When Is “Enough Too Much”?

In Buffalo, NY, they like spending money – lots of money – on architectural preservation.

In recent weeks, this Blog has focused on matters of preservation, restoration and conservation.

The Blog’s referents ranged from historical buildings to motion pictures.

And an argument was offered regarding the need for preservationists to (better) articulate “use” and “usefulness for whom” for those things they wish to preserve.

Few quarrel about the concept of preservation. Arguments, sometimes rather animated, though, arise over WHAT is being preserved, for WHOSE benefit and at what COST.

Thus far, more than $50 million has been poured into preservation, conservation and restoration of the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House complex on Jewett Parkway. And the work is not yet completed.

Preservation efforts began in 1992 with the founding of the nonprofit Martin House Restoration Corporation (MHRC) and completion of the project was anticipated for 2009 or 2010.

Another $4 million is required, MHRC reports (as of the present date) on its website, to complete interior restoration and then they’ll be done.

Restoration of the Martin complex is unlikely controversial. Few seem prepared to argue against the architectural and historical merits of the property.

As an aside, a skylight from that structure, removed years and years ago, sold a short while ago (August 3) for $92,000 at a Clarence, NY auction and, this month (December 18), sold again at Sotheby’s in New York for $149,000.

All prices reported above include the “buyer’s premium” charged by the auction houses.

As reported in the Buffalo News (August 3), MHRC “does not bid on items at auction because the organization can replicate pieces at a fraction of the price it would have to pay to win the bidding.”

And so a reproduction skylight was recently (December 7) installed in the Martin house.

According to a New York Times article (December 5), however, the Martin House’s executive director said that if a benefactor bought the skylight at Sotheby’s and returned it to the house, MHRC would install it and sell the reproduction.

Somewhere in here is a lesson.

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