197 Commonwealth was designed by Rotch and Tilden, architects, and built by Woodbury and Leighton in 1881-1882 as the home of Dr. Thomas Morgan Rotch, a pediatrician and professor, and his wife Helen (Rotch) Rotch. They previously had lived at 77 Marlborough. Thomas Rotch is shown as the owner on the original building permit application, dated October 28, 1881, and on the 1883, 1888, 1898, 1908, and 1912 Bromley maps.
Thomas and Helen Rotch were first cousins, and Arthur Rotch, the architect of 197 Commonwealth, was first cousin to both of them: his father, Benjamin Smith Rotch, was the brother of Thomas Rotch’s father, Rodman Rotch, and of Helen Rotch’s father, William James Rotch.
Thomas and Helen Rotch lived at 197 Commonwealth until their deaths in 1914, he in March and she in September.
The house was not listed in the 1915 Blue Book.
By the 1915-1916 winter season, 197 Commonwealth was the home of Helen Rotch’s nephew (and Thomas Rotch’s first cousin, once removed) Arthur Grinnell Rotch and his wife, Helen (Ludington) Rotch. They also maintained a summer home, Hill Top Farm, in Lakeville, Massachusetts.
The Heirs of Thomas M. Rotch are shown as the owners on the 1917 Bromley map, and Arthur G. Rotch et al, trustees are shown as the owners on the 1928 and 1938 Bromley maps.
Arthur G. Rotch was a landscape architect prior to World War I. He subsequently he served as New England division manager of the American Red Cross and was a leader in various social works organizations. He was the first Massachusetts administrator of the Works Progress Administration and was Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Welfare during World War II.
Arthur and Helen Rotch continued to live at 197 Commonwealth until about 1942.
In the fall of 1942, real estate dealer Ray C. Johnson purchased 197 Commonwealth from the Rotch family. The transaction was reported by the Boston Globe on September 13, 1942.
By 1943, it was owned by Nels Spongberg and his wife, Elin (Villander) Spongberg. They lived at 111 Commonwealth, where they operated a lodging house. In November of 1943, they filed to convert 197 Commonwealth from a single-family dwelling into a lodging house. They abandoned their application and in June of 1944, they were cited by the Building Department for failure to change the legal occupancy to a lodging house and also for failure to provide the necessary additional means of egress.
In March and April of 1945, they filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property into a single-family dwelling and lodging house, and to construct fire balconies to provide the required egress.
By 1945, the Spongbergs had moved from 111 Commonwealth to 315 Commonwealth, where they also operated a lodging house. They continued to operate 197 Commonwealth as a lodging house in 1946.
By 1947, 197 Commonwealth was owned by Frances B. Christian. In March of 1947, she filed for (and subsequently received) permission to remodel the property and convert it into eleven apartments, including rebuilding the roof to convert the existing attic into a penthouse with a small deck in the front and lowering the front entrance from the first floor to the basement. The remodeling was designed by architect Clark F. Merrick. Plans for the remodeling are included in the City of Boston Blueprints Collection in the Boston Public Library’s Arts Department (reference BIN R-78).
The same month, she also applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the garage and servants’ quarters at the rear of the property into a single-family dwelling. In conjunction with that filing, she filed a letter indicating that she had purchased the property “with the verification of the fact that the building was first used as a coach house and servants quarters and later as a two car garage and chauffeurs living quarters.” The letter was co-signed by Benjamin F. Russ, also indicated as an owner.
Based on the Bromley maps for the period, it appears that the carriage house had been added sometime between 1883 and 1888 (although it may have been built at the same time as the house and omitted from the earlier Bromley map).
The property subsequently changed hands and in February of 1966 was acquired by Glenn Fortier, trustee of the 197 Realty Trust. In December of 1974, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to legalize the occupancy of the property as twelve (rather than eleven) units, which he indicated was the existing condition.
In March of 1979, the Phaeton Corporation purchased 197 Commonwealth from Glenn Fortier. In September of 1979, it filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from twelve apartments into six apartments. In April of 1980, it amended the permit to add a mansard roof on the top floor, enclosing the deck in front of the existing penthouse. In June of 1980, it applied for (and subsequently received) permission to remodel the interior of the former carriage house at the rear of the building, retaining it as a single-family dwelling.
In September of 1980, Phaeton Corporation converted the property into seven condominiums, six in the main building and the seventh in the former carriage house at the rear.