160 Commonwealth is located on the SW corner of Commonwealth and Dartmouth, with 152 Commonwealth (287 Dartmouth) to the east, across Dartmouth, 172 Commonwealth to the west, 306 Dartmouth to the north, across Commonwealth, and 278 Dartmouth (149 Newbury) to the south, across Alley 434.
The original portion of the Hotel Vendôme, located at the corner of Commonwealth and Dartmouth with a 74 foot frontage on Commonwealth, was designed by architect William G. Preston and built in 1870-1872. The addition to the west, with a 156 foot frontage, was designed by architects Ober and Rand and built in 1881-1882. The total frontage on Commonwealth is 242.4 feet, including an open space about 12 feet wide between the hotel and 172 Commonwealth. In 1972, while it was being remodeled, the building suffered a major fire that destroyed the central tower and the southeast corner of the building. The building was converted into residential and commercial condominiums in 1975.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 160 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 434, from Dartmouth to Exeter.
Original Hotel Vendôme: Charles A. Wood ownership. The original Hotel Vendôme was designed by architect William G. Preston and built for insurance agent and real estate investor Charles Austin Wood. He and his wife, Caroline Elizabeth (Wilson) Wood, lived at 319 Columbus Avenue, and then at the hotel after it had been completed.
The original hotel building was located at the corner of Commonwealth and Dartmouth, with an Italian marble façade. Within the building, there were four separate townhouses and about sixteen apartments. Two of the townhouses faced Commonwealth, with entrances in the center of the Commonwealth façade (Charles and Caroline Wood made their home in the townhouse on the corner of Commonwealth and Dartmouth), and the other two faced Dartmouth with entrances on the southern portion of the Dartmouth façade. The apartments were entered through the main hotel entrance at 290 Dartmouth in the center of the Dartmouth façade.
To the west of the main building was an annex located on the southern half of a 49 foot wide lot, and to the west of that were five brownstone townhouses, also designed by William G. Preston, each 21 feet wide, numbered 160-162-164-166-168 Commonwealth.
The land, with a total frontage on Commonwealth of 228 feet, was sold by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts at auctions on February 5, 1870, and March 7, 1871. Charles Wood was the successful bidder and on March 21, 1870, he filed a Notice of Intention to Build with the Board of Aldermen. He subsequently purchased the land from the Commonwealth in three separate parcels on November 29, 1870, September 29, 1871, and November 16, 1871.
An August 24, 1871, Boston Traveller article on William G. Preston described the new hotel’s design and construction.
“The building is of Italian marble, with enrichments of Cincinnati or Buena Vista freestone, which forms a pleasing contrast. The roof is covered entirely with rolled copper. The halls are paved to a great extent with marble and French tiling. An elaborate marble, planelled wainscoting is built around the parlors, and everything about the building is carried out in a corresponding degree of elegance. The cost will be about $200,000, and it is intended to make this the most desirable and sumptuous establishment of the kind in the city.
“Every room in the building has exterior windows, free light and air, and all the modern conveniences are distributed with lavish hand. A complete burglar alarm and telegraphic system is carried out in the building, more than two miles of insulated wire being used for that purpose.
“An elegant dining hall, 30×40, with glass roof, is provided for the occupants of the suites of apartments, the lower two stories of the building being arranged in four separate houses – complete in every particular – with separate entrances on the avenue and on Dartmouth street, but whose occupants, by means of dumb-waiters, are enabled to have their meals served from the hotel kitchen, if they so choose – accomplishing that much desired object – private housekeeping without servants.
“Mr. Preston has also under way a block of five first class freestone-front residences on the avenue, just beyond the hotel, for the same gentleman, which will be completed the coming fall.”
The Traveller article indicated that the hotel “is now rapidly approaching completion, and will be opened early in October” of 1871. The opening was delayed, however until mid- or late-1872. Advertisements appeared in the Boston Traveller in the spring of 1872 announcing that “apartments can now be secured in this Elegant Family Hotel, by early application to the proprietor” and that “the apartments are nearly ready for occupancy, and the Hotel will be opened June 1, 1872.”
On June 6, 1872, Charles Wood sold the 123 foot wide parcel of land “and unfinished family hotel thereon” east of the five townhouses to The Vendome Hotel Company, of which he was the president. He retained the five townhouses, which were operated in conjunction with the hotel.
On July 19, 1872, the Boston Traveller reported that ”the entire house is about done, and in fact, Mr. Charles A. Wood, the owner, has already taken possession of the house on the corner of the avenue and some of the suites are already let and partly occupied.” However, the advertisement announcing that the hotel would soon open continued to be published unchanged (with the June 1, 1872, opening date) until late October of 1872, and possibly later.
The hotel was built as a “family hotel” and designed primarily to serve permanent residents rather than transient guests. An October 21, 1873, article in the Boston Globe described it in some detail:
“There are comparatively few of the residents of this city who are aware of the superior advantages offered at the Hotel Vendome to those desirous of securing the comforts of a quiet home life, without the troubles and vexations of housekeeping. The collection of buildings which constitute the hotel is located at the corner of Commonwealth avenue and Dartmouth street, and, although the foundations were laid over three years ago, the entire fitting of the building is not yet complete, so careful and thorough has been the work in the details.
“In the main hotel building, which makes the corner of the structure, there are about sixteen suites of apartments, all of which are occupied, together with a good dining room, billiard and reception rooms and office. Adjoining the main building on Commonwealth avenue, are some five or six dwelling-houses which are connected with the hotel and are in fact a part of it, being connected with the main building by covered corridors. The upper corridor is so arranged as to afford a promenade of 150 feet or more, through a conservatory filled with birds and flowers.
“Arrangements can be made either to have one’s meals served within the suite of rooms occupied, or in the grand dining hall, where a separate table is provided for each suite and held in readiness for use at any hour designated by the guests. The expenses of living at the Hotel Vendome are very moderate, when the location and the attractions of the establishment are considered, and, as a matter of economy, those seeking a home will do well to examine the two or three suites of rooms now vacant. The taste shown throughout the building can hardly be over-praised, as the eye meets with nothing but harmonious colorings and elegant designs in all parts of the structure, and the use of white and colored marbles, with walnut in the finish of the halls and stairways, produces one of the many beautiful effects which characterize all the inside fittings of the hotel. All the conveniences of hotel life are provided, including speaking tubes, annunciators, and an elevator, and the management of the cuisine is in the hands of a competent person, who has given great satisfaction to those who have resided at the hotel during the last year.”
In August of 1876, the hotel was sold at auction to satisfy mortgages, unpaid taxes, and other claims. Charles Wood was the successful bidder, with the resulting price sufficient to pay off the mortgages and other liabilities. The August 8, 1876, Boston Globe article on the auction noted that “a good business has been done for several years by Mr. Charles A. Wood, the able landlord, and now that this sale has cut off a couple of hundred thousand dollars in bonds, it will probably be managed with as much profit as it has been socially a success.” The five townhouses were not part of the sale, but the article noted that “there are several brown stone fronts on the avenue which are connected with the hotel.”
Over the next three years, the Boston Five Cents Savings Bank foreclosed on its mortgages to Charles Wood on the five townhouses and took possession of all five. It resold 164 Commonwealth and 166 Commonwealth to Samuel P. Cannell, and retained the other three.
Expanded Hotel Vendôme: Charles Whitney ownership. In 1879, Col. John Wesley Wolcott assumed management of the of the Hotel Vendôme. He and his wife, Henrietta Louisa Tracy (Eustis) Wolcott, lived in Dedham. He previously had been associated with the Brunswick Hotel and the Commonwealth Hotel.
On October 30, 1879, the Hotel Vendôme was purchased from Charles Wood by lumber merchant and real estate investor Charles Whitney. He and his wife, Sarah Kimball (Bradley) Whitney, lived across the street at 306 Dartmouth.
Between October of 1879 and March of 1880, Charles Whitney also acquired 160, 162, and 168 Commonwealth from the Boston Five Cents Savings Bank Commonwealth), and 164 and 166 Commonwealth from Samuel P. Cannell.
On June 27, 1883, Sarah Whitney acquired the 56 foot wide vacant lot to the west of 168 Commonwealth from William T. Hart (who had purchased it from the Commonwealth on April 7, 1874), and on May 6, 1885, she transferred the lot into Charles Whitney’s name.
Charles Whitney significantly expanded the original hotel with the construction of a 156 foot wide addition to the west on Commonwealth, designed by Ober and Rand, with a façade of Tuckahoe marble and the principal entrance located on Commonwealth. The addition replaced the annex to the hotel west of the original hotel and the five townhouses, extending about two feet beyond where the eastern wall of 168 Commonwealth had been located.
John Wolcott continued to manage the hotel and, according to his June 6, 1885, obituary in Boston Globe, his “suggestions were of great value in the arrangement of the interior of this palatial hotel.”
The bulk of the lot to the west remained vacant. Charles Whitney retained a strip 14 feet wide next to the hotel (with about 6 inches of the hotel’s western wall placed on it) and then sold the next two lots to the west: a 20 foot lot on July 1, 1885, to Annie Maria (Brazer) Bartlett, the wife of Dr. Charles Samuel Bartlett, who built 172 Commonwealth on it, and an irregular lot 22.01 feet wide on Commonwealth and 22.14 feet wide on the alley on January 29, 1886, to architect William G. Preston (who had designed the original portion of the Hotel Vendôme), who subsequently sold it to Luther Merrill, who built 174 Commonwealth on it.
In building the addition, Charles Whitney sought both to limit any abutting structures that might encroach on the hotel’s light and air, and also to ensure that neighboring property owners could not challenge whether the hotel addition conformed with the deed restrictions contained in the original land deeds from the Commonwealth.
On November 18, 1883, John Wolcott acquired the vacant land across the alley from the hotel addition, where 157-159-161-163 Newbury later would be built. The purchase probably was made at the behest of Charles Whitney, to whom John Wolcott mortgaged the property. On August 9, 1883, before the land was conveyed to John Wolcott, and again on May 6, 1885, Charles Whitney entered into an agreement with him limiting the height and depth of any buildings built at 157-159-161-163 Newbury and also waiving any right or claim against the owner of the Hotel Vendôme arising out of how the hotel was built or maintained.
Similarly, Charles Whitney also included language in the deeds selling the land at 172 Commonwealth and 174 Commonwealth limiting the height and depth of the houses built on those lots and specifying that the owner of the Hotel Vendôme reserved the right to maintain the building “as now built.”
After the expansion, the Hotel Vendôme served both transient guests and permanent residents.
Moses King, in his The Back Bay District and The Vendome, published when the hotel re-opened after the expansion (and printed by the hotel), indicates that “it was built by Charles Whitney, a wealthy Boston capitalist,” and managed by “Col. J. W. Wolcott, who has done more to raise the standard of hotels in New England than any person now living.”
The Vendôme was outfitted with central steam heat and two passenger elevators. King’s pamphlet describes the interior in detail. “On the first floor are the various public rooms, five dining-rooms, an elegant banquet-hall 30 by 110 feet, and the grand parlors; all reached by the main entrance and by a private entrance on Commonwealth Avenue, so that clubs and parties can be served without interference with the ordinary business of the hotel. There is also an entrance for ladies on Dartmouth Street. The rotunda is most exquisitely finished; and the great dining-hall with seats for 250 persons is richly adorned with mirrors, carved mahogany and cherry wood, and decorated with fresco-work and a handsome frieze. Each of the six upper stories contains seventy rooms, grouped so as to be used singly or in suites…The rooms are all virtually ‘outside rooms,’ and every suite has a bay window.”
In his Houses of Boston’s Back Bay, Bainbridge Bunting notes that “in 1882, the first commercial installation of electric lights in Boston was made at the Hotel Vendome.” This probably was only in the public rooms, inasmuch as, in describing the individual guest rooms, the ninth edition of King’s Boston, published in 1889, notes that “every gas-fixture” … “has its independent ventilating-tubes.”
By the 1881-1882 winter season, Charles and Sarah Kimball (Bradley) Whitney,had moved from 306 Dartmouth to the Hotel Vendôme.
Charles Greenleaf Management. John W. Wolcott died in June of 1885 and by 1886, the Hotel Vendôme was under the management of Charles Henry Greenleaf, who operated the hotel for the next 38 years.
Charles Greenleaf was a hotel operator from New Hampshire, where he also owned and operated the Profile House hotel and the Flume House hotel at Franconia Notch in the White Mountains. He and his wife, Abbie F. (Burnham) Greenleaf lived at the Hotel Vendôme and in Franconia.
Charles Whitney died in September of 1887 and Sarah Whitney died in August of 1889. Their two daughters, Ada Medora (Whitney) Davis, the wife of George Gilbert Davis, and Katherine (Kate) A. Whitney, inherited the property. George and Ada Davis lived at 243 Beacon; he was a manufacturer of woolen machinery. Kate Whitney usually lived at the Hotel Vendôme, but moved to 18 Fairfield for the 1908-1909 winter season, and continued to live there at the time of her death in October of 1909. Her interest in the hotel was inherited by her sister.
Sometime between 1910 and 1920, a glassed-in penthouse was added between the Dartmouth side and the central tower on Commonwealth. This addition does not appear in photographs from about 1910, but does appear in photographs from the early 1920s.
Abbie Greenleaf died in April of 1914 at the Hotel Vendôme and Charles Greenleaf married again in June of 1915 to Mabelle Furst. They lived at the Hotel Vendôme and in Franconia.
In June of 1918, the Flume House was destroyed by fire, and in 1921 Charles Greenleaf sold the Profile House and its lands to the Frank H. Abbott and Son Hotel Company, owned by Frank H. Abbott and his son, Karl Pennock Abbott, who had been associate manager of the Profile House since 1920. The Abbotts operated (or later would operate) hotels in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, and New York. The former Greenleaf properties at Franconia Notch were held by the Profile and Flume Hotels Company. The Profile House was destroyed by fire in August of 1923 and, after briefly contemplating rebuilding, the Abbotts sold the land to the state for use as a state park.
Ada (Whitney) Davis died in December of 1920 and the Hotel Vendôme continued to be owned by her estate. Charles Greenleaf continued to manage the hotel until his death in April of 1924.
Abbott Family Ownership. On December 6, 1924, the Hotel Vendôme was acquired from Ada Davis’s estate by the Profile and Flume Hotels Company, still owned by the Abbott family.
On January 27, 1926, the Hotel Vendôme was acquired from Profile and Flume Hotels by The Vendome Company, Inc., also owned by the Abbotts. Frank H. Abbott was president of the company and Karl P. Abott was vice-president and managing director of the hotel.
In about 1931, Karl Abbott succeeded his father as president of The Vendome Company. He and his wife, Esther L. (Robeson) Abbott, lived in Franconia.
On January 8, 1937, the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company foreclosed on its mortgage to Profile and Flume Hotels, which had assumed by The Vendome Company, and took possession of the property.
Coulon Family Ownership. On May 28, 1943, the Hotel Vendôme was acquired from John Hancock Insurance by One-Sixty Commonwealth Ave., Inc., formed by Emile Frederic Coulon. He was a noted Boston hotel operator, who at various times had owned and/or operated the Westminster (southeast corner of St. James and Trinity Place), the Victoria at 273 Dartmouth, the Touraine (southeast corner of Boylston and Tremont), and the Empire at 333 Commonwealth, which he had transformed into the Lafayette in the mid 1930s. He already had been managing the Hotel Vendôme for John Hancock Insurance before acquiring the property (the June 4, 1943, Boston Globe article announcing the sale comments that “Mr. Coulon has been operating the hotel for the insurance company for some time”).
On December 30, 1943, One-Sixty Commonwealth Ave., Inc., transferred the Hotel Vendome to Emile F. Coulon, his wife, Anna L. (McCarty) Coulon, and their son, Emile Pierre Coulon, as trustees of the Vendome Trust.
Emile F. Coulon died in April of 1947 in his suite at the Hotel Vendôme. Emile P. Coulon continued to operate the hotel until 1954. He died in February of 1955.
Sidney Kleve Ownership. On September 10, 1954, the Hotel Vendôme was purchased from Emile P. Coulon by Sidney Arthur Kleve and Milton Loewe, trustees of the Vendome Realty Trust.
Sidney Kleve was a hotel operator who previously had owned the Bedford Hotel in New York City and the Chancellor Hotel in Philadelphia. In November of 1956, he acquired the Balmoral Hotel in Miami. In a November 25, 1956, article on the acquisition, the Boston Globe noted that, since acquiring the Hotel Vendôme, he had “extensively redecorated the hotel, making it one of the finest in Boston” and that “Kleve will divide his time between the Vendome and the Balmoral” with the Vendôme serving as “the center in the New England area for reservations at the Balmoral.”
Sidney Kleve continued to serve as president of the Hotel Vendôme until the early 1970s. Over the period, the hotel ownership changed hands, with Sidney Kleve retaining an interest together with various other investors.
On June 10, 1969, the hotel was damaged by a three-alarm fire on the seventh floor. According to a June 11, 1969, Boston Globe article, that floor of the hotel had not been occupied for several years.
Conversion to Apartments: Franchi Development. On March 16, 1971, the Hotel Vendôme was purchased from Sidney Kleve, Murray Bellow, and Joseph S. Wohl, by Richard J. Saletta, trustee of the Franchi Development Trust.
In June of 1971, real estate developer Pasqualle Franchi filed for (and subsequently received) permission to remodel the hotel, converting the hotel rooms on the second through seventh floors into 124 apartments, and creating a shopping mall with various commercial and retail tenants — including a restaurant, lounge, and café with related exterior dining facilities — on the basement and first floors.
On June 17, 1972, while the renovation was underway, the building suffered a massive fire that destroyed the central tower and caused the collapse of the southeastern corner (on Dartmouth at the alley). Nine firefighters were killed fighting the fire. A memorial in the Commonwealth Avenue Mall at Dartmouth commemorates their brave service and sacrifice.
The Franchi Development Trust submitted revised plans, prepared by architects Stahl/Bennett, the variances for which were approved by the Board of Appeal on November 6, 1973. As revised, the southeastern corner was rebuilt and the tower was converted into a penthouse. According to the Board of Appeal decision, the original roofs of the building were 104 feet at the highest point, except for the tower, which was 132 feet. The proposed (and approved) heights were 93 feet 6 inches at the southeast corner, 80 feet at the northeast corner, and a tower of 111 feet 6 inches. The number of apartments was reduced from the prior proposal of 124 to 116.
On January 9, 1975, Franchi Development converted the property into 110 condominiums, 1 superintendent’s apartment, and 27 commercial units on the lower and upper concourse levels (the former basement and first floors).
Photographs of the Hotel Vendôme taken by Bainbridge Bunting ca. 1942, provided courtesy of The Gleason Partnership:
Photographs of the June 17, 1972, fire, courtesy of the Boston Fire History Museum:
Contemporary (2013) photographs of the Hotel Vendôme:
Illustration from The Back Bay District and The Vendome, by Moses King, published by the hotel in 1880 while the expansion was being completed; based on contemporary photographs, it appears that many of the features of the hotel shown in this drawing were built differently.