171 Marlborough was designed by architect Carl Fehmer and built in 1881 by Morton & Chesley and Benjamin F. Dewing, builders, one of two contiguous houses (171-173 Marlborough), designed as a symmetrical pair, built for merchant and ship owner George Bruce Upton, Jr., and his wife, Geraldine Ipolite (Russell) Rivers Upton. They had lived at 175 Marlborough during the 1880-1991 winter season.
George Upton is shown as the owner of 171-173 Marlborough on the original building permit applications for the two houses, dated June 13, 1881. The Uptons made 171 Marlborough their home and sold 173 Marlborough. Geraldine Upton is shown as the owner of 171 Marlborough on the 1883 and 1888 Bromley maps.
George Upton continued to live at 171 Marlborough and in Milton. By the 1887-1888 winter season, he had been joined by his sister, Ellen Upton. She previously had lived at 11 Hereford with their sister, Elizabeth Upton. She continued to live at 171 Marlborough during the 1888-1889 season, but moved thereafter and by 1892 was living at 275 Clarendon.
During the 1889-1890 winter season, George Upton was joined at 171 Marlborough by Francis Blake Rice, a retired cotton manufacturer, and his wife, Sarah (Sallie) Blake (Austin) Rice. By the 1890-1891 season, the Rices had moved to 208 Beacon.
George Upton married again in 1890 to Alice (Henderson) Huntington, the widow of Dr. George Wolcott Huntington. After their marriage, they lived in Milton. During the 1892-1893 and 1893-1894 winter seasons, they also lived at 11 Hereford with his sister, Elizabeth Upton.
171 Marlborough was not listed in the 1891 Blue Book.
By the 1891-1892 winter season, 171 Marlborough was the home of Abbott Lawrence Lowell and his wife, Anna Parker (Lowell) Lowell. They previously had lived at 73 Marlborough. He is shown as the owner of 171 Marlborough on the 1895, 1898, 1908, 1917, 1928, and 1938 Bromley maps.
A. Lawrence Lowell was an attorney and later would become President of Harvard.
By the 1909-1910 winter season, 171 Marlborough was the home of Benjamin Preston Clark and his wife, Josephine Frances (Allen) Clark. They previously had lived in West Roxbury. They also maintained a summer home in Cohasset. B. Preston Clark was a retired cordage manufacturer and internationally noted entomologist. He also served as Consul for Guatemala and Haiti.
Anna Lowell died in 1930 and A. Lawrence Lowell retired from the presidency of Harvard in 1933. He then moved back to 171 Marlborough, and the Clarks moved to 132 Marlborough, which had been the home of Josephine Clark’s father and step-mother before their deaths.
A. Lawrence Lowell continued to live at 171 Marlborough until his death in January of 1943.
In mid-1944, 171 Marlborough was purchased from A. Lawrence Lowell’s heirs by Hilda F. (Smith) Kirby, the wife of Edmund Whittemore Kirby, a wholesale jeweler. The sale was reported by the Boston Globe on June 6, 1944. After purchasing the house, Hilda Kirby lived at 171 Marlborough and appears to have operated it as a lodging house. Her husband lived in Newton Centre.
By 1946, 171 Marlborough was the home of Harold E. Ditson, a machinist, and Anna S. Feodoroff. They previously had lived at 91 Belvidere. They married in 1947.
Harold Ditson died in August of 1962. Anna Ditson continued to live at 171 Marlborough.
According to the Massachusetts Appeals Court decision in City of Boston v. Anna F. Ditson, from 1962 to 1969 the Fire Department received numerous complaints about the accumulation of rubbish inside and outside the house. Requests to remove the rubbish and inspect the house “proved unavailing.”
In July of 1969, a neighbor expressed concern about the safety of Mrs. Ditson. The Police Department entered the building on suspicion of a sudden death. They did not find Mrs. Ditson, but they did find rubbish piled almost to the ceiling, excrement, and about 25 cats.
On July 24, 1969, an abatement order was issued directing her to removed the rubbish. After the deadline, the Fire Department entered the house and cleared it of the rubbish. After that time, Mrs. Ditson “appears to have lived in a car at the rear of the house and continued to use the house for such purposes as keeping a varying number of dogs.” In June of 1971, the house was damaged by fire, she was ordered to make repairs, but took no action. The Building Commissioner engaged a contractor who did the work for a charge of $7,880, completed on March 8, 1972.
On May 7, 1970, the Suffolk County Land Court foreclosed the property for failure to pay real estate taxes and various liens and charges, including $11,671 from the Fire Department. The foreclosure was appealed to the Appeals Court on the basis that it constituted illegal search and seizure, and the court sustained the foreclosure. The Supreme Judicial Court, which (on June 26, 1976) denied further review, and the US Supreme Court, which also denied review.
While the litigation was in progress, Mrs. Ditson continued to live at 171 Marlborough. On May 12, 1971, the house was entered by the police in response to a complaint about barking dogs, and she was found to be keeping 25 Russian wolfhounds in one room. She was charged with disturbing the peace.
In May of 1977, Arthur D. Simons purchased 171 Marlborough from the City of Boston. He transferred the property to Benjamin Gold, Alvin H. Miller, and himself, as trustees of Audubon Realty Trust. In April of 1977, prior to the closing of Arthur Simons’ purchase of the house, Audubon Realty Trust had filed for (and subsequently received) permission to repair the fire damage and establish its occupancy as six units.
As part of its remodeling of 171 Marlborough, the Audubon Realty Trust added a penthouse that apparently was not included in (or was significantly different from) the approved plans and had not been approved by the Back Bay Architectural Commission. In November of 1977, the Building Department ordered all work to cease, and the Trust filed for (and subsequently received) permission to remove all portions of the penthouse visible from the street. In December of 1977, it filed for (and subsequently received) permission to similarly reduce the height of the elevator head house.
In May of 1978, the Audubon Realty Trust converted 171 Marlborough into six condominiums.