January 20, 2014
A tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s stunning Buffalo buildings does not only exhibit some of the best works of America’s most renowned architect, but also the history of his friendship with Darwin Martin, a self-made millionaire and Larkin Soap Company executive who supported Wright financially and commissioned several of his earliest designs.
Martin’s childhood was blighted by the death of his mother aged seven, which separated his family and instilled in him a deep-rooted longing for family togetherness. This experience drove the construction of the famous Darwin Martin House at 125 Jewett Parkway, between 1903 and 1905. An innovative Prairie-style complex, it was the first of six Buffalo homes to be designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright in Buffalo.
Martin’s dream was for a house so welcoming that his four siblings and father would want to come to live with him – although only one of his sisters ever did. Nevertheless, the project was an architectural success, and is considered by many to be one of Wright’s greatest works. It is now in the later stages of a multi-year restoration, and is open for tours.
Nearby Barton House at 118 Summit Avenue was built for Martin’s sister, Delta, and her husband. Unlike the elegant sweeping lines and interior space of Darwin Martin House, Wright’s design here was small, filled with light, and praised for its simplicity.
Recently acquired to become part of the Darwin Martin House conservation project, Gardener’s Cottage at 285 Woodward Avenue boasts a pleasant exterior and superb arts and crafts interior, where natural light comes streaming in through leaded glass windows.
The Walter V. Davidson House at 57 Tillinghast Place is another meticulous creation, designed for a Larkin Soap Company executive. From a secluded position on a residential street, enter via the low threshold into a spectacular two-storey living room, with soaring cathedral-esque ceilings and diamond-shaped leaded glass windows.
Designed for the brother-in-law of Larkin Soap Company president, John Larkin, William R. Heath House at 76 Soldiers Place is notable for its innovative solution to a restricted plot size. Wright constructed the house immediately adjacent to the sidewalk, and then elevated the building to restrict the view from the street, and protect the privacy of those inside.
In what is recognised as his most important summer estate, Wright designed and built Graycliff as a final project for Isabelle and Darwin Martin in 1927. Situated on a dramatic bluff overlooking Lake Erie at Derby, south of Buffalo, the residence is flooded with natural light from tall, open windows for the benefit of Isabelle, who was nearly blind. Thanks to the efforts of a grassroots preservation group, this attractive house is now open for tours.
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Written by Elizabeth Gourd