ESD Announces Groundbreaking for New Visitor Center at Graycliff Estate

Visitor centers can be essential components to architecturally significant campuses. They can vastly add to the overall experience of visitors, by providing them with a place to get grounded and acclimated, while preparing for the adventure before them.

With that in mind, Empire State Development (ESD) has announced that the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Graycliff Estate will be adding a new visitor center to its grounds. The new 4,400 square foot, state-of-the-art building will help to tell the illustrious story of the recently renovated historic home and surrounding 8-acre site. Ultimately, the structure will be beneficial to telling the story of Darwin and Isabelle Martin’s renowned summer home on Lake Erie.

Graycliff was designed in 1926 by Frank Lloyd Wright, and built between 1927-1929 for Isabelle R. Martin, wife of industrialist Darwin Martin, as a summer home for the family on the bluffs above Lake Erie.

According to ESD, the project includes a complete renovation and expansion of the existing visitor center building that will significantly increase Graycliff’s capacity to offer additional and year-round programming, events, and amenities for the steadily growing base of visitors, as well as support staff and volunteers in a variety of ways.

Photographs of the Graycliff Estate restoration project – A new landscaping plan involves restoring “historic plant life” including an orchard and vegetable garden, while providing landscaped pathways from the parking lot to the visitor center.

“The magnificent Frank Lloyd Wright properties are an important part of New York’s rich architectural heritage and scenic beauty. The Graycliff Visitor Center project builds upon Governor Hochul’s efforts to grow the tourism economy in New York by supporting and expanding our unique destinations,” said ESD President, CEO and Commissioner Hope Knight. “Thanks to investment from New York State, along with many individuals and charitable foundations, the new Visitor Center will complement the completed Graycliff restoration projects and add to the number of sightseers drawn to Western New York from across the state and around the world.”

The Graycliff conservancy tapped SITU, a Brooklyn-based architectural firm working with HHL Architects of Buffalo, to design the building and exhibition space. Bayer Landscape Architecture, located near Rochester, will design the landscaping.

New York State Council on the Arts Executive Director Erika Mallin said, “We are grateful to Governor Hochul and the Legislature for their support. These projects are essential to the prosperity and well-being of our creative industry and our communities, especially as we continue to navigate the recovery of our creative sector. This support will help stimulate local economies, catalyze investment in our communities and help to ensure the vibrancy of our cultural organizations for now and for the future. Congratulations to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff, NYSCA is a proud supporter of your contributions to New York’s arts and culture.”

The Visitor Center project is being made possible thanks to $1.25 million from the New York State Council on the Arts, $1 million from Empire State Development, and more than $1 million from the New York Power Authority. 

The eight and a half-acre Graycliff property now looks as it did when it was enjoyed by the Martin family in the 1930s.

“Buffalo and Western New York have long been a destination for architectural tourism, and it has become an increasingly significant contributor to our local economy,” said Senator Sean M. Ryan, who recently added $300,000 to an earlier award of $250,000 to help bridge the funding gap and ensure a groundbreaking for the Visitor’s Center. “Our region is home to a wide variety of internationally recognized architectural gems, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Graycliff is one of our region’s most beloved historic cultural assets, drawing admirers from around the world. The new Visitor Center will help Graycliff provide an even more memorable experience to the estate’s many visitors each year. I was proud to support this project in its early days and look forward to seeing the finished product.”

Overall, the $4 million multipurpose addition:

Leverages an existing concrete block gymnasium building that was built by the Piarist Fathers, who purchased the site in the 1950s.

The former gymnasium serves as the current visitor center, and in the new design it will be upgraded to house an expanded gift shop, ticketing area, exhibit space, an indoor-outdoor cafe doubling as an event space, an administration area that includes a docent lounge and restrooms.

Extending outward from the original structure, an open, light-filled lobby space creates a new face for the building and center for rotating exhibits, workshops, lectures, presentations, special events, and meetings.  

Graycliff Estate Executive Director Anna Kaplan said, “This is a success story made possible by true community commitment. The project is absolutely critical to Graycliff and could not be happening at a better time. The Visitor Center will greatly impact our ability to not only showcase this remarkable regional asset, but to be a dynamic community partner.”

SITU Founding Partner Basar Girit said, “We are very excited to be part of the team shaping the next chapter of this historic site. Our design for the new Visitor Center seeks to augment the original Wright and Shipman vision with a contemporary approach guided by programmatic flexibility and environmental sustainability. The highly adaptable architecture is deeply integrated into the landscape in order to stimulate opportunities for indoor and outdoor programming. We are confident that the Visitor Center will continue to allow for Graycliff to be a vibrant cultural destination in the region for decades to come.”

Graycliff Conservancy Board President Charles LeFevre said, “The recent significant New York State funding added to major commitments backed by Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz—an initial $500,000 in Erie County cultural capital project support supplemented by $250,000 directed by the office of Legislator John Mills. Private support from The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, The Baird Foundation, East Hill Foundation, Thomas Hagen, The M&T Charitable Foundation, The Walter E. Schmid Family Foundation, and many others has also been committed.”

A groundbreaking for the new visitor center is being planned for the fall of 2024, with a completion date in 2026 – aptly timed to celebrate the centennial anniversary of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design for the property.

To experience Graycliff in its fully restored glory and to reserve your place on a tour, visit or call (716) 947-9217. 

The post ESD Announces Groundbreaking for New Visitor Center at Graycliff Estate appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

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