120 Commonwealth was designed by Emerson and Fehmer, architects, and built ca. 1873, one of four contiguous houses (118-120-122-124 Commonwealth) designed by them and built ca. 1871-1873.
118 and 120 Commonwealth were built on two lots owned by James Brown Case and his wife, Laura Lucretia (Williams) Case. Each lot originally had been 28 feet wide, but the Cases combined them to permit the construction of a 36 foot wide home for themselves at 120 Commonwealth, leaving the 20 foot frontage for 118 Commonwealth.
The Cases also had owned the 26 foot wide lot immediately to the west and one-third (8 feet 8 inches) of the lot next to it. They combined these and had 122 Commonwealth built, 34 feet 8 inches wide. The remaining 17 feet 4 inches of the fourth lot had been purchased separately and was used for 124 Commonwealth.
118-124 Commonwealth were designed by Emerson and Fehmer to be 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). Based on the land records and party wall agreements, 122 and 124 Commonwealth appear to have been built first, ca. 1871, and then 118 and 120 Commonwealth built ca. 1873.
The Cases sold 118 and 122 Commonwealth, and retained 120 Commonwealth as their home, where they moved in about 1873. They had lived at 52 Boylston in 1872. Laura Case is shown as the owner of 120 Commonwealth on the 1874 Hopkins map and on the 1883 and 1888 Bromley maps.
They also maintained a home in Weston, where they owned extensive acreage. In 1889, they built a new summer 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.
In the mid-1880s, the Cases built a brick stable at the rear of 120 Commonwealth. It is not shown on the 1874 Hopkins and 1883 Bromley maps, but is shown on the 1888 and subsequent Bromley maps. A March 29, 1895, Boston Globe article on the sale of the property 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 until about 1893, when 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.
In March of 1895, the Cases sold 120 Commonwealth to investment banker Frank Everett Peabody and his wife, Gertrude (Bayley) Peabody. They previously had lived at 173 Newbury. He is shown as the owner of 120 Commonwealth on the 1895, 1898, 1908, and 1917 Bromley maps.
The Peabodys 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.
Frank Peabody died in September of 1918. Gertrude Peabody continued to live there with their only surviving child, Amelia. Gertrude Peabody is shown as the owner of 120 Commonwealth on the 1928 and 1938 Bromley maps.
Gertrude Peabody remarried in April of 1920 to William Storer Eaton, treasurer of the Betty’s Neck Company, cranberry growers. They continued to live at 120 Commonwealth and also maintained summer 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, a sculptress. She also maintained a summer home at Mill Farm in Dover.
Her step-father, William Storer Eaton, also maintained 120 Commonwealth as his Boston address until his death in March of 1949.
Amelia Peabody continued to live at 120 Commonwealth (and in Dover) until her death in May of 1984.
In May of 1985, the 120 Comm. Realty Trust purchased 120 Commonwealth from Amelia Peabody’s executors. In December of 1985 they filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from a single-family dwelling into five apartments, and in May of 1987, they converted the apartments into five condominiums.
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.