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A Warm-Up for Fallingwater

An ambitious restoration sheds light on the beauty of a Lake Erie estate by Frank Lloyd Wright.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Graycliff (1929).
Courtesy Graycliff/Pat Mahoney
By Hilarie M. Sheets

For architecturally minded travelers, a visit to Frank Lloyd Wright's Graycliff, an estate perched seventy feet above Lake Erie, just outside Buffalo, offers a tantalizing glimpse of two masterpieces in the distance: Niagara Falls on the one hand and Wright's tour de force, Fallingwater, on the other.

The country retreat of businessman Darwin Martin and his wife, Isabelle, Graycliff was commissioned in the mid-1920s from Wright, who had already designed the Martins' Buffalo house ( Though an excellent example of Wright's Prairie style, the city residence was too dark for Isabelle, whose vision was failing; she demanded more natural light and cooling breezes in the house at the spectacular lakefront site.

Not always attentive to his clients' desires, Wright paid heed in this case and was inspired — going on to create a series of cantilevered terraces and generous windows framing views of the lake. He was clearly warming up for Fallingwater, built some seven years later in rural Pennsylvania.

While Graycliff suffered ignominiously after Isabelle's death, in 1945, the Graycliff Conservancy has recently undertaken an ambitious restoration. The exterior is complete, and though work on the interior continues, rooms visited on public tours are hung with photographs showing their original contents — opening a fascinating window on the future while generating revenues for the process itself.

Published on 7/30/2008


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