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Grants supporting survey to identify Boyde architecture

Messenger Post Media
Monroe County Post

The Greece Historical Society recently received two grants totaling $30,000 to fund a cultural resource survey of the architecture of Thomas W. Boyde Jr., Rochester’s first African American architect. 

Thomas W. Boyde Jr., circa 1930.

The grants were awarded by the Preservation League of New York State and program partners at the New York State Council on the Arts and Rochester Area Community Foundation. 

Boyde designed mid-century modern homes and businesses, as well as buildings for economically disadvantaged communities. Several of his projects were lost to demolition or severely altered. This survey will help identify his buildings to call attention to them and hopefully avert further losses. 

Boyde’s built work spans across western New York, including houses in the town of Greece.

A rendering of a private home in Penfield by Thomas W. Boyde Jr., 1941.

The $15,000 Preserve New York grant and $15,000 Preserving Historical Assets Vitality Grant will enable GHS to hire a project team with architectural historian Katie Eggers Comeau and architect Christopher Brandt from Bero Architecture PLLC; historian and historic preservation consultant Jeffrey “Free” Harris from Hampton, Virginia; preservation consultant Gina DiBella, of Greece; and research assistant Alexis Rivers, a 2020 graduate from SUNY Geneseo.

“Thomas W. Boyde Jr. is one of the most notable and accomplished architects of the mid-20th century in Greater Rochester, in spite of the professional and personal prejudice he faced throughout his life,” Brandt said. “He was one of the first architects that I became intimately acquainted with nearly 15 years ago before pursuing my own career in the profession. I look forward to reviewing his beautiful color renderings again, and am honored to be part of the team that seeks to uncover, document, elevate and celebrate the full and complete accomplishments of his decades-long career.”

Fort Hill Terrace Apartments in Rochester, designed by Thomas W. Boyde Jr. circa 1955.

Brandt and Comeau will share research and writing responsibilities. Harris will use his expertise researching and writing about African American historic sites to conduct oral history interviews, write a section of the report to focus on Boyde in the context of mid-20th century African American architects and provide editorial review of the report. 

“There is a long and storied history of African American architects, but all too often, because of the era of Jim Crow, those early architects either were forced into the shadows or had their work questioned because of their race,” Harris said. “This project, I believe, is a part of a larger project to bring those architects and their works out of the shadows and into a deserved spotlight.”

A private home in Brighton designed by Thomas W. Boyde Jr.

Rivers’ academic experience includes research into local African American history. She will conduct online and in-person research to gather materials related to Boyde’s life and career, and will assist Harris with oral history interview transcription. 

DiBella will take the lead in creating and populating the database of Boyde’s projects, and assist with research, writing and photography. She will be responsible for data entry at the end of the project. 

The team will make use of the Boyde collection of architectural drawings and papers at the Rochester Museum and Science Center as they start their research.

“The Greece Historical Society is honored to be sponsoring the cultural resource survey of the life and architecture of Thomas W. Boyde Jr.,” GHS President William Sauers said. “Mr. Boyde had an important influence in the local community, not just Greece, but the Greater Rochester and western New York area.”

Holy Trinity Missionary Baptist Church in Rochester, designed by Thomas W. Boyde Jr.