The Martin House Complex was designed for Buffalo mail order executive Darwin Martin, just one of the executives of the Larkin Company who ordered up Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Buffalo and Chicago. Martin was left on his own after his mother’s passing, and started with Larkin selling soap in New York and Boston at age 13. An aptitude for numbers caught the attention of Larkin executives, who invited him to Buffalo. This self-made millionaire was in his late 30’s when he commissioned the first Wright building on Jewett Parkway – a small house for his sister Delta Barton (whose husband also worked for Larkin.)
The original home, seen above, just had its windows boarded up so that an interior restoration (and asbestos removal) could be completed. JoeB’s company will be working on that.
After the Barton House was finished, and while work began on the long pergola, the Larkin Company decided to hire Wright to build their Administration Building – a massive brick building that housed hundreds of clerks handling paperwork for the mail-order business.
The Larkin Administration Building was Wright’s first commercial commission, and is noted for its turn-of-the-century innovations like air conditioning, desks with “automatic” seats that didn’t touch the floor (making it easier to sweep up under them), and the first time that toilets were used that hung from the wall instead of sitting on the floor.
Unfortunately, this landmark building was emptied as Larkin’s fortunes faded with the changing face of retail. Fewer people were relying on mail order (are you listening, Amazon?) and more people started driving to shopping areas. The building was sold in a tax sale and demolished in 1950. Today, only one of the fence piers remains and the spot is a downtown Buffalo parking lot.
The Martin House and environs is magnificent. Martin lost all of his money in the Depression. His wife continued to live there until the 1940’s, and then she abandoned it. Eventually, it was purchased in a tax sale in the late 1950’s. The new owner faced tough financial decisions and decided to tear down the long 100-foot pergola and put up an apartment building to generate revenue.
Many years later, after the house had been purchased by a preservation group, the apartment building was purchased and torn down. The pergola was rebuilt 12 years ago.
Today, the Martin House Complex include a gardener’s cottage, a rebuilt stable, rebuilt conservatory, rebuilt pergola, the Barton House, and the main Martin House – itself an exquisite example of Wright’s famous “Prairie-style” architecture.
Originally, it had nearly 400 art glass windows – many of which were pilfered and sold to collectors and museums (like the Louvre in Paris.) Next week, a Canadian museum is returning two of the windows to the house.
The windows typically have 750 individual pieces of glass and cost $30,000 each to replace (!)
The Gardener’s Cottage dates from 1909. It foreshadow’s Wright’s later American System Built pre-fab housing from 1914-1915…
Wright’s prairie homes are well known for their long, linear lines. Brickmasons were instructed to fill in vertical joints flush with the long roman-style bricks. Horizontal mortar lines were deeply raked to emphasize the horizontal…
The Martin House is an exceptional extant example of Wright’s work. It is well worth a special visit to Buffalo. Plus you can say “hi” to JoeB as he toils away inside on the NINE MILES of woodwork that is being refinished inside. It’s kept Joe busy for seven years, so far…
Tour information and more is available here: