Experience Wright’s Buffalo on an All Wright, All Day Tour

We’ve all heard of Frank Lloyd Wright, one of the most famous modern architects in the world. We can picture his famous stained glass masterpieces, we know how much he loved nature and we can spot one of his houses from a mile away. But what’s his story with Buffalo? I decided to find out, and take a step back in time on the All Wright All Day tour – one that includes visits to five Wright-designed buildings and numerous other sites.

Photo by Patrick Mahoney

I was glad I didn’t skip my morning coffee, since the tour started at 8:30am 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 Complex. Situated on a one-and-a-half acre plot within the residential Parkside neighborhood of North Buffalo, the Martin House’s Prairie style stands in stark contrast to the surrounding Victorian-style houses of the time. Once inside, I immediately “got it.” My first time inside a Wright space, I could feel his vision and connection to nature. From the eight miles of interior wood trim to the sunburst fireplace, tree of life windows and the statue of Nike of Samothrace within the conservatory, this unbudgeted project was everything Wright wanted it to be.

Next, we took a trip down the trail of (almost) unrealized Frank Lloyd Wright plans, to The Fontana Boathouse and the Filling Station. The boathouse was designed in 1905, but wasn’t realized until 2007, right on Buffalo’s waterfront. Standing out the balcony, feet from 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 the plans were drawn. Lucky for us, the owners let the group explore the inside of the station, too. 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 the Graycliff Estate (1931), stopping only briefly to view the one remaining wall of Wright’s Larkin Administration Building, which was torn down in 1950. Graycliff sits along the Lake Erie shoreline, and is the yin to the Martin House’s yang, designed completely for Abigail Martin, wife of Darwin Martin, corporate secretary to the Larkin Company. As we approached, the large glass windows provided a clear view straight through the house, onto the waters of Lake Erie, with a sightline clear to the Canadian shore.

A fitting end to our Wright journey, we returned to Forest Lawn to “meet” Darwin Martin, whose grave features a Frank Lloyd Wright-style gravestone. But that wasn’t it; Forest Lawn is home to Wright’s only mortuary work, which was also one of his last. The Blue Sky Mausoleum was brought to life in 2004, from his 1928 plan. Anything but traditional, the mausoleum is completely open, with the sky itself the ceiling.

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.

All Wright All Day Tours

$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.