New musical honors Frank Lloyd Wright

ARCHITECTURE

`Renewing' tells of lasting friendship

February 23, 2004|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

First, Louis Kahn. Now, Frank Lloyd Wright?

A theater company in Amherst, N.Y., is mounting a musical about Wright, one of America's most famous architects.

Renewing Wright will debut at the MusicalFare Theater in suburban Buffalo on March 4, less than six months after the debut of My Architect, a full-length motion picture about Kahn, one of Wright's contemporaries.

The musical tells the story of Wright's 32-year friendship with Buffalo businessman Darwin Martin, whose years of financial support played a pivotal role in saving Wright's career.

Martin was chief executive officer of the Larkin Co., a manufacturing and retail giant at the start of the 20th century. Martin commissioned Wright to design three homes for himself and his family in Buffalo and a headquarters for the Larkin Co., Wright's first public commission and the building that brought him international acclaim.

Renewing Wright makes the point that without Martin's patronage, Wright may never have stayed in business long enough to create such masterpieces as Fallingwater, the Johnson Wax Building and the Guggenheim Museum.

"Martin went far beyond what Wright's other clients did in terms of supporting him financially," said playwright Randall Kramer, who reviewed hundreds of letters between the two men as part of his research. "Some of the things Martin did to help Wright have been noted in Wright biographies, but for the most part ... Martin has gotten short shrift. This musical aims to change that."

Kramer also serves as artistic director of MusicalFare Theater, on the campus of Daemen College. The musical runs there five times a week through April 4. It also will be performed on June 11 and 12 at Graycliff, the summer home Wright designed for Martin in Derby, N.Y., 25 miles outside Buffalo. It complements several other activities under way in Buffalo by people who want to protect and promote Wright's legacy there, including restoration of both the Darwin D. Martin House and Graycliff, and construction of a Wright-designed gas station, boat house and Martin mausoleum.

Wright has been the subject of several plays, including Geometry of Miracles by Robert LePage and Work Song: Three Views of Frank Lloyd Wright by Eric Simonson and Jeffrey Hatcher. There has also been an opera, Shining Brow by Daron Aric Hagen and Paul Muldoon.

Kramer calls Renewing Wright the first "traditional musical" about the architect. In addition, he said, the performances at Graycliff will mark "the first time that a production about Wright will be staged with one of the buildings he designed as a backdrop."

Odorite hearing

The University of Baltimore's plan to demolish the Odorite building at Maryland and Mount Royal avenues in Mount Vernon to make way for a $13.9 million student center will be presented at a public hearing starting at 9 a.m. Friday in the Hughes conference room at the Maryland Department of Transportation, 7201 Corporate Center Drive in Hanover.

The hearing will be held by the Maryland Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, a group of state agency chiefs and private citizens established 18 years ago to resolve preservation-oriented disputes between state agencies. This will be the council's first meeting.

The university's leaders have argued that the vacant Odorite building, constructed in 1915 as a showroom for the Monumental Motor Car Co., is not large enough to house all the functions they want the student center to contain.

The Maryland Historic Trust contends that the university has not adequately explored "prudent and feasible alternatives" to demolition.

A preservation advocacy group called Baltimore Heritage recently commissioned a study by Davis Buckley Architects and Planners and Clark Construction showing that the Odorite building could be retained and expanded in a way that gives the university all the student center features it wants for the same cost or less than all-new construction.

The advisory council is expected to hear testimony about the Odorite building from representatives of the university and the Trust as well as others. It also will consider whether the university's proposed design is appropriate for the site, part of the Mount Vernon historic district and a Baltimore City Certified Heritage Area.

New York memorial

Seventy-two individuals or groups from Maryland are among the 5,201 groups that submitted designs for a New York memorial to honor those killed in terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and Feb. 26, 1993.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corp., which sponsored a design competition last year for the site of the former World Trade Center towers and announced a winner in January, has posted all of the entries at www.wtcsitememorial.org.

Among the entries from Maryland are proposals from Patricia Holbrook and William May, Robert Tennenbaum, Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, Bernard Wulff, and six employees from the Baltimore office of RTKL Associates.

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