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Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful

Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo

4-Day Tour

Multi-Day Tour

Friday, August 28, 2020 - 8:00 a.m. to Monday, August 31, 2020 - 9:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1NNBUF
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Interior of Beth Sholom Synagogue in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania; designed by Frank Lloyd Wright; 1959 (Photo: Jay Reed)

At the turn of the 20th century, Buffalo was a prosperous and proud manufacturing and industrial city, drawing national and world attention as the site of the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. Its wealth and prominence attracted major architects for high-profile civic and private projects, including H. H. Richardson, Louis Sullivan, and Daniel Burnham—as well as upstarts like Frank Lloyd Wright, who looked to make his name with his first major office building.

The Larkin Soap Company’s headquarters brought him that recognition, as well as the foundation for a strong and lasting friendship with his most important patron, Darwin Martin. Over the next decades, Wright would go on to produce a series of now-iconic structures in throughout the United States, but he always referred to the Martin House as his opus, which along with his other Buffalo designs have become vital parts of the city’s architectural and cultural history.

Bill Keene, a lecturer in architecture and urban studies, leads this 4-day tour, highlighting significant works by Frank Lloyd Wright and his contemporaries.


Day One

View two Wright works as you travel to Buffalo. Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, a suburb of Philadelphia, was conceived as a “mountain of light” and takes the form of a shimmering glass pyramid that rises to more than 100 feet. The library of the Little House, a 1914 Minnesota lakeside residence that ranks among Wright’s great Prairie Houses, is now installed in the Allentown Art Museum.

Day Two

A bus tour highlights the rich architectural heritage of Buffalo, stopping at and touring many buildings by some of the masters of American architecture. Among them are the Guaranty Building (now the Prudential Building), a pioneering skyscraper by Louis Sullivan; the Buffalo State Hospital, the largest commission of H.H. Richardson’s career, currently being developed as a hotel and history center; the Ellicott Square Building by Daniel Burnham, the largest office building in the world when opened in 1893; and Wright’s exterior of the William Heath House. Lunch is at the Fontana Boathouse, a rowing facility designed by Wright for the University of Wisconsin in 1905, but not built until 2007 in Buffalo on the banks of the Niagara River.

Day Three

At Graycliff, Darwin and Isabel Martin’s summer house overlooking Lake Erie, restoration architect Patrick Mahoney details the history of the light-filled house, created by Wright at the request of Isabel Martin in reaction to the couple’s darker residence in town. At the Pierce Arrow Museum, view an extensive collection of historic automobiles and get an in-depth tour of the Tydol gas station designed by Wright 1927, but not built until 2014 in a special pavilion at the museum. A tour of the 1905 Martin House complex in Buffalo focuses on the work of a $50 million rebuilding and restoration project—using Wright’s original plans—on the two residences, garage, conservatory, and pergola on the site.

Day Four

Begin the day with a guided tour of the Buffalo City Hall, an art deco masterpiece noted for its stunning mosaics, sunburst skylight in the Council Chamber, and stunning view from the observation deck on the 28th floor of its tower. Lunch is at the historic Roycroft Inn, on the East Aurora campus of the Roycrofters, members of an early-20th-century American arts and craft movement devoted to printing, furniture, metal work, and other forms.

This tour includes a good deal of walking and standing.

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*


  • Cost includes bus transportation, lodging, all activities, admissions and fees, gratuities, and meals (3 breakfasts, 4 lunches, and 2 dinners).
  • First-night accommodations at a local hotel in the Elmira/Horseheads area, followed by two nights at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo.
  • Tour departs by bus from the Mayflower Hotel, Connecticut Ave. and DeSales St., N.W., with a pickup stop at I-495 exit 27 carpool lot at about 8:25 a.m.
  • Single-room supplement $355 (factored into the Single Room Member and Single Room Non-Member pricing).
  • Singles registering at the double-room rate are paired (on a nonsmoking basis) if possible, but must pay the single-room supplement otherwise.
  • Detailed information is mailed to registrants about four weeks prior to departure.
  • Registrants may want to consider purchasing trip insurance.

*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.