Visiting the Darwin D. Martin House

A few months ago I bought a Groupon for a tour of the Martin House Complex in Buffalo. It was about to expire and I couldn’t let it go to waste, so on Saturday afternoon, passports in hand, we made a run for the border.

The Martin House Complex is a Frank Lloyd Wright designed estate, and as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m a bit of a Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiast. I’m fascinated by both the man and his work.

Frank Lloyd Wright is one of North America’s most celebrated douchbags. He was a self serving opportunist and narcissist. As a college drop out, he slithered his way up the ranks of the burgeoning Chicago architecture scene in the late 1800s. While he claimed to design custom homes, he didn’t really listen to his clients. He built them the houses he thought they should have. His projects grossly exceeded their budgets and there are claims that he exploited or short changed those who worked for him. Outside of his career, he was a womanizer, who deserted his family to chase tail, leaving his wife and children to fend for themselves.

Although he’s hailed as being the greatest American architect of all time, from a technical perspective, he wasn’t even that good. His buildings often leaked and cracked. At a time where building codes were either lax or non-existent, he ignored or dismissed structural issues, leaving his clients (and future generations) to deal with them later on.

Yet, despite these faults, he’s known as a genius and leader in his field. This wasn’t so much because he was though, it’s because that’s what he told the world. No one sang the praises of the architect more than Mr. Wright himself. This guy had serious balls.

Balls aside, no one can deny, he had a unique artistic vision. The way he used, space, lines and texture to evoke a feeling in and around a house is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It is there, where his brilliance lies and it’s for this reason that me, and millions of others go out of our way to pay homage to his work.

The Martin House was built between 1904 and 1906 for one of Buffalo’s first millionaires, Darwin D. Martin and his family. It’s an early example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style. It was with this concept, he’d planned to revolutionize the American landscape.

At the time of completion, the complex consisted of five buildings. The main house, joined to a conservatory by a long open pergola, a smaller home (the Barton House), a carriage house and a gardener’s cottage.

At the height of the great depression, Darwin Martin died and the family’s fortune dissipated. Unable to find a buyer for the great house that his widow could no longer afford to maintain, it was abandoned and began to crumble. Eventually, the pergola, conservatory and carriage house were demolished, while the main house, the Barton house, and gardeners cottage were sold off and used for various purposes over the years.

Now the original estate is in the hands of The Martin House Restoration Corporation, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising funds for the extensive restoration and maintenance of the property. Over the last 15 years, the pergola, conservatory and carriage house have all been rebuilt using photographs and original plans. They’ve also sourced reproductions of some of the materials Frank Lloyd Wright used, including the roman style brick on the exterior walls.

Unfortunately for us, they’ve yet to complete the final phase of the restoration. This meant we didn’t get to see much of the interior of the main house, which is still very much under construction. The tour did take us though the front hallway, giving us a brief glimpse of some of the fabulous woodwork and huge brick fireplace in the living room. Photography is not permitted inside, so I borrowed this photo (from the library of congress):

The final phase is scheduled to be completed this August. Since it’s only an hour’s drive away from us, there is no doubt that we’ll be back next year when it’s finished. I’m really looking forward to seeing it all put together.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *