Say "Buffalo, New York" and the first thing that comes to mind is usually not Frank Lloyd Wright. Buffalo's reputation for record-breaking snowstorms has overshadowed its record of a different sort: the city boasts more Wright houses than any other place in the country, outside of Chicago.
Wright's architectural legacy in Buffalo virtually all stems from his 30-year friendship with Darwin D. Martin, a local businessman. It was Martin who got Wright his first large-scale commercial commission, the Larkin Building, and then gave him free rein in the design of his own house shown here. Though we toured all the buildings on site last spring, no photos of the interiors are allowed.
Martin was born at the end of the Civil War, just before Wright. Both men spent time on the prairies of the Midwest as youngsters and both had troubled childhoods that left them trying to create the ideal home they never had. For Wright, family and home was embodied in Taliesin; a place well-known to those of us who live in Wisconsin. The design and creation of the Martin home in Buffalo offered Wright everything the architect ever wanted: a large lot, an unlimited budget and complete freedom of design.
Wright responded by giving Martin a stunning composition, what he called his "opus." Wright designed a complex of six buildings totaling almost 30,000 square feet and including a pergola, conservatory, carriage house and a house for Martin's sister. Wright called the Martin property's arrangement of buildings to each other and the landscape "well nigh a perfect composition." After visiting last summer I'd have to agree.
Construction on the entire complex of buildings took from 1903 to 1907. Wright estimated the cost of the Martin house — built in 1904-05 — at $35,000, but in true Wrightian fashion it eventually totaled $175,000. The tab for the restoration of the Martin house and the reconstruction of the demolished pergola, conservatory and carriage house that is currently under way in Buffalo is $35 million. Total restoration of the property plus construction of the visitor center is estimated at $50 million with all but $10 million raised at this point. Having grown up in Buffalo during the years the Martin House and complex fell into serious disrepair, it was a thrill to see it being restored to its full glory.
The pictures above and below show the plaza between the Martin house and the almost all-glass visitor center.
One of the most stunning aspects of the Martin house is this long covered pergola leading to Mrs. Martin's conservatory with its huge reproduction sculpture of Winged Victory amidst the greenery.
What is so wonderful about Wright's work is that no detail is too small to be ignored whether it's the house number or a spot for chores.
The large building on the left (below) is the carriage house with the chauffeur's apartment above. Double click on the picture below and you will see that the poles that held the wash lines in this beautiful laundry yard match the detailing elsewhere on the house. It reminded me of some of the things that Arne Maynard does in his garden designs which he talks about in his new book.
Wright designed 394 original pieces of art glass, including 15 window motifs for the Darwin Martin House. The Chazen Museum of Art in Madison owns one of the "Tree of Life" windows from the Martin House. The Martin House itself only has one original "Tree of Life" window, though they know the whereabouts of most of them. The glass panels perpendicular to the stained glass windows let light into the lower level.
You can find more information on the Martin house and tours here.