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Then and Now: The Darwin Martin House
The Darwin Martin House in Buffalo was built between 1903 and 1905 for Darwin Martin, an executive at Buffalo’s Larkin Soap Company. The Prairie-style home was designed by the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
Located on Jewett Parkway in Buffalo’s Parkside East Historic District, this complex of five structures was designed by Wright for his good friend Darwin Martin, who was first introduced to Wright and his work when Martin visited his brother in Oak Park, Illinois. Since the Larkin Company was looking to build a new company headquarters, Martin suggested that the company commission Wright. The LarkinBuilding, which was built in 1904, was Wright’s first major commercial building and considered one of his greatest works. Unfortunately, the building fell into disrepair after the Larkin Company went out of business and was demolished in 1950.
The first structure built in the Darwin Martin Complex was the Barton House, a home for Martin’s sister and her husband. Other buildings included the Darwin Martin House, a carriage house, conservatory and pergola. Wright also designed the adjacent Gardner’s Cottage in 1908.
Unfortunately, after Martin’s death in 1935, the family was unable to upkeep the property. His widow, Isabelle, abandoned the home in 1938, not even bothering to lock the doors when she left. It sat vacant for almost 20 years; subsequent owners demolished the original conservatory, pergola, and carriage house.
Fortunately, concerned citizens recognized the importance of the home, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986. They were able to step in and form the Martin House Restoration Corporation in 1992. After undergoing a multi-million dollar restoration, which began in 1997, the three demolished structures have been rebuilt using the original plans. In addition, the previously privately owned Gardner’s Cottage has also been acquired by the restoration corporation.
The visitor’s center, designed by architect Toshiko Mori, is a glass walled pavilion that actually blends in with the scenery, following Wright’s philosophy to connect the natural environment with humans. Nature was actually the inspiration of all Wright’s architectural elements and designs. Wright often referred to this as “organic architecture.”
For example, the “Tree of Life” art glass windows in the reception rooms allows you to look outside, yet when the sun shines, the leaves are reflected on the ceiling, bringing them into the house.
The interior of the main house is closed to the public until at least September 2011 while it undergoes asbestos abatement and restorations. Tours currently include the interior of the Barton House as well as the reconstructed pergola, conservatory, and carriage house
Today, Wright aficionados from all over the world make a point to visit the Darwin Martin House Complex which Wright himself referred to as his “opus.”
The Darwin Martin House, 716-856-3858, www.darwinmartinhouse.org, 125 Jewett Parkway, Buffalo, NY