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This article originally appeared in The Buffalo News on January 10, 2017.

Completion of the Darwin Martin House has been tantalizingly close for years.

Now, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo wants to push both Frank Lloyd Wright’s Martin House Complex in Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood and Graycliff, the summer estate built for Isabelle Martin in Derby, across the finish line.

Both projects would be completed with funds from phase two of the state’s Buffalo Billion program if the governor’s proposal passes the Legislature.

“They provide a one-two punch in terms of historic architecture, and our whole strategy is taking advantage of what’s unique in Buffalo and Western New York,” said Howard Zemsky, president of Empire State Development, the state’s development arm.

The budget request for the two projects is $10 million.

The state projects the current 30,000 visitors could nearly triple to 84,000 once the site is completed, generating $17.6 million for the city and region annually. The state also forecasts the number of visitors to Graycliff doubling to 20,000.

“These two projects have been pivotal stories in terms of creating a new narrative and a new brand for Buffalo,” said Ed Healy, vice president of marketing for Visit Buffalo Niagara, who expects their completion to generate significant attention in the travel and cultural press.

“To have them completed in the near future would be huge. With the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth being celebrated this year nationally and internationally, this news could not be more timely.”

Zemsky knows the Martin House project well: His 13-year volunteer stint included serving as president of the Martin House Restoration Corp. from 2001 to 2005. He was also president of the not-for-profit Richardson Center Corp., created by the state to oversee the Richardson Olmsted Complex’s rehabilitation.

“Historic architecture is really one of our signature points of difference, and one of our real strengths in tourism,” Zemsky said. “The difference between being 85 percent done and 100 percent done can make a huge difference when it comes to tourism.”

Martin House Complex

Completion of the Martin House Complex has been a long time coming.

The Martin House Restoration Corp. was formed 25 years ago, although it didn’t acquire title to the property for another five years. The first phase of restoration began that year, and a second phase was completed in 2004. That set the stage, under the direction of HHL Architects, to reconstruct the once-demolished pergola, conservatory and carriage house between 2004 and 2007.

Since then, work has continued steadily, with the second floor of the Martin House, landscaping and the Barton House still to be completed. The funds are in hand to finish the Martin House itself, and the governor’s announcement would pay for the landscaping and the Barton House.

“This is a game changer to help get us over the finish line, and we are incredibly grateful to New York State, which has been with us from the beginning,” said Mary Roberts, the Martin House Restoration Corp.’s executive director.

“This will allow Wright’s full vision to be intact again. He was about integrated design with the buildings relating to one another, the furnishings and the landscape, and this will complete that vision.”

Roberts said the landscaping and the Barton House could be finished by the end of 2018, depending on the timing of the funding and construction.

She said restoring the landscape as Wright once had it would be yet another reason for people to see the building Wright once called his “opus.”

The Barton House, completed in 1904, needs major mechanical updates, structural repairs and exterior masonry work, along with redoing floors and bolstering a sagging porch.

Roberts said she was gratified the state was helping complete both the Martin House and Graycliff.

“The Martin House and Graycliff together are part of the Wright architectural legacy that is putting Buffalo on the map as a destination,” she said.


The governor’s proposal would complete the interior restoration of the Isabelle Martin House, the interior restoration of the Foster House, finish the landscaping on the eight-acre property and provide cliff stabilization and beach access to the waterfront site.

Finishing the project has been a long time coming for the Graycliff Conservancy, too. The group formed 20 years ago, acquiring the property two years later.

Work has accelerated in recent years, but a substantial amount remains. The proposal from the governor calls for the Graycliff Conservancy to match the state’s amount, something Robert Wooler, Graycliff’s executive director, said the group is on target to do.

“This is great. I’m just excited that this is all coming together now,” Wooler said.

Wooler said among the work that needs to be completed are the walls, ceilings and floors at the Isabelle Martin House, and restoring the beach access by rebuilding the stair tower to the beach, building a bridge back to the grounds to access the stairs and stabilizing the eroding, 65-foot cliff.

“This has been a 20-year process, and it’s great to have the confidence of the state behind our efforts to restore the buildings, grounds and beach access in one concerted push,” Wooler said.