The longtime Manhattan townhouse of late, lauded literary lion John Leonard has cruised on to the market this week at almost $4 million. If the price seems low relative to the typical sky-high price of an Upper East Side townhouse, it is. But the home is also considerably smaller and less fancified than many probably imagine when they think of a townhouse in one of the Big Apple’s toniest nabes.
A prolific, semi-colon-loving literary, television, film and cultural critic, Leonard served as editor of the prestigious New York Times Book Review in the 1970s and appeared as a featured critic for “CBS Sunday Morning” for 16 years. He sometimes wrote under the nom de plume Cyclops, and the laundry list of influential publications for which he frequently penned critical reviews and essays includes Harper’s, The Nation, New York, Playboy and Vanity Fair. Two years before he passed he was given a lifetime achievement award by the National Book Critics Circle.
In the late 1970s, Leonard wrote a weekly column for the New York Times called Private Lives, “in which he chronicled doings in his Upper East Side home.” (In some ways, it was reality TV for a literary audience!) Having moved to East 78th Street in 1981, that house isn’t this house. Nonetheless, according to marketing material, among Leonard’s doings after moving to the East 78th Street house was hosting Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison. Leonard passed in 2008, at 69, and the house has been owned by his family since.
Known as The John Gilmore Boyd House, the generously mustachioed late 19th-century physician-turned-political-operator who served in the State Senate and was a pioneer in seeking protections for the rights of New York City citizens was not the Italianate style townhouse’s first occupant. Completed in the mid-1860s as one of a row of all-but-identical red-brick residences, the first known resident was a German-born Wall Street broker, according to the always informative Daytonian in Manhattan. Just 14-feet wide, the slender house didn’t become Boyd’s home until sometime in the 1890s.
In the 1950s, Boyd’s old house was converted into a legal duplex. Today, however, it is configured as a single-family home that spans about 2,700 square feet over four floors atop a full basement. Just two rooms deep with a tightly curled and skylight capped staircase in between, the manageably sized home has three and potentially four (or more) bedrooms and two bathrooms, plus a couple of powder rooms.
While the windowed eat-in kitchen and well-placed bathrooms are out of date, every square inch of the house is clean as a whistle and freshly coated in bright white paint, not just the walls and ceilings but also the wood floors. Contemporary artworks animate otherwise sparely staged rooms, while the wee office just inside the front door showcases Leonard’s original vermillion-colored portable typewriter and, in the built-in bookshelves, a color-coordinated display of some of the dozen-plus books the crafty wordsmith authored. Other highlights include a handsome brownstone stoop out front, original wood beams across the high ceiling in the living room, and a not-quite-40-foot-deep backyard garden.
It’s refreshing to come across a modestly sized townhouse in Manhattan because, believe it or not, not everyone who wants to live in a townhouse wants a mosaic-tiled saltwater swimming pool in the basement of their 10,000 square foot home. But for those who do desire a bit more room in which to ramble around, listings held by Gina M. Kuhlenkamp and Michelle Bourgeois of Sotheby’s International Realty, East Side Manhattan Brokerage indicate air rights are available that would allow for the addition of two more set back floors.