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Final push for Darwin Martin House renovation begins

The ongoing restoration of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House on Jewett Parkway will reach an important milestone in 2016.

A $2.3 million interior restoration on the first floor is expected to start the first week of January and be finished in September.

“This is a benchmark moment in this multiyear, multimillion-dollar restoration effort,” said Mary Roberts, executive director of the Martin House Restoration Corp. “The first floor of the Martin House is one of the most celebrated components of Wright’s design. It’s the highlight of the visitor experience, and we couldn’t be happier to see this work begin and completed in 2016.”

Then comes the work on the second floor, the restoration of the landscape and fabrication of missing art glass windows – at a cost of $4 million – which would complete the renovation of the house.

In a major boost, the Darwin Martin Restoration Corp. announced Wednesday the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation is providing a $100,000 grant from its 2015 Transitional Legacy Program, which will be used to restore the second floor. That brings the total raised for the second floor to $300,000.

“We are extremely grateful for the Wilson Foundation support, and we are confident we will have the second floor funded by 2017,” Roberts said.

On the first floor, intricate moldings and the wisteria mosaic fireplace are being restored, along with other extensive woodwork. Paint finishes throughout the entire floor are being reintroduced, similar to what can be seen in the Junior League/Buffalo News Education Center in the house’s lower level. The work continues to be overseen by HHL Architects, which has guided the restoration since the beginning.

Seven months of woodwork done off site to save time is being completed this month in advance of work inside the Martin House.

“It’s a wonderfully complex jigsaw puzzle, recreating, restoring and, in some cases, recreating everything Wright designed 110 years ago,” Roberts said. “It’s a phenomenal volume of highly elaborate and exquisitely designed wood moldings and trim, which runs throughout the house at floor, midrange and ceiling height, integrated with all the built-in furnishings.”

Unlike the first floor, the majority of the second floor is in off-site areas, away from the primary tour route. Roberts is hopeful the $1.8 million second-floor restoration can begin in phases, starting in Fall 2016, right after the first-floor work is completed.

Bayer Landscape Architects’ schematic and design development work is due to be completed in April. Roberts said the cost to restore the Wright-designed landscape could approach $1 million because of the size of the site and scope of the landscape.

Roberts is hopeful the landscape work can be completed in 2017 – the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth. There will be a major effort to market the Martin House Complex to capitalize on Wright’s anniversary that year, along with special programs with regional partners and nationally, Roberts said.

So far, about $300,000 has been raised for the artscape in private and public funds.

Roberts said there was less urgency in getting the art glass windows done.

More than half of the 400 art glass windows are in the Martin House’s possession.

“We have a significant representation of all of Wright’s major art glass types and patterns, in all the buildings,” Roberts said. “While there is still a large number of art glass windows to be replicated, we will do that on a periodic basis as specific funds become available.”

Roberts put the cost of replacing the windows, and restoring some of them, at $1.8 million.

“Interestingly, we find people like to donate pieces of art glass in honor of others,” she said.

Because of the work on the first floor, the next two weeks will be the last chance for awhile to take the full Martin House tour. The site will be closed from Jan. 1 to Feb. 14. A modified tour will be offered after that through the end of September.