Darwin Martin House Complex

Buffalo, New York

Owner: Martin House Restoration Corporation

Project Value: $50 million

Completed: various

Architect: HHL Architects

Size: 29,000 sq. ft.

Located in the historic Parkside neighborhood Buffalo, N.Y., the Martin House Complex was once the residence of business executive Darwin D. Martin. Built at the start of the 20th century, the complex is considered one of Wright’s architectural masterpieces and a great work representing his Prairie House style. The original design has six connected structures, all with the same look and feel to create unity. Situated on 1-1/2 acres the buildings include the main house, the Martin House; the Barton House, built for Martin’s sister; the 100 ft. pergola, which links the main house with the conservatory; the conservatory which features a replica of the Nike of Samothrace statue; the carriage house, garage and stable; and the gardener’s cottage.

Over prior decades, the Martin House Complex suffered considerable damage and three of the original five buildings were lost. In 1992, Martin House Restoration Corp. (MHRC) was formed to manage the restoration efforts.
In 2000, our team was named construction manager of this monumental reconstruction and historical restoration effort. MHRC was looking for a partner to continue to work at bringing this iconic group of structures back to its original grandeur. Of course this effort would be done in small phases, as funds were available and while occupied with tourists.

We began with Phase II, and restoring existing foundations, constructing a new mechanical room, reconstructing the veranda floor, installing perimeter drainage, as well as other immediate needs. Phase III focused on reconstructing the three historic portions of the complex that had been demolished: the conservatory, the pergola and carriage house.

In 2007, Phase IV renovation work included restoration of the exterior envelope of the Martin House itself, as well as reversal of changes to exterior walls made by the Martins in 1920.
While Phase IV was taking place on the house, our team was named construction manager for the welcome and interpretive center – The Eleanor and Wilson Greatbatch Pavilion in 2008. Designed by Toshiko Mori Architect of New York, the purpose of the center is to provide a visitor support space, exhibition space, permanent galleries and amenities. Completed in 2009, the pavilion added a new landmark to the complex. The project received the 2010 AIA New York Chapter Architecture Honor Award for the project.

In 2010, Phase V began with upgrades to several systems in the Martin House. The main house was integrated into the geo-thermal exchange heating and cooling system, and accessibility was also added. Then, attention turned to the details in 2012 with extensive interior wood trim, plaster, paint finishes and exterior site-work. This highly specialized and detail-oriented work is completing the restoration of the main Martin House to its 1907 appearance. As this work is completing in phases, the extensive collection of original furnishings entrusted to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Bureau of Historic Sites, is being reinstalled in the Martin House according to our Historic Furnishings report. Of the 394 pieces of original art glass, several are being reinstalled including the famed “Tree of Life” window.

Over the course of this project, our team member’s passion for details is evident. Details such as sourcing local craftsmen for bricks, and ensuring the unique head-joint and bed-joint mortar colors are true. Finding river retrieved cypress logs to ensure the era of the wood used for trim matches original circa 1900s materials. Just a few examples over the course of nearly two decades of commitment to this iconic structure.