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Amherst's newest landmark described as a 'second-generation Frank Lloyd Wright'

Amherst's newest local landmark has impressive lineage.

The house at 895 North Forest Road was inspired by Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece in Pennsylvania completed in 1937. And it was designed by Sebastian Tauriello, an architect who acquired the Wright-designed Darwin Martin House in Buffalo in 1955 and is widely credited with saving it from the wrecking ball.

The Amherst home was built in 1941 and 1942 for Howard F. Stimm, a prominent civil engineer who built railroads and bridges, including one of the Grand Island bridges, said his son, Kean.

"We always considered the house to be a second-generation Frank Lloyd Wright house," he said.

The home is a rare local example of the International style of architecture, which emerged in the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, said Megan Brinton, chairwoman of the Amherst Historic Preservation Commission. It is noted for its flat, cantilevered roof and balcony, unornamented wall surfaces, bands of windows and asymmetrical style, she said during a presentation last week to the Town Board.

"It's a beautiful, very interesting building," Brinton told the Town Board, which voted to designate the Stimm House as a local landmark.

The home is also believed to be one of the first in the country to use radiant heating via pipes in the floors and ceilings. The heating system was designed by Raymond Viner Hall, whose father, Walter, was the head contractor for Fallingwater, said Brinton.

"There are no radiators visible in the house, no vents," she said. "It's all in the floors and the ceilings."

In her research, Brinton found that the heating system was featured in the October 1943 issue of Heating and Ventilating Journal.

"All floors have been reported to be quite comfortable to touch or stand on, irrespective of whether they were wood floors with carpeting or tiled floors in the dining room and kitchen," the article stated. "This was true even during severe weather, when the water circulating in the coils reached its highest peak."

Wrought iron pipes were used for their corrosion resistance, said Kean Stimm, who helped build the house as a 17-year-old "laborer's helper" in 1941. The original heating system continues to operate today, although the original anthracite coal boiler was swapped for one that runs on natural gas.

"Even to this day there doesn't appear to be any corrosion to those iron pipes," said Stimm, CEO of Kean Wind Turbines in Amherst.

Mark Rivard, a neighbor and member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, said he was amazed to learn about the home's background.

"I can appreciate the radiant floor heating, simple things like that that are pretty common now," he said. "I like the design. I can just see architectural tours going through there, which a lot of people come to town to tour Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan's masterpieces. I can see this on the tour."

The home was an early design by Tauriello, who opened his practice in 1943 and also designed St. Leo's Elementary School in Amherst and the Niagara branch of the Buffalo library, which opened in 1957. Tauriello's design for a home on Washington Highway in Cheektowaga was featured in a 1945 issue of Architectural Forum.

Tauriello was so influenced by Wright that he purchased the Martin House from the City of Buffalo for back taxes in 1955 and based his architecture practice there.

"It had been vacant for many years before he bought it," Brinton said. "He's credited by many people for saving it."

But to survive financially and maintain the Martin House, he sold the rear part of the property, which included the 80-foot long pergola, conservatory and carriage house. They were demolished and in their place rose three ugly two-story apartment buildings that blemished the site for 20 years.

The pergola, conservatory and carriage house were rebuilt in recent years as part of a $50 million restoration. Tauriello died in 1966.

Extravagant fireplace completes Darwin Martin House's first-floor restoration

As for the Stimm House, its current owners know it as the "Selah House," a biblical term meaning "rest."

Zion Dominion Global Ministries in 2005 purchased the Worship Center on the 13½-acre grounds for $2 million and with it came the house.

"It's probably the coolest house I've been associated with, by far," said Calvin Redmond, Zion's facilities manager.

The feature of the home he likes most are the curved walls and tiled floor of the dining room. He also admires the home's concrete-and-steel construction, which Stimm specified when he had it built. Stimm wanted the home to be fireproof, after experiencing a fire at his previous home. It was also built to withstand the flood waters of Ellicott Creek, which flows about 100 feet behind the home.

"It's basically like a reinforced bunker," said Redmond.

Decorative floor in a dinning area off the kitchen in the Selah/Stimm home on North Forest Road in Amherst. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Construction was nearing completion in late 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered World War II. There was immediate rationing of concrete and steel for the war effort, Kean Stimm recalled.

"Very fortunately my dad had everything on order at that time so he was allowed to continue building the house and finish it in early 1942," he said.

Even the roof is poured concrete. "I was told you can drive a Mack Truck across the roof and it would hold it," he said. "It's that solid."

Today, the house is sound structurally, but in need of some cosmetic work. Zion Dominion mainly uses the home for parties, such as showers, and meetings while it searches for a permanent use.

The church recently had painting and carpeting of the interior done, and has plans to paint the exterior and update the kitchen and bathrooms.

As a local landmark, any exterior changes, including total or partial demolition, would need to be approved by the town Historic Preservation Commission to ensure they are done properly, said Brinton.

It would also be eligible for grants, and being locally designated shows a good faith effort by owners to be sensitive to a structure's historic status, she said.

"Someone pointed out that house to me on a walk and that it was historic," said Rivard, the neighbor. "I had no idea it was this historic."

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