186 Beacon was designed by Emerson and Fehmer, architects, and built in 1869 by I. & H. M. Harmon, masons and builders, for William Appleton. He and his wife, Emily (Warren) Appleton, lived at 76 Beacon. He was the son of shipping merchant and Congressman William Appleton. Born Joseph Warren Appleton, he changed his name in 1848 to William (his elder brother, William Sullivan Appleton, had died in 1836).
William Appleton purchased the 24 foot wide lot for 186 Beacon on March 6, 1869, from William Craig Wharton. He and his wife, Nancy Willing (Spring) Wharton, lived at 127 Beacon. The lot was part of a 30 foot lot he had purchased on March 11, 1861, from the Boston and Roxbury Mill Corporation. He had sold the western 6 feet in December of 1862.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 186 Beacon, and click here for further information on the land on the north side of Beacon, including the Storrow Memorial Embankment on the Esplanade.
On March 23, 1869. the Boston Traveller reported that I. & H. M. Harmon had filed with the Board of Aldermen a notice of intention to build at 186 Beacon. Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay does not attribute the house to a specific architect. However, on April 21, 1869, the Boston Evening Transcript commented that Emerson and Fehmer had “in hand the plans of a freestone front residence for William Appleton, which will occupy the vacant lot 186 Beacon street.”
William Appleton built 186 Beacon as the home of his son-in-law and daughter, James Arthur Beebe and Emily (Appleton) Beebe, who were married in April of 1869. Prior to their marriage, J. Arthur Beebe had lived at 30 Beacon with his parents, James Madison Beebe and Esther Elizabeth (Brown) Beebe. He was a wool merchant in his father’s firm.
William Appleton died in February of 1877, and 186 Beacon continued to be owned by his estate.
J. Arthur and Emily Beebe lived at 186 Beacon through the 1880-1881 winter season, but moved thereafter to 83 Beacon. In 1890-1891, they built a new home at 199 Commonwealth.
In 1882, 186 Beacon was temporarily the home of Elizabeth (Torrey) Spooner, the widow of shipping merchant Daniel Nicolson Spooner, and their two unmarried daughters, Ellen and Mary. They previously had lived at 23 Commonwealth, and by the 1882-1883 winter season had moved to a new home she had built at 196 Commonwealth.
186 Beacon was not listed in the 1882-1884 Blue Books.
On June 20, 1884, the estate of William Appleton offered 186 Beacon for sale at public auction. The notice for the auction published in the Boston Journal and Boston Daily Advertiser by auctioneer Samuel Hatch & Co. described the house as including a “large reception room, dining room and spacious hall on the main entrance floor, beautiful drawing rooms with elegant mantels on second floor, seven spacious chambers and ample closet room, elaborate stair cases, front and back stairs thoroughly lighted from top to bottom, two bath rooms, three water-closets and all the usual conveniences, with the best of plumbing.”
On June 21, 1884, the Boston Herald reported that the successful bidder was “Robert H. Gardner,” and on June 29, 1884, the “Table Gossip” column in the Boston Globe commented that “Robert H. Gardner, Jr., bought last week the fine freestone house 186 Beacon street for $29,700.” This appears to be attorney Robert Hallowell Gardiner, Jr.
Robert H. Gardiner, Jr., did not take title to the property and may have been acting on behalf of George Peabody Gardner, who purchased it on October 6, 1884, from the estate of William Appleton for $30,000.
George P. Gardner and his wife, Esther (Burnett) Gardner, made it their home. They had married in June of 1884 and 186 Beacon probably was their first home together. Prior to their marriage, he had lived with his father, George Augustus Gardner, at 51 Commonwealth.
During the 1895-1896 winter season, the Gardners were living elsewhere and 186 Beacon was the home of Jane Huntington (Watkinson) Norton, the widow of Rev. Frank Louis Norton. She had lived at 209 Beacon in 1893. She had moved from 186 Beacon by the 1896-1897 season, and by the next season she was living at 30 Gloucester.
The Gardners had resumed living at 186 Beacon during the 1896-1897 winter season. They also maintained homes at Monument Beach and in Southborough.
In June of 1906, George Gardner applied for (and subsequently received) permission to build an automobile garage at the rear of the building. The garage was designed by architect Willard T. Sears.
George and Esther Gardner continued to live at 186 Beacon until his death in June of 1939. After his death, Esther Gardner moved to an apartment at 6 Arlington.
On November 27, 1940, 186 Beacon was acquired from George Gardner’s estate by real estate dealers Warren-Stevens, Inc.
On December 17, 1940, 186 Beacon was purchased from Warren-Stevens, Inc., by Gordon Keith Simpson. He previously had lived at 115 Marlborough with his mother, Sarah (Boocock) Simpson, the widow of James Simpson. By 1942, he was operating 186 Beacon as a lodging house.
In July of 1944, he applied for (and susequently received) permission to subdivide the property, creating a separate single-family residence at the rear, in the garage building facing Back Street, and keeping the main building as a single-family residence.
In December of 1944, he applied for permission to convert 186 Beacon from a single-family dwelling into fourteen units. He appears to have abandoned the application.
Gordon Simpson continued to live at 186 Beacon until about 1948.
In 1949, 186 Beacon became the fraternity house of the Boston University chapter of Theta Kappa Phi (referred to as the Associates of St. Thomas fraternity in the City Directories), with recreational rooms on the first two floors and dormitories on the upper floors.
In 1951, Gordon Simpson was cited for numerous fire and egress violations, and also for failing to obtain approval to use the building as a dormitory. In August of 1951, he applied for permission to remodel the property and convert into a fraternity house. He appears to have abandoned that application, however, and in November of 1951, he applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the house into eight units.
On November 12, 1957, the Brookline Federal Savings and Loan Association foreclosed on its mortgage to Gordon Simpson. On March 11, 1958, it was acquired from the bank by Joseph B. Conley of Salem.
On February 2, 1960, 186 Beacon was acquired from Joseph Conley by the S. S. Ganick Corporation. In April of 1960, it applied for (and subsequently received) permission to significantly remodel the building, including lowering the front entrance to the basement level, removing the bays and brownstone facade, and replacing the mansard roof on the fifth floor with a with a two-story (duplex) apartment, creating a six story plus basement building . As proposed, the front windows were to have been a single rectangle of aluminum casement windows on each floor and there was to have been an iron balcony across the windows on the new top story. Plans for the remodeling, designed by architect Joseph DiStefano, Jr. , are included in the City of Boston Blueprints Collection in the Boston City Archives (reference BIN R-230).
As built, the duplex apartment, additional story, and balcony were eliminated, and two separate windows replaced the proposed single rectangle of windows on each floor.
The building remained eight units (the remodeling application indicated that the building currently was a single-family dwelling, which appears to be incorrect based on the various uses during Gordon Simpson’s ownership).
On May 25, 1973, S. S. Ganick Corporation converted 186 Beacon into six condominium units, the 186 Beacon Street Condominium.
In October of 2000, the 186 Beacon Street Condominium Trust applied for (and subsequently received) permission to replace the garage at the rear with a open parking court.