Wright On Time

$50 million restoration of Buffalo estate designed by Frank Lloyd Wright is finally complete

Martin House interior (Biff Henrich)

On July 22, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that a two-decade, $50 million restoration of a significant Frank Lloyd Wright urban estate in Buffalo is finally complete, including the Martin House.

Wright completed the complex for Darwin D. Martin, the head of the Larkin Soap Company, in 1905. The buildings on-site include the Martin House, which is connected to a glass conservancy via a 100-foot-long glass pergola, as well as the Barton House, a residence for Martin’s sister and her family. A carriage house and a gardener’s house (added in 1908) are integrated into the estate via formal English gardens that merge with more naturalistic landscape elements.

Prarie-style house with big blue sky

View of the Martin House from Jewett Parkway. (Biff Henrich)

While work on the homes wrapped last year, the restoration of the one-and-a-half–acre grounds was completed just this month. Bayer Landscape Architecture, a firm based in Honeoye Falls, near Rochester, led the project.

Its most significant undertaking was the remake of the floricycle, an intricate scheme of 20,000 plantings that radiated out from the Martin House in a series of nesting hyperbolas. Originally, the bulbs, trees, and shrubs were spaced to provide visual interest from March through November as they grew and bloomed in a rhythm.

View of the Martin House from Summit Avenue. (Biff Henrich)

The firm also redid the formal decorative border around the pergola and beefed up the grounds’ plantings to revive the outdoor “rooms” and the wild-by-design clumps of shrubs and trees that had faded over the years. Bayer worked with the City of Buffalo to coordinate street tree planting along Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue, the two roads that abut the property. Wayfinding, lighting, and a new cafe area rounded out the landscape improvements.

The project is part of New York State’s Buffalo Billion, an economic development initiative that targets the metro area. “The Darwin Martin House is one of Western New York’s most iconic attractions,” Cuomo said in a press release. “The restoration of the historic landscape is an outstanding addition to this important piece of Buffalo’s growing architectural tourism industry.”

In the same release, Kevin R. Malchoff, president of the Martin House board, noted that the property is the first work of 20th-century architecture among the state’s 36 historic sites.

chair in front of tiled fireplace in brown house

The Martin House’s interior boasts a tiled mosaic fireplace. (Biff Henrich)

Overall, the preservation effort was funded by the National Historic Landmark Program and New York State Historic Site, with New York State kicking in $29 million, a little over half of the total project cost.

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