|The Larkin Company is Buffalo’s
connection to Frank Lloyd Wright
and the Roycroft Movement.
The Larkin Legacy
The executives of the historic, Buffalo-based Larkin Company were central to a
remarkable story of ingenuity and innovation that led to great architecture by Frank
Lloyd Wright and a community of art crafters at the Roycroft Campus. These "men of
American business", as Wright called his clients, pioneered a mail-order soap dynasty
that provided "premiums," household items and furnishings, as incentives for bulk
purchasing. They were also catalysts for an extraordinary legacy of architecture and art in
Western New York.
In 1902, one of John Larkin’s employees, Darwin D. Martin, introduced Frank Lloyd
Wright to Larkin. Darwin Martin suggested that John Larkin commission Frank Lloyd
Wright to design an attractive office building amidst his industrial enterprise. In his
groundbreaking design for the Larkin Building, Wright pioneered the use of natural
light, fresh air, and structural framework. It set a new standard in the design of corporate
offices. Wright’s numerous innovations contributed significantly to the objective of
designing a clean and comfortable building. Inside was a beautiful work setting, filled
with natural light and fresh air. Clean air was distributed throughout the sealed interior
of the building from an innovative air-conditioning system in the basement. Metal office
furniture, built-in file cabinets, wall-hung toilets, and a gracious restaurant and
conservatory are all design innovations that contributed to the ambiance of the building
and were featured as part of daily factory tours.
Today the Larkin Administration Building is universally regarded as a landmark in the
development of modern architecture. Completed in 1906, it was an imposing, modern
structure of brick and sandstone. Its unadorned exterior surfaces were shaped according
to the individualized functions they enclosed. For instance, the pair of forward towers
contained stairways and air-instake shafts for the air cleaning system. The articulation of
the side elevations was a direct expression of the structural framework of the building.
Unfortunately, Wright’s first commercial project, the Larkin Administration Building,
was demolished in 1950.
Darwin Martin also commissioned Wright to design two residences for his own use the
Darwin Martin House Complex (1904) on Jewett Parkway in the City of Buffalo
(above left) and Graycliff (1904), an estate in Derby, NY with sweeping views of Lake Erie (above right).
Larkin Company executive Elbert Hubbard
and brother-in-law of John D. Larkin left the company in 1892
and began to develop the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, NY in 1897. Hubbard, an author, lecturer, and
entrepreneur, became one of the founders of the Arts and Crafts Movement, a significant cultural movement
that influenced the nation. In the late 1800’s, an artistic revolt emerged in the United States against the
societal changes and restrictions ushered in by the Victorian Age. The Campus in East Aurora became a mecca
for master artisans and a gathering place for notable artists, authors, philosophers, and power brokers. The
Roycroft Campus is the best-preserved and most complete complex of buildings remaining in the United
States of the “guilds” that evolved in the United States as centers of artisanship and philosophy.