This Buffalo residence helped propel the Midwestern architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, to national recognition. The house, an exemplar of Wright’s early Prairie style, was the first of six interconnected structures built for a unique residential complex known as the Darwin D. Martin House: and the final architectural piece of the estate to be restored. Its completion shines new light on Wright’s Buffalo Venture – one of the most pivotal periods of the architect’s career. The completion of the house launched a new chapter in Wright’s career, earning him the Martin House complex and his first commercial commission.
Visitors can experience the newly restored Barton House, located in Buffalo’s historic Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Parkside neighborhood, via guided tours of the estate. These include a two-hour Martin House Plus tour of the Barton House, Martin House and Gardener’s Cottage, as well as private group tours. The Barton House is also available to rent for private events.
“The restoration of the Barton House not only invites visitors to enjoy and understand its significance as an icon of Wright’s Prairie style but also provides a window into the role of patronage in architecture,” said Martin House executive director Mary Roberts. “With his offering of the Barton House project, Martin gave Wright an opportunity to explore his strengths and creativity free from financial restraints, and its success sparked a long-lasting patron-artist relationship that resulted in some of Wright’s most important built and unbuilt works.”
The Barton House was commissioned by Darwin Martin, a wealthy businessman at the turn of the 20th century who served as corporate secretary of Buffalo’s rapidly expanding Larkin Company. Tasked with finding an architect to design the company’s administrative building, Martin’s attention was drawn to Wright, whose works and reputation at the time were limited to Illinois and his native Wisconsin. Martin hired Wright to create a home for his sister Delta and brother-in-law and fellow Larkin employee George Barton as a test project. Despite a near tripling of the original budget, Wright’s design for the Barton House secured his hire for the Larkin Administrative Building – his first-ever commercial commission – as well as a commission for Martin’s own home and the rest of the Martin House complex. Wright also built homes in Buffalo for two more Larkin Company employees: William R. Heath and Walter V. Davidson.
Almost continuously occupied since its completion in 1903, the Barton House is considered one of the best preserved of any of Wright’s Prairie-style homes, thanks to excellent stewardship by its owners over the years. Wright’s design for the home was an upgraded version of his Joseph J. Walser House in Chicago (1903), with the addition of tile roof, brick veneer and an expanded verandah.
Other buildings in the Martin House estate fared less well over the decades – three were demolished – and in 1992, the Martin House Restoration Corporation (MHRC) was organized to raise funds and oversee restoration of the main residence and eventually the entire estate.
Restoration of the Barton House began in September 2017, based on extensive research and plans produced by HHL Architects, following meticulous standards that encompassed both mechanical upgrades (updated HVAC, electrical and security systems) and cosmetic restoration, inside and out. Restored architectural elements include replaced stucco eaves, masonry and chimney repairs, restoration of the verandah wood floor, the repair and replacement of original plaster, refinishing of all interior woodwork and built-in cabinetry, rewiring and repair of original light fixtures, and minor art glass restoration. The house retains 100% of its original windows, which were installed inside out when first built and remain inside out to maintain the integrity of the restoration.
Today, the Barton House stands as a testament to the importance of historic restoration and preservation, providing visitors a chance to experience a significant early work of Wright’s that set the brilliant architect on a trajectory to international renown.