20 Commonwealth was designed by Gridley J. F. Bryant and Arthur D. Gilman, architects, and built in 1860-1861, one of nine contiguous houses (20-22-24-26-28-30-32-34-36 Commonwealth). In his Houses of Boston’s Back Bay, Bainbridge Bunting calls the group “one of the most imposing compositions in the whole district.”
Bunting’s comment echoed the views of the Boston Evening Transcript in its July 14, 1860, article announcing plans for the nine houses:
“A large and elegant block of first class houses will shortly be seen rising in the very center of the filled area, being on the south or left hand side of the broad central avenue, and about half way from Arlington to Berkley [sic] street. Nine of these houses will be similar in height, arrangement, material and external finish – a fact which we record with some wonder – as we had never before believed that nine persons could be found in Boston, who had not some crotchets of their own which they would be sure to prefer to the general uniformity of the streets, or the general welfare and appearance of the city. In this case, the block will form a very marked and striking ornament to the wide avenue on which it is to be placed. We learn that the contracts for these houses have been concluded, and that the works will be commenced next week, Messrs. G. J. F. Bryant and Arthur Gilman, Architects.”
On September 24, 1860, the Boston Post commented on the design of the nine houses, noting that they are “substantially of the same design. The fronts are of handsome pressed brick, and have elegant door-ways, large bay windows, and Cumberland stone trimmings.”
20-26 Commonwealth and 34 Commonwealth were built on 19 foot wide lots, with entrances centered on the façade and no windows on the first floor (later, windows were added on both sides of the entrances at 22-26 and 34 Commonwealth). 28 Commonwealth was built on a 22 foot wide lot with the entrance on the east and a window on the west. 30-32 Commonwealth were each built on 19.5 foot lots as a symmetrical pair, with a window on the east at 30 Commonwealth and on the west at 32 Commonwealth. 36 Commonwealth was built on a 30 foot wide lot, but originally was identical to 32 Commonwealth, with the western portion of the lot left open. In about 1890, the entrance was converted into a window and a two-story addition was constructed on the west side of the house, with a street level entry. Small windows were later added on both sides of the window that had replaced the original entrance.
The land on which 20-36 Commonwealth were built was part of a larger tract of land owned by shipping merchant and US Congressman Samuel Hooper. He and his wife, Anne (Sturgis) Hooper, lived at 27 Commonwealth.
On May 2, 1860, Samuel Hooper had purchased two lots on the south side of Commonwealth Avenue from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one with a frontage of 78 feet starting with the lot where 20 Commonwealth would be built and extending west, and the other with a frontage of 220 feet extending east from the corner of Commonwealth and Berkeley. On the same day, Nathan Bourne Gibbs, Jr., also a shipping merchant, purchased a lot with a 60 foot frontage between the two lots purchased by Samuel Hooper. On June 22, 1860, Samuel Hooper purchased Nathan Gibbs’s parcel, so that he owned all of the land from 20 Commonwealth to Berkeley Street. He subsequently subdivided the property and sold the lots to different owners, for whom houses were then built. Among the purchasers was Nathan Gibbs, who bought a lot with a 40 foot frontage where he and his wife, Elizabeth Swift (Burgess) Gibbs, built their home at 38 Commonwealth.
Eight of the nine lots where 20-36 Commonwealth were built were sold by Samuel Hooper on July 1 or 2 in 1860 (the ninth lot, for 36 Commonwealth, also was sold at that time but was not conveyed by deed until July of 1862). The buyers contracted with Charles Woodbury and Lemuel Miles Standish, masons, and Jonas Fitch, carpenter and builder, to construct the houses to the designs of Gridley J. F. Bryant and Arthur Gilman. Based on the architectural drawings for 22 Commonwealth, cited by Bunting, and three building contracts filed with the Suffolk County deeds for 26, 28, and 34 Commonwealth, the contracts were executed on July 7, 1860, and specified a deadline for completion of the houses by August 1, 1861. Two of the lots were purchased by the builders as their homes, 30 Commonwealth by Jonas Fitch and his wife, Catherine (Blodgett) Fitch, and 32 Commonwealth by Lemuel Miles Standish and his wife, Olive L. (Nutter) Standish. Charles Woodbury and his wife, Relief (Ball) Woodbury, lived at 91 Pinckney, but then built a new home at 16 Commonwealth ca. 1864.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 20 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 437, from Arlington to Berkeley.
20 Commonwealth was built for Mrs. Lydia (Gray) Ward, the widow of merchant and banker Thomas Wren Ward, who purchased the land from Samuel Hooper on July 1, 1860. She previously had lived at 3 Park. She also maintained a home in Canton. Her son and daughter-in-law, banker Samuel Gray Ward and Anna Hazard (Barker) Ward, lived across the street at 1 Commonwealth.
Three years later, she purchased the lot immediately to the east and had 18 Commonwealth built as the home of her son-in-law and daughter, merchant Charles Hazen Dorr and Mary Gray (Ward) Dorr.
Lydia Ward died in October of 1874. In her will, she left 18 and 20 Commonwealth to her three children: Samuel Gray Ward, George Cabot Ward, and Mary (Ward) Dorr. On November 27, 1874, Samuel and George Ward transferred their interests in the property to Mary Dorr, and on November 28, 1874, she transferred her interest in 20 Commonwealth to her two brothers.
In early 1875, the Ward family offered 20 Commonwealth for sale. It appears not to have sold, and continued to be advertised in August of 1876.
20 Commonwealth was not listed in the 1876 and 1877 Blue Books.
On July 21, 1877, the house was purchased from Samuel and George Ward by Charles Pelham Curtis, Jr. He and his wife, Caroline Gardiner (Cary) Curtis, made it their Boston home. They also maintained a home in Swampscott.
Charles Curtis was an attorney and president of the Lowell Bleachery and Dye Works.
By the 1888-1889 winter season, Charles and Caroline Curtis had been joined at 20 Commonwealth by their daughter, Mrs. Margaret Pelham (Curtis) Russell, the widow of Robert Shaw Russell, who had died in September of 1887. He had been treasurer of the Dexter Woolen Mills.
Charles Curtis died in September of 1906. In his will, he left 20 Commonwealth to his wife during his lifetime and then to their two surviving children, Margaret Russell and Charles Pelham Curtis, III.
Caroline Curtis and Margaret Russell continued to live at 20 Commonwealth and in Swampscott.
Caroline Curtis died in May of 1917, and Margaret Russell continued to live at 20 Commonwealth. On March 25, 1919, her brother, Charles, transferred his interest in the property to her. He and his wife, Ellen (Anderson) Curtis. Lived at 244 Beacon.
In June of 1919, she applied for (and subsequently received) permission to build a bay window at the second floor in the rear.
Margaret Russell continued to live at 20 Commonwealth until her death in January of 1924. In her will, she left 20 Commonwealth to her brother.
On July 7, 1924, 20 Commonwealth was purchased from Charles P. Curtis, III, by Helena M. (Daly) Good, the wife of Dr. Frederick Leo Good.
Frederick Good was a gynecologist and obstetric surgeon, and professor at Tufts School of Medicine. He delivered all nine children of Joseph and Rose Kennedy, including future President John F. Kennedy.
The Goods lived at 1722 Beacon in Brookline and he maintained his office at 20 Commonwealth. He also rented rooms to lodgers (even though the legal occupancy of the house continued to be as a single-family dwelling).
In about 1938, Frederick and Helena Good made 20 Commonwealth their home. He also continued to maintain his medical offices there and to accept lodgers.
In January of 1945, Dr. Good applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the house from a single-family dwelling into a two-family residence with doctor’s office “so that the Doctor’s son and wife can occupy present rear room.”
Frederick and Helena Good continued to live at 20 Commonwealth and also maintained a home in Cohasset. 20 Commonwealth continued to be a multiple dwelling, with several other residents listed there in the City Directories.
Frederick Good died in August of 1962. On November 23, 1965, Helena Good transferred 20 Commonwealth to herself and her son, Frederick Leo Good, Jr., as trustees of the Helena M. Good Trust. She continued to live there until her death in December of 1966.
The property continued to be a multiple dwelling after her death.
On June 21, 1973, 20 Commonwealth was purchased from Frederick L. Good, Jr., by Anthony Summers, Eugene Summers, and Stephen Ross, trustees of the Twenty Commonwealth Trust.
On May 24, 1974, 20 Commonwealth was acquired from the Twenty Commonwealth Trust by Tim Ian Mitchell and his wife, Sharon Dell Mitchell, both architects. In August of 1979, they filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the house into six apartments.
20 Commonwealth was assessed as an apartment building through 2007, and thereafter as a four- to six-family dwelling. It continued to be assessed as a four-to-sx family dwelling in 2021.