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Darwin D. Martin Estate Restoration

In 1904 Darwin D. Martin commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design the complex of buildings that would become his family home. The Martin estate was completed in 1907 on a 1.4-acre site in the residential Parkside neighborhood of north Buffalo, originally laid out by Frederick Law Olmsted.

The composition, which consisted of four connected buildings; the Main House, the Pergola, the Conservatory and Carriage House plus the landscape, so pleased Wright that he called it "the opus". While Wright had designed a number of large prairie houses, this was his first commission calling for the composing of 5 elements.

During the Martin occupancy of the house, changes were made which altered the architecture of the building. The first was in 1909 when an additional room was added to the second floor at the northwest corner of the building required filling in the open corner of the original double cantilever overhanging eaves.

In 1920, the exterior wall of Mrs. Martin's bedroom suite on the south side of the second floor was extended outward three feet to enlarge the rooms. This movement of the south wall altered the exterior profile of the building and severely altered the important rhythm of the window pattern on the second floor. Also, the north bedroom wall was also extended by moving the windows out toward the eave and removing an exterior planter, also enlarging the room. All of the changes were done without Wright's involvement and compromised the original architecture.

Following Darwin Martin's death in 1935, his widow moved out, essentially abandoning the estate. In 1947 the property was sold at tax foreclosure. For the next twelve years, the property changed hands several times until, in 1959, the owner sold off the Pergola, Conservatory and Carriage House/Stable to finance his repairs and alteration of the Main House. The sold elements were demolished and three apartment houses took their place. In 1966 the University at Buffalo acquired the house and in 1986 it was designated a National Historic Landmark. In 1992 the not-for-profit Martin House Restoration Corporation was formed whose mission was restoration and management of the entire Martin estate. A Joint Cooperation Agreement was executed between the new not-for-profit corporation, the University at Buffalo and the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to jointly accomplish the restoration/reconstruction. The three apartments were purchased and demolished making way for the reconstruction of the three missing buildings and restoring the house to its 1907 condition through a phased construction program.

Reconstruction resulted from a multi-year search for materials matching the original including roman brick, interior/exterior mosaic floor tile, handmade terra cotta roof tiles, cast-in-place concrete, limestone, art glass windows, old growth cypress, quarter-sawn oak, light fixtures and bronze or brass hardware.

To ensure the conservation of the buildings, a geothermal based HVAC system was incorporated to ensure constant temperature/humidity control in the buildings without requiring the use of chillers or cooling towers.

Our research included studying Wright's original specifications, accessing archived letters between Martin and Wright, on-site archaeology, acquiring copies of historic photographs, visiting museums to study original Martin estate artifacts and visiting the Frank Lloyd Wright archives to obtain copies of Wright's construction drawings.