217 Commonwealth was designed by McKim, Mead, and White, architects, and built in 1887-1888 for the Algonquin Club. The new clubhouse was officially dedicated on November 8, 1888. The Club previously had been located at 164 Marlborough.
The Club was built on a lot 82 feet wide composed of two lots, a 26 foot wide lot it purchased from Emily E. Sears on May 22, 1886, and a 56 foot wide lot purchased from Henry Lee on June 14. 1886. Emily Sears had acquired her lot on January 31, 1883, from James Lawrence, who had purchased it from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on September 4, 1882. Henry Lee had acquired his lot directly from the Commonwealth on January 12, 1886.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 217 Commonwealth.
As originally built, the street level story projected across the entire front of the building, connecting the areas between the bays on the east and west ends of the building with the central portico. The street level was one story high, with balustrades above to create a balcony accessible from the first floor extending across the center of the building between the two flanking bays. This street level plan was in violation of the restrictions contained in the deeds originally granted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which required a twenty foot setback from Commonwealth Avenue, allowed only specified projections into that reserved area, and limited the width of bays which extended into the reserved area. In September of 1887, the Harbor and Land Commission informed the Club of this violation, but the Club proceeded to complete the building without change. In June of 1888, the Attorney General filed legal action to secure the Club’s compliance.
In a December 10, 1889, article commenting on the pending litigation, the Boston Globe observed that “the members of the club are much disturbed over this menace to their beautiful building…the remodeling…will not only cost considerable money, but will ruin the design.”
In April of 1891, the Supreme Judicial Court ordered that the building be remodeled to comply with the deed restrictions (Attorney General v. Algonquin Club; 153 Mass 447). The front of the building was subsequently rebuilt accordingly.
[It is interesting to note that the original accepted design of 217 Commonwealth by McKim, Mead, and White, as published in The American Architect and Building News in January of 1887, did not include the extension of the bays across the entire front. In fact, the remodeling required to conform with the deed restrictions appears to have returned the building to this originally accepted design. The final design — which then had to be rebuilt — was illustrated in the Inland Architect in June of 1888.]
On September 15, 1898, the building was sold at auction to satisfy a $175,000 mortgage. General Charles Henry Taylor, owner of the Boston Globe, was the successful bidder, acting on behalf of a syndicate of club members. On October 13, 1898, the property was acquired by the New Algonquin Club.
217 Commonwealth remained the Algonquin Club in 2017.