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October 02, 2006

Wright Fans Find Gem in Rust Belt City


Whether in Japan, Chicago or Bear Run, PA, Frank Lloyd Wright buildings provide an attraction ardent Wright fans happily travel to.  Over 2 million people have hiked through the Bear Run Nature Preserve and toured Fallingwater, Wright's famed vacation house for department store magnate Edgar J. Kaufman.  And these fans have yet to see what's been called the finest example of Wright's Prairie Style homes, the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo, NY.

The property's been parceled off, partially razed and built over in the years since the Complex's first building was completed in 1904. But a grassroots effort by a diverse group, including leaders in government, education, corporations, non-for-profits and some 350 local volunteers, will soon culminate in the complete restoration of the entire Darwin Martin House Complex.

"The Darwin Martin House complex is without question the greatest of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Period Houses––and, arguably, the greatest house of his entire career, bar none."

Conceived as a narrative told through architecture, the Darwin Martin House Complex consists of nine distinct parts meant to be taken as whole.  The house itself sits at the front of the property and is connected by a 100 foot long pergola to an indoor garden and conservatory that also leads to another structure, the Carriage House.  The property boasts a Gardener's Cottage and a home for Darwin Martin's sister and her family, called the Barton House.  The three remaining components are the Greenhouse, a feature added by the Martins to grow plants and flowers for the property; the Floricycle, a semi-circular garden which blooms year-round in full view of the Martin House and the street; and the eagerly anticipated Visitor Center, designed by world-renowned architect and Harvard professor Toshiko Mori.

Costing over $20million and recreating the Darwin Martin House Complex with original materials and exact replicas using the materials available at the time, the Wright complex promises to be the most complete example of Wright's genius in architectural narrative.  Robert McCarter, a professor of architecture at the Univerity of Florida who's authored six books on Wright said, "The Darwin Martin House complex is without question the greatest of Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Period Houses––and, arguably, the greatest house of his entire career, bar none."  Art Historian Francis Kowsky said, "In terms of architectural history, I think it's the most important house in New York State." Both were originally quoted in The Buffalo News.

"In terms of architectural history,... it's the most important house in New York State."

The draw for visitors is clear, and those who’ve trekked through Bear Run will take special notice of the way landscape affected Wright's work. But such culturally savvy visitors (a recent study by ArtsMarket, a Bozeman, Mont.-based cultural tourism consulting firm, found cultural tourists to Buffalo were typically empty nesters 55 and up, or childless 30 somethings. All were highly educated and culturally savvy. Twenty eight percent were self-described Wright fans, and 28 percent have visited the Kaufman House.)  will see the Wright complex as one portion of an architecturally rich city that Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed it, described as "the best planned city as to its streets, public places and grounds in the United States, if not the world." 

The simple layout makes Buffalo a great destination for Wright enthusiasts.  Within walking distance of the Darwin Martin Complex is the Walter V. Davidson  House at 59 Tillinghast Place. And just a bike ride away is the William R. Heath House at 76 Soldiers Place. Both are privately owned. Those traveling by car might make the short trip to Graycliff,, the Martin Family's summerhouse at 6472 Old Lakeshore Road in Derby, NY.

Those who go to the City of Good Neighbors on architectural tours will find it’s not only rich in original and restored Frank Lloyd Wright buildings but also with those Wright designed but did not see built in his lifetime. Among these are:

  • Blue Sky Mausoleum in Forest Lawn Cemetery. Wright designed it 1928 and it was built on 2004
  • Buffalo Filling Station at the Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum at 263 Michigan Ave to be completed in 2007
  • Charles and Marie Fontana Boathouse at the West Side Rowing Club at the foot of Porter Avenue, completion expected 2007-2008.
  • Beyond Wright, Buffalo is also home to great buildings by Louis Sullivan and Henry Hobson Richardson, a fact that makes the Queen City the only place besides Chicago to house pieces from each of early American modern architecture's Big Three architects. Buffalo is unique in having extremely significant works from each man. Culture lovers looking for a break from Wright can check out H. H. Richardson's Gothic style Buffalo State Hospital. Those trying to put Wright's genius into context can tour the Guaranty Building.  Sullivan's terracotta masterpiece is one of the world's first skyscrapers and a prime example of the form follows function ideal his apprentice Wright capitalized on in his works. 

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    Comment on This Article Here! Wright Fans Find Gem in Rust Belt City:

    Thanks for the great post on one of American architecture's best kept secrets. Not only is Buffalo home to masterworks by Wright, Sullivan, Richardson and Olmsted, it was a major center of the American Arts & Crafts Movement as well. Go to and take a look at the video previews of the recent PBS documentary, "Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo," and the ten-minute introduction to "Buffalo's Architectural Treasures."

    Posted by: Ed Healy | Oct 5, 2006 3:24:16 PM

    In a slapstick entrance to FLW's Darwin Martin House in Buffalo yesterday, NY Gov. George Pataki ducked to avoid hitting a beam only to smack his forehead hard on another.

    Perhaps it was the 6'5" governor's first visit to a FLW home, and he didn't realize that Wright made ceilings notoriously low. Perhaps it was because Wright himself of shorter stature, and designed to suit himself. Check out this GREAT Wright anecdote from.

    My acquaintance with Frank Wright--a charming fellow in many respects, but a tad pushy--was regrettably brief. Still, I seem to recall him as being of middling stature--certainly no dwarf. Photos taken of him in company with others, as well as the memoirs of his associates, confirm this. You're quite right, though, in suspecting that the cramped dimensions of many of his buildings have a lot to do with his none-too-lordly stature. Wright's architectural modus operandi was to build things to suit himself, and to hell with the rest of mankind. He told his students, "I took the human being, at five feet eight and one-half inches tall, like myself, as the human scale. If I had been taller, the scale might have been different." This attitude did not sit well with many of Wright's contemporaries. Someone once said to him, "Whenever I walk into one of your buildings, the doorways are so low my hat gets knocked off." Wright calmly replied, "Take off your hat when you come into a house." Edgar Tafel, a longtime student of Wright's, tells a story about a fellow student named Wes Peters, who happened to be 6 feet 4, the same height as the ceilings at Taliesin, Wright's combination home/studio/school. Watching the Peters's noggin brush up against the rafters more than once moved Wright to holler out, "Sit down, Wes, you're destroying the scale!" Pretty funny, and an indication how far being a wise guy can take you in this world.


    Posted by: ck | Oct 5, 2006 6:07:42 PM

    this is one of my favorite homes..

    There will never be another Frank Lloyd Wright

    Thank you sharing all the information

    A wonder experience to view all the homes on this site

    Posted by: Elisa | Jun 25, 2007 12:08:57 PM

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