In 1871 speculative developer Silas M. Styles erected three Italianate-style rowhouses at Nos. 22 through 26 East 78th Street. Although only 15-feet and two bays wide, they were intended for upper middle class families.
High brownstone stoops with stone newels and railings rose to the entrances, nestled within columned porticos with classical pediments. Matching triangular pediments crowned the parlors windows. The openings of the upper stories wore architrave frames and molded cornices. The bracketed cornices stopped just short of touching one another.
|No. 24 is to the left in this April 1919 photograph (the stoop of No. 26 has already been removed). photo by Wurts Bros. from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York|
The center residence, No. 24, became home to the Martin Delaney family. Delaney and his wife, Carrie suffered the death of their son, Charles on December 30, 1875. The little boy would have turned five years old in January. His funeral was held in the house on New Year's Day, 1876.
By 1892 William Augustus Boyd owned No. 24. A Columbia University educated attorney, he held the post of Corporation Attorney of New York City until 1889. He and his wife, the former Adeline Todd Speaight, had six daughters--Adeline Virginia, Beatrice Speaight, Addie Storm, Natalie Graham, Leontine Augusta and Constance Chauncey. On May 9, 1894 a son, Gansevoort Melville, was born. The family's summer estate was in Larchmont, New York.
On February 3, 1899 Adeline placed an advertisement in The New York Times looking for a new cook for the 78th Street house that included a specific detail: "Competent cook; city reference required; Swede preferred."
By now Virginia and Beatrice had been introduced to society. Adeline's entertainments therefore became a cooperative effort. On February 5, 1899 The New York Times announced "Mrs. William A. Boyd and her daughters, Miss Virginia and Miss Beatrice Boyd. 24 East Seventy-eighth Street, have issued cards for a reception on Saturday, Feb. 11, from 4 until 7."
About a week following that event, Adeline contracted a cold. It developed into pneumonia and she died suddenly on February 25. Her funeral was held in the drawing room where socialites had so recently gathered. She was 49-years old.
The family continued its mourning in their country home. On July 22, 1899 a small newspaper, City of New Rochelle, reported "William A. Boyd and the Misses Boyd of No. 24 East Seventy-eighth street, are spending the season at Larchmont Manor." Two months earlier Boyd had placed an advertisement in the New-York Daily Tribune seeking a cook for Larchmont. Like Adeline had been, he was specific about the servant's ethnicity. "Cook--Japanese as first-class cook on yacht...wages $45 up."
With the help of a competent staff, William A. Boyd admirably managed on the duties of a single father of seven. And he seems to have given his older daughters monitored independence. On July 4, 1903 the New York Herald reported that he and "the Misses Boyd" had gone "to their country place at Larchmont," however "Miss Beatrice Boyd will pass the summer in Europe."
The 78th Street house was the scene of the wedding of Adeline Virginia Boyd to William West Shaw on April 30, 1904. Beatrice was her sister's maid of honor. In reporting on the event the New-York Tribune mentioned that Adeline "comes from an old Knickerbocker family and is a great-granddaughter of Dr. Thomas Boyd, who...was one of the founders of the New-York Academy of Medicine."
In April 1906 William announced the engagement of Addie to George Homey Tower, of Boston. The ceremony was held not in the 78th Street house, but in St Thomas's Church, quite likely because of the elevated status of many of the guests.
The groom's father was Charlemagne Tower, Jr., a renowned historian and archaeologist who had served as the United States Ambassador to Austria-Hungary and to Russia. Among the wedding guests were the Secretary of State, Elihu Root and his wife. A reception was held at No. 24 East 78th Street after the ceremony.
The next to marry was Beatrice. William announced her engagement to William J. Peters on July 15, 1908. The couple was married on September 2 at the Larchmont estate. The groom was an explorer and scientist who would spent much time in the Arctic and tropics. His research helped establish the scientific upstanding of the Earth's magnetism.
While the aging Boyd did not appear in society pages for his entertainments, his name kept reappearing for the weddings of his daughters. On November 3, 1914 Leontine Augusta was married in the house to Harold Lusk Flint. Addie's little daughter, Audrey Kneeland Tower, was the flower girl.
William A. Boyd died in the 78th Street house on January 24, 1918 at the age of 77. After having been the setting of so many happy events, the drawing room was the scene of his funeral two days later.
The house was sold to real estate operator James H. Cruikshank, in December that year. He quickly resold it the following April brothers Randolph and Everett Jacobs. The bachelors commissioned architect Randolph H. Almiroty to completely transform the brownstone's appearance.
The stoop was removed and the facade extended forward to the property line. Almiroty's design was a modern take on the Italian Renaissance style. Faced in limestone, its understated ground floor was overshadowed by the triple windows of the second and third floor, which visually performed as a unit--the stone facade becoming little more than their frame. A carved swag finished the architectural ensemble.
Corinthian pilasters separated the fourth floor openings, and behind a stone balustrade the fifth floor took the form of a mansard with two prominent dormers.
The Randolph brothers were engaged in real estate development. Their most noteworthy project was the development of the Fox Meadow estates in Scarsdale, designed as a modern residential community. In 1927 they jointly donated 14,500 square feet of land in White Plains to the Westchester County Parkway Commission for use as part of the county center.
Bachelorhood did not necessarily get in the way of entertaining, at least for Everett. On May 17, 1933 The New York Times reported that he "gave a roller-skating dinner party last night in the Black and Gold Room of the Central Park Casino. The dance floor was transformed into a miniature skating rink and an impromptu entertainment was given."
|The fashionable Central Park Casino was demolished two years after Everett's skating party. photo nycparksgov.org|
Everett lived on in the 78th Street house. On the way to his office at No. 542 Fifth Avenue on May 20, 1942 he stopped into the Savoy-Plaza Hotel for a haircut. While in the barber's chair he suddenly slumped forward. Like his brother, he had suffered a heart attack. The 60-year-old was taken to a bedroom upstairs, where he died three hours later.
In 1943 No. 24 was sold to the Baron de Hirsch Fund, a philanthropic organization founded in the 19th century by Baron Maurice de Hirsch for the relief of Eastern European Jews. The Fund apparently rethought its plans for the house, reselling it in February the following year to Marcelle Boesel. He, too, quickly flipped the house, selling it exactly one year later, in February 1945, to John J. and Rose A. Dordan.
They family moved in just in time for daughter Lillian Mary's wedding. She was married to John Raymond Gray in the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola in October that year.
The Dordan's residency was short lived. With their children married, John and Rose moved to the Riverdale section of the Bronx in 1947. No. 24 was now home to Sol A. Rosenblatt and his wife, the former Edith Higgins. Rosenblatt was Edith's second husband. Her marriage to John Magee Boissevain had ended in divorce. Moving into the 78th Street house with them were her daughters, Cynthian Anne and Natasha.
Like the Dordans, they moved in just in time for a wedding. On April 19, 1947 Cynthia Anne Boissevain was married to Thomas Francis Madigan in the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer. Natasha was a bridesmaid and a reception was held at No. 24 following the ceremony.
The Rosenblatts left 78th Street in 1951. The following year a doctor's office and connected apartment were installed in the basement. The upper floors continued to serve as a single family residence.
The doctor's office was converted to the Gerald Peter Gallery in 1998 where it remains. The absence of signage gives no hint of its presence. Instead, the house retains the dignified appearance created for two bachelor brothers in 1920.
photographs by the author