181 Commonwealth was designed by architect Clarence S. Luce and built in 1878 by T. E. and W. H. Stuart, builders, as the home of banker and merchant Charles Whitney and his wife, Jessie Grant (Perkins) Whitney. They previously had lived at 225 Beacon. He is shown as the owner of 181 Commonwealth on the original building permit application dated March 28, 1878.
Charles Whitney purchased the land for 181 Commonwealth on February 19, 1878, from Franklin Haven, Jr., who had purchased it from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on June 13, 1876.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 181 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the north side of Commonwealth and Alley 425, from Dartmouth to Exeter.
The Whitneys continued to live at 181 Commonwealth during the 1894-1895 winter season, but had moved to 336 Beacon by the next season.
On May 15, 1884, 181 Commonwealth was purchased from Charles Whitney by Frances Elizabeth (Appleton) Jackson, the wife of stockbroker Charles Cabot Jackson. They previously had lived at 20 Hereford.
They continued to live at 181 Commonwealth during the 1894-1895 winter season, but moved thereafter to 301 Marlborough.
On January 15, 1895, 181 Commonwealth was purchased from Frances Jackson by Miss Adele Granger Thayer. She had lived at 169 Commonwealth during the previous season. She also maintained a home in Brookline.
In 1898-1899 she built a home, Uplands, in West Manchester, Massachusetts, designed by Alexander W. Longfellow, Jr., and in 1900 she sold her home in Brookline.
By 1905, Miss Thayer had been joined at 181 Commonwealth by Miss Minnie Hortense (called Hortense) Webster, who served as her secretary. She previously had been a cataloger in the library at Brown University. In 1905, Miss Thayer and Miss Webster traveled together to Europe.
Hortense Webster married in April of 1907 to Harry Hale Goss. He was a hospital engineer in Providence, where they lived after their marriage.
By the 1907-1908 winter season, Hortense (Webster) Goss’s sister, Helen Chapman Webster, had become Miss Thayer’s secretary, living with her at 181 Commonwealth. She continued to live there until her death in April of 1912.
In 1910, Adele Thayer purchased Gnome Farm in Dublin, New Hampshire. She appears to have sold the Uplands in Manchester at about that time.
By 1913, Miss Thayer had been joined by Miss Elizabeth Greene, probably also her secretary.
During the 1914-1915 winter season, Miss Thayer was living elsewhere and 181 Commonwealth was the home of Arthur H. Fleming, a widower, and his daughter, Marjorie. Arthur Fleming was a lumberman in California, where he was a major benefactor of the California Institute of Technology.
Miss Thayer resumed living at 181 Commonwealth during the 1915-1916 winter season, but was living elsewhere again during the 1916-1917 season, when 181 Commonwealth was the home of Emanuel Lycurgus (Eman L.) Beck and his wife, Mary Ruth (Payne) Beck. He was a banker in Mexico City; they also maintained a home in Littleton, New Hampshire.
By the 1917-1918 winter season, Adele Thayer was living at 181 Commonwealth once again. She continued to live there at the time of her death in March of 1918.
181 Commonwealth was not listed in the 1919 Blue Book.
By the 1919-1920 winter season, it was the home of Natalie Bayard (Dresser) Brown, the widow of John Nicholas Brown (after whose grandfather Brown University was named), and their son, John Nicholas Brown, Jr. She also maintained a home in Newport. They continued to live at 181 Commonwealth during the 1921-1922 season, but moved thereafter.
On June 19, 1922, 181 Commonwealth was purchased from Adele Thayer’s estate by wool merchant William Arthur Dupee. In August of 1922, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to remodel portions of the interior.
William Dupee and his wife, Clara Ethel (Purdon) Dupee had lived at 90 Marlborough during the 1921-1922 winter season, and lived in Hyde Park while the remodeling of 181 Commonwealth was being completed. The house was not listed in the 1922-1923 Blue Book. The Dupees had taken up residence there by the 1923-1924 season and continued to live there during the 1924-1925 season. They moved thereafter and by 1927 were living at 7 Fairfield.
During the 1925-1926 winter season, 181 Commonwealth was the home of Benjamin Helm Bristow Draper and his wife, Queena (Sanford) Draper. They had lived at 187 Beacon during the previous season. He was a manufacturer of cotton mill machinery in the firm founded by his grandfather, located in Hopedale, where the Drapers also maintained a home. By the 1926-1927 season, they had moved to an apartment at 137 Marlborough (317 Dartmouth).
By the 1926-1927 winter season, Natalie Brown and her son, John Nicholas Brown, had returned from an extended tour of Europe and the Near East, and were once again living at 181 Commonwealth. On July 15, 1927, she purchased the property from William Dupee.
Natalie Brown and her late husband were friends of architect Ralph Adams Cram, and in the early 1900s she worked with him on the design of her Newport home, Harbour Court, and of Emmanuel Church in Newport. Cram became a mentor to John Nicholas Brown, Jr., engendering in him a deep interest in art and architecture. In the 1920s, John Nicholas Brown, Jr., commissioned Cram to design a chapel at St. George’s School in Newport (which John Nicholas Brown, Jr. had attended), and worked closely with Cram on the Chapel’s design and construction.
In July of 1927, Natalie Brown applied for (and subsequently received) permission to build a four-story rear addition to 181 Commonwealth designed by Cram and Ferguson. In September of 1927, she amended the application to add a fifth story to the addition. John Nicholas Brown, Jr., worked with Cram to design the alterations (in his Ralph Adams Cram: An Architect’s Four Quests, Douglass Shand-Tucci indicates that a “great many drawings of alterations to Brown’s mother’s Boston townhouse (at 181 Commonwealth Avenue) were cataloged in Cram’s job book”). Plans for the remodeling — including floor plans, framing plans, and a rear elevation — are included in the City of Boston Blueprints Collection in the Boston City Archives (reference BIN P-48).
John Nicholas Brown, Jr., continued to live at 181 Commonwealth until his marriage in October of 1930 to Anne Seddon Kinsolving. After their marriage, they moved to Providence.
By 1940, 181 Commonwealth was the home of Mrs. Anna (Palfrey) Allan, widow of Bryce J. Allan. He had managed the Boston office of his family’s steamship company, the Allan Steamship Line, until his death in August of 1924. They had lived at 255 Beacon, where she continued to live until about 1933 and continued to own until mid-1939. She also maintained a home, Allanbank, in Beverly, where she died in April of 1942.
181 Commonwealth was shown as vacant in the 1941-1943 City Directories and was not listed in the 1941 and 1942 Lists of Residents.
On December 12, 1942, 181 Commonwealth was acquired from Natalie Brown by real estate dealer Henry Joseph O’Meara. Three days later, he conveyed it to Miss Ane Margrethe Knudsen. She previously had lived at 93 Beacon. In January of 1943, she applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert 181 Commonwealth from a single-family dwelling into a lodging house. She continued to live there until the early 1950s.
On October 30, 1953, 151 Commonwealth was acquired from Ane Knudsen by B. J. Leo Harrigan, a realtor. He and his wife, Ruth F. Harrigan, made it their home and continued to operate it as a lodging house. They previously had lived in Swampscott. They continued to live at 181 Commonwealth until about 1959.
On August 3, 1959, 181 Commonwealth was acquired from B. J. Leo Harrigan by Miss Mary Frances Page and her sister, Mildred Catherine (Page) Murphy, the widow of Francis J. Murphy. They lived at 127 Commonwealth.
By 1960, 181 Commonwealth was being operated primary as student housing, managed by Mary Page and Mildred Murphy’s sister, Mrs. Frances Eustella (Page) Driscoll. She previously had lived in Stoughton. On May 9, 1960, Mildred Murphy transferred her interest in the property to Frances Driscoll.
On July 2, 1962, 181 Commonwealth was acquired from Mary Page and Frances Driscoll by Harry Freedman, trustee of the Rainbow Realty Trust. He operated the property as a women’s dormitory for students at Cambridge School of Business located on Boylston.
In November of 1964, Rainbow Realty applied for permission to change the use from a lodging house into a school dormitory. The application was denied, but the denial was annulled by the Board of Appeal on March 31, 1965, with the proviso that it be limited to female students and that there be a house director on duty on the premises at all times.
On November 18, 1968, 181 Marlborough was acquired from Harry Freedman by Louis Francis Musco, George J. Brennan, Jr., and Louis F. Musco, Jr., trustees of the Commonwealth Realty Trust – Special. Louis Musco and George Brennan were co-founders of Bay State College. They operated the property as a dormitory for Bay State College.
181 Commonwealth remained a dormitory in 2020.