Thursday, February 18, 2021

The Gerardus Boyce House - 462 West 23rd Street


The original entrance, now a window, originally wore an Italianate pediment identical to that seen at the right.

In 1857 developer and builder Morgan Pindar completed construction of nine rowhouses on the south side of West 23rd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues.  Faced in brownstone, they rose four stories above a high English basement.  The entrances featured arched pediments sitting upon foliate brackets, and the floor-to-ceiling parlor windows opened onto cast iron balconies.  Architrave frames surrounded the elliptical arched openings of the upper floors and each house had its own, identical cast metal Italianate cornice.

Pindar sold the entire row during construction, a move which temporarily saved him from what was at the time termed "financial embarrassment."  The Financial Panic of 1857 devastated businesses across the country and while Pindar was saved from total ruin, he was forced to declare bankruptcy in 1858.

Silversmith Gerardus Boyce purchased No. 462.  Born in New York on November 26, 1795, he had married Caroline Snedon in August 1822.  The couple had a son, William T., and a two daughters, Georgianna and Louise.

Boyce was a well-known silversmith whose high-end coin silver flatware and hollowware graced the tables of wealthy patrons.  Between 1825 and 1829 he had been a partner with Elisha Jones in the Boyce & Jones at No. 101 Spring Street, before striking out on his own in 1830.

from New York, Past, Present, and Future, 1849 (copyright expired)

The 16-room house was well-populated.  Also living here were Louise, whose 23-year old husband, J. Oscar Stillwell, had just died; as well as Georgiana, her husband, James Bogardus Adriance, and their family.  The Adriances were married in 1843 and had three children, Ella, Alexander, and Edward Boyce.   Soon after moving in, in 1859, another son, Warren B., was born.

The Sun described Gerardus Boyce as "the most famous silversmith of the city," and commented on his "fondness for dress," saying he dressed "in the tip of fashion."  Boyce had gotten the habit naturally.  At his father's funeral, "buckskin gloves were presented by the family to the mourners, such being the fashion of those days," said the newspaper.

In addition to his silver business, Boyce was a director in the National Fire Insurance Company.  A veteran of the War of 1812, he received a pension of $24 per month--about $750 in today's money at time he bought No. 462.

This presentation pitcher was made by Gerardus Boyce around 1832.  from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston

Gerardus Boyce died in the house on July 3, 1880 at the age of 85.  In reporting on his death The Sun noted "A number of old families still have silver plate that was made in his workshop."  His funeral was held in the drawing room of No. 462 West 23rd Street.

Louise Stillwell and the Adriances continued to occupy the family home.  James Bogardus Adriance was a well-known merchant, a partner in the dry goods establishment Strong & Adriance.  Following his death at the age of 85 on January 4, 1905, the house was inherited by Louise Boyce Stillwell.  Still living here was her youngest nephew, Edward Adriance.   A bachelor, he had never taken up a profession, instead living comfortably of his inheritances.  Gentlemen of leisure like Edward were known as clubmen and he was a member of The Holland Society, the Maryland Club and the exclusive Union Club.

Louise died in the house in June 1910 at the age of 85.  In reporting her death the New-York Tribune noted that she "had lived at that address since girlhood."  Her funeral was held in the house on June 31.  Her large estate--including significant real estate holdings--was estimated at around $19 million in today's money.

Of that Edward Boyce Adriance received $302,137--or about $8.2 million today.   But he would not live to enjoy the windfall.  Rather astoundingly, he died in the house just three weeks after his aunt's funeral.  He was 64 years old and the last surviving son of James B. Adriance.  He left his estate of about $15 million in today's money to various relatives.

Two months after his death, on September 14, the contents of the house were sold at auction.   The auctioneer's listing included "antique and modern furniture (in mahogany, rosewood and walnut)" and Tiffany clocks, "real bronzes," a piano and "large Regina Music Box in upright mahogany case."  Other items reflected the resident bachelor, like "golf sticks, duelling [sic] pistols [and] fishing rods."

The original louvered shutters of the parlor floor windows survived in this 1915 photograph.  from the collection of the New-York Historical Society

After having been the elegant home of one of Manhattan's wealthy families for more than half a century, the Boyce residence now became the boarding house of Mrs. Mary Babcock.  

On the night of January 9, 1913 she rented a room to a young couple and their infant daughter.  The next afternoon she found the two-week old baby abandoned on the bed.  After Mary turned the infant over to the Department of Charities the sad story was picked up by newspapers over a large distance.

Two weeks later Mary received a letter from a woman in Pittson, Pennsylvania asking if she could have the little girl.  She wrote that she had five sons, but desperately wanted a daughter.  "The woman said she was willing to come to this city if she had the assurance that she could take the baby back with her," reported the New York Herald.

Mary wrote back, telling the woman that the little girl was in Bellevue Hospital and advising that she should contact the Department of Charities.  Whether the mother who was so determined to have a daughter was ever allowed to adopt the girl is not known.

The stoops of Morgan Pindar's row were lost in 1928.

The boarding house had declined to a rooming house in the post-World War I years.  Among the tenants in 1921 was Hugh Peacock, who got into a scuffle in Washington Heights on September 2, 1921.  The following Monday he appeared in court against Edward Teamob, whom he charged with robbery.  The New York Herald reported that Peacock "accused Teamoh of being one of two negroes who attacked him Friday afternoon in the hallway of 17 West 137th street and stole $22."  

In 1928 the City announced plans to widen West 23rd Street.  All "encumbrances" were ordered removed to facilitate the project.  This required the removal of all the high stone stoops along the row.   The entrances were lowered to the former basement levels, and the former doorways converted to windows.  It was most likely at this time that the enframement of the entrance was removed.  Ironically, the plans for the street widening were never carried out and the loss of the many stoops was for nothing.

On August 12, 1931 a tenant, 26-year old Adolph Matter, was arrested after the taxicab in which he and a teen-aged boy were riding was seen by another cabbie driving erratically.  He alerted a policeman who pulled over the cab and found that both Matter and the boy were armed.  A closer inspection revealed the the youth was, in fact, "an eighteen-year-old girl rather skillfully disguised as a man," according to The Evening Post.

"The prisoners had ten cents between them.  They denied any intention to use the pistols in replenishing their pocketbooks," said the article.  They were charged with handgun possession.

A renovation completed in 1970 resulted in an apartment in the ground floor and two duplex apartments above.  In 2011 it was returned to a single family home.  Unfortunately the renovations did not include restoring the stoop, as has been done in other homes along the block.

photographs by the author