Frank Lloyd Wright is one of the most famous architects to ever live. Most people can picture his famous stained glass, we know how much he loved nature and we can spot one of his houses from a mile away. But what’s his story in Buffalo? Why are there so many of his houses here? I decided to find out, and the most convenient way was on an All Wright All Day tour – one that includes visits to five Wright-designed buildings and several other sites.
I was glad I didn’t skip my morning coffee, since the tour started at 8:30 a.m. sharp at the Margaret L. Wendt Resource Center at Forest Lawn Cemetery. From there, we hopped on a bus, and within five minutes we were at the Martin House, once the home of Darwin and Isabelle Martin. Situated on a 1.5 acre plot within the beautiful Parkside district of North Buffalo, the Martin House’s Prairie style stands in stark contrast to the surrounding Victorian-style architecture that typified this turn-of-the-century neighborhood. Once inside, I immediately “got it.” After taking in the five miles of interior wood trim, the sunburst fireplace, tree of life windows and the statue of Nike of Samothrace within the conservatory, I could understand why Wright considered the Martin House his “opus” and kept a copy of its plans above his drafting table for the rest of his career. It’s that impressive.
Next, we took a trip to “nearly never built” Wright buildings at The Fontana Boathouse and the Filling Station. The boathouse was designed in 1905 for a site in Madison, Wisconsin, but wasn’t constructed until 2007, right on Buffalo’s Black Rock Canal. Standing out the balcony, overlooking the water, with a picturesque view of the Peace Bridge, I couldn’t help but feel like we were on a ship ourselves. Soon we were at the Buffalo Transportation Pierce Arrow Museum to see the Filling Station, built 86 years after Wright drew up its plans. Looking around, I couldn’t help but think, “Can you imagine a world in which gas stations were works of art?”
From there, we enjoyed lunch at Chef’s Restaurant before embarking on the half-hour trip down to Graycliff, built in 1931 as a summer retreat for the Martin family. Graycliff is the yin to the Martin House’s yang, a country house of more modest ambitions than the family’s city estate. As we approached, the large glass doors provided a clear view straight through the house to the waters of Lake Erie, the Canadian shore visible in the distance.
A fitting end to our day’s journey, we returned to Forest Lawn to “meet” Darwin Martin, whose grave features a Wright-inspired gravestone. Forest Lawn is also home to Wright’s Blue Sky Mausoleum, which was brought to life in 2004, from his 1928 plan. Anything but traditional, Blue Sky is completely open and completely different from the monuments it’s surrounded by.
As I walked the steps of the mausoleum, I reflected on our day. One day, one architect, one city. But unparalleled beauty, and infinite stories.
$150 / $140 Members of the Martin House, Graycliff and Forest Lawn
Tour runs all day from 8:30am – 5:30pm. Click here to see all of the tour dates and times, as well as ticket information.
Reservations are required. Reservations close at 12:00 noon three days in advance of the tour.
The tour is not wheelchair accessible due to ongoing restoration of some of the buildings visited along the tour.