When I was growing up in Toronto, Buffalo seemed a far away place. To my unsophisticated ear places like “Tonawanda”, “Lackawanna” and “Cheektowaga” just sounded funny and if one were to believe the sage reporting from WKBW Buffalo’s veteran news anchor Irv Weinstein the place seemed to be pretty much perpetually on fire. A few subsequent forays south of the border did little to change my opinion as more often that not they stopped at the outlet malls closer to Niagara Falls than in the city proper. I knew little of the place and felt no need to know more.
The lure of an electronic dance music festival slash black light fashion show and also chicken wings brought Long and I to the city. It was time to update my opinion.
Waking from a deep, blissful and possibly second hand dope smoke induced slumber Long and I sprang to the ready. I had read that Albright Knox gallery had a Monet exhibit on the offer but there were no timed entry tickets left on the Sunday. We decided instead to fill the cultural chapter with a visit to the Martin House Complex, a Frank Lloyd Wright marvel in the Parkside neighbourhood. But first … to eat.
Long had done some research and unearthed the Five Points Bakery.
Housed in the lower west side in what looked like an old barn, the bakery specializes in whole grain breads that are stone ground daily and paired with organic local and seasonal ingredients. There is a cafe adjunct that was devoted to toast, including one version with blue cheese, sour cream, hot sauce and garlic pickle that was created to taste just like the famous Buffalo chicken wings the likes of which we had devoured the night before at the Anchor Bar. Long tried that version while I created my own masterpiece of nutella, homemade strawberry jam and almond butter on thick multigrain slices. It was dessert for breakfast and I hardly needed to finish the house made granola that I ordered. As it was the one of the best granolas I had ever had (which I hitherto did not know was possible) I finished it anyway.
Full to bursting it was time for some culture, but not before a quick stop at Parkside Candy which was conveniently right on the way to the Wright house. One of the many things I did not know about Buffalo is that is is famed for its sponge toffee, and Parkside has been making this delicious confection since 1927. Walking in the front doors was like stepping back in time. They even had a little ice cream parlour! If we had more time and I was a little less stuffed I would have insisted on a float of some kind. I loaded up on some treats for the folks at home and we headed out.
The Parkside area of Buffalo is stunning. Developed by Frederick Law Olmstead in 1897, it is one of the first planned neighbourhoods in the US. The streets were laid out with gentle curves, banked to mimic the hills of the nearby Delaware Park, and structured so that the eye would fall on the trees and grasses of the area rather than along linear streets stretching dauntingly for miles. The Darwin Martin property is nestled on a huge lot and consists of six interconnected buildings. The main Martin House is the sole remaining original building. A spectacular example of Frank Lloyd Wrights’s “Prairie Style” it has been painstakingly restored to its original grandeur, and the landscape architects are currently working to restore the grounds to their original plan.
One of the most remarkable features is a pergola that connects the main house to a conservatory with a majestic statue of Nike holding court at the end.
There are also a carriage house with chauffeur’s quarters and stables, the Barton House (a smaller residence for Martin’s sister and brother-in-law) and a gardener’s cottage on the grounds but none are open to the public.
Indoor photography is forbidden but I found a file photo of the kitchen and the greeting area
The complex contains 394 examples of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed art glass, including the famed “Tree of Life” window.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs defy description. The attention to detail is phenomenal – he designed special eaves troughs with hidden downspouts so as not to interrupt the clean lines of the building exterior. He had the masons hand drag and recess the mortar between the bricks to create a continuous horizontal flow for the walls. He created elaborate venting systems to keep the house warm or cool depending on the season and used variable ceiling heights and trompe l’oeil to give the impression of space and flow through the rooms. It is hard to imagine that kind of craftsmanship in our disposable society.
The gift shop yielded some Christmas options, and I seriously considered buying a membership to the Frank Lloyd Wright foundation. For a reasonable fee you get an umbrella(!) but also free admittance to all of the public Wright buildings in North America. Maybe not this year, but that would make one hell of a road trip …