In 1910, at the age of 43, Frank Lloyd Wright traveled to Europe to present what would become his most beloved collection of structure illustrations: the Wasmuth Portfolio. One of these famous drawings was something Wright called “Boathouse for the University of Wisconsin Boat Club,” which he had first sketched in 1906. More than 25 years later, the architect included this same boathouse in an international exhibition of six of his greatest works. Never constructed in his lifetime, it was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most significant projects that had never come to fruition.
The Frank Lloyd Wright’s Rowing Boathouse Corporation, a 501c(3) corporation, had been formed in 2000, when a group of rowing enthusiasts and Wright aficionados realized that the rights to the design were available, and that the structure could be an important addition to our region.
The group secured the support of Tom Fontana, an award-winning television writer and producer who was born in Buffalo, and whose father, Charles Fontana, was a storied rowing coach at the West Side Rowing Club in the 1950’s. (The boathouse is named in honor of Tom’s parents, Charles and Marie Fontana.)
In 2004 the Rotary Club of Buffalo was next to make a major commitment to the boathouse project, and accepted the challenge to raise $500,000 as a multi-year signature project. The Fontana boathouse sits on “Rotary Park” and is accessed via “Rotary Row,” thanks to the efforts of the Rotary Club of Buffalo.
The club raised money through member pledges, soliciting gifts from local businesses, and its annual “Wines of the World” fundraiser. The third “WOW,” held in 2008, raised more than $34,000 and was enough to put the club “over the top” and secure the naming rights to the boathouse grounds. In May 2008, the Rotary Club of Buffalo celebrated the naming of “Rotary Park.”
In August 2008 Niagara District Council Member David A. Rivera (D-Buffalo) joined members of the Rotary Club of Buffalo, to unveil the renamed city street called Rotary Row which leads up to Rotary Park, site of the Fontana Boathouse. Rivera said, “This newly named city street is to recognize the important work that the Rotary Club of Buffalo has done for the community.”
The boathouse provides a much-needed resource for the West Side Rowing Club, the nation’s largest rowing club. For the past 90 years, the WSRC has provided the Buffalo-Niagara region with access to the sport of rowing. Their high school, college and community programs produce championship crews and have won national recognition: to date, 10 Olympians, 34 U.S. National team members and hundreds of collegiate rowers. The West Side Rowing Club has been able to expand its youth programs to more of Buffalo’s inner city youth.
In addition to being a working boathouse the building is accessible to architectural tourists who desire to tour this building and experience its authentic spaces.
Shown below is the final dedication by President Charles C. Martorana to boathouse president, John Farmelo, on September 16, 2010.