Status: Available to visit
Location: Seneca Street, downtown Buffalo
History: Buffalo’s Larkin Soap Company was an extremely successful and innovative business entity. Frank Lloyd Wright designed its new administration building as his first commercial commission, which made it a crucial step in the young architect’s career.
Wright delivered a building that set the bar for innovation and engineering. Built in 1906, the Larkin administration building incorporated radical ideas such as a huge central atrium, air conditioning, and custom furniture. It influenced a litany of buildings that followed over the course of the twentieth century.
Sadly, the building was demolished in the 1950s. Only a fragment can be seen in the form of one remaining pier in a pocket park on the Swan Street side of the property.
What to look for: Wright scholar Jack Quinan’s Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Building—Myth and Fact is the quintessential documentation of this structure. At the site, the sheer enormity of the singular massive pier is impressive, its warm color bringing the famous vintage black-and-white pictures to life.
Comments: The site is emblematic of a time before there was awareness of or appreciation for saving the fabric of our historic built environment. In the fifties, preservation was elitist and spotty at best, Frank Lloyd Wright was out of vogue and underappreciated, and there was a pervasive mindset that new was far superior to old. When the Larkin Building was demolished, Buffalo and the world lost a landmark, a structure that was far ahead of its time.
In contrast, a commercial building that was equally important to Wright’s career survives in Racine, Wisconsin. Built thirty years later after the Larkin commission, the Johnson Wax administration building is also iconic. The difference in survival between the two Wright structures is simply luck; one company failed, while the other survived and thrived. Today, Johnson Wax reveres its Wrightian gem; the building is fastidiously maintained and open to visitors.
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.