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Graycliff, Wright on the Lake


Graycliff, Wright on the Lake
Derby, New York

On a narrow, windswept 8.5-acre property 70 feet above Lake Erie, Frank Lloyd Wright designed Graycliff, a summer retreat for friends and patrons Darwin D. and Isabelle R. Martin, between 1926 and 1928 with continued work through 1930.  In a unique sequence, Wright’s late-Prairie Style architecture was complemented and completed by the landscape designs of Ellen Biddle Shipman between 1929 and 1931. The result was a modernist landscape where the house and landscape were designed together to create a unified character. Landscape changes and architectural additions characterized the property when the Graycliff Conservancy formed to steward and restore the retreat in 1997.  As part of a phased restoration, Heritage Landscapes was selected to prepare a Cultural Landscape Report & Treatment Plan to address historical evolution period plans, existing conditions, current use and maintenance, analysis of integrity, and treatment exploration. Deterioration and partial loss of the historic sunken esplanade, integrated bench, and beach access tower directed toward LIDAR, light detection and ranging laser imaging, to study the cliff and consider intervention.

The Graycliff Cultural Landscape Report & Treatment Plan thoroughly documents the evolution of the  landscape as originally designed by Wright, augmented by Shipman, and continually used by generations of the Martin family. Using research findings, Heritage Landscapes analyzed current conditions and character against historical conditions and captured current use and maintenance efforts. The findings indicated that while the overall integrity of the landscape is moderate, the landscape is well documented and enhanced historic character and details can be obtained. Recommended landscape restoration focuses on 1931 as the target date to recapture the unique modernist intersection of Wright’s organic architecture, Shipman’s planting designs, and the Martin family’s personal touches. The historical and analytical breadth of the project work culminated in detailed landscape preservation treatment recommendations. Restoration of the historic designed landscape to the Martin/Wright/Shipman Period targeting the year 1931 encompasses a unique and unsurpassed combination of Wright’s foundational landscape design and Shipman’s planting designs. Clear guidance for restoring the Graycliff landscape to the historic landscape character of the summer retreat during the early 1930s is provided through target areas of phased implementation. The Graycliff Conservancy has begun restoration of the Graycliff landscape based on project recommendations. The Graycliff Cultural Landscape Report & Treatment Plan will continue to serve as a resource document and reference in future restoration efforts.

Graycliff Conservancy

Graycliff Cultural Landscape Report & Treatment Plan, 2004-2008

Project Credits:
Heritage Landscapes, Preservation Landscape Architects & Planners