At Fortaleza Hall in Racine, Wisconsin, a replica of an aircraft piloted by Sam Johnson
over Brazil in 1998 hangs from the elliptical skylight.
House of wax
For more than a century, the self-made billionaire scions of the SC Johnson company, made their home in Racine, Wisconsin. The Johnson family’s Racine association started with Samuel Johnson, who moved to Racine in 1882 and, six years later, began mixing up batches of floor wax in his bathtub. The empire was built by the next five generations of Johnsons, a clan whose history, the highs and the lows, is an inextricable part of the city’s.
The Johnson Administration Building, a building in downtown Racine that opened in 1939, is the largest commercial project undertaken by Frank Lloyd Wright. Walk into the lobby and check out Wright’s “floating lily pad columns,” the 31-foot-tall golf-tee/lily pad-shaped supports that hold up to 12 tons each on a base only nine inches wide. Added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 1976, the Johnson building also features more than 40 pieces of furniture Wright designed specifically for the site. Free guided tours are offered Fridays and Saturdays; reservations required.
Half a block away at the Golden Rondelle Theater, you’ll find a cinematic exploration of the Johnsons. Narrated by the late Sam Johnson, the 2001 documentary Carnaúba: A Son’s Memoir delves into the 1935 voyage to Brazil made by Sam’s father, Herbert Johnson. Recreating Herbert’s trip in search of the carnaúba palm, Brazil’s so-called “tree of life” and the source of the company’s namesake wax, Sam captured extraordinary footage of the country taken from a low-flying amphibious airplane. Screenings are free, but reservations are required.
Half a block from the theater, a replica of the Carnaúba aircraft that Sam piloted over Brazil hangs from the elliptical skylight at Fortaleza Hall. Beneath the plane, a huge map made of wood is imbedded in the floor and traces the flight. Fortaleza Hall, named for the Brazilian city at the center of Hector and Sam’s life-changing expeditions, opened in 2010 and serves as a museum of the Johnsons’ history in Racine.
GO Johnson Administration Building, 1525 Howe St., Racine; 262-260-2154. The Racine Visitors Bureau (14015 Washington Ave., Sturtevant; 800-272-2463, realracine.com) has information about adventures throughout Racine County.
Where to stay: The Radisson Hotel Racine Harbourwalk (223 Gaslight Circle; 262-632-7777, radisson.com/racinewi) overlooks the city’s lakefront and is walking distance to downtown attractions; rates range from $130 to $195 for a suite with a kitchen. The Racine Marriott (7111 Washington Ave., 262-886-6100; racinemarriott.com renovated all of its rooms in the past four years and accepts pets; rates start at $99.
Where to eat: The last time President Obama visited Racine, he sang the praises of O & H Danish Bakery’s pecan kringles. (“It makes you happy,” he said.) Since 1949, four generations of the Olesen family has been serving up pastries at the bakery (4006 Durand Ave.; 800-709-4009 store.ohdanishbakery.com). At the family-owned Salute Italian Restaurant (314 Main St.; 262-633-9117, saluteitalianrestaurant.com), the DeBartolo sisters incorporate the flavors of the Calabria region into traditional Italian fare.