216 Commonwealth was designed by Alfred S. Bither, architect, and built in 1879-1880 by Samuel T. Goldthwait and C. E. Chapin, masons, and Alonzo Locke, carpenter, one of four contiguous houses (214-216-218-220 Commonwealth). As originally built, 214 and 220 Commonwealth were matching houses and 216 and 218 Commonwealth were matching houses. All four houses are shown as the being same height on the 1887 Sanborn map. Additional stories were added to 216 Commonwealth and 220 Commonwealth by the late 1890s, as shown on the 1898 Bromley map.
The original permit applications for 214 and 220 Commonwealth, dated May 28, 1879, do not indicate the architect; the permit application for 216-218 Commonwealth (one application for both houses), dated March 28, 1879, and the final building inspection report (also one for both houses), dated October 5, 1880, indicate Alfred S. Bither was the architect.
In his Houses of Boston’s Back Bay, Bainbridge Bunting attributes 216-218 Commonwealth, 435 Beacon, 7-9-11 Hereford, 364 Marlborough, and 27-29-31 Hereford – all built in 1879 – to R. S. Bither. This is a misreading of the handwriting on the permit applications. It is clearly written as “A. S. Bither” on several of the permit applications, and is less legible on several others. There was no R. S. Bither listed in the Boston City Directories at any time in the 1870s or 1880s, whereas Alfred S. Bither was a practicing architect there from 1870 to 1880.
216-218 Commonwealth were built for East India merchant and stockbroker George Henry Mackay. He is shown as the owner on the original permit application for both houses. His father, Robert C. Mackay, built 220 Commonwealth at about the same time. George Mackay sold 216 Commonwealth and he and his wife, Maria (Starbuck) Mackay, made 218 Commonwealth their home.
George Mackay purchased the land for 216-218 Commonwealth on April 7, 1879, from the National Bank of Commerce of Boston. The original lot was 49.5 feet in width. He subdivided the western 48 feet into the lots for 216 and 218 Commonwealth, and sold the eastern 1.5 feet (with the eastern half of the party wall at 216 Commonwealth) in September of 1879 to James Barr Ames.
The lot George Mackay purchased from the National Bank of Commerce was part of a parcel the bank had acquired on May 18, 1876, from Nathan Matthews, which, in turn, was part of a larger tract originally purchased by Nathan Matthews on January 2, 1871, from David Sears, Jr., Frederick R. Sears, and Knyvet Sears.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 216 Commonwealth.
On January 29, 1880, 216 Commonwealth was purchased from George Mackay by Gertrude (Horsford) Fiske, the wife of Andrew Fiske, an attorney. They previously had lived at 267 Clarendon. They also maintained a home in Weston.
During the 1883-1884 winter season, the Fiskes were living elsewhere and 216 Commonwealth was the home of fertilizer manufacturer Robert Stow Bradley and his wife, Leslie (Newell) Bradley. They previously had lived at 349 Marlborough. By the 1884-1885 season, they had moved to a new home they had built at 255 Marlborough and the Fiskes were once again living at 216 Commonwealth.
The Fiskes’ six children lived with them: Gertrude Horsford Fiske, Augustus Henry Fiske, Eben North Horsford Fiske, Gardiner Horsford Fiske, Cornelia Horsford Fiske, and Hannah Bradford Fiske.
Augustus Fiske, a cotton broker and later a chemist and instructor of chemistry at Harvard, married in June of 1907 to Esther Wayland Bennett; after their marriage, they lived in Cambridge. Eben Fiske died in December of 1917 and Hannah Fiske died in June of 1919, both unmarried. Gardiner Fiske, a cotton broker, married in October of 1919 to Constance (Conney) Morss; after their marriage, they lived in an apartment at 293 Commonwealth and then, by mid-1923, at 206 Beacon. Cornelia Fiske married in May of 1920 to Harold Buckley Willis, an early aviator who served in the Lafayette Escadrille during World War I and later became an architect; after their marriage, they lived in Brookline.
Gertrude Fiske died in July of 1920. Andrew Fiske continued to live at 216 Commonwealth; their unmarried daughter, Gertrude, a noted impressionist and landscape painter, lived with him.
Andrew Fiske died in January of 1930. After his death, Gertrude Fiske made her home in Weston. 216 Commonwealth was inherited by the Fiskes’ four surviving children: Gertrude Fiske, Augustus Fiske, Gardiner Fiske, and Cornelia (Fiske) Willis. On June 27, 1931, Augustus Fiske transferred his interest to his son, Andrew.
216 Commonwealth was not listed in the 1931-1933 Blue Books and was shown as vacant in the 1931-1933 City Directories.
On September 1, 1933, 216 Commonwealth was purchased from the Fiskes by Nellie (Ellen) C. (Crowley) Brennan, the wife of real estate dealer Joseph P. Brennan. They lived in Brookline.
That same month, she filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from a single-family dwelling into six apartments.
The property changed hands and on May 8, 1935, was acquired by Jenny Karoline (Knudsen) Gegan, the widow of Charles Gegan. She lived at 226 Huntington and then, from 1937, at 198 Commonwealth. In August of 1935, she applied for (and subsequently received) permission to remodel the interior of 216 Commonwealth. She indicated that the current and proposed occupancy was seven units.
On October 23, 1944, 216 Commonwealth was acquired from Jenny Gegan by Anita A. Shadrawy. On the same day, she transferred one-half interest to Leo Lampasona, and on May 1, 1945, she transferred her remaining one-half interest to Nicholas Abraham.
On October 29, 1948, 216 Commonwealth was acquired from Leo Lampasona and Nicholas Abraham by Julian F. Porter, an executive with the New England School of Watch Repair. In July of 1950, he applied for (and subsequently received) permission to install fire balconies on the front of the building. He indicated that the current and proposed use of the property was nine apartments.
On January 29, 1954, 216 Commonwealth was acquired from Julian Porter by Barnett Nathan Samuels. He and his wife, Bertha (Bessie) (Elkind) Samuels, lived in Winthrop.
In the mid-1960s, it was known as the Tyler Apartments.
On September 22, 1965, 216 Commonwealth was acquired from Barnett Samuels by Eva Stern, trustee of The Berries Trust. In May of 1969, she filed for (and subsequently received) permission to legalize the occupancy as eight apartments. The application indicates that the last legal occupancy recorded in the Building Department files was as the seven units, approved in 1935.
The property changed hands and on July 31, 1986, was purchased by Ian King, Lucy O’Laughlin, and the Waterside Corporation of New York, as general partners in B B Enterprises I. In September of 1986, B B Enterprises applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from eight to five units, significantly remodeling the building. The remodeling included a “partial extension” of the fifth floor and “structural stabilization of all floors” which was “required due to general settling of the bearing wall and past construction damage.” The remodeling was designed by Arthur Choo, architect.
On February 24, 1988, the Waterside Corporation became the sole owner of 216 Commonwealth, and it transferred the property to Christopher M. Jeffries, trustee of the 216 Commonwealth Avenue Realty Trust. On the same day, he converted the property into five condominium units, The Liberty Condominium.