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Monroe Fordham Center Publishes Pioneering Work on Graycliff Estate

Posted: November 8, 2007
While much has been published about the work of Frank Lloyd Wright in Western New York, one commission—the Graycliff estate—has remained, for the most part, off the radar. That will change this month when the first book on the subject, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff: Architecture as Sacred Space, makes its debut.

The 122-page book, written by Paul Lubienecki, Monroe Fordham Regional History Center Fellow and Buffalo State alumnus (M.A. ’06), and published by the Monroe Fordham Center, is unique in both perspective and subject. Lubienecki examines how nature, family, and theology blend in the architecture of the 1920s mansion, which was commissioned by Darwin and Isabelle Martin as their summer residence overlooking Lake Erie in Derby, N.Y. The Martin’s Buffalo residence, also designed by Wright, has been well documented.

“The book is more than a chronicle of a house, its designer, and owners,” said Lubienecki. “The purpose is to show how three influences—Wright’s spiritualism; the Martin’s family values; and the second owners’, the Piarist Fathers’, theology—are harmonized and celebrated in the design, layout, and materials.”

The Graycliff estate is one of six buildings designed by Wright in the Buffalo area. After serving as the Martin’s summer residence, the 6,500-square-foot mansion and property with breathtaking views of Lake Erie was sold in 1951 to the Order of the Piarist Fathers, refugees from communist Eastern Europe, who made it their home. As the estate proved too much to maintain, the fathers were forced to put it on the market in 1997. In 1998, the Graycliff Conservancy Inc. rescued the property from the fate of a developer and has been leading the restoration ever since. In 2005, a historic 18-ton sgraffito mural was transported from the estate to Buffalo State College, where it was installed on the north side of E. H. Butler Library, facing Caudell Hall.

Lubienecki began researching the estate in January 2006 as part of his master’s thesis in history. Cynthia Conides, associate professor of history and social studies education, encouraged him to turn the paper into a book. The Edwin Mellen Press, in Lewiston, N.Y., offered to publish it; however, E. O. Smith, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor of history and social studies education, insisted that it be a Buffalo State book. The book is the third to be published by the Monroe Fordham Center.

“I was delighted with this encouragement and support,” said Lubienecki, explaining that the Lewiston publisher envisioned a $100 coffee table book, whereas the Monroe Fordham Center saw it as a valuable resource that should be attainable by everyone. The book retails for $21.95 and is available from the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society Museum, the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, the Graycliff Conservancy, and the Darwin D. Martin House Complex.

Lubienecki was born and raised near Philadelphia, Pa.; attended St. Joseph’s Preparatory High School, in Princeton, N.J.; and received his undergraduate degree in history from Temple University. He relocated to Western New York several years ago in pursuit of career interests.

For more information, please visit the Graycliff Conservancy Web site or call (716) 947-9217.
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