229 Commonwealth was designed by Peabody and Stearns, architects, and built in 1882 by Hezekiah McLaughlin and Morton & Chesley, builders. It was built as the home of Dr. Francis Peleg Sprague, an ophthalmologist, and his wife, Elizabeth Rebecca (Lowell) Sprague. They previously had lived at 9 Chestnut. Francis Sprague is shown as the owner of 229 Commonwealth on the original building permit application, dated May 12, 1882, and Elizabeth R. Sprague is shown as the owner on the 1888 and 1898 Bromley maps.
Dr. Sprague continued to live at 229 Commonwealth, joined by his cousin, Miss Lucy Sprague Sampson. She was the daughter of William Henry Sampson and Sarah (Sprague) Sampson; Sarah Sprague was the aunt of Francis Peleg Sprague. Lucy Sampson previously had lived at 127 Commonwealth with Sarah (Weld) Pratt, the widow of George Pratt. Mrs. Pratt had died in June of 1902, after which Lucy Sampson lived briefly at the Hotel Berkeley (southeast corner of Berkeley and Boylston).
Charles Lowell et al, trustees, are shown as the owners on the 1908 Bromley map, and Arthur Lyman et al, trustees, are shown as the owners on the 1912 and 1917 maps. Charles Lowell of 149 Beacon was Elizabeth (Lowell) Sprague’s cousin; he was vice-president and actuary of the State Street Trust Company. He died in May of 1906. Arthur Lyman of 57 Marlborough, an attorney, was Elizabeth (Lowell) Sprague’s nephew, the son of her brother-in-law and sister, Arthur Theodore Lyman and Ella Bancroft (Lowell) Lyman.
229 Commonwealth was not listed in the 1922 Blue Book.
By the 1922-1923 winter season, 229 Commonwealth was the home of Herbert Lyman and his wife, Ruth Bowman (Whitney) Lyman. They previously had lived at 26 Marlborough. Herbert Lyman was Elizabeth (Lowell) Sprague’s nephew, the brother of Arthur Lyman.
Herbert Lyman was treasurer of the Merrimack Manufacturing Company, owners of cotton mills in Lowell and in Huntsville, Alabama. His brother, Arthur, was president of the company. Ruth Lyman was active in social work and municipal reform, and a vocal opponent of women’s suffrage.
Herbert Lyman is shown as the owner of 229 Commonwealth on the 1928 Bromley map.
In mid-1935, the Lymans moved to their Milton home and leased 229 Commonwealth to Chamberlayne School, which opened its facilities there in August of 1935. It previously had been located at 178 Commonwealth.
In February of 1936, Herbert Lyman applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from a single-family dwelling into a private school.
The school continued to be located there until about 1942, when it relocated to 112 Beacon .
Herbert Lyman died in June of 1941. In July of 1942, Ruth Lyman, still a resident of Milton, donated the iron fence in front of 229 Commonwealth to the government’s wartime scrap iron drive. In a July 25. 1942, Boston Globe article she urged her neighbors to follow suit, saying “Let the railings go to Uncle Sam. If other owners of grass-plot railings care to follow suit I will gladly arrange for their collection.” A November 22, 1942, article in the Globe noted that hundreds of Bostonians, many in the Back Bay, also donated their fencing and ironwork.
In the fall of 1943, Ruth Lyman sold 229 Commonwealth to real estate dealer Ray C. Johnson. The transaction was reported by the Boston Globe on November 7, 1943.
He leased the property to the MIT chapter of Phi Kappa fraternity. It previously had been located at 312 Beacon.
In July of 1944, Ray Johnson filed for permission to convert the property from a school into a fraternity clubhouse and dormitory. He subsequently abandoned the application. In December of 1945, Phi Kappa Theta filed a similar application, which it also abandoned.
In September of 1949, the Massachusetts Eta Chapter of Phi Kappa Theta Alumni Association acquired 229 Commonwealth from Ray Johnson. In December of 1949, it filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from a school to a fraternity clubhouse and dormitory.
In January of 1966, Phi Kappa Theta filed for (and subsequently received) permission to lower the front entrance of the building from the first floor to street level, and to do associated interior remodeling.
229 Commonwealth remained the Phi Kappa Theta fraternity house in 2014.