Paul Byard, 68, Dies; Architect Renovated Landmarks

July 18, 2008

By DAVID W. DUNLAP

Paul Spencer Byard, a land-use lawyer who returned to school in his late 30s to be an architect and who became an important figure in the renovation of some of New York’s most prominent landmarks, died on Tuesday at his home in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. He was 68.

The cause was cancer, said Charles A. Platt, a partner of Mr. Byard’s in Platt Byard Dovell White Architects of Manhattan.

Mr. Byard was one of very few people — perhaps the only one — whose résumé included both the elite law firm Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts and the high-profile architectural firm James Stewart Polshek & Partners.

As an architect, he worked on the renovations of Carnegie Hall, the Cooper Union Foundation Building, the State Supreme Court’s Appellate Division Courthouse on Madison Square and the old Custom House on Bowling Green.

Among the purely contemporary buildings he helped design were the New 42nd Street Studios, at 229 West 42nd Street; the Chanel 57 building, at 15 East 57th Street; and a mausoleum and columbarium at the Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn.

Mr. Byard’s last big project in Manhattan was the renovation of the New-York Historical Society building on Central Park West, which was to have been accompanied by a new 23-story apartment tower. Preservationists and neighborhood groups were vehemently opposed to that part of the plan, and the tower proposal was dropped this month.

In person, Mr. Byard was the embodiment of a preservation-minded professional: a graduate of three Ivy League schools and of Cambridge University, a vestryman of Trinity Church, unfailingly dapper, with a broad chin perpetually set at a jaunty angle and a patrician mid-Atlantic accent.

But he did not view preservation as a matter of casting the past in amber, unaltered.

“Every act of preservation is inescapably an act of renewal by the light of a later time, a set of decisions both about what we think something was and about what we want it to be and to say about ourselves today,” he wrote in his book “The Architecture of Additions: Design and Regulation” (W.W. Norton, 1998).

Mr. Byard was born Aug. 30, 1939, in New York. His father, Spencer Byard, was a lawyer who was active in the affairs of Trinity Church, the Episcopal landmark at the head of Wall Street, and in the New York Society Library, New York’s oldest library. His mother, Margaret Mather Byard, was a Scottish immigrant who taught English at the School of General Studies at Columbia.

Mr. Byard graduated from Yale College in 1961. He received degrees from Clare College, Cambridge, and from Harvard Law School. In 1966, he began a three-year stint at Winthrop, Stimson.

In 1965, Mr. Byard married Rosalie Starr Warren of Bernardsville, N.J. She survives him, as do his sister, Margaret Byard Stearns of Kent, Conn.; a daughter, Eliza Starr Byard of Brooklyn; a son, Joshua Spencer Byard of Bloomfield, N.J.; and two granddaughters.

His legal career ran through 1977, as general counsel to the Roosevelt Island Development Corporation, as associate counsel to the New York State Urban Development Corporation and as a private practitioner.

Peg Breen, the president of the New York Landmarks Conservancy, credited Mr. Byard with devising a novel preservation-financing method that involved a revolving loan fund using proceeds from the residential conversion of the Federal Archives Building in Greenwich Village. “That was his vision because of his unique skills as a lawyer and architect,” she said.

The Graduate School of Architecture and Planning at Columbia awarded Mr. Byard an architectural degree in 1977, and he joined the firm of James Stewart Polshek & Associates (later James Stewart Polshek & Partners), becoming a partner in 1981.

At the Polshek firm, he worked on the renovations of Carnegie Hall, the former United States Custom House and the Villard Houses, on Madison Avenue, between 50th and 51st Streets.

Mr. Byard joined Charles A. Platt Partners in 1989, at which time the firm became Platt & Byard, Architects. Ray H. Dovell joined in 1990, and the firm’s name was adjusted accordingly, as it was again in 2002 with the arrival of Samuel G. White.

The firm proposed enlarging the historical society’s Central Park West entrance to overcome what Mr. Byard likened to the appearance of a private club. “The front entrance is so tiny,” he said in 2006. “It’s as if they expected no one to come in there.”

In addition to maintaining his architectural practice, Mr. Byard directed the historic preservation program at Columbia from 1998 until this year. He created a joint third-year studio and workshop for architecture and preservation students. Mr. Byard was also working on another book, tentatively titled, “Why Save This Building? The Public Interest in Architectural Meaning.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Platt said, “I think it disappointed him the most — at the end — that he couldn’t finish it.”

New York Times


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