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Courtin to leave Martin House post after eight years

With the Darwin Martin House well along the path toward its rebirth as a Frank Lloyd Wright tourism mecca, the man who guided the restoration for the past eight years is stepping aside.

John C. Courtin, executive director of the Martin House Restoration Corp., said Tuesday he will leave later this year to become president of Friends of Acadia, a volunteer organization dedicated to preserving Acadia National Park and surrounding communities on Mount Desert Island, Maine.

His wife, Sharon, who is executive director of Frank Lloyd Wright's Rowing Boathouse Corp., and their three children will go with him.

"When you are in a role such as mine, you have a special responsibility to manage your own tenure," said Courtin, 57. "You know better than anybody the things you do best. What I did was the early-stage organizing -- gathering volunteers, staff and board members. And if you do things right, you sort of work yourself out of the job."

The project now needs someone with the skill to trumpet the 1906 Martin House, one of Wright's early triumphs, to the fast-growing architectural and heritage tourism trade, he said. "It needs to be marketed nationally and internationally."

The organization has achieved or nearly achieved the strategic goals set out when he quit his law practice to become executive director in 1998, said Courtin, who in 1992 had been among the group's incorporators and founding directors. Among the challenges that have been met:

* Raising more than $35 million to save and restore the main house and other buildings in the complex on Jewett Parkway that Wright designed for Buffalo industrialist Darwin D. Martin and his family in the early 1900s.

* Clearing the way for the return of the long-missing pergola, conservatory, carriage house and other elements of Wright's design by buying three apartment buildings that were erected on the property in the 1950s. The last of those structures is due to be razed next month, and the substantially restored complex is expected to officially open in July.

* Finding an emerging architect to design a visitor center that will complement Wright's vision for the prairie-style complex. New York City-based Toshiko Mori won the design competition with her plan for an unobtrusive, glass-walled garden pavilion to be built near the main house. Construction preparations are nearing completion, Courtin said.

"From a structural point of view, the project is really approaching the point of completion," he said, adding that the Martin House board, staff and volunteer corps are "stronger than ever."

Howard Zemsky, who recently stepped down after five years as chairman, said Courtin "devoted himself to this project with boundless energy from Day One. His tenure was filled with accomplishment."

Courtin had expected to remain in Buffalo until the opportunity in Maine arose. "Sharon and I have always had a special spot in our heart for Acadia," a mountainous 47,000-acre preserve on the rugged Atlantic coast near Bar Harbor, he said.

Though the National Parks Service is in charge, federal budget cuts have made Friends of Acadia an important ally in protecting the park and its surroundings, Courtin said. The 20-year-old group faces some of the same challenges that the Martin House group confronted when he arrived.


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