The Darwin D. Martin House – Buffalo, New York - Atlas Obscura
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Buffalo, New York

The Darwin D. Martin House

One of Frank Lloyd Wright's greatest—and favorite—architectural masterpieces was almost lost. 

The Martin House complex in Buffalo, New York, is considered one of the greatest achievements of Frank Lloyd Wright’s career. Though it didn’t receive quite the same level of fame as some of the architect’s other masterpieces, such as the Guggenheim and Fallingwater, this Buffalo home had something special: It was one of Wright’s personal favorites. It was also nearly lost forever.

The Martin “House” is actually a multi-structure residential complex built for businessman Darwin D. Martin and his family between 1903 and 1907. Every last element of the home was designed by Wright with magnificent attention to detail, including the furniture, fixtures, decor, and the nearly 400 intricately designed pieces of stained glass. A highlight of the space, the windows act as screens that reflect the light in distinct patterns to connect the precisely landscaped gardens outside with the interior layout. Wright himself called the house “a well-nigh perfect composition,” often referring to it as his “opus.” 

Despite being located in the middle of a vibrant industrial city, the Martin House was the quintessential example of the “Prairie” style Wright championed. This modern, groundbreaking style was characterized by its use of open space, horizontal lines, and natural materials, evoking the wide open plains of the United States Midwest. The estate also included the Barton House (built for Martin’s sister and brother-in-law), a pergola, conservatory, carriage house, and gardener’s cottage: All architectural marvels in their own right.

When Martin died in 1935, the complex was abandoned. The vacant buildings stood forgotten and deteriorating for nearly two decades. In fact, the carriage house, conservatory, and pergola didn’t make it; they were demolished in the 1960s. Fortunately, the site was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1986 and restoration efforts began in 1992. The lost structures were rebuilt, and the Martin House was painstakingly restored to its original, nigh-perfect beauty.

 

Know Before You Go

The Martin House Complex is open to the public as a museum, and one- and two-hour guided tours of the Martin House are offered. Advance reservations are recommended. The complex is located in the Parkside neighborhood of Buffalo, which itself was designed by the renowned landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. If you can't get enough Frank Lloyd Wright designs, the Martin family's summer residence, Graycliff, is a 25 minute drive away and is also a Wright creation. 

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