24 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.”
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 24 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 437, from Arlington to Berkeley.
24 Commonwealth was built as the home of Samuel George Snelling and his wife, Eleanora Ellicott (Paul) Snelling. Eleanora Snelling purchased the land from Samuel Hooper on July 1, 1860. They previously had lived at 76 Mt. Vernon.
Samuel Snelling was a wholesale merchant and treasurer of the Lowell Bleachery and Dye Works.
On August 23, 1886, the Snellings transferred 24 Commonwealth to William S. Dexter as trustee, to indemnify those who had signed bail bonds or otherwise served as sureties for Samuel Snelling. On September 24, 1886, William Dexter transferred the property back to Eleanora Snelling, all of the commitments to the bail bond signators and sureties having been met.
On March 4, 1887, 24 Commonwealth was purchased from Eleanora Snelling by Willard C. Van Derlip, trustee under the will of George Barrell Emerson for the benefit of his daughter, Lucy Buckminster (Emerson) Lowell, wife of lawyer and former US Circuit Court Judge John Lowell, who made it their home. They previously had lived at 3 Arlington.
John Lowell died in May of 1897, and Lucy Lowell moved soon thereafter. By 1900, she was living in Newton with her unmarried daughter, Lucy and her son, James Arnold Lowell and his wife, Mary Wharton (Churchman) Lowell. James A. Lowell was an attorney and later would become a federal judge.
During the 1898-1899 winter season, 24 Commonwealth was the home of Col. Henry Sturgis Russell and his wife, Mary Hathaway (Forbes) Russell. They previously had lived at 406 Marlborough. They also maintained a residence, Home Farm, in Milton. Col. Russell was Boston Fire Commissioner; he formerly had been a shipping merchant in the East India and China trade in his father-in-law’s firm, John Murray Forbes & Co., and had served as president of the Continental Telephone Company. They had moved to 403 Beacon by 1900.
By the 1899-1900 winter season, 24 Commonwealth was the home of the John and Lucy Lowell’s son, John Lowell, Jr., and his wife, Mary Emlen (Hale) Lowell. They previously had lived at 125 Beacon.
John Lowell, Jr., was an attorney in partnership with his brother, James A. Lowell.
Lucy Lowell died in April of 1904. Under the terms of her father’s will, 24 Commonwealth was inherited by her four living children, John Lowell, Jr., Lucy Lowell, Susan Cabot (Lowell) Aspinwall, the wife of William Henry Aspinwall, and James Arnold Lowell. On October 20, 1904, John Lowell, as the successor trustee under the will of George B. Emerson, transferred the property to himself and his siblings, and on May 24, 1905, he they transferred it to him.
John and Mary Lowell’s five children lived with them. Mary Emlen Lowell married in October of 1904 to Francis V. Lloyd, a lawyer, and moved to Philadelphia (they divorced in 1920 and she married in 1924 to Randal Thomas Mowbray Rawdon Berkeley, 8th Earl of Berkeley). John Lowell, III, moved to a ranch in Mesa, Arizona, soon after graduating from Harvard in 1908. Ralph Lowell, a stockbroker, married in September of 1917 to Charlotte Loring and they moved to Dedham. Olivia Lowell also married in September of 1917 to Augustus Thorndike, Jr., a medical student and later a physician in Boston; they moved to 481 Commonwealth. James Hale Lowell, a lawyer, remained unmarried and continued to live at 24 Commonwealth with his parents.
On January 11, 1934, 24 Commonwealth was acquired from Mary Lowell by Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth (Williams) Hodson, the former wife of Septimus Hodson. She was a secretary in a real estate office and , on the same day, she conveyed the property to Alpheus S. Haskins. He was an interior decorator with offices at 350 Commonwealth. One week later, he also acquired 26 Commonwealth.
On July 13, 1934, 24 and 26 Commonwealth were acquired from Alpheus Haskins by Mary L. McGill of Somerville.
In June of 1934, prior to finalizing her purchase of the property, she applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert 24 Commonwealth from a single-family dwelling into a three family dwelling. Based on the Lists of Residents for 1935 and subsequent years, it appears that the property was operated as a lodging house.
On November 1, 1935, 24 Commonwealth was acquired from Mary McGill by George B. Rittenberg and S. Clifford Speed, trustees of the Clifford Realty Trust. George Rittenberg was a lawyer and Shirley Clifford Speed was a real estate dealer who converted many Back Bay houses into lodging houses and apartments. On the same day, they also acquired 62 Commonwealth from Mary McGill.
On November 24, 1936, S. Clifford Speed acquired 26 Commonwealth from Mary McGill, and on March 23, 1945, the Clifford Realty Trust transferred 24 Commonwealth into S. Clifford Speed’s name.
He continued to operate both properties as lodging houses.
On April 14, 1954, 24 and 26 Commonwealth were acquired from S. Clifford Speed by real estate dealer Edward Swartz, who continued to operate them as lodging houses. In September of 1962, he acquired 22 Commonwealth, which he also converted into a lodging house.
Edward Swartz died in May of 1972. His estate continued to own 22-24-26 Commonwealth and operate them as lodging houses.
On December 16, 1983, Mary Elizabeth Brady, trustee of the Roebuck Trust, purchased 22-24-26 Commonwealth from Edward Swartz’s estate, and on April 26, 1984, James J. Devaney of Worcester purchased the properties from Mary Elizabeth Brady. In January of 1985, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to combine the three properties into a single property and convert them into eight apartments. As part of the remodeling, windows were added on either side of each front door at 22, 24, and 26 Commonwealth.
On February 14, 1985, Patrick Ahearn, trustee of the Commonwealth Properties Realty Trust, purchased 22-24-26 Commonwealth from James Devaney. Patrick Ahearn had been James Devaney’s architect for remodeling the houses into apartments.
On the same day he purchased the properties, he converted them into eight condominium units, the 22-24-26 Commonwealth Avenue Condominium.