Bakersfield attorney Fidel Martinez was just a baby in 1961 when a home designed by iconic architect Frank Lloyd Wright a few years earlier was completed for the late Dr. George Ablin and his family. As the Ablins' home — one of the last residential commissions of Wright, located on a private, gated, lushly landscaped 1.5 acre hilltop above the sixthth fairway of Bakersfield Country Club's golf course — it gained prominence as the only Wright design in the area, Martinez said, "I promised myself one day I would have a house like the designs I saw in the books."
He kept that promise. Eight years ago Martinez, his wife, Karen, and their two children moved into his Wright-inspired dream home in Stockdale Estates in Bakersfield. Designed by Salt Lake City architect David Cassil and built by Kirk Wagner, the property took three years of drafting and another year under construction. The 3,800-square-foot house feels as much "modern art gallery" as it does homage to the man considered to be the 20th century's greatest architect who revolutionized art and design. "My brother once said I am the luckiest person he knows because I wake up every day in a piece of art," Martinez says. The sprawling home features a sunken music room, two-story library and triangular pool. From the pattern on the stained front door and its matching master bedroom quilt to a miniature house for the family's dog and an even smaller one for the birds, Frank Lloyd Wright's creativity is alive and well in every detail of the Martinez home.
Wright was considered the father of "organic architecture," whose appreciation for the beauty of native materials developed into an insistence that buildings grow naturally from their surroundings. By bringing the outdoors in, Wright was "breaking" the trapped-in-a-home-as-a-big-box concept with details such as miter windows and triangular features large and small, creating horizontal homes — linear in-flow and minimalist in-clutter. Long before the "great rooms" of tract homes, Wright's open plan featured rooms that flowed out into each other as naturally as the materials he used in them.
"He wanted to develop a true American architecture," Martinez says of the designer he never met, yet knows perhaps better than anyone else in the area.
Within the Martinez house's maple library are more than a hundred books and reference materials on the legendary architect. Over the years Martinez's interest in Wright has gone from that of curious fan to expert caregiver of the Wright stuff. He is considered a valuable local resource for other residents hoping to replicate the Prairie/California look in their landscaping and home plans. Fidel Martinez recently visited Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, considered the most famous house ever designed by Wright for non-royalty.
After his parents died, Realtor Robin Ablin listed the family home for $1.9 million. The wide expanse of 3,360 square feet of exposed concrete block, glass walls, and cypress and Philippine mahogany woodwork was based on a diamond module. In the marketing literature at the time, the Ablin House was described as an unusually spacious and livable home, ideal for executive entertaining or raising a family. Indeed it was. "It was a house, like any house," Ablin says of growing up in the renowned residence. "To us it was normal." But something rubbed off on him, and today he has a personal interest and appreciation for modern architecture. "I have an affinity for modern Wright-style architecture. I was lucky to be exposed to it." The home was purchased by a Los Angeles businessman a couple years ago for an undisclosed amount.
The Martinez house has the same spacious feel as the former Ablin residence. As veneration to his architectural idol, Fidel Martinez's window and door frames are in Wright's favorite color: red. Floors are green slate and maple, and modern Shaker-style solid maple cabinetry hang over sleek slabs of granite. Other signature Wright styles include indirect lighting and a two-story mantel-less fireplace. The library is essentially a room within a room, the center of the house, yet with clear views of the yard through the miter windows of the music room. Cantilevers project out over the home's vast patios.
If it was a Wright gallery effect they wanted, the Martinez family nailed it. "It is more like a living museum. It has always been real comfortable, the way things flow. Inside it is still cozy," Karen Martinez says. Her collection of children's book illustrations line the hallway walls of the master suite wing, along with other notable artwork. "I love architecture and design," Fidel Martinez enthuses. The fascia of the house has three steps, a motif repeated on all the cabinetry as well.
While the Martinez house is one of the most exacting in Wright duplication, it isn't the only area home and office to be inspired in some way by the famed designer.
Before local attorneys Jim and Kathleen Faulkner moved into their home at 21st and B streets in downtown Bakersfield, the large rambling home looked more like Wright's rural Wisconsin than modern California. The Faulkners relied on Cassil to give their home the modern facelift Frank Lloyd Wright surely would have approved. Other similarly inspired residences can be found in La Cresta, on Silver Drive in Northeast Bakersfield, South Oleander, and in the Westchester section of downtown.