Many things have changed in Buffalo, NY since 1905. The Queen City was the eighth largest city in the USA at that time, with a population exceeding 350,000. We’re now ranked 87th among our nation’s cities, with nearly 100,000 fewer residents.
There was no such thing as a zoning ordinance at the beginning of the 20th century, and 70 years would pass before SEQRA (the State Environmental Quality Review Act) was enacted to help protect not only the physical environment, but also the character of existing neighborhoods.
What hasn’t changed is the curiosity that existed then and continues today regarding a certain residence in the City of Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood.
It was 1905 when the man who would later become our nation’s best known architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, completed his “prairie style” masterpiece for a Buffalo industrialist, Darwin D. Martin. [Click here if you are interested in learning about the bond that was created between Mr. Wright and Mr. Martin.]
Martin House, Aug. 2020
Situated at the northwest corner of Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue, Darwin Martin’s residential complex sits in the heart of the Parkside neighborhood. Development of this historic district – which hugs the eastern boundary of the Olmsted-designed Delaware Park– started in the 1880s and 1890s, primarily attracting upper-middle-class and professional folk desiring a less-congested form of urban living.
While the nearby residences in existence at the turn of the century varied in size and style, nothing was comparable to the original five buildings and grounds of the Martin House estate.
Directly across Jewett Parkway from the site was a formidable dwelling – half-timber and half-brick – the residence of the prominent architect, William Wicks. Boxy and dominated by vertical lines (reflecting late-18th century aesthetics), its nearly 6,000 square feet of living area – one of the largest in the neighborhood – paled when compared to the Martin’s 14,978-square-foot residence. More significantly, the Wicks house contrasted mightily with rectilinear, horizontally-oriented lines, low hip-roofs and broadly cantilevered eaves of the “prairie style” home built for Darwin and Isabelle Martin and their two children:
Wicks House, 124 Jewett Parkway, Aug. 2020
The house next door to the Martin House, 143 Jewett Parkway, was a 3-story Victorian residence constructed at the end of the 19th century on less than a third of an acre of land. Although that structure was altered substantially over the years, it has been reconstructed to reflect its original appearance, and is now serves as the administrative office for the Martin House complex:
143 Jewett Parkway, Aug. 2020
My first awareness of the Martin House complex came in 1982. I had just purchased my first house, a modest “North Buffalo double” on Florence Avenue in what is now the Parkside East Historic District. According to official records, my two-family was built in 1910.
106 Florence Avenue, Aug. 2020
Wanting a closer look at my new neighborhood, I took a walk up Parkside Avenue. On my left and across the busy street was Delaware Park – with a “tot lot” where youngsters squealed and parents (in this pre-cellphone age) actually interacted with their children, a stretch of trees, and a fully-utilized basketball court. On my side of the street were sturdy, traditional one- and two-family residences, including an arts-and-crafts charmer that I ended up calling home several years later.
121 Parkside Avenue, Aug 2020
On reaching Jewett Parkway (with the entrance to the Buffalo zoo on my left), I hung a right. My stroll and passing familiarity with Parkside had not prepared me for what I observed a block-and-a-half down the street. There stood the Martin House, run-down and clearly in need of attention, but magnificent. And, clearly, a striking contrast to the neighborhood surrounding it.
Although it would be another eight years before I began to represent residents concerned about threats to the environment and the character of their communities. I couldn’t help but wonder: How did the folks who lived here in the early 20th century respond to this sight/site?
I don’t have an answer to this question (sorry), but I do ask anyone reading this post who does to please share the information with me at AJGiacalone@twc.com. [I’ll gladly update this post.]
[UPDATE, 08/22/2020: A friend and former academic librarian and librarian science professor (who wishes to remain anonymous) provided me with the following excerpt from a 2017 issue of American Bungalow Magazine:
Staying Put in Parkside
By Douglas J Forsyth
From Issue 78 (2017 American Bungalow Magazine)
Contemporaries were struck by how alien Wright’s buildings were to the existing cityscape. The Illustrated Buffalo Express wrote on 9 October 1904, about the Martin House, then under construction: “Jules Verne might well be the designer of a house that is being built at the northwestern corner of Jewett and Summit avenues in this city. It may be destined to be termed the freak house of Buffalo when it is finished.”vi There is no doubt that Wright intended his buildings as a provocation. The structures in the Martin House Complex are all on rigid axes, oriented to the cardinal points, ignoring Olmsted’s curving streets. (The Church of the Good Shepherd, across Jewett Parkway, is oriented to the curve on Summit Avenue, in contrast, as are the nearby houses.) Wright built the back end of the Barton House so close to the neighboring structure as to inconvenience its owners. When Wright published a version of the Gardener’s Cottage he designed for Darwin Martin in the Ladies Home Journal, in April 1907, he took what Buffalonians would have recognized as a swipe at a similarly sized cottage designed in 1900 by the Green and Wicks partnership, directly across the street from the Martin House Complex, by describing his own design as: “the result of a process of elimination… what remains seems sufficiently complete and the ensemble an improvement over the usual cut-up, overtrimmed boxes doing duty in this class, wherein architecture is a matter of ‘millwork’ and the ‘features’ are apt to peel.”vii
vi. Quoted in Quinan, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House, p. 107.
vii. . Frank Lloyd Wright, “A Fireproof House for $5000: Estimated to Cost That Amount in Chicago, and Designed Especially for the Journal,” Ladies Home Journal, 24 (1907) no. 5, p. 24.]
What I do have to offer are photographs of my walk this past week around the exterior of the Darwin Martin House State Historic Site, described as follows by State park officials:
Today, the Martin House, a National Historic Landmark, has been restored to its glorious zenith of 1907. The museum consists of six buildings, grounds and gardens, and guest amenities including an interpretive visitor center, museum store, and cafe.
As you view the photos that follow, keep the following in mind:
- Only two of the original five structures comprising the Martin House estate remain, the incomparable main house built for Darwin and Isabelle Martin, and the very first building designed and constructed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Darwin Martin (completed in 1903), the Barton House, for Darwin’s sister and brother-in-law, Delta and George Barton. [This house served as a test to see whether Darwin Martin could trust FLW enough to proceed to the much larger and more extravagant primary residence.]
- The original Pergola, Conservatory, and Carriage House/Stable – demolished around 1960 to make way for an incongruous apartment complex – have been reconstructed in recent years, along with the original landscaping plan.
- The “Gardener’s Cottage” – built in 1905 (but not part of the original estate), representing FLW’s approach to affordable housing – was recently purchased and added to the Darwin Martin Complex.
- A visitor center -the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion – is a totally new creation.
- According to the Martin House official site, “The total approximate cost of this ambitious restoration project was $50 million, which included design and construction of our visitor center, the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion.”
The Barton House (118 Summit Ave.)
The Darwin Martin House (125 Jewett Pkwy.)
The Gardener’s Cottage (285 Woodward Ave.)
The Greatbatch Pavilion – Visitor Center
The Carriage House/Stable
The Conservatory & The Nike of Samothrace statue (replica)
Hope you enjoyed the tour.
With All Due Respect,
P.S. Frank Lloyd Wright, role model:
Nice Piece Arthur! Great story, great photos!