Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Road Trip! Buffalo?

With the weather less than ideal on the mountain for excavating, let along concrete pouring, it was time for a road trip, destination, Buffalo, New York. The business at hand was visiting a stainless steel fabricator we had in mind for our kitchen island countertop. In addition to accomplishing that goal, we ended up being rewarded with two serendipitous encounters.

The route from Upper Valley, New Hampshire, to the New York State Thruway and Buffalo takes you across Vermont. Been there; done that, dozens of times, mostly via the southern route, past Bromley Ski Area. The northern route, using 7 and 4, past Killington and Rutland, we’d taken less often so decided on that one. We were in no hurry, we had a hotel room in Rome, New York, a little more than halfway to Buffalo, and just needed to find a place for dinner.

Once we crossed into New York, we passed a number of stone yards. Being in the market for some stone for the fireplace and foundation facing, on a lark we stopped at Natural Adirondack Stone Company.
Adirondack Natural Stone Company Hawthorne granite.
We struck gold and happened upon the original source of the stone were going to purchase from another supplier. Doug hit it off with the sales rep. and they talked stone for half an hour. They would happily sell and ship it to us without the middle agent. It doesn’t get better than that. Turns out that they procure the stone right there out of the Adirondack mountainside and cut it to size with a Steinex, a high-powered Italian stone splitter (called a guillotine). Now we are thinking up even more uses for the enduring and plentiful natural resource.
We stayed in a Wingate hotel and were able to enjoy a Jacuzzi (membership has its rewards) before seeking dinner in Rome—some good wings and an exceptional (thin) mushroom pizza (washed down with Dogfish Head 8-hour ale from Delaware)—at an unassuming bar and grill called Vigneto’s.
Doug, Kevin, and Ken in the shop with sample of
antique matt stainless. (Photos by author.)
Trumpf fabricating machine. 
Our Buffalo meeting was a success, sitting down with Kevin and Ken from Specialty Stainless, a division of Eskay Metal Fabricating, and watching Frank operate the Trumph CNC machine (German-built, costing $250,000) that uses punches and dies to fabricate with a precision of 5/1000 of an inch. Our counter will be 304L 16-gauge stainless in an antique matt (not too shiny) finish, a marine edge, mounted onto 1 ½” MDF wood with an integrated 20x15x10 prep sink. Yowzah! We’ll be prepping some pretty fabulous meals there.

While we were saying our goodbyes, Ken asked if we had ever seen the Martin House in Buffalo. We hadn’t. Truth is, we had never been to Buffalo, only through Buffalo a zillion times. Serendipity number 2: it is a Frank Lloyd Wright complex of houses currently undergoing major renovation. Who could pass on a FLW house tour? The Martin House, built between 1903 and 1905, is considered one the most important projects from his prairie period (although Buffalo is pretty far from any prairie), on par with Fallingwater and the Guggenheim. The complex consists of six buildings and includes the Martin house, a pergola, conservatory, carriage house with chauffer’s quarter, the Barton house for his sister and brother-in-law, and a gardener’s cottage.

Darwin Martin house, 125 Jewett Parkway, Buffalo.

For 90 minutes our docent shared with the four in our intimate tour facts and design theory about FLW. Rather than listening to his clients about how they envisioned living in a house, he dictated his superior style to their project. (Crazy about horizontal lines, art glass with zinc not lead leading, no visible stairways or radiators. Quite the detail man.) On weekends they pack 24 people per guide so we were lucky to visit on a slow Wednesday. (No photos allowed inside except conservatory.)

The carriage house was converted
into a garage and is now a gift shop.

The conservatory and statue
of Nike of Samothrace.

The house was commissioned by Darwin Martin, an executive of the Larkin Company, a soap manufacturer that branched out into mail order and became a rival to Sears Roebuck. Martin developed a ledger system for keeping track of their customer accounts and moved up the ranks in Larkin. When Martin asked his brother-in-law in Chicago if he could recommend an architect for the company’s headquarters, he suggested FLW. Martin signed him on and also commissioned his own house. When the Larkin Administration Building was completed in 1904, it accommodated a 1,800 corresponding secretaries, clerks, and executives. The red brick and steel structure was air conditioned and had  built-in desk furniture. In the early 1940s, with the company in decline, the city foreclosed on the building for back taxes. The buyer of the property demolished it in 1950 despite protests from the design community around the country. Today a parking lot occupies the land.

Larkin Administration building in foreground;
Larkin factories in background.

Driving around Buffalo today it’s hard to imagine its golden era as a vibrant industrial city. Let’s hope there are some renovations in its future, too.  

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