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Frank Lloyd Wright in Buffalo – Who knew?

On December 2, 2007
Apparently a lot of people knew that Frank Lloyd Wright virtually began his career as a residential architect in Buffalo, New York but I wasn’t one of them; then I stumbled across an article about a boathouse being built at the West Side Rowing Club from plans FLW had drawn up for the University of Wisconsin more than 100 years ago.  The design appears to have been a Wright favorite and in 1930 he modified the plans so that the Boathouse could be built of concrete rather than stucco; still, it lived as a drawing not a building for another seven plus decades.  Finally in 2000 the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rowing Boathouse Corporation (boy, that just flows off the tongue) was formed to raise funds to bring the plans to life as a working Boathouse on the bank of the Niagara River.

Wright Boathouse
West Side Rowing Club
194 Porter Avenue, Buffalo, NY  14201

Although Wright devotees will recognize many elements of FLW’s Prairie Style, the boathouse incorporates nascent structural components that would be developed throughout the architect’s career.  Other than the change that Wright himself made from stucco to concrete, the plans were not altered – meaning that rowers must angle their long boats in to make it through the doorways.

Front of the Wright Boathouse
on Niagara River, facing the Peace Bridge,
in the distance tiny sails mark the practice of a group of racers

On a quiet Sunday morning I couldn’t investigate the interior of the building but the bright sun, brisk wind and the rich, deep blue sky that colored the river below made the visit invigorating and satisfying nonetheless.  It is immediately evident both why the design was a favorite of Frank Lloyd Wright and why Buffalo was a perfect spot for realizing the concept.  It joins the Blue-Sky Mausoleum as one of two FLW designs erected in Buffalo well after the architect’s death in 1959; neither structure could have been built without the permission of the Frank Lloyd Wright Legacy which guards, preserves and enhances the reputation of Wright.

The Blue-Sky Mausoleum was the last collaboration between Wright and his friend and benefactor, Darwin Martin.  Mr. Martin envisioned the mausoleum as the eternal home for the bodies of his family but, alas, after the Crash of 1929, Mr. Martin died penniless and as he returned to dust in an unmarked grave, the plans for Blue-Sky gathered dust.  Finally built in 2004, the mausoleum is operated by Forest Lawn Cemetery. Forest Lawn describes Blue-Sky as a “destination in its own right” and has nearly sold out of the 24 crypts available as the final resting places of affluent people who don’t mind sleeping forever in a tourist attraction.  On this trip I had to choose between the mausoleum and the complex which holds three of Wright’s first and most fully realized early Prairie homes:

The Martin House

I chose The Martin House complex and, boy, am I glad I did and when you visit again that it exactly where I will be.

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