Vote for Pedro!

Last month Frank Lloyd Wright's personal photographer, Pedro E. Guerrero, visited the Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, New York. According to Mark Sommer’s article in the Buffalo News, Guerrero was impressed with the complex’s restoration: ” ‘Marvelous, absolutely spellbinding. It’s breathtaking it’s so beautiful,’ Guerrero said.”

Pedro Guererro
Pedro E. Guerrero at the Darwin D. Martin House, Buffalo, NY, August 30, 2011. Credit: Harry Scull, Jr., Buffalo News

Read the entire article. Thank you to The Weekly Wright-up for sharing this news.

Read more on the Darwin D. Martin House, and Mr. Wright’s relationship with Darwin D. Martin.

David Wright House
Pedro E. Guerrero, David Wright House, Phoenix, AZ (1952).

Darwin D. Martin: Influential Client and Loyal Friend

Part Three: A Home for Isabelle

For Frank Lloyd Wright the years following those he spent designing the buildings that would leave his indelible legacy in Buffalo, New York were turbulent ones. By 1909 Wright’s personal life was in shambles; he turned his back on his family, friends, and career in order to run off to Europe with Mamah Cheney, the wife of one of his clients. Upon his return home the following year, Wright found that most of old friends and clients had deserted him. But there was one notable exception: Darwin D. Martin remained supportive of his dear friend. “Fine nature and good heart,” was Wright’s description of Martin. Martin loaned Wright $25,000 (by no means a small sum back in the early 1910s) to pay off past debts. Martin was also responsible for furnishing Wright with the money he needed to build Taliesin, a home and studio on his family’s ancestral land in rural Wisconsin. (1)

In August 1914 tragedy would strike Wright’s life. While he was in Chicago working on the Midway Gardens project, a disgruntled servant killed Wright’s lover, Mamah Cheney, her two children and four others, then burned Taliesin to the ground. The servant died several days later in the Dodgeville, Wisconsin jail after poisoning himself. To this day his motives are unknown. (2) As he had earlier, Martin continued to stand by Wright as the architect’s world crumbled yet again, and it was Martin who gave Wright the funds to rebuild Taliesin.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Taliesin original house (1911), rebuilt (1915).

Wright’s personal life continued to be in turmoil throughout the 1920s. To make matters worse, Wright’s star had faded and the commissions had stopped coming in. In 1925 Wright asked Martin to go into business with him, but Martin demurred. When Martin retired from the Larkin Company in 1926, however, he asked Wright, now sixty years old and nearly destitute, to build him a summer house for his retirement, with Isabelle Martin as the client of record. The home called Graycliff, sits dramatically on cliffs overlooking the shore of Lake Erie just outside of Buffalo. (1)

Frank Lloyd Wright, Graycliff (1926).

Martin’s wife, Isabelle, had never warmed up to life in the home Wright had designed for the Martins on Jewett Parkway. She was sight-impaired and constantly complained that the house’s interiors were too dark. This time Wright appeased Mrs. Martin by designing Graycliff with a simpler, more open plan that included many large picture windows allowing light and nature into the home. Isabelle grew to love the house.

Frank Lloyd Wright, Graycliff (1926).

Unfortunately for the Martins, as the 1920s came to an end their troubles were just beginning. The 1929 stock market crash devastated the Martin fortune; three years later they slipped into financial ruin. Martin didn’t even have the money to purchase Wright’s 1932 autobiography that he himself had helped to edit. (Wright later gave Martin one of his six personal copies from the publisher.) At that time Wright owed Martin over $70,000; the debt was never repaid. Martin died in 1935, penniless and was buried in an unmarked grave. “My best friend and most helpful one died,” Wright said upon hearing of Martin’s death. (1) In 1939, Isabelle left the house that Wright had built the family in 1905. She walked away without even bothering to lock the door. Wright’s “opus” sat empty and abandoned for nearly twenty years. Isabelle lived at Graycliff until her death in 1945. (3)

Shortly after Martin died, Wright’s career experienced an upsurge that continued until the architect’s death in 1959. During this period Wright created some of his finest work, including: Fallingwater, The Johnson Wax Administration Building, Wingspread and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. It is a pity that Martin did not live to share the success of his favorite architect and closest friend.


  1. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo. WNED-TV, Buffalo/Toronto. Producer: Paul Lamont; Executive Producer: John Grant and David Rotterman
  2. Wright at the Time. The Weekly Home News, August 20, 1914 
“Murderer of Seven: Sets Fire to Country Home of Frank Lloyd Wright Near Spring Green”
  3. Graycliff (Isabelle R. Martin House & Estate). ArchINFORM.

For Further Reading

Via The Weekly Wright-up:, August 2, 2010 “At Graycliff, Roundabout Return of Wright Table”

Darwin D. Martin: Influential Client and Loyal Friend

Part Two: A Home for the Martin Family

In 1903, the Barton House, first of several Frank Lloyd Wright homes designed for Buffalo, was built on Summit Avenue. The Barton House was commissioned by Darwin D. Martin, who also gave Wright the commission to design the Larkin Company Administration Building. Martin’s sister, Delta and her husband, George Barton would occupy the house. (1) Then Martin turned to Wright to build a home for his family, a home that Wright would later refer to as his “opus.”

Barton House
Frank Lloyd Wright, George Barton House (1903).
Photo credit: Bill Bowen, 2010

As was discussed in part one, Martin and Wright were in complete agreement in their desire for the perfect home. In his commission for the Martin House Wright was given three things that he had never had on any previous job:

1.    A large lot
2.    An unlimited budget
3.    Complete freedom of design (2)

Frank Lloyd Wright, Darwin D. Martin House (1905).

The original budget for the house was $40,000. Wright balked at this figure, telling Martin, “You ought to spend $75,000 on it instead of $40,000 just to leave Buffalo something worth having.” And indeed he did.  The complex consisted of five structures:

1.    The Barton House
2.    The Darwin D. Martin House
3.    The Carriage House
4.    The Conservatory
5.    The Pergola (a covered walkway connecting the buildings)

In 1908, a separate house for the gardener was built around the corner from the main house on Woodward Avenue. (1)

According to Wright’s grandson, architect Eric Lloyd Wright the Martin House, “allowed Wright to really express the totality of the space. The design of tables and chairs, stained glass, mosaics around the fireplace…his opportunity to show what a total creation of space can be when it’s done in creative hands.”

Frank Lloyd Wright, Darwin D. Martin House, interior (1905).

The final cost of Martin’s house was estimated at $175,000. On November 6, 1905, just three years after Wright’s first visit to Buffalo, Martin and his family moved into their new home on Jewett Parkway. Martin lived there until his death in 1935. His widow, Isabelle, abandoned the house in 1938 after she could no longer afford the upkeep and back taxes on the house. Read more on the decline and restoration of the Darwin D. Martin House at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo Legacy.

In 1992, the Martin House Restoration Corporation (MHRC) was established to raise funds to restore the house to its 1907 state. The house is now open to the public as a house museum; the MHRC oversees tours and educational programs at the site. (3)

Next: Part Three: A Home for Isabelle


  1. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo Legacy: The Barton House Legacy
  2. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Buffalo. WNED-TV, Buffalo/TorontoProducer: Paul Lamont; Executive Producer: John Grant and David Rotterman
  3. Martin House Restoration Corporation. 

For Further Reading

Martin House Restoration Corporation curator Eric Jackson-Forsberg interviews former Barton House resident Almon Copley.

Darwin D. Martin: Influential Client and Loyal Friend

Part One: A Home for The Larkin Company

An architect cannot build without a client, for it is the client who provides him or her with the reason to build and the resources with which to undertake the project. When architect Frank Lloyd Wright first met businessman Darwin D. Martin, little did he realize that he was beginning a close relationship with the man who would not only be the most influential client of the first half of his career, but the friend who would be his most loyal supporter during his darkest hours.

Wright and Darwin D. Martin had much in common; the men were contemporaries. Martin was born in 1865, two years before Wright.  At an early age both men had experienced unhappiness and loneliness as their family life deteriorated. Martin’s mother died when he was just five years old. His father remarried and moved Martin and a brother from their home in upstate New York to the Midwest, separating them from the rest of their siblings. Wright’s family moved frequently from town to town; his dominating, headstrong mother never got on well with Wright’s weaker father. Wright’s parents divorced when he was a teenager. According to Wright biographer Meryl Secrest, “This unhappy childhood led Wright’s drive to create the perfect house thinking that it would bring about the perfect marriage.” Like Wright Martin’s unsettled youth also strengthened his belief in “The Home” as the center of one’s life.

    Darwin D. Martin

Martin’s life was much like the poor-boy-makes-good Horatio Alger story. When he was only twelve years old Martin left Nebraska to live in New York City with his older brother. The two sold soap door-to-door for the Larkin Soap Company of Buffalo, New York. Martin’s acumen with numbers brought him to the attention of company president, John Larkin who promoted young Martin to accountant and relocated him to work in Buffalo. Here Martin found the sense of belonging that he yearned for and developed a close relationship with his mentor, Elbert Hubbard, who would leave Larkin Soap in 1893 to found the Roycroft Arts and Crafts Community in East Aurora, New York. While Hubbard’s exit jolted Martin, he seized upon this opportunity to move up in the corporate hierarchy. Martin went on to help Larkin become at that time one of the nation’s leading catalogue companies, rivaling Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. (1)

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