The State of Wright: The Martin Estate
Status: Open for tours
Location: Jewett Parkway at Summit
History: Darwin D. Martin brought Frank Lloyd Wright to Buffalo in 1901. At the time, Wright was a young architect working in Chicago and its suburbs, and this was his first and only opportunity to design an entire residential estate.
Wright would later call the Martin House his “opus,” a “well-nigh perfect composition.” It consists of the main Martin House, a pergola, conservatory, and carriage house. A smaller residence, the Barton House, was also built on the estate, along with a home for the Martins’ gardener. In addition, Wright designed art glass windows (more patterns than for any other site), furniture, and landscaping.
Although Darwin Martin had been one of the highest paid executives in the country, his family was unable to maintain the property after his death and abandoned it in 1937. It stood vacant for seventeen years, and was rescued by a local architect after historic elements in the main house disappeared. The vandalized pergola, conservatory, and carriage house were demolished.
The Martin House Restoration Corporation was established in 1992 with a mission to restore the single historic house. That mission has expanded to reassemble all the segments of the property, rebuild the demolished buildings, and restore the entire estate to its 1907 grandeur.
Significance: While many of Wright’s Prairie designs were single family homes set on small suburban lots, this is an unusual situation where Wright had more than an acre and a half to work with, and was working with a client who was very involved with all stages of planning and construction—yet gave the architect a virtually unlimited budget.
Comments: The restoration is the most ambitious ever undertaken by any Wright site in the country. The property has the highest designation from the National Registry of Historic places and is being completed according to the guidelines of the Secretary of the Interior as well as the State Office of Historic Preservation. Historic reports, research of original papers, and forensic demolition have allowed the restoration process to be based on fact rather than guesswork. This restoration is being watched by architectural historians and restoration architects from around the world.
What to look for: The project is now completing Phase V-A, and, for the first time in many years, almost all areas on the estate are accessible by tour. Docents lead a full menu of tours, from basic to specialty.
Over the next two weeks 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.