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SOARING PRICES AT WRIGHT WINDOW AUCTION DIMS HOPES OF THOSE DEDICATED TO LOCAL RESTORATION

Four more pieces of Buffalo's Frank Lloyd Wright legacy have changed hands hundreds of miles away, without regard for local efforts to preserve the great architect's imprint.

Two original windows from the Darwin D. Martin House sold for $48,300 and $46,000, and a pair from the William R. Heath House went for $19,500 apiece during Saturday's fall Arts and Crafts sale at Christie's Manhattan auction house.

The sale prices greatly exceeded Christie's catalog estimates of $15,000 to $25,000 each for the Martin House windows and $10,000 to $15,000 each for the Heath House windows.

Neither the sellers nor the buyers were identified.

To preservationists determined to save and restore what remains of Wright's early-20th century work here, the secretive trading in his Buffalo artifacts is distressing.

But at those prices, they say, little can be done to recover hundreds of Wright-designed items that have left town -- legitimately or not -- over the years.

"It's alarming, but there's not a lot we can do about it. They're in private hands," said Jack Quinan, curator of the Martin House and a leading Wright expert. The 91-year-old structure at Jewett Parkway and Summit Avenue is regarded as one of Wright's greatest Prairie-style homes.

"The story is not so much that these windows were sold, but that the increase in market demand might cause us to lose other windows," said John H. Conlin, executive director of the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier.

Conlin's concerns are not baseless.

The Martin House and its remaining original contents are safe from the marketplace. The property is owned by a non-profit group that has undertaken a $20 million restoration of the Martin House and the adjacent Barton House and Gardener's Cottage, also created by Wright.

After paying through the nose to buy back several famous Tree of Life windows that had been spirited away years ago, the Darwin Martin House Restoration Corp. realized it would be cheaper to copy other missing artifacts, or try to persuade the owners to donate them to the cause. On the other hand, the Heath House at Bird Avenue and Soldiers Circle is privately owned.

Nancy Schmid, who purchased the dark-red brick Prairie Style dwelling in 1969, said she would indeed consider selling one or more of about 20 remaining Wright-designed windows -- if the price was right.

"I wouldn't sell any for less than $30,000," she said.

Given the great interest in Wright memorabilia, the market is bound to meet her high expectations sooner or later.

Further dismantling the 1903 Heath House would be a shame, Quinan said, because it was the forerunner of Chicago's Robie House, which he considers Wright's foremost Prairie house.

When some original windows and other artifacts from the Heath House reached the market many years ago, Wright bought them for Taliesen, his Wisconsin estate.

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