Wednesday, May 27, 2009


It’s like birdwatching -- but with buildings.

So said Mr. Hoo when he emailed me some links re Frank Lloyd Wright in and around Buffalo, NY last week when I was just a few scant hours away in Warren, PA. He suggested that, as long as I was in the neighborhood, I should take an extra day to see a few -- including the tremendous Martin complex right in the city, and Graycliff, also built for the Martins and a brief drive outside the city limits on the shores of Lake Erie.

But my schedule didn’t have any give in it, so I made my plans to return home right after the last of the meetings wrapped up, do what I had to do to ship off some more work, speak to a gathered assembly of creative types in Chicago, and then daytrip into Manhattan the following day.

And then, unforeseen, the last of the meetings canceled, and I was left with *just* enough time to stop by Graycliff on my way to the airport in Buffalo (and perhaps enough time to squeeze in the Martin House in the city, if only it weren’t closed on Tuesdays...).

I squeaked in for the 2 o’clock tour as the docent was corralling the only other folks to materialize -- a couple from Sweden who had taken in the Martin house the day before. Our docent was two unsteady years into her volunteer stint, and delivered the story line like someone who didn’t entirely believe the fiction: “Frank Lloyd Wright carried the octagon through the negative spaces of the facade. (Can you see it? I’ve never been able to see it.)” She was a stern task master, insisting on stopping at the predefined spots on the tour and reviewing her mental notes before we moved on, all three of us eager to get under the eaves.

But we did all right. And we got to see the summer place that Wright built for the Martins sometime in the late ‘20s, which was open and wide and penetrated by clear glass panes throughout -- something that Isabelle Martin insisted upon, given her failing eyesight. (No colored art glass in evidence.)

The central living area opened on both sides to the drive and to the lake shore, the doors and windows alternating in balanced syncopation (the door on the left confronted a window on the right, and vice versa) to minimize strong drafts through the core of the house while still encouraging cooling breezes. It felt very much like the receiving area of Unity Temple, although where that is a place in between the primary spaces (the Sanctuary and the Meeting Hall) this was a place where living took place, rooted in the most impressive Frank Lloyd Hearth I’ve seen to date.

The hearth was flush to the floor and as tall as a standing man -- if that man were Frank Lloyd Wright -- and it was populated, on the day I was there, with thick logs tented together like a traditional campfire. Ablaze I imagine it would light and warm the entire room.

There were echoes of the Heurtley House here -- a screened stairway that led to a long promenade hallway, opening into rooms that overlooked the lake. Settled, refined, surprisingly without ostentation. A place to remove the working world mask and be still awhile.

Something I could use a little more of right now -- if only I didn't have to get back to work.

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