120 Commonwealth was designed by Emerson and Fehmer, architects, and built in 1872-1873, one of four contiguous houses (118-120-122-124 Commonwealth). The houses were designed as a symmetrical composition, with the two taller and narrower houses (118 and 124 Commonwealth) flanking the two shorter and wider houses (120 and 122 Commonwealth). 122 and 124 Commonwealth were built in 1871-1872, and 118 and 120 Commonwealth were built in 1872-1873.
118 and 120 Commonwealth were built on two lots, each of which originally was 28 feet wide. The lot to the east was purchased from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on March 20, 1867, by real estate dealer Samuel Gleason Reed. It subsequently changed hands and on September 15, 1868, was purchased by attorney George Morgan Browne. He also owned the 28 foot lot at 116 Commonwealth. The lot to the west was purchased from the Commonwealth on May 2, 1871, by Henry Lefrelet Daggett, a leather and shoe merchant.
On April 25, 1872, George M. Browne sold the eastern 20 feet of his lot to James Brown Case and the western 8 feet to his wife, Laura Lucretia (Williams) Case. That same day, Henry Daggett sold his 28 foot lot to Laura Case and purchased George M. Browne’s lot at 116 Commonwealth.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 120 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 435, from Clarendon to Dartmouth.
In May of 1872, Benjamin D. Whitcomb, builder, received a permit to build houses at 118 and 120 Commonwealth (reported in the Boston Evening Transcript on May 18, 1872). Construction started soon thereafter, with 118 Commonwealth built on the 20 foot lot and 120 Commonwealth on the combined 36 foot lot. A July 19, 1872, Boston Traveller article on “present building operations” in the Back Bay reported that the foundations were being laid for the houses.
The Cases had owned the 34 foot 8 inch lot to the west, where they had 122 Commonwealth built. On April 25, 1872, the same day they purchased the land for 118-120 Commonwealth, they sold 122 Commonwealth, with the “dwelling house now erecting,” to James Lee and his wife, Frances (Van Dusen) Lee.
The Cases sold 118 Commonwealth in April of 1875 to William and Elizabeth (Hicks) Harding.
James and Laura Lucretia (Williams) Case made 120 Commonwealth their Boston home. They previously had lived at 52 Boylston. They also maintained a home in Weston, where they owned extensive acreage. In 1889, they built a new home there, Rocklawn, designed by architect Ernest N. Boyden.
James Case was a wholesale dry goods merchant and textile manufacturer. He also served as president of the National Bank of Redemption and subsequently as president of its successor, the First National Bank.
On August 9, 1872, the Boston Journal reported that Weston & Shepard, masons, had received a permit to build a brick stable on James B. Case’s land on Commonwealth, presumably behind 120 Commonwealth. It appears not to have been built until the mid-1880s, at about the same time as a stable was built behind 122 Commonwealth. Neither stable is shown on the 1874 Hopkins and 1883 Bromley maps, but they both are shown on the 1887 Sanborn map and the 1888 and subsequent Bromley maps. A March 29, 1895, Boston Globe article on the sale of 120 Commonwealth noted that “a handsome brick stable is connected with the property.”
The Cases’ right to maintain a stable was challenged in the mid-1880s by William Beals, owner of 125 Newbury, directly across the alley from 120 Commonwealth. He filed legal action to prevent the use of the building at the rear of 120 Commonwealth as a stable, arguing that allowing that use would violate the restrictions in the original land deeds from the Commonwealth. In 1885, the Supreme Judicial Court dismissed his complaint.
James and Laura Case continued to live at 120 Commonwealth during the 1892-1893 winter season, after which they moved to a new home they had built at 468 Beacon. At the same time, they also had built 470 Beacon for their son-in-law and daughter, real estate dealer James Goldthwaite Freeman and Caroline Sumner (Case) Freeman, who moved there in the same year.
120 Commonwealth was not listed in the 1894 and 1895 Blue Books.
On March 28, 1895, 120 Commonwealth was purchased from Laura Case by investment banker Frank Everett Peabody. He and his wife, Gertrude (Bayley) Peabody, made it their home. They previously had lived at 173 Newbury. They also maintained residences at Marblehead Neck and at Snipatuit Farm in North Rochester, Massachusetts.
From about 1900, Gertrude Peabody’s niece, Leslie Tobey, also lived at 120 Commonwealth. She was the daughter of Gertrude Peabody’s brother-in-law and sister, Phineas Sprague Tobey and Anne (Bayley) Tobey. Leslie Tobey continued to live with the Peabodys until her marriage to Edward Sawyer in April of 1906. After their marriage, they lived in Stamford, Connecticut.
Frank Peabody died in September of 1918. Gertrude Peabody continued to live at 120 Commonwealth with their only surviving child, Amelia.
Gertrude Peabody remarried in April of 1920 to William Storer Eaton, treasurer of the Betty’s Neck Company, cranberry growers. They lived at 120 Commonwealth and also maintained residences at The Bog in Lakeville and in Middleboro. William Storer Eaton also owned a large yacht, Taormina, on which the Eatons lived during the summer.
Gertrude Eaton died in April of 1937 and 120 Commonwealth was inherited by her daughter, Amelia Peabody. She was a sculptress. She also maintained a home at Mill Farm in Dover, Massachusetts.
Her step-father, William Storer Eaton, also maintained 120 Commonwealth as his Boston address until his death in March of 1949.
At some point, the former stable at the rear was converted into a music room. It is also said that Amelia Peabody installed an indoor swimming pool in the basement, but no documentary verification of this alteration has been located.
Amelia Peabody continued to live at 120 Commonwealth (and in Dover) until her death in May of 1984.
On May 22, 1985, 120 Commonwealth was purchased from Amelia Peabody’s estate by Samuel I. Stone and John W. Koza, trustees of the 120 Comm Realty Trust.
In December of 1985, they filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from a single-family dwelling into five apartments, including expanding an existing structure on the roof into a penthouse, converting the rear building into a garage, and building a connecting structure between the main building and the garage.
On May 2, 1987, they converted the property into five condominium units, the 120 Commonwealth Condominium.
Below are front and rear elevations of 120 Commonwealth drawn ca. 1873 by Emerson and Fehmer for James B. Case. These are provided courtesy of Historic New England, whose collection also includes additional original architectural drawings of 120 Commonwealth.