In 1910, at the age of 43, Frank Lloyd Wright traveled to Europe to present what would become his most beloved collection of structure illustrations: the Wasmuth Portfolio. One of these famous drawings was something Wright called "Boathouse for the University of Wisconsin Boat Club." Twenty years later, the architect included this same boathouse in an international exhibition of eight of his greatest works. The boathouse idea was obviously a favorite of Wright’s, featuring a classic technique akin to other Buffalo treasures like the Martin House and the late, lamented Larkin Building - large vertical piers supporting horizontal planes. Sadly, it was never constructed. It remained one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most significant projects that had never come to fruition - until now.
Formed in 2000, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rowing Boathouse Corporation acquired the rights to this classic Wright design and raised the $5.4 million needed to realize its construction. The Boathouse is being operated both as an architectural tourist site and as a working boathouse by the West Side Rowing Club, one of the largest rowing clubs in the United States.
Building a previously un-built work by an American master presents special issues. Construction of the boathouse is faithful to Wright’s design especially to the details and choices of materials he provided. The first floor is used exactly as Wright intended as the working spaces of a rowing boathouse. The second floor features a club room, locker rooms and east and west facing balconies, with diamond-paned art glass windows, all exactly as Wright designed them.
"After 100 years as a set of drawings gathering dust on a shelf, it is about time this famous Wrightian boathouse will finally come out of the ground and into the light," said John C. Courtin, a founding director of FLW's Rowing Boathouse Corporation. "Where better for it to stand than in Buffalo, at water's edge, beside the venerable West Side Rowing Club, and near other important contemporaneous Wrightian works such as the Darwin D. Martin House and the W.E. Heath House. All these innovative designs, including his rowing boathouse, came off Wright's drafting table during one intense period of creativity."
The Boathouse is now open for tours. For more information, call 716-362-3140.
"Why Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rowing Boathouse (Unbuilt) is a Very Important Work in the Development of American Architecture," WSRC (West Side Rowing Club) News, Fall 2005; Tom Buckham and Mark Sommer, "Backers Buoy Boathouse," "Funding Sources Fall into Place to Bring Wright Design to Life," Buffalo News, Jan. 13, 2006.