Empire State Development and Martin House Announce Groundbreaking for Historic Landscape Restoration at Frank Lloyd Wright-Designed Martin Estate in Buffalo

Buffalo Billion funded project is the final component of the overall restoration effort

May 30, 2018

See site plan and images here (historic photographs are property of University at Buffalo Archives)

Empire State Development (ESD) and the Martin House today announced that work has begun to restore the extensive Frank Lloyd Wright-designed landscape on the grounds of the Darwin D. Martin House estate in Buffalo.  Funded primarily by Buffalo Billion Phase 2, this final component is part of the overall restoration effort which has spanned more than two decades and seen a $50 million investment in this National Historic Landmark and New York State Historic Site.  Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul was on hand today with Martin House representatives to ceremonially break ground on the historic landscape restoration project. See site plan and images here (historic photographs are property of University at Buffalo Archives).

“This historic landscape restoration project enhances the incredible architecture and distinct character of the Darwin Martin Estate in Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “The improvements to the grounds and buildings will elevate the experience at one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s greatest engineering achievements. With projects like this, the Buffalo Billion continues to invest in attractions that provide local residents and visitors from around the country an opportunity to explore the treasured landmarks and hidden gems that are truly unique to our city.”

“With a fully restored landscape surrounding our National Historic Landmark, the Martin House will take its place at the heart of this heritage of great American architecture that is Buffalo’s trademark,” said Martin House Board President Keith Stolzenburg.

“Phase 2 of the Buffalo Billion will allow the final landscaping to complete the restoration of the Darwin Martin House, Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural treasure and a Buffalo landmark that will ensure visitors to the city for decades to come,” said Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Howard Zemsky.

The historic landscape of the Martin House is a significant example of the intertwined design relationship between architecture and landscape and represents an important contributing feature to the overall significance of the 1.5-acre estate. Wright created homes in harmony with nature.  He developed an integrated design approach unifying buildings, their interior decorative elements and exterior landscape in an organic style deriving inspiration from the natural world.  Coining the term “organic architecture,” Wright’s concepts were a dramatic shift in design from the traditional houses of the day.   Wright envisioned buildings as a bridge to the natural world, blurring the lines between interior and exterior spaces, and creating “rooms” in outdoor settings. 

The Martin landscape plan combined formal aspects of the English Garden tradition and informal landscape elements more akin to Frederick Law Olmsted’s naturalistic approach to landscape design; a nod to the site’s context in Olmsted’s planned Parkside community.  Wright arranged the Martin House plan to frame the trees and gardens beyond the walls and windows, each space open to view outside, artfully giving landscape features a presence within.  Gardens took on the character of outdoor rooms, framed and formed by the patterns of the interior plan.

Darwin and Isabelle Martin’s fondness for the gardens transcended three decades during which time they nurtured and maintained Wright’s design.

Scheduled for completion this fall, landscape elements to be created include:

  • Restoration of the visual and spatial relationships between the site’s architectural and landscape features.
  • Recreation of the floricycle, the most intricately designed element of Wright’s plan which was aided by his apprentice Walter Burley Griffin.
  • Replacement of vegetative screening elements; naturalistic shrub massing’s; selected ornamental flowering shrub focal points; vine trellises; urn, fountain, and box plantings; and perennial gardens.
  • Reinstallation of the English border gardens that flanked the pergola, contrasting the more naturalistic plantings that defined the boundaries of the historic property.
  • Redefinition of the outdoor “rooms” and architectonic garden elements conceived by Wright and Griffin.
  • Preservation of the mature Copper beech tree—one of only two remaining vegetative features from the historic period.
  • Replacement of trees at historic locations on the property, as well as the return of street trees along the borders of Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue in conjunction with the City of Buffalo.

Planned improvements also include site lighting, wayfinding and a courtyard / café area.   The restored landscape will be a new source of education programs and interpretation for tours, community events and dialogues about the importance of nature and design in everyday life.

The total estimated cost of this ambitious restoration project is $50 million, which includes design and construction of a visitor center – the Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion – an award-winning building adjacent to the historic site. The restoration effort was supported by $24 million in funding from New York State, beginning in 1993. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo closed the gap on capital funding as part of a recent $5 million commitment included Buffalo Billion II awards. Those final funds will be used primarily to rehabilitate the historic landscape and to preserve the Barton House, a secondary residence on the estate.

New York State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said, “Completion of the Darwin Martin House landscape will most certainly be the impetus that accentuates this must-see destination.  Thank you, Governor Cuomo, Legislators and our partners for your continuous and unrelenting support of our historic sites that educate and promote New York States’ history.”

Bayer Landscape Architecture Principal Mark H. Bayer said,The landscape rehabilitation project at the Darwin Martin House will bring dramatic changes to the property. For the first time in over 80 years, one will be able to again experience the vision that Frank Lloyd Wright and the Martins shared for this special place – where the house and landscape were conceived as one.”

Martin House Executive Director Mary Roberts said, “We are so very grateful to New York State and its’ leadership for their investment in the Martin House and the economic promise it represents.  If you are a citizen of New York, and aware of what we are doing at the Martin House, you should be very proud.”    

Martin House Horticulturist Nellie Gardner said, “The installation of the historic landscape will enhance the visitor experience exponentially as the architecture was designed to be integrated with Nature.”

Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Executive Director Stephanie Crockett said, “The Conservancy commends this outstanding effort to restore a historic landscape. We are so proud of the Martin House as a signature feature in Parkside - one of the few Olmsted designed neighborhoods in the country.”

Located on a 1.5-acre site in the historic Parkside neighborhood, the 15,000-square foot Martin House has been exquisitely restored to its condition of 1907, with extensive original Wright furnishings as well as elaborate built-in cabinetry and wood trim. Three structures attached to the Martin House, an open-air pergola, a conservatory and carriage house that were demolished in the 1960’s to make way for an apartment complex, were reconstructed in recent years, also funded in part by New York State. 

City of Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said, “I thank Governor Andrew Cuomo for his continued commitment to our City through Phase 2 of his Buffalo Billion initiative.  The Darwin Martin House is a jewel in our community, and the State’s $50 million investment will ensure that our residents and visitors will still be able to tour and enjoy this National Historic Landmark and New York State Historic site for years to come.”

Congressman Brian Higgins said, “The Darwin Martin House has undergone an incredible restoration and the new historically designed landscape will serve to further complement this architectural masterpiece in Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision.”

Senator Chris Jacobs said, “The Darwin Martin House is one of the jewels of Buffalo and Western New York's rich architectural history.  The completion of the historic landscape work will be an outstanding addition to this important piece of our architectural tourism industry.”

Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes said, “The Darwin Martin House is an iconic regional attraction. With over $50 million already invested in its redevelopment, the landscaping is the last and final touch towards 100% completion. I applaud the Governor, the Martin House Restoration Corporation, local foundations and my colleagues in government for helping to restore this structure to its current state of significance and magnificence.”

About Frank Lloyd Wright (American, 1867-1959)

Frank Lloyd Wright is internationally recognized as one of the most important figures in 20th century architecture and design.  His genius is marked by his vision to create a new form of American architecture based on the open landscape of the Midwestern Prairie.  Wright redefined traditional concepts of space by physically and spiritually connecting the built environment to the natural world.  He is best known for his “Prairie style” homes, efficient office buildings, and innovative furniture and decorative designs.

About the Martin House

The Martin House, designed and built from 1903-05, is considered by Wright scholars to be a significant turning point in the evolution of the Prairie house concept.  The original complex consisted of the main Martin House, pergola, conservatory and carriage house,

the Barton House and a gardener’s cottage, totaling nearly 32,000 square feet.  Wright called the Martin House his “opus,” and had plans tacked above his drafting board for decades.  Reconstruction of the pergola, conservatory and carriage house was completed in early 2007 in the most ambitious restoration of demolished Wright buildings ever undertaken.

The Martin House Restoration Corporation is a New York not-for-profit corporation founded in 1992.  It has a 30-member board of directors and approximately 400 active volunteers.  The historic Martin House site is open for tours year-round.  More information about this Nation Historic Landmark, including tour information, can be found at www.martinhouse.org.

Mary Roberts (Martin House) | [email protected] | 716-856-3858, ext. 202
Caitlin Deibel (Martin House) | [email protected] | (716) 856-3858, ext. 211
Pamm Lent (Governor’s Office) | [email protected] | (716) 846-8309
Laura Magee (ESD) | [email protected] | (716) 846-8239