The State of Wright: Graycliff
Status: Open for tours
Location: 6472 Old Lakeshore Road, Derby
History: Wright designed a summer home for the Martin family on the rocky shores of Lake Erie between 1926 and 1927. This a scenic eight-and-a-half-acre estate, with the main house set on a seventy-foot cliff overlooking the lake.
Mrs. Martin was forced to abandon her city house in 1937, and, by 1943, financial pressures forced her to abandon Graycliff as well. The property was bought in 1951 by an order of Piarist Fathers who made substantial changes to Wright’s design. The Graycliff Conservancy has made remarkable strides in restoring the property, which consists of three Wright-designed buildings: the Isabelle Martin House, the Foster House, and the Heat Hut. Major structural repairs have been completed and all exteriors of the three Wright buildings have been restored.
Significance: In the timeline of Wright’s career, the house is close to Fallingwater, Wright’s most famous residential design (Bear Run, Pennsylvania, 1936). In style and ideas, Graycliff could be considered a precursor to the drama of Fallingwater.
What to look for: Graycliff is built of indigenous materials. The spacious grounds allow the visitor to fully appreciate how Wright integrated the buildings with the landscape. Graycliff can also be seen as a place to witness Wright’s growth as an architect; he’d reach his full maturation within the decade. The cantilevered balconies of Graycliff explode by the time Wright uses them again at Fallingwater.
Glass and windows, always important to Wright, should be noted as well. The Barton House windows were framed in oak and operated in reverse directions. When they opened out from a corner supporting post, they revolutionarily began to “break” the corners of the box. At Graycliff, the corner windows of the family sun porch become taller and sleeker in tight metal frames; they serve to further break the box. By the time Wright executes his Fallingwater commission, the supporting corner posts and frames completely disappear so that they close glass-to-glass and open unobstructed to nature, totally smashing the corners. Wright carried that feature through to his Usonian homes and his career.
Last week, and again this week, we will post a series that organizes each Wright gem by location, history, what should be seen, and additional information that may pique visitor interest. There are many more resources, including guided tours for most sites, excluding the private homes. It is hoped that this guide will inspire readers to see firsthand the reasons why visitors from all over the world make the trip to Buffalo to experience Frank Lloyd Wright.