10/05/2017

Darwin D. Martin House

By Andrew Dolan


The Darwin D. Martin House; Buffalo, NY

As a young American child aspiring to one day design homes, I idolized Frank Lloyd Wright. Of all his homes that I’ve toured, my favorite is his Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, NY. The first time I visited the house, the complex was abandoned and half the home had been demolished to accommodate for heinous garden style apartment buildings. I remember sitting in my mother’s back seat looking out the window as we drove up to the property for the first time. The Darwin D. Martin house sits in a beautiful neighborhood called Oak Park. As we made our way through Oak Park, we passed hundreds of beautiful old homes. The Darwin D. Martin house is a radical deviation from the rest of the neighborhood, a neighborhood filled with Victorian and shingle style homes. The home is a perfect example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie style; it’s characterized by low, horizontal lines that intend to blend the building in with its flat landscape. The materials used (specifically glass and earthy toned material) are intended to blur the distinction between interior space and the surrounding environment. However, a lot of this wasn’t so immediately apparent during my first visit sometime around 2003.

The Darwin D. Martin House, 2003

A hundred years earlier, a man named Darwin D. Martin was a young and wildly successful business man at the Larkin Soap Company. He hired the then young and moderately unknown Frank Lloyd Wright to design a “modest” home for him and his family in Buffalo, NY. The main house includes eight bedrooms, an open concept living room / dining room, a reception room, a kitchen and a study. Attached via an open-air veranda was a conservatory, stable, and staff quarters. There was also a gardener’s cottage on the property. 

Plan of the Darwin D. Martin complex

Restored open-concept living and dining rooms

For years, the family thrived in the complex but unfortunately Darwin Martin struggled with his health and passed away in 1937. His wife, being unable to maintain or afford the property during the depression, abandoned it in 1938. The property sat abandoned until 1955 when it was purchased by a private individual who ended up demolishing a large part of the complex. Through the years, the home was owned by several different individuals and was periodically abandoned. By the time I had first seen the house it was owned by the state but no restoration had begun.

 

Demolition of garden style apartments to allow reconstruction to begin.

Over the years, I’ve visited the property probably five times and have seen the amazing forty-four million dollar restoration evolve. Today, the property is close to pristine condition. The main house is being restored to its original condition and the open-air veranda / conservatory / stable has been completely rebuilt as per Frank Lloyd Wright’s original drawings and specifications. It’s truly an amazing tour and a completely unique experience in that you get to see an authentic Frank Lloyd Wright residence newly constructed. I highly recommend it to anyone willing to make the trek out to Buffalo. When you’re there, make sure to check out his also newly reconstructed boat house, newly reconstructed gas station and his original Graycliff residence, currently being renovated.

 

The open-air veranda connecting the Main house and the conservatory / stable / staff quarters as new and as originally built.

Aerial view of restored main house and rebuilt attached veranda / conservatory / stable / staff quarters 

Reconstructed veranda / conservatory / stable / staff quarters

Reconstructed conservatory