H is for history

Graycliff Estate in Derby, New York

One of the more interesting pieces of local history were the many great architects who designed houses and other buildings in Western New York. These included Louis Sullivan, who designed Buffalo’s Guaranty Building; H.H. Richardson, who designed the Richardson Olmsted Complex; and Eliel and Eero Saarinen, who designed Kleinhan’s Music Hall. Kleinhan’s Music Hall is considered to be acoustically quite excellent and a great home for the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra. Buffalo also has an elaborate parks system, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. And then there was Frank Lloyd Wright, who came to Buffalo and designed gems. Some are still standing and others are gone. One of the gems that is gone is the administration building for the Larkin Soap Company. It was torn down in 1950. The tearing down is now seen as a serious error in judgment.
One of the still-standing gems, Graycliff Estate, was discussed in a power point presentation on Thursday, April 1st, at the general membership meeting of the Grand Island Historical Society.
Graycliff Estate was the summer home of Darwin and Isabelle Martin. Darwin Martin was an executive in the Larkin Soap Company. He had started his career as a door to door salesman of Larkin soap and was so effective at selling soap that he rose in the ranks until he became a top executive. Frank Lloyd Wright had designed Darwin Martin’s house in the City of Buffalo, located on Jewett Parkway near Delaware Park. This house later became known as the “Darwin Martin House.” It has been restored, and regular tours are given of the house. 
Later, the Martins wanted a summer home, which Frank Lloyd Wright designed. The summer home was to be a light-filled house, without stained glass windows. Isabelle Martin, whose eyesight was failing, was having trouble seeing in the dimness of the city house. Apparently, stained glass windows are pretty but they block much light from entering the house. The summer house, Graycliff Manor, was built on the shores of Lake Erie, in Derby. 
Here are few interesting facts that I found out about Frank Lloyd Wright and Graycliff Manor:
  • Frank Lloyd Wright was an “organic architect.” He used local materials for his buildings. One of the local materials that he used was limestone from the cliff.
  • Frank Lloyd Wright wanted to build a reflecting pool at Graycliff, but Darwin Martin was not interested. 
  • Because Graycliff was built for Isabelle Martin, it was known as the “Isabelle R. Martin House.”
  • Frank and Isabelle Martin’s daughter was Dorothy, who married a Foster. There was a house for Dorothy and her family on the grounds of Graycliff, called the Foster house.
  • The Martins had financial difficulties after the stock market crash of 1929, and the house was later sold to the Piarist Fathers (from Hungary), who turned the house into a boarding school.
  • Many years later, the house was purchased by the Graycliff Conservancy. The house and all of the structures on the grounds are still being restored to their original condition.
If you are interested in taking a tour of Graycliff, check out this website: Graycliff tours! I am hoping to take a tour of Graycliff…
There are, however, many Frank Lloyd Wright structures to see. One of them is Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, which features a waterfall on the side of the house. That has to be seen to be believed, so I am putting Fallingwater on my bucket list!

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