152 Commonwealth (287 Dartmouth) is located on the SE corner of Commonwealth and Dartmouth, with 150 Commonwealth to the east, 160 Commonwealth to the west, across Dartmouth, 303 Dartmouth to the north, across Commonwealth, and 283 Dartmouth to the south, across Alley 435.
152 Commonwealth was built ca. 1870 as the home of Jarvis Williams and his wife, Margaret Elizabeth Ann (Lunt) Williams
Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay does not attribute 152 Commonwealth to a specific architect. Susan and Michael Southworth’s AIA Guide to Boston (Second Edition) indicates that it was designed by Peabody and Stearns, probably because 150 Commonwealth – which was designed by Peabody and Stearns in 1880 – was annexed to 152 Commonwealth in 1926. However, The Chilton Club is in possession of original documentation which indicates that it was designed by Henry Richards of the firm of Ware and Van Brunt.
On August 24, 1869, the Boston Journal reported that Ware and Van Brunt had filed with the Board of Aldermen a notice of intention to build at the “corner of Commonwealth avenue and Dartmouth street.”
The land at the western end of the block had been sold by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at its auction on October 26, 1865. Jarvis Williams was the successful bidder for the corner lot, with a frontage of 32 feet on Commonwealth, and Edward Cutler was the successful bidder for the 26 foot lot next to it. Jarvis Williams subsequently acquired Edward Cutler’s right to purchase the 26 foot lot.
Jarvis Williams began construction of his home at 152 Commonwealth before taking title to the land. On August 13, 1870, the Commonwealth conveyed to him the eastern 20 feet of the lot for which Edward Cutler had been the successful bidder, and on August 30, 1870, it conveyed to him the remaining 38 feet at the corner, where 152 Commonwealth already was being built. He left the eastern 20 foot lot vacant.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 152 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 435, from Clarendon to Dartmouth.
By 1870, Jarvis and Elizabeth (Lunt) Williams had made 152 Commonwealth their home. They previously had lived at the Tremont House hotel and also maintained a home in Cambridge.
Jarvis Williams was a banker, commission merchant, and treasurer and manager of the Hinkley & Williams Works (manufacturers of steam locomotives).
Margaret Williams lived at 152 Commonwealth with their sons — Charles Jarvis Williams and Reuel Williams — until mid-1871, but moved thereafter to a newly-built house at 297 Marlborough.
On June 3, 1871, 152 Commonwealth and the vacant lot at 150 Commonwealth were acquired from Jarvis Williams’s estate by Richard Baker, Jr. He and his wife, Ellen M. (Whittemore) Baker, made it their home. They previously had lived at 47 Mount Vernon on Beacon Hill. They also maintained an estate, Westcliff, in Newport.
Richard Baker was a partner in the merchant shipping firm of William F. Weld & Co. Cleveland Amory, in his Proper Bostonians, describes him as “Boston’s last ‘King of Merchants’” because “it was said he could transact more business in a few hours than anyone else in a whole day.”
Richard Baker, Jr., died in January of 1875, leaving 152 Commonwealth and the lot at 150 Commonwealth in trust for the benefit of his wife and their children.
Ellen Baker continued to live at 152 Commonwealth and in Newport. In 1880, the Richard Baker estate had a new house constructed on the empty lot at 150 Commonwealth, which it leased to Dr. Orlando Witherspoon Doe, a physician.
The Bakers’ four children lived with Ellen Baker at 152 Commonwealth and Newport: Mary Rich Baker, William W. Baker, Alice Starr Baker, and Richard Baker, III. Mary Baker married in June of 1885 to leather dealer Thomas Owen Richardson, and they moved to 131 Marlborough, Alice Baker died in August of 1880. William Baker died in April of 1882. And Richard Baker died in April of 1896.
Ellen Baker died in September of 1896 in Newport.
On May 7, 1900, 152 Commonwealth was purchased from the Baker estate by William Bowditch Rogers, a stockbroker. He and his wife, Augusta (Kellogg) Rogers, made it their home. They previously had lived at 151 Commonwealth. The Baker estate continued to own 150 Commonwealth.
During the 1906-1907 winter season, the Rogerses were living elsewhere and 152 Commonwealth was the home of George Bridge Leighton and his wife, Charlotte (Kayser) Leighton. George Leighton was president of the Allegheny By-Products Coal Company, and previously had been president of the Los Angeles Terminal Railway and then of the Leighton & Howard Steel Company. The Leightons also maintained a home in Dublin, New Hampshire, where he owned and operated Monadnock Farms.
By the 1907-1908 winter season, the Leightons had moved to 381 Commonwealth and the Rogerses were once again living at 152 Commonwealth. They continued to live there during the 1909-1910 season, but moved there after to Dedham.
The Chilton Club was founded in 1910 as a women’s club, which it remained until 1988, when it began admitting male members.
The founding of the Club is described in its history, Seventy-Five Years at the Chilton Club (published by the Club in 1985) as “…the original brainchild of six women, members of the Tuesday Club, a reading and discussion group that met during the early 1900s to read and exchange ideas; the ladies were Mesdames Nathaniel Thayer, Philip Dexter, Richard Sears, Samuel Warren, Gordon Abbott, and Stephen Crosby. These young matrons wanted a club in Boston patterned on the Colony Club of New York; one meant to be more ‘interesting and exciting’ than the Mayflower Club on Boston’s Park Street. That club permitted neither drinking, smoking, nor card playing on its premises, which were comfortable but utilitarian in nature. The new club was to be a genial, graceful retreat in the city for ladies ‘wearied by shopping.’ Cards and discrete smoking were to be allowed, and a better table laid than at any of the hotels of town – and with more delicacy and refinement of décor than at the Mayflower Club.”
“The name of Mary Chilton, who was thought to have been the first woman to set foot onto New England soil from the Mayflower, was taken for the Club’s name.”
Public reaction to the Club’s formation was mixed. A Boston American article quoted by in Club’s history editorialized: “’Many are called but few are chosen. Such a period of reconstruction as Boston faces! It will divide the social set in two great classes the INS and the OUTS making the 600 members, the finest Bostonese.’” Another article quoted in the history noted that “The club will be the Ultima Thule for the Boston lady of society.”
The Club’s history notes that its acceptance of tobacco, card-playing, and alcohol drew harsh criticism from several pulpits of the day, quoting a 1911 sermon by Rev. Herbert Johnson of the Warren Street Baptist Church: “’Members of the Chilton Club are climbing up the social tree by means of cocktails and as such are evidence of Darwin’s theory that we are descended from apes. They do not intend to have a bar but liquor is to be served and they intend to sell cigarettes and cigars not only to the men but to the women as well and it will be possible for a woman to purchase a fat, thick cigar! Some of them will sit there drinking the wines and the cocktails and the brandy – for women have been known to do such things. Those women who sit there and drink and drink and drink are harming the character of unborn generations and communicating the desire to drink to others. The sons of the aristocratic families have not amounted to much and their children have been rather nonentities. There are exceptions, of course, but as a rule this is true.’”
Even more pointed were the remarks of Rev. Dr. Cortland Meyers of the Tremont Temple, who said he would prefer to “be pastor over savages” than have one of the Chiltons as a member of his church. He added that the Chilton women were like “moths on trees that need to be exterminated from society,” adding that “no man could ever have respect for them.”
Over the years, the Club earned a reputation much different than that feared by the early ministers. In his The Proper Bostonians, published in 1947, Cleveland Amory described the Club as “far from being merely one more of Boston’s many women’s clubs … Seemingly patterned on an English men’s club rather than the usual American informal type of women’s club, the Chilton is in reality Boston’s female Somerset — almost equally archaic and in some respects as austere. There are three entrances to the club, one for members only off Commonwealth Avenue, one for members and guests off Dartmouth Street, and one for delivery people and servants off an alley.”
Having acquired 152 Commonwealth, in May of 1910, the Chilton Club applied for (and subsequently received) permission to significantly remodel and expand the house, including removing the original third floor, with its mansard roof, and adding three additional floors, two of brick and the third “in roof.” They also received permission to construct an addition at the rear, 38 feet by 18 feet 9 inches, five stories high above the basement, four of brick and one “in roof.” The Club retained the architectural firm of Richardson, Barott, and Richardson, and the work was overseen by Frederic L. W. Richardson, son of the noted architect Henry Hobson Richardson.
The work was delayed in August, when the Building Commission cited the masons, L. D. Willcutt & Sons, for installing a wall on the Dartmouth Street side that was built with diagonal headers, not in conformance with city standards. Willcutt & Son argued that the wall was stronger than required by law and the particular pattern had been used to match the existing brick work. On August 6, 1910, the Board of Appeal decided that the wall did not have to be rebuilt but “further work must be done in conformity with the law.”
The addition was completed in February of 1911.
The remodeled interior is described in Seventy-Five Years at the Chilton Club:
“The large entrance hall was tiled in red with pure white walls, and the main stairs were carpeted in Wilton in a shade of colonial blue. Chandeliers of crystal lighted the stairs… The first floor reception rooms and magazine room were in rose red…the new dining room…was done in the Club colors of royal blue. …There was a gymnasium, a squash court on the upper floor, and, in the basement, Turkish and electric baths. The ballroom was painted in white ivory hung with rich satin of a turquoise color. The dining room had an excellent Chippendale sideboard. Certainly one of the greatest attractions must have been the roof garden overlooking Commonwealth Avenue and later glassed in as the winter garden, done in an Italian style. There was a pergola with green hanging lanterns, ivy twining around the lattice work and the fluted pillars, and a stone fountain that supplied the sound of water filling the room. Comfortable white wicker chairs and tables in the roof garden were most inviting for taking one’s ease at tea, and there one could smoke at any time, although it was ‘presumed to be a privilege only to be taken advantage of by the men’.”
In May of 1926, the Club acquired 150 Commonwealth, which had remained in the Baker estate until the previous year, when it was acquired on the Club’s behalf by its founding president, Pauline (Revere) Thayer, the widow of Nathaniel Thayer.
The Club remodeled the house and combined it with 152 Commonwealth. Plans for the remodeling — including elevations and floor plans — are included in the City of Boston Blueprints Collection in the Boston City Archives (reference BIN P-24).
In 1962, the Club enclosed the roof garden “conservatory” on the fifth floor of 152 Commonwealth, replacing the French windows with brick panels and double-hung windows.
150-152 Commonwealth remained the Chilton Club in 2017, with the 287 Dartmouth entrance as its principal address.