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Attention to detail re-creating complex as Wright intended it Distinctive brickwork adorns Martin House

Three long-lost buildings from Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House are beginning to rise from the ground.

Brick by brick.

Nine masons were at work on Wednesday, troweling mortar onto specially kilned golden-yellow bricks to build Wright's 100-foot-long covered pergola. It's being replicated along with his conservatory and carriage house. All three are expected to be completed by mid-summer 2006.

"We're rebuilding history like this exactly like it was done, and the way it stood here a hundred years ago," said foreman Greg Schiltz. "We don't get to do this every day."

"There is great attention to detail on this job," said Jared Hojnowski as he mixed mortar in a tin trough. "I've never been on a job quite like this before."

Project architect Ted Lownie of Hamilton Houston Lownie Architects beamed as he watched Wright's exacting details take shape, down to the two types of mortar the nation's foremost architect selected to emphasize the brick's recessed horizontal joints and the appearance of a straight line.

"What you're seeing is architecture being created in front of your eyes. Real architecture," Lownie said.

The brickwork is the most tangible evidence yet that the dream of full restoration of the Martin House, begun 13 years ago with the formation of the Martin House Restoration Corp., is real. The new phase follows a year of excavation, foundation work and placement of mechanical systems.

Finding a brickmaker wasn't easy. It took nine years and inquiries into companies in five countries before Belden Brick Co. of Canton, Ohio, was chosen for its manufacturing skills in producing the slender, golden-yellow bricks Wright chose a century ago.

"We went through far more trouble than I ever would have anticipated," said John C. Courtin, executive director of the Martin House Restoration Corp. He stood near some of the 50,000 bricks -- half of what will be needed -- now stored on the grounds.

It's expected the completed prairie-style home -- Wright's lone multi-structure residential commission -- will be a tourist magnet.

"This is the only Wright building that's ever been done like this," said Courtin. "There have been buildings he designed that were built after his death, but this is the first time a city has summoned the will to rebuild a lost Frank Lloyd Wright building."

Wright developed the Jewett Parkway residence for wealthy Larkin Soap Co. executive Darwin D. Martin. He designed a summer residence for Martin in Derby that is also under reconstruction.

The Martin house, completed in 1906, changed hands through the years and fell into serious disrepair. The pergola, conservatory and carriage house were demolished about a half-century ago, replaced by apartments that were torn down in 2001.

Other work is going on at the site. While the pergola's brick walls were under construction, concrete finishers were framing the conservatory floor, using light steel beams moved by an excavator. The foundation of the carriage house -- the largest of the three structures, where Martin garaged his horse-and-buggy and later, four Pierce-Arrow automobiles -- was not as far along but will be soon, Courtin said.

It was once hoped the glassed-in, partially submerged Garden Pavilion visitors center would be completed with the Wright buildings, but that's not going to happen. Full funding must be in place before construction can start, and $4 million to $5 million remains to be raised first, Courtin said.

Tours of the Martin House, including the construction area, are available. A Web cam view of the site can also be accessed. For more information, visit www.darwinmartinhouse.org.

e-mail: msommer@buffnews.com

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