Boyer, Martin E., Jr. (1893-1970)
Glen Wilton, Virginia, USA
- Charlotte, North Carolina
Styles & Forms:
Art Moderne; Colonial Revival; Georgian Revival; Mission; Tudor Revival
Martin Evans Boyer, Jr. (July 22, 1893-February 17, 1970) was a long-lived and prominent architect in Charlotte best known for his residential architecture of the first half of the twentieth century, primarily in the city’s most prestigious suburbs. He is considered by many to be Charlotte’s preeminent revivalist architect.
Boyer was born in Glen Wilton, Virginia, to Martin E. Boyer, Sr., and Joanna McMichael Boyer and was thus the nephew of prominent Charlotte architect James M. McMichael. The Boyer family moved to Charlotte when Martin, Jr., was a boy, and he attended Charlotte High School. Except for a brief period in his youth when his family lived in Cincinnati and his service in the armed forces during the World Wars, Boyer spent the rest of his life in the growing city and took a prominent role in its architectural profession and civic and social life. Both his design skills and his personality must have struck a chord with Charlotte’s expanding elite, for he received commissions for many substantial houses and other buildings in the community and beyond.
On September 15, 1912, the Charlotte News reported that Boyer had left to begin his studies at “the Carnegie ‘Tech.’ school. . . . He is a splendidly equipped young man and will make good at any college.” He graduated in 1917 with an M. A. in architecture from present Carnegie-Mellon University, an institution known for its Beaux-Arts approach and emphasis on historic revival styles, and he won awards for his Beaux-Arts designs. Boyer came by his interest in history naturally. The Charlotte Observer of February 23, 1917, reported on a party held by his sister Lavinia, a student at Queens College, to celebrate the birthday of George Washington, at which the participants dressed in colonial garb, and the hostess wore a colonial bonnet garnished with real cherries; after her recitation of stories of Martha and George Washington, her guests “began eating the cherries from the bonnet.”
After graduation from college, Boyer served as a naval architect during World War I. Returning to civilian life, he joined the Southern Engineering Company and worked in Columbia, S. C., and in Charlotte. In 1920 he opened his own firm in Charlotte, and except for his during service during World War II as an officer in the Corps of Engineers, he continued his practice there until his retirement in 1966. He initially had his office in the Trust Building in Charlotte, along with other architects. After a fire in 1922 destroyed the building, including all his drawings, he shared an office for a time with landscape architect Earle S. Draper. He relocated to an office in Brevard Court.
Boyer was among the first of Charlotte’s architects to become a member of the American Institute of Architects. When he went to Wilmington to attend a meeting of the group, the Charlotte Observer of July 29, 1921 noted that he was also secretary and treasurer of the Architectural Association of North Carolina.
Some of Boyer’s projects in the early 1920s were for public schools—one in Lilesville and another in Morganton—but as Charlotte’s suburban growth took off in the 1920s, he found a special niche in designing residences for the families of the business and professional leaders who populated such elegant suburbs as Eastover and Myers Park. He is credited with designing as many as twenty-five houses in these two neighborhoods, exceeding the number by other leading local architects who planned the city’s fine suburban residences of the era, such as Franklin Gordon, C. C. Hook, Leonard L. Hunter, and William H. Peeps. The landscape designs for many of these houses were by Earle Sumner Draper.
Like his contemporaries, Boyer worked easily in a range of popular styles, especially the Colonial, Georgian, and Tudor revivals that Charlotte’s prosperous clients favored, plus a few ventures into Spanish villa and English cottage modes. As Thomas Hanchett has observed, “No one in Charlotte understood house-as-theater better than Martin Boyer.” He displayed a gift for the dramatic to enhance the house’s grandeur or to create a cozy impression of an ancient cottage. The list of his clients comprises many of the city’s business, professional, and political leaders.
Typical of local newspapers in the 1920s, the Charlotte News carried accounts of notable new houses under construction, and on April 12, 1922, gave special attention to the prominently positioned, 15-room brick house Martin Boyer had designed for Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Snyder on Queens Road—the J. Luther Snyder House. Estimated to cost about $50,000, it was to be of the “Virginia Colonial style,” with a large reception hall similar to the Carroll mansion in Maryland. Complemented by a landscape design by Earle S. Draper, it was “expected to be one of the handsomest homes in Myers Park.” The newspaper attention and the imposing presence of the Snyder residence likely boosted Boyer’s career among Charlotte’s growing elite and his reputation as a revivalist designer. Boyer was described by a client as a perfectionist who insisted on having samples made of the bricks, tiles, etc., to make sure they suited the client: “He would never design a house if the owner was in a hurry” (Charlotte Observer, March 26, 1977).
In 1929, the year the North Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects established a program of design awards, Boyer’s Snyder house was among the winners. In that same year, Boyer received the commission for an equally grand residence in contrasting Tudor Revival style and in stone in the recently established Eastover suburb, the Hamilton C. Jones III and Bessie Jones House, for which construction continued despite the onset of the Great Depression.
As historian Stewart Gray has noted, even during the Great Depression, when many architects struggled to find work, Boyer continued to attract clients. Gray indicates that he worked on plans for as many as 48 houses between 1929 and 1941. In 1935 Boyer was commissioned by North Carolina textile manufacturer and University of North Carolina alumnus Kenneth S. Tanner (for whom he had designed a vacation house near Lake Lure in 1932) to design a student residence adjacent to the university campus—later known as West House (no longer standing)—to provide college housing for Tanner’s son and other relatives, plus two other students at no cost.
Among Boyer’s best known projects in the 1930s and 1940s also included S&W cafeterias—the founders were both Charlotte men—which generally employed modernist motifs suited to the new type of dining experience. Boyer’s S&W cafeterias (all of which are lost) included those in Charlotte (1932), Raleigh (1933), and Greensboro (1949). Frank O. Sherrill—the S of S & W—recalled that he and Boyer had “traveled all over the country looking for ideas.” Boyer used his skill at creating a special setting to make these cafeterias highly popular downtown eateries for governors and office workers alike as well as the scene of social events and meetings. The S&W Cafeteria on West Trade Street in Charlotte, Sherrill said, was one of their finest, and was “modeled after Peacock Alley in the Waldorf Astoria.” When North Carolina school children made their school trips to Raleigh, the S&W Cafeteria was on their itinerary along with the State Capitol, the Governor’s Mansion, and the Hall of History (Burlington Daily Times-News, May 27, 1950).
Along with Charlotte architect J.N. Pease, Sr., Boyer designed the city’s first public housing project, the WPA-sponsored Piedmont Courts (1939-1941). Funded by part of a $2 million federal loan, the complex reflected the latest design in multi-family complex layout and was detailed in Colonial Revival style.
Boyer is known locally for his role in the 1930s in rescuing the historic former United States Mint on West Trade Street, which was slated for demolition for an addition to the United States Post Office. After lobbying unsuccessfully to preserve it on its original site, he was instrumental in enabling it to be dismantled and rebuilt with community support as the Mint Museum of Art from his record drawings and designs—an early and important preservation project in Charlotte. As shown in the finding guide to the collection of his papers (see reference below), Boyer also designed a wide range of building types besides residences in Charlotte and beyond, including examples of commercial buildings, filling stations, office buildings, schools, supermarkets, and stables. It is interesting to note that while many of Boyer’s traditional residential projects have survived, his essays in innovative building types in the 1930s—stylish downtown cafeterias and model public housing—have been lost.
Boyer was a charter member and a deacon of the Myers Park Presbyterian Church. He married Arabelle Johnson, a daughter of William W. Johnson, in 1919 in Charlotte, and he was survived by her and their sons Martin III and Miles of Charlotte and a daughter, Mrs. Thomas M. Plonk of Raleigh. He was buried at Charlotte’s Elmwood Cemetery. A monograph on Boyer’s work is needed to depict his career as a representative and successful architect who helped shape the New South city he made his home. His surviving and accessible papers and his many buildings offer opportunities for further research.
Notes: A large collection of Boyer’s papers at Special Collections, Atkins Library, at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte includes more than 600 drawings and nearly 200 photographs. Many of these images are posted at the following website at North Carolina State University Libraries: http://d.lib.ncsu.edu/collections/catalog?f[classification_facet]=Martin+Evans+Boyer+Papers%2C+1910-1993.
The building list here is but a sampling of Boyer’s work and focuses on surviving buildings. The extensive finding guide to the Boyer collection cited above gives names and sometimes dates for numerous projects beyond those featured in the present Building List. See also the National Register of Historic Places nominations for Eastover and Myers Park.
In addition, the following list prepared by Charlotte historian Mary M. Boyer (the widow of Martin Boyer’s son Miles) includes numerous houses, all in Charlotte unless otherwise noted, for which additional information on dates and status is sought. This list is provided for reference purposes for future study: George Adams House, 2322 Westfield Rd.; H. C. Alexander House, 720 Berkeley Ave.; Charles Barnhart House, 2733 Country Club Ln.; Jack Blythe House, Crescent Ave. (no longer standing); Mrs. M. E. Boyer, Jr., House, 246 Fenton Place; W. Irving Bullard House, 2208 Sherwood Ave.; James E. Butterworth House, 214 Cherokee Rd.; Morton L. Church House, 1626 Queens Rd. West; Emmett Crook House, 2800 St. Andrews Ln.; G. Don Davidson, Jr., House, 2300 Sherwood Ave.; Ernest Ellison House, 2915 Carmel Rd; Edwin G. Glover House, 600 Llewellyn Place; Billy Shaw Howell House, E. Morehead St. (no longer standing); Philip Howerton House, 8629 Providence Rd.; Maj. A. L. James House, 260 Cherokee Rd.; R. H. Johnson House, 1201 Queens Rd. West (no longer standing); Morehead Jones House, 2065 Queens Rd. East; K. C. Loughlin House, 1858 Queens Rd. West; John Paul Lucas House, 265 Cherokee Rd.; J. Alex McMillan House, 2710 Carmel Rd.; Myers Park Presbyterian Church Manse (no longer standing); T. J. Norman House, 1800 Queens Rd.; Edwin M. Rollins House, 2301 Sharon Lane; Paul Sanger House, 2050 Stonebridge Lane; Vernon Scarborough House, 411 Hempstead Place; Charles Smith House, W. 10th St.; Robert W. Stokes House, 1511 Queens Rd. (moved); James E. Taylor House, 918 Ardsley Rd.; Benjamin F. Withers House, 2001 Queens Rd. East.
- “Martin E. Boyer, Jr.,” obituary, Charlotte Observer, Feb. 18, 1970.
- NCSU Libraries Rare & Unique Digital Collections, Martin Evans Boyer Papers, 1910-1993, http://d.lib.ncsu.edu/collections/catalogf[classification_facet]=Martin+Evans+Boyer+Papers%2C+1910-1993.
- Robin Brabham, “Martin Evans Boyer, Jr.,” in Notes from the Past, newsletter of Special Collections, Atkins Library, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Charlotte, North Carolina (Apr. 1985).
- Jack Claiborne, “One Man’s Vision,” Charlotte Observer, May 26, 1977.
- Stewart Gray, “Architecture During the Great Depression: A Study of Building Trends in Charlotte, North Carolina” (2006), Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission Survey & Research Reports, http://www.cmhpf.org/CharlotteArchInGreatDepression.htm.
- Thomas W. Hanchett, “Myers Park Historic District,” National Register of Historic Places nomination (1986).
Charles W. and Gladys Avery Tillett HouseDates:
1931Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:
2200 Sherwood Ave., Charlotte, NCStatus:
Gladys Avery Tillett, a native of Morganton, was one of the state’s most important political leaders during the early and mid-20th century. A native of Morganton, she graduated from the Woman’s College in Greensboro in 1915 and married Charlotte attorney Charles W. Tillett, Jr., in 1917. The couple had three children. Mrs.Tillett’s interest in politics and women’s suffrage led her to numerous accomplishments, as a founder and president of the state’s chapter of the League of Women Voters in the 1920s and an officer in the state Democratic party as well as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1932, 1936, and 1940. She was co-director of the senatorial campaign of Frank Porter Graham. She was actively involved with the early United Nations and other international efforts, and she and Charles attended various conferences together. A proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment since the 1920s, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, she worked for its ratification and was president of the North Carolina chapter of E.R.A. United in 1974 and 1975. She died in 1984.
Dr. D. Heath Nesbit HouseDates:
1921Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:
522 Hermitage Ct., Charlotte, NCStatus:
Boyer designed picturesque residence, which was featured in Architecture magazine, to resemble a European farm cottage that evolved over many years, with irregular roof slates and bay windows.
E. Hayes Clement HouseDates:
1935Location:Durham, Durham CountyStreet Address:
3102 Devon Rd., Durham, NCStatus:
The Tudor Revival house was built for E. Hayes Clement, who is identified as the principal stone contractor for Duke University’s West Campus (see Julian Abele).
Frank H. Ross HouseDates:
1925Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:
2001 Sherwood Ave., Charlotte, NCStatus:
Boyer created a picturesque ensemble of wings and steep roofs, including an intentionally bowed roof form to suggest an ancient thatched roof.
Frank O. Sherrill HouseDates:
1928Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:
1401 Dilworth Rd., Charlotte, NCStatus:
The red brick Georgian Revival house, home of the founder of S&W cafeterias, is located in an extension of the older Dilworth suburb. The finding guide to Boyer’s papers indicates that he planned additions to Sherrill’s house in 1934 and 1940.
Hamilton C. Jones III and Bessie Jones HouseDates:
1929-1931Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:
201 Cherokee Rd., Charlotte, NCStatus:
The massive Tudor Revival residence in granite is among Charlotte’s principal examples of that style, which was especially popular in Charlotte. Boyer’s renderings of the house are dated 1928. Asymmetrical in form and plan, it combines various materials including half-timbering and copper and has a richly finished interior. Hamilton C. Jones III was a local attorney and civic and political figure. Bessie Smedes Erwin Jones was the daughter of textile magnate William Allen Erwin and a granddaughter of Aldert [sic] Smedes, founder of St. Mary’s school in Raleigh. It was actually Bessie to whom the future site of their house was deeded in 1929. Family history states that her father W. A. Erwin offered the couple stone from his quarry in Alamance County, but they chose instead the variegated, warm-hued stone from an Orange County quarry, the same that was later used for Duke University’s West Campus. It is located in the exclusive Eastover suburb, which was established in 1927 as Charlotte’s first automobile suburb and planned by Earle Sumner Draper. Craftsmen worked for three years to complete the project.
J. Luther Snyder HouseDates:
1922-1923Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:
1901 Queens Rd., Charlotte, NCStatus:
ResidentialImages Published In:
Catherine W. Bishir, North Carolina Architecture (2005).Note:
Built for the Carolinas Coca Cola leader, the large red brick Georgian Revival house is among the grandest of that popular style in Charlotte’s Myers Park suburb. Every detail, including the sizes of the window panes and the roof slates, is subtly proportioned to enhance the grandeur of the house and its setting.
1928Location:Davidson, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:
Between Faculty Dr. and Baker Dr., Davidson, NCStatus:
Built as Davidson College’s original fraternity row, the complex contained eleven units—of which ten survive—rendered in red brick Colonial Revival style.
Mint Museum of ArtDates:
1934-1936Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:
2750 Randolph Rd., Charlotte, NCStatus:
When the old United States Mint (designed by Philadelphia architect William Strickland and built in 1837 on West Trade St. in Charlotte), was demolished to make way for an expansion of the post office facility, architect Boyer was instrumental in rescuing the materials and rebuilding it as a city art museum in a suburban location. Continuing in that use, it has been expanded over the years.
Piedmont CourtsContributors:Martin E. Boyer, Jr., architect; J. N. Pease, Sr., architectDates:
1939-1941Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:
10th St. and 12th St., Charlotte, NCStatus:
No longer standingType:
Pease and Boyer designed Charlotte’s first public housing project, the WPA-sponsored Piedmont Courts (1939-1941). In common with other public housing complexes of this period, it was planned by leading local architects (see for example William Henley Deitrick, Raleigh) and reflected the latest design in multi-family complex layouts. It was detailed in restrained Colonial Revival style. Its condition declined over the years, and in 2004 there were plans for renovation, but like many such complexes of its era, it was razed and the site was redeveloped.
R. Horace Johnston HouseVariant Name(s):
1925Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:
Queens Road West, Charlotte, NCStatus:
No longer standingType:
The house was built for R. Horace Johnston, the owner of Johnston Mills, a textile factory and driving force for North Charlotte development. It was demolished in 1982.
1940sLocation:Greensboro, Guilford CountyStreet Address:
112 E. Market St., Greensboro, NCStatus:
No longer standingType:
The Boyer Papers include especially complete drawings and photographs for the S&W Cafeteria in Greensboro, which displayed a modern style. In the 1970s, as new shopping centers pulled away business and investment from downtown, the once prestigious and popular cafeteria was one of the casualties. An article in the Lumberton, NC, Robesonian of June 21, 1976, reported that Greensboro’s Thalhimer’s, Belk, and Sears stores had gone to the suburbs, and the S&W Cafeteria “folded its napkin and stole sorrowfully away.”
Ca. 1920; 1932Location:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:
100 W. Trade St., Charlotte, NCStatus:
No longer standingType:
Until it closed in 1970, the S&W Cafeteria in Charlotte was a landmark of the city where the chain’s developers resided. Boyer seems to have designed the elegant renovation (or complete rebuilding?) of the early 1930s. It was one of at least three S&W cafeterias Boyer designed in the state (Charlotte, Greensboro, and Raleigh), none of which survives. The Boyer Papers include his drawings for this facility. In 1970 Sherrill announced his intention to close the downtown Charlotte S&W Cafeteria but to retain two in suburban shopping centers. The downtown Charlotte building was razed in the 1980s.
Stuart W. Cramer, Jr., HouseDates:
1920sLocation:Charlotte, Mecklenburg CountyStreet Address:
2000 Hermitage Rd., CharlotteStatus:
The large Tudor Revival house was built for the son of Stuart W. Cramer, the nationally important textile factory engineer and developer of industrial air conditioning.
1935Location:Chapel Hill, Orange CountyStreet Address:
University of North Carolina Campus, Chapel Hill, NCStatus:
No longer standingType:
Textile magnate Kenneth Tanner commissioned Boyer to design the small, red brick Colonial Revival building as a private dormitory adjoining the campus, to provide housing for his son, Kenneth Jr., and other relatives, plus free housing for a few other “deserving” students. The Raleigh News and Observer of October 20, 1935, reported on the “Perfect House Built for Five University Boys: Kenneth Tanner, Jr. and Four Others Occupy Collegiate Paradise at Hill.” The garden was planned by the illustrious horticulturalist William Lanier Hunt. Among the notable residents was the distinguished historian C. Vann Woodward, one of the initial group of students. West House subsequently served many other purposes for the university. Despite concerted efforts to preserve it, West House was razed in 2006 to make way for new construction.