Charnley House and McArthur.

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5. The wood used in the study is Santo Dominco Mahogany, a favorite of Wright (and Sullivan) and matches the Charnley Hs. Dining Room.”

Eifler elaborated in a followup email July 7: “It [an old photo of the Blossom House] shows a front porch on the Blossom House that is very similar to Mitchell – most notably it shows a railing on the second floor is continuous, with no intermediate supports, which is very unusual, and a continuous string of “pickets” or balusters, that are uniquely shaped with spheres, matching the 1896 Goodrich House in Oak Park by Wright.  Finally, the first floor of the porch is capped by a narrow projecting eave, or cornice (in classical terms) which projects out over the frieze – the proportions of which are unique, I think, to Wright.”

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Tim Samuelson, the City of Chicago’s Cultural Historian (and a dear friend of Paul Hendrickson’s…Plagued is dedicated to him), offers his thoughtful perspective, as well.

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“As we all know from Wright’s autobiographical accounts, Cecil Corwin was a close and valued friend. We also know that they shared room 1501 in Adler & Sullivan’s Schiller Building to conduct their respective architectural practices. The room 1501 was very small – essentially 12′ x 12′.  It’s possible that they also occupied the connecting room 1502 which didn’t have corridor access, but even with that, it was pretty close quarters. (1502 could have been an used by the tenant of adjoining room1505 and had nothing to do with Wright and Corwin at all). (Floor plan courtesy of Tim Samuelson)

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“The Mitchell House indeed displays many elements characteristic of Wright’s work of the period. But at the same time, there are many aspects that do not.” (I am breaking up Samuelson’s comments with some of my 2001 and 2002 photos of the Mitchell House)

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“In my personal opinion, what you see is a matter of personal and professional osmosis between two architects sharing the same space.  Would they look over each other’s drafting boards and make comments and suggestions?  Sure!  Would Wright sometimes help Corwin with difficult design issues?  Of course!

“On the basis of Wright’s autobiographical writings, Corwin recognized and admired Wright’s unusual architectural gifts. Sharing the same space and personal camaraderie, Corwin would have learned from Wright and naturally tried to emulate aspects of his work.  And for a substantial commission on the main street of Corwin’s home town, he naturally would have welcomed comments and help from an admired colleague literally close at hand to create the best design possible.

“In such a closely shared environment between friends, it’s conversely possible that Corwin might have commented and critiqued Wright’s own work. We’ll never really know, but it’s a reasonable possibility.

“There’s always the temptation to skew perspectives to advocate the presence of a “lost” Wright work. But as a result, Cecil Corwin’s presence as a competent architect and a creative person gets lost. Sadly, it’s the story of his life.”

And,  Robert Hartmann, a friend of mine who is an architectural designer and Wright scholar in Racine, weighs in, as well: “The existence of the 1908 photo offers new evidence that the Mitchell house is a  unique one-off collaborative effort between Cecil Corwin and Frank Lloyd Wright. A dichotomy design with the more inventive parts of the house (the porch, and first floor interior detailing) either attributed to Wright or Wright’s influence on Corwin. Cecil Corwin never-the-less produced a masterful house that should be celebrated on its own merits and testifies to the close friendship between the two architects.”

Let us turn to Paul Hendrickson again, and we realize that Wright was concurrently designing his masterpiece Winslow House and Corwin was on the verge of moving to New York and to some measure of architectural obscurity. 

And so, there we have it. We will likely never know exactly who did what, but let us give Cecil Corwin his due for having designed a notable house, likely with help from his good friend Frank Lloyd Wright. 

This collaboration was not only a professional collaboration. It was also arguably the coda of their one-time close relationship (Hendrickson has a rich history of their relationship, elaborating on what Wright wrote in An Autobiography). 

The “Who Did What?” debate will continue with some discounting Wright’s possible involvement, absent documentation to the contrary (Tafel’s remarks keep reverberating in my mind), and others agreeing with the perspectives offered above.

Game on!

https://www.oadarchives.com

I appreciate the willingness of the Pettinger family, stewards of the Mitchell House, to allow me time to set up lights and photograph their home in 2001 and 2002.

— 30 —

(Scroll down for earlier posts on this website, including the 1908 Hardy House photographs)

Why the Flag Becomes Where’s the Flag?

© Mark Hertzberg

This is a story that has a different ending than I anticipated when I started writing about the flag on the Hardy House.

Tom Szymczak, one of the stewards of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Thomas P. Hardy House in Racine, Wisconsin, was moved by the 1908 photograph we have courtesy of the Organic Architecture and Design Archives (OA+D) to hang a 6′ x 10′ flag on the front of the house a few weeks ago. He intended to leave it up through the Fourth of July festivities which are a big event in Racine. The new flag was not a political statement. Quite simply, he wrote me, “The 1908 photo was the inspiration.”

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I took this picture after he hung the flag. It was to be a place holder in my files of photos of the house because I greatly looked forward to photographing Racine’s Fourth Fest parade passing by the house this morning with the flag as the background. Racine’s parade is legendary…it normally has 120 units and takes more than two hours to pass a given spot (this year’s parade was significantly smaller because of the pandemic). Below are photos which Dave Archer took when his family lived in the  house from 1947 – 1957, and one which I took in 2004:

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So where is my photo of today’s parade? I didn’t see a flag when I went to the house. I emailed a “where is the flag” query to the Szymczaks and got a surprising and disappointing call back.

Their neighbor caught someone stealing the flag late Sunday night. How did the thief get the flag? She climbed onto the outside extension of the front hall cabinets in front of the house to pull it down. The neighbor got in a tussle with the thief. She lost the fight for the flag, but she got the thief’s license plate number and police are on the case. I used a common, but loathsome, expression when the Szymczaks told me what happened: “That really sucks.”

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The thief did one positive thing, though. She left a nice palm print for the police.

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