Frank Lloyd Wright in Buffalo; damp, moldy houses cause depression

Before I write about the two Wright houses I visited, I have to share this news article. Thanks to some groundbreaking research, it has been determined (scientifically) that Damp, Moldy Houses Cause Depression! Okay, to be accurate, they “MAY” cause depression. I don’t think I needed the American Journal of Public Health to tell me that. This article is not supposed to be related to the Wright houses, but I have a feeling the Martin House may have been damp for a while before the restoration started.
Darwin Martin House

Darwin Martin House, Buffalo NY- work in progress. Click here to visit my flickr page and to see more images.

While traveling last week, I had the chance to go to two different Frank Lloyd Wrght designed facilities. The first was the Darwin Martin House on Jewett Parkway in Buffalo. It was one of FLW’s most elaborate commissions, it consisted of a main house, a conservatory, a carriage house, a house for the client’s sister and another house for the gardener. It is said that the budget was almost unlimited when I was built around the turn of the last century.

I went on a deluxe tour that covered all parts of the site, and it was definitely worth the time. I had been to this house a few years ago, but it looks completely different now. The Martin House Restoration Corporation (the non-profit that is restoring the house and raising money) has rebuilt portions of the complex that were torn down in the 1960s. In the last few years, the pergola and carriage house have been rebuilt and the gardener’s cottage was purchased and opened to the public this summer.

This was one of Wright’s finest buildings, done at the peak of his career. I highly advise you to visit if you are in the area. I’ve heard that Wright kept the drawings for this house pinned up in his office for the rest of his life after it was completed.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Graycliff estate

The Graycliff House from the driveway

The other Wright complex I visited was the Graycliff estate, in Derby NY (only about half an hour from downtown Buffalo). I mentioned this house before in an earlier post, but I didn’t give any of the background. This house was also designed for the Martins, but Mrs. Martin was the main client here as opposed to the city house where her husband was in control. She wanted a light-filled and airy summer escape on the shore of Lake Erie. Wright obliged by giving her a fantastic house on a 70 foot cliff. The first floor is glass on both sides and very thin so that from the front, a visitor can see the water and the horizon through the living room.

This house was much better preserved because it has never been vacant. A religious group (the Parist fathers, a group of priests from Hungry) owned it and lived there until a few years ago when it was purchased and restoration began. The priests never tore down any of the original buildings, so the work necessary here is not as extensive as at the Buffalo house.

By Mark

Mark is an architect in San Francisco.


  1. I used to deliver pizza to the Martin House all the time. The woman who came to the door used to try and pay with sex. She would open the door wearing only a loosely knotted robe. “Oh, I am so sorry dear. I don;t have any cash. Is there any other way I can pay you?” Pizza delivery boy legend claims that the woman who answers the door is the ghost of Isabelle Martin. I’m convinced the woman was really a dude, and a squatter.

  2. Thanks for your kind words about Graycliff. Hope you enjoyed your tour!

    As a grass-roots, non-profit organization, it has taken hard work on the part of hundred of volunteers to return Graycliff to its former glory (still in progress, though!), lead tours, maintain the grounds, and all of the tasks, large and small, needed for a large site like this.

    We’re very pleased that although Graycliff was “hidden in plain sight” for 50 years, when the Piarist Fathers were in residence, Wright scholars are now, for the first time, beginning to study Graycliff. The general consensus is that Graycliff is a much more architecturally significant site than anyone had previously considered. You can hear what Neil Levine, one of the most important Wright scholars, had to say about it during a recent visit in a podcast here:

    On behalf of everyone involved, thanks very much!

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