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David Knickerbacker Boyd
Local ID #: BOYD-DK
King, Moses. Philadelphia and Notable Philadelphians. New York: Blanchard Press, Isaac H. Blanchard Co., 1901., p. 87
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Born: 1/5/1872, Died: 2/21/1944

The amazingly industrious D.K. Boyd was one of that group of young Philadelphia architects, including William L. Price and Horace Trumbauer, who began their careers by working for the builders Wendell & Smith developing the northern and western suburbs of the city, but Boyd's career would take him far beyond the reaches of Philadelphia's suburbs; and, more than the others mentioned, he would have an enormous impact on the national profession. Boyd was the son of David Boyd, Jr. and Alida Visscher Knickerbacker Boyd, the descendant of a prominent Dutch family. He attended Friends' Central School, the Rugby Academy for Boys (then at 1415 Locust St.), St. Austin's School (Staten Island) before the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (1887-89) and Spring Garden Institute (1889). By 1892 he is listed in the city directories as a draftsman, and by 1894 he had formed a partnership with his younger brother Laurence Visscher Boyd under the name Boyd & Boyd, with offices in the Harrison Building. It appears that the first commissions which the brothers received were for houses being built on speculation by Wendell & Smith in Wayne, Radnor, and St. Davids, suburbs of Philadelphia. When Wendell & Smith expanded their operations to include Overbrook Farms, Narberth, and Pelham, the brothers continued to provide designs for their houses. Often these houses were illustrated in the Scientific American, Builders Edition so that the stable of young architects working for Wendell & Smith actually received credit for their work.

By 1898 the Boyds had decided to operate independently of each other. D.K. Boyd remained in an individual practice until approximately 1914, when the names of younger architects Victor Abel, John Coneys, and Francis A. Gugert begin to appear in the title block of drawings. By 1920 the relationship with Abel and Gugert had been formalized under the name Boyd, Abel, & Gugert. This firm, with various names, lasted until 1935, when Boyd returned to individual practice. By 1931 Boyd could state in his resume that over a period of 35 years in the profession, he had designed, supervised or directed nearly 3,000 buildings, including industrial establishments, office buildings, libraries, churches, schools, residences and housing developments.

Throughout his career Boyd maintained a broad range of activities for various community action groups, including the Philadelphia Fire Prevention Commission, the Housing Corporation of the U.S. Department of Labor, and the War Industries Board in Washington, DC, to name only a few. Beginning in 1920, he also served as consultant to the commission preparing the building code for the State of Pennsylvania, and by 1923 he had become a member of the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia Housing Association.

Service to his professional organizations was also part of Boyd's life. He was a longtime member of the T-Square Club, gaining new membership in 1891 and subsequently serving as treasurer (1893-95) and president (1896/97), later serving on the executive committee (1899/1900) and chairing the membership committee (1904/05). He became a member of the AlA in 1897 and was awarded fellowship status in 1908. He served as secretary for the national AlA in 1914 and vice-president in 1915. As a member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the AlA, he also served as vice-president from 1901 to 1902. Other memberships included: Public Art League, Historical Pageant Association, Sons of the Revolution, Netherlands Society, Merion Cricket Club and the Independence Hall Association.

Boyd's impact on the profession obviously extended beyond Philadelphia, but perhaps his most controversial exchange occurred in the meetings, lectures and publications which led to the City of New York adopting a zoning ordinance to govern the height and massing of the new skyscrapers which were being developed. He, along with Ernest Flagg, was influential in the shaping of that ordinance and was pivotal in the emphasis on limiting the size and controlling the upward shape of the skyscraper. In his New York Times obituary he is credited with "being one of the first to propound the set-back principle in the design of tall buildngs . . ."

In 1912 American Stone Trade pubished a brief biographical sketch of Boyd: "D. Knickerbacker Boyd . . . is one of the best known and most progressive architects . . . in the East . . . none has contributed more largely and more effectively to the development of a high standard of the art which he has chosen for his vocation, in its various phases of beauty, utility and scientific requirement." Although his early architectural practice, like that of many others in Philadelphia, was chiefly limited to residences and residential development, Boyd expanded his field of interest by working tirelessly in the profession and in cultural, historical, and city organizations. Few meetings regarding any sort of building in Philadelphia would not have been graced by his presence; few important decisions were made in the Philadelphia architectural world without his advice being sought. When he collapsed in his offices in the Harrison Building in February, 1944, he was 72 and still working; he had never retired from his profession.

Written by Sandra L. Tatman.

Clubs and Membership Organizations

  • Merion Cricket Club
  • American Institute of Architects (AIA)
  • Philadelphia Chapter, AIA
  • T-Square Club
  • Netherlands Club
  • Sons of the Revolution

School Affiliations

  • Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts
  • Spring Garden Institute
  • Rugby Academy

 

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