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The house that Wright built

University a partner in wide-ranging effort to restore shimmering beauty of Buffalo's Darwin House


The Darwin D. Martin House hugs the landscape with its long horizontal lines, striking flow of rooms, and open spaces. Inside there are echoes of a golden, glorious past.

Now this important work of Frank Lloyd Wright's early prairie period-which the university acquired in 1966-stands ready for a major renovation, one that could result in a more intensive level of architectural tourism for the region. The project is expected to cost $12 million dollars and is a joint undertaking of the university, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and the Martin House Restoration Corporation (MHRC).

In time, officials hope to restore the interior beauty of the Martin House with its gilding and golden carpets, and where possible, to locate and purchase the missing, one-of-a-kind Wright furniture and art glass windows. In particular, they hope to replace the missing Tree of Life windows, the signature window for the Martin House and easily the most recognized and reproduced of all Wright's art glass designs, according to Jack Quinan, Martin House curator and UB professor of art history.

They'd also like to refashion such points of beauty as the original glass mosaic main fireplace with its intricate wisteria pattern. The overall idea, says MHRC executive director Mark R. Hursty, is to achieve "museum-like" quality such as that of the restoration of the living room of Wright's Francis W. Little House at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This means restoring the house to a definite period, in this case the time of the Martins' residency.

Phase I of the project, which began this summer, will concentrate on repair and restoration of the exterior, according to Bruno B. Freschi, dean of the UB School of Architecture and Planning, who led the drive to discover new forms of ownership and support for the house.

The long-term goal, Freschi said, is to restore the entire complex of Wright buildings at the Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue site in Buffalo, thus "ensuring the integrity of the full project." The hope is to completely restore the site by 2004, the 100th anniversary of the Martin House's construction, adds Hursty.

The complete restoration would reconstruct the original conservatory and 180-foot pergola, while taking advantage of the MHRC's recent acquisition of Wright's Barton House, part of the original complex.

Theodore Lownie, UB instructor of architecture and principal of Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects P.C., is architect of record for the restoration project. Phase I, he said, will involve repair of the roof structure and replacement of the existing asphalt roof surface with clay tiles designed and manufactured to Wright's original specifications. Lownie's firm recently restored the historic Roycroft Inn in East Aurora, New York.

A 1990 report by Hasbrouck Peterson Associates-a Chicago firm that has restored other Wright houses-is the basis for the Martin House restoration plan. The restored house will operate as a house museum in the state historic sites system.


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