Historic Structures

Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo New York

Date added: March 15, 2010 Categories: New York House Prarie

This Prairie house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1904, is important in the development of a large private residence which contains open and versatile interior spaces. This concept of a single-family dwelling was not prevalent in American domestic architecture until thirty years later. The house was designated a Buffalo and Erie County Historical Site, November 16, 1971.

Darwin Martin appears to have met Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1903. Martin and his brother, W. E. Martin, were out driving and passed Wright's studio. They were intrigued by its appearance and stopped to call on the owner. That same afternoon Wright received a commission for a house from W. E. Martin, 636 North East Avenue, Oak Park. In the following year, Wright received the commission for the Darwin D. Martin house and for the Larkin Building (demolished in 1950), The Larkin Company was a mail-order business which employed Martin. Other associates in the company also had Wright houses constructed in Buffalo, namely, W. R. Heath, 1905, and Walter V. Davidson, 1908. Mrs. W. R. Heath was the sister of Elbert Hubbard, who at one time was also associated with the Larkin Company. Hubbard is better known for his craft workshop, the Roycroft, which he established in East Aurora, New York--a small community approximately twenty miles east of Buffalo. Wright also designed Martin's summer house, "Graycliff," in the mid 1920s. The ink drawings on sized linen are dated in pencil, August 19, 1929. However, Hitchcock, in In the Nature of Materials, states that the house in Derby, located on the shore of Lake Erie, was begun in 1927, but designed a year or two earlier, and that the garage was begun in 1926. In addition to the above set of plans, the Frank Lloyd Wright Collection of the University Archives also contains a blueprint of the garage beams and columns by Jones Iron Works dated April 8, 1929. According to Hitchcock, neither construction was supervised by Wright.

Martin assisted Wright in Controlling the sale of the Wasmuth edition in the United States. Wright, through the early years, 1910-1923, had many financial problems. Martin was one of the clients who helped Wright to incorporate himself in order to pay his many debts.

In 1927, Martin established the Martin Professorship in Mathematics at the University of Buffalo, now the State University of New York at Buffalo. Each year, a $10,000 grant was awarded to a distinguished member of the faculty. The Depression forced Martin to interrupt his support of the chair.

From the time the house was constructed in 1904 until Mrs. Martin left, in 1937, the house was occupied by the Martin family. Although the Martin heirs retained ownership, the house remained vacant and exposed to considerable vandalism until 1946. In 1946 the City of Buffalo acquired the house for payment of back taxes. In the early 1950s the City sold the property to Sebastian J. Tauriello. In 1967 the State University of New York at Buffalo purchased the house from Tauriello's widow for use as the president's residence. It's now used for offices, meeting rooms, and a manuscript repository by the Alumni Association and University Archives.