|Civil War Monument, Lafayette Square with Statue of Liberty Replica atop Liberty Building Credit: Bill Rockwell|
All this architectural wealth came about because, around the turn of the 20th Century, Buffalo was very prosperous, and its wealth often spawned an impressive assortment of beautiful buildings, many of them built in the Art Deco style. The well-heeled also built some incredibly magnificent mansions on Delaware Avenue’s Millionaires Row. Renowned architects like Louis Sullivan, H.H. Richardson and Eliel and Eero Saarinen made early contributions with designs by other more modern architects coming later.
My main reason for a quick two-day visit was to explore the contributions of architect Frank Lloyd Wright to the cityscape, but I was delighted to discover the other jewels I came across.
It may come as a surprise to some, but there are five Wright designed sites available for public touring in Buffalo, three of which were built posthumously from the architect’s designs. The Darwin Martin House, a classic rendition of Wright’s Prairie style, is the crown jewel of the quintet.
|Outside the Darwin Martin House Credit: Bill Rockwell|
Wright and Martin, a millionaire who amassed his fortune as secretary for the Larkin Soap Company, had a decades long friendship, a lasting acquaintance that gave the architect his first commissions away from Chicago and his Wisconsin home. Construction of the businessman’s residence began in 1903 in Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood. When completed in 1906, the house consisted of six interconnected buildings, that included the Barton House, built to house Martin’s sister, Delta and her husband, George, a conservatory, carriage house, a gardener’s cottage and a 100-foot-long pergola. The entire complex sits on a 1-½-acre site surrounded by expansive, carefully planned gardens.
Guided tours start at the visitors center, whose architecture by Toshiko Mori reflect Wright’s “organic principles” and philosophy. Visitors are treated to an introductory film, then get to walk to the house complex through some of the grounds, known for its floricycle, a stand of some 18,000 plants that offer a continuous growing season of blooms.
|Wisteria Fireplace Credit Bill Rockwell|
One of the first sights inside the house to produce a sense of awe is the two-sided fireplace which faces both the entry hall and the living room. The glass mosaic chimney is covered with 15,000 pieces of glass meant to depict wisteria vines with green leaves and golden blossoms.
|Inside the Darwin Martin House Credit: Bill Rockwell|
The two-story house with 8 bedrooms is built to allow an easy flow from one room to another and allow easy visual access to the exterior landscape. The house holds a total of 396 art glass windows and much of the original customized furniture, including seven barrel-shaped armchairs.
One of my favorite areas is the 100-foot-long pergola that connects the house to the conservatory. The walkway is framed with 11 openings which look out on the gardens and outdoor rooms and ends dramatically with a massive rendition of the Winged Victory of Samothrace that dominates a space in the conservatory.
|Winged Victory of Samothrace at the End of the Pergola Credit: Bill Rockwell|
Due to their popularity, tours should be reserved at least two weeks in advance online at www.martinhouse.org.
Buffalo Transportation Pierce-Arrow Museum
I’m not sure which is more interesting, the filling station FLW designed in 1927 or the impressive museum that holds it. Originally meant for the corner of Cherry and Michigan, the station was never built until museum owner James Sandoro, Jr. obtained the rights to the plans and built it in his museum.
|FLW Designed Filling Station at the Pierce-Arrow Museum Credit: Bill Rockwell|
Wright wanted travelers using the station to feel at home and planned for grade A washrooms and included a living room and fireplace for the attendant. I was surprised to learn the gas tanks were to be gravity-fed and built over head beneath the copper roof. The station even boasts a design for what was to be the first neon sign in the city.
Car buffs will be amazed by the massive collection of Pierce Arrow automobiles on display, including a 1935 bullet-proof version for FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Each one I saw was in great condition.
As a boy, Sandoro believed he’d have a museum. Now, after more than 50 years of collecting he’s amassed not only an impressive array of Pierce-Arrow cars but also vehicles by E. R. Thomas, another Buffalo manufacturer, auto memorabilia, photos, paintings, vintage clothing and other auto related artifacts. For more information, phone 716-853-0084 or http://www.pierce-arrow.com/
|Fontana Boathouse Credit: Ed Healy|
The Fontana Boathouse
Another FLW design that almost never made it past the drawing board, the Fontana Boathouse was to serve as an early spring rowing venue for the University of Wisconsin. Alas, Wright filed the 1905 drawing away, where it remained except for a reprise as part of his famous Wasmuth portfolio, which the architect showed on a grand tour of Europe.
Back home again, the drawing never saw the light of day until John Courtin, then executive director of the Darwin Martin House restoration effort, brought it back from oblivion. After a group formed to secure the rights to the design, a fundraising effort raised enough support to begin construction. The boathouse opened in 2007 on the Niagara River at at One Rotary Row and is now available for public touring. Phone 716 362-3140 or
|Blue Sky Mausoleum Joe Cascio Credit: Forest Lawn|
Blue Sky Mausoleum
Designed to blend in with the landscape, Blue Sky Mausoleum gets its name from the estimated high cost of the project commissioned by Darwin Martin as his family’s final resting place in Buffalo’s Forest Lawn Cemetery.
The design calls for a flight of gently rising steps that allow for 24 burial crypts and additional space for memorial inscriptions. At the top of the steps, a white granite monolith overlooks two peaceful ponds.
Soon after the design was sketched, Martin lost his fortune in the Depression and scrapped the project. It got second life in the 1990s when Fred Whaley, Jr., president of Forest Lawn, learned the mausoleum was designed for the cemetery and spearheaded a drive to secure funding. With architect Anthony Puttnam, a former Wright apprentice, on board, the mausoleum opened in 2004 at 1411 Delaware Ave.
|Outside Graycliff Credit: Bill Rockwell|
After completing the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo, Wright remained friends with the Martins for the next 20 years. A longtime patron and suffering from poor eyesight, Isabell Martin commissioned the architect to build a light-filled summer cottage on a cliff 65-feet above Lake Erie, 13 miles southwest of Buffalo.
|Living Room at Graycliff Credit: Bill Rockwell|
Using local limestone and cedar roof, Wright designed Graycliff with a central pavilion of glass walls that allowed a view of the lake through the house. As a precursor to Fallingwater, Graycliff boasts cantilevered balconies and iterates Wright’s ideas of “organic architecture” where the house and land are seen as one.
The property was purchased in 1951 for use as a boarding school, which eventually closed. When Graycliff was threatened by demolition by developers, local citizens bought the property to preserve and restore it to its original design. Graycliff is now open to public touring. Phone 716-947-9217 or experiencegraycliff.org.
The five Wright sites open to the public in Buffalo are part of an auto tour that extends to Erie, Pa and Southwestern Pennsylvania for a total of 9 sites, including Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. For more information, phone 724-238-5661 or GoLaurelHighlands.com.
For more information on Buffalo, phone 716-852-0511 or visitbuffaloniagara.com.
|On the Way in to the Resurgence Brewery Credit: Bill Rockwell|
For a Place to Dine, Resurgence Brewery, 55 Chicago Street, is housed in the former home of the huge EB Holmes Machinery Company Pattern Building in the Old First Ward. Craft beers are made on site and sold in a festive beer garden as well as indoors in a spacious dining area. The menu is basic but creatively prepared and goes especially well with the large selections of artisan beers. Phone 716-768-6018 or resurgence brewing.com.
|The Festive Biergarten at Resurgence Brewery Credit: Bill Rockwell|