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Apartments' razing benefits Martin house Last anachronism taken from complex

For the first time since the 1960s, people approaching Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House Complex from Jewett Parkway will soon see the property as the great architect did more than a century ago.

The heavy steel jaws of an excavator bit down Tuesday on the last of three out-of-place apartment buildings next to the historic compound, clearing the way for a visitors center that project leaders expect will begin welcoming tourists by the tens of thousands within a few years.

Though the remaining apartment structure was not on Martin House land, its removal amounts to addition by subtraction -- as vital to the Martin House Restoration Corp.'s vision as the reconstruction of the long-absent pergola and carriage house, now under way.

Those unifying elements in Wright's famous design are going up where the other two beige brick apartment buildings stood for four decades before they were razed in 2001.

Preservationists long regarded the two-story apartments not only as eyesores, but perhaps the worst of many sins committed over the years against Wright's 1904 masterwork.

The rental complex was purchased for $700,000 in 1994 by M&T Bank, The Buffalo News and Rich Products Corp., and then donated to the restoration corporation.

Removal of the third building, northwest of the landmark Martin House, is one of the last steps in the most extensive restoration of a Wright design ever undertaken.

The Martin estate, which besides the main house includes the George Barton House on Summit Avenue and the Gardener's Cottage on Woodward Avenue, is considered one of Wright's greatest masterworks -- and the most complex. Scholars point to it as the place where Wright's early "prairie style" reached its fullest expression.

The $30 million restoration will be substantially completed by summer's end, leaving construction of the $7 million visitors center as the last major step.

Architect Toshiko Mori's innovative design for the center is undergoing some tweaking, and no timetable has been set.

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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