Who Was Frank Lloyd Wright?
A complicated, fabulous genius with a focused vision on how people and the environments they live and work in should and could interact is my best current description for the architect and visionary Frank Lloyd Wright. He began designing his immediately identifiable Usonian and Prairie-Style homes over 110 years ago throughout the United States and Buffalo, New York has most concentration of the them, which is why we bring you here,to the Darwin Martin House first.
Many of Wright's buildings remain, not only standing, but lived in and due to his designs of the "fabulous" as opposed to the "easily possible" when it came to rendering structures from his blueprints, they also continue to be repaired, restored and fought against ever being duplicated.
Wright created both private homes and commercial buildings across the country which have established much of the tourist trade to places like Bear Run, Pennsylvania, home of Wright's famous "Falling Water" home, just because the building exists in the locale. An outspoken man full of drama - both personal and professional - Wright created a brand around his vision before the concept "branding" was in vogue. Now, 52 years after his death, his legacy of living and design lives on in the incredible structures he built, structures unlike any other in America.
Trailing Wright ALL OVER New York
My husband and I are on a monumental hunt to discover all of Wright's structures and in the process of the adventure, discover why we are so attracted to these behemoths of early 20th century design, unique in the world of architecture. In this series for Bellaonline, The Wright New York, I will take you on a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright homes and commercial buildings of New York State as we travel by car, by train and even by bicycle to discover and understand their mystique and the treasures they hold -- and why an architectural adventure can be the beginning of discovering yourself and your own creative gifts!
Buffalo - The Queen City
We had just settled our first-born son in his first term at Niagara University, a home run hit away from Niagara Falls and the thunderous Niagara River. The City of Buffalo is only twenty minutes away from Niagara Falls by car, on clean and evenly paved stretches of parkway that comfortably follow the craggy mountainous terrain of New York's Western Frontier.
Always hoping to discover new treasures in New York to share with fellow adventurers, we left Niagara Falls and headed south across Grand Island and the Niagara River toward Buffalo, The Queen City. That nickname was coined in the 1840's when it achieved fame for being the second largest city in New York State after New York City and the second largest on The Great Lakes after Chicago.
Once upon a time Buffalo represented all the promise of fledgling industrial expansion to the Midwest and beyond in the 19th century. Goods got dropped off in New York City harbors and the Hudson River carried them to Albany, where they were offloaded on ships, boats and barges ( yes, there is a difference and we'll talk about that in another article) to travel over 300 miles on The Erie Canal across the state, bound for the New York Western Frontier and beyond. This new method of transportation of goods not only secured Buffalo's importance in the country's economic machine, but saved time, money and manpower, precious resources that could be reallocated elsewhere.
A Lifetime Partnership
All this history chatter brings us to the Darwin Martin House in the suburbs of Buffalo. When the architect Frank Lloyd Wright met Darwin Martin to discuss the future Marin home, they were 36 and 37 respectively, each itching to make a mark for himself in a century that had just sprouted by ushering in technology and ideas that had never been seen before outside of the notebooks of visionaries like Da Vinci.
Wright and Martin formed a lasting friendship that would last through numerous building projects together and end only when Martin died in 1935. The Darwin Martin House Complex, as it is now called, was built between 1902 and 1907 as a family residence for Martin and is a sprawling 29,000 square feet with gardens, cottages and a pergola to combine the building elements into a unified whole.
It is considered by scholars of Wright architecture to be the finest example of his "Prairie Style" of residential building and consists of five interconnected buildings open for the curious guest to discover. Furnished in original and replicated Wright furniture, art glass windows and accessories, a tour of the interior and grounds will take one hour for the basic tour and two hours for the grand tour.
Wright's "Prairie Style" was conceived by the architect in 1902 as part of his larger architectural vision that he would return to for the rest of his life. You've seen it: deep overhanging eaves, huge central fireplaces and an elevated stacking of horizontal planes that evokes a deep and comfortable feeling of shelter, but with the light and openness of a fresh field. Can you tell that I'm a fan?
Taking a Tour
The Darwin Martin Complex offers individual and group tours and it is always best to call as The Martin House Restoration Corporation is steeped in ongoing projects of the Complex. When we visited the house, one of the smaller buildings, built for Darwin Martin's sister was closed due to restorations, but we were able to take the one-hour tour that allowed us to discover the exterior of the Complex, all of the first floor spaces, the pergola that joins the outdoor and indoor spaces, the carriage house and the gorgeous conservatory.
Pressed for time to return a rental car to the Buffalo Airport less than six miles away, we had to take a rain check on the more in-depth two-hour tour that includes a private docent and the opportunity to meander through the furnished private upper rooms of the main house as well as a look at two other buildings on the property that became Wright's template for his subsequent affordable housing projects that changed the landscape of America and influenced successive generations of architects to this day.
Private tours are also available for small groups of up to six people. One problem: the tours are not wheelchair accessible, probably an issue that the foundation wrestled with in the restoration, but there it is.
Tours of the Darwin Martin House are also combined with tours of Graycliff, the Martinses' summer home on Lake Erie also designed by Wright, and a tour of Wright's Fontana Rowing Boathouse. The Martin House Restoration Corporation manages the complex and fundraises to complete the restoration projects. They have opened two of the small properties on the estate for small party rentals and maintain a series of exhibitions and events that keep patrons returning to this wonder of modern architecture in The Queen City.
Easy Parking and a Zoo, Too!
All tours start at 11 am each day, except Tuesday and Thursday, when the Complex is closed for visitors. The Darwin Martin House complex is in downtown Buffalo and is built on a residential avenue. Street parking is available, however the complex staff has an arrangement with the Buffalo Zoo down the street and visitors to the Complex may park in the zoo's lot. Let the Darwin Martin house staff know that you've parked at the zoo and they will give you a token to exit the lot. To contact the Darwin Martin House Complex to arrange tours or obtain more information call (716) 856-3858.
...and stay tuned for the next article in The Wright New York series!