Think about what it says about Buffalo at the turn of the twentieth century to have one of the most modern office buildings in the United States and six homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the man who was on his way to becoming America’s greatest architect.
Buffalo New York was a thriving industrial hub, a center for shipping and manufacture, one of America’s first-ranked cities. It’s not surprising that it drew the country’s best.
Of all Frank Lloyd Wright architecture one of his greatest achievements was the Larkin Company Administration Building, no longer stands but its spirit lingers in the building’s "footprint" on Seneca Street where it once stood.
A Larkin executive, Darwin D. Martin, went to visit his brother in Oak Park, Illinois, and was introduced to Wright’s style and to the architect himself. Impressed, Martin convinced the Larkin board of directors to commission Wright to design the company’s new office building.
Martin later asked Wright to design what became known as the Martin House Complex at 125 Jewett Parkway, now in the later stages of a multi-year restoration project and open for tours. One of the largest of Wright’s "Prairie-style" houses, it has graceful sweeping lines and a spacious interior. Many architectural critics have called it one of Wright’s greatest works.
The nearby George Barton house, 118 Summit Avenue, built for Martin’s sister, Delta, and her husband, was the first of Wright’s Buffalo buildings to be completed. Small, yet filled with light, many prefer its simplicity to the expanse of the Darwin Martin House.
Another jewel is the adjoining Gardener’s Cottage, 285 Woodward Avenue, recently acquired to once again become part of the Martin complex. The warm exterior and the exquisitely-preserved arts and crafts interior lit by abundant leaded glass windows are a pleasure to behold.
The Walter V. Davidson house, 57 Tillinghast Place, designed for another Larkin executive, is secluded on a residential street amid trees and foliage. But even without a guidebook, a visitor knows this is another splendid Wright creation. The entry is low, typical of many Wright designs, then one enters a two-story living room with cathedral ceiling and a wall of diamond-shaped leaded glass windows rising from low cabinets to the ceiling. The effect is spectacular.
The William R. Heath house, 76 Soldiers Place, is distinctive for its accommodation to a small lot size. Built for the brother-in-law of company president John Larkin, Wright placed the house adjacent to the Bird Street sidewalk, then elevated the floor and window levels to restrict the view from the street to the inside.
Wright’s final Buffalo-area house, Graycliff, was built between 1926 and 1931 as a summer home for Isabelle and Darwin Martin on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie at Derby, south of Buffalo. Mrs. Martin, who had failing eyesight, wanted a house flooded with light. Windows are taller and more open, allowing the summer breezes off the lake to flow through the comfortable home. With three buildings designed by Wright, as well as 8.5 acres of grounds and gardens also designed by Wright, the lovely site is open for tours seven days a week in summer and autumn, with more limited hours in the winter and spring.
Recently built is Frank Lloyd Wright’s Blue Sky Mausoleum, overlooking two small lakes in Buffalo’s Forest Lawn. Darwin Martin commissioned the architect to design a monument for a family plot and Wright obliged by conceptualizing a flight of 12 shallow steps with crypts on either side leading to a tall monument. Martin nicknamed it the Blue Sky Mausoleum because of its projected cost. The design was completed shortly before the 1929 Stock Market Crash which ushered in the Great Depression. Martin lost his fortune and the plans were put aside until 2004, when the mausoleum was finally built. None of the Martin family is buried there, however. Instead, crypts are available to anyone in the world. Another recent addition to Buffalo’s Frank Lloyd Wright inventory is the Fontana Boathouse. Originally designed for the University of Wisconsin in 1905, the Boathouse remained unbuilt until 2007 when it emerged from the ground alongside Buffalo’s Black Rock Channel as a new home for the West Side Rowing Club.