25 Exeter (196 Commonwealth) is located on the SW corner of Commonwealth and Exeter, with 192 Commonwealth to the east, across Exeter, 198 Commonwealth to the west, 19 Exeter to the north, across Commonwealth, and 201 Newbury to the south, across Alley 433.
25 Exeter and 196 Commonwealth were designed by Peabody and Stearns, architects. Both were built in the early 1880s and remained separate properties until 2007, when they were combined into one single-family dwelling, with the address of 25 Exeter.
The land on which 25 Exeter and 196 Commonwealth were built was part of the approximately 108 acres of Back Bay land owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. From May 17 through May 26, 1875, the land had been leased from the Commonwealth by P. T. Barnum for the Boston site of his traveling “Great Roman Hippodrome.”
25 Exeter was designed by Peabody and Stearns and built in 1882-1883 by Hezekiah McLaughlin, mason, and McNeil Brothers, carpenters, for Nathan Matthews. He is shown as the owner on the original building permit application, dated May 29, 1882.
Nathan Matthews was a real estate investor, formerly the president of the Winnisimmet Company, which developed large areas of Chelsea, and (between 1860 and 1870) the president of the Boston Water Power Company, which developed portions of the Back Bay. He and his wife, Albertine (Bunker) Matthews, lived at 145 Beacon; it does not appear that they ever lived at 25 Exeter.
On December 24, 1882, the Boston Globe reported that “Nathan Matthews’ fine house on the corner of Exeter street and Commonwealth avenue is nearly finished. The outside is all up. It will probably cost in the neighborhood of $100,000.”
On May 12, 1884, the Boston Herald reported that Nathan Matthews had “sold his mansion on the corner of Exeter street and Commonwealth Avenue to William Bliss of Springfield, president of the Boston & Albany railroad, who will make his home in Boston.” William Bliss purchased the house from Nathan Matthews and his wife, Margaret (Chapin) Bliss, purchased the land directly from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, taking title on May 6, 1884. The Commonwealth originally had sold the land at 25 Exeter on November 3, 1879, by a privately negotiated contract (not at public auction). The buyer – presumably Nathan Matthews – never took title to the land but, instead, transferred the right to purchase it to Margaret Bliss.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 25 Exeter, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 433, from Exeter to Fairfield.
William and Margaret (Chapin) Bliss made 25 Exeter their Boston home. They previously had lived in Springfield and maintained a Boston residence at the Hotel Cluny at 543 Boylston.
Margaret Bliss died in March of 1895. William Bliss continued to live at 25 Exeter. By 1904, he was joined by his son-in-law and daughter, Hamilton Perkins and Elizabeth (Bliss) Perkins, and their daughter, Margaret Bliss Perkins. A former career naval officer, Hamilton Perkins was freight agent for the Boston and Albany Railroad.
William Bliss died in December of 1907 and the Perkinses moved soon thereafter to 415 Commonwealth.
On April 15, 1908, 25 Exeter was purchased from Elizabeth (Bliss) Perkins and her brother, Chester W. Bliss, by Elizabeth (Andrew) Mason, the wife of paper manufacturer Charles Ellis Mason. They previously had lived at 8 Gloucester. They also maintained a home in Hingham.
The Masons lived at 25 Exeter during the 1908-1909 winter season, but then lived elsewhere for the next several seasons and leased the house to others.
During the 1909-1910 winter season, it was the home of Chester Whitin Lasell and his wife, Jessie Maude (Keeler) Lasell. He was a manufacturer of cotton machinery in Northbridge, where they made their permanent home.
By the 1910-1911 winter season, 25 Exeter was the home of Elizabeth Mason’s maternal uncle, ornithologist John Eliot Thayer, and his wife, Evelyn Duncan (Forbes) Thayer. They had lived at 251 Commonwealth during the previous season. They also maintained a home in South Lancaster. John Thayer was the brother of Elizabeth Mason’s mother, Harriet (Thayer) Andrew, the wife of John Forrester Andrew.
The Thayers continued to live at 25 Exeter during the 1913-1914 season, but moved thereafter to 301 Berkeley.
By the 1914-1915 winter season, Charles and Elizabeth Mason had resumed living at 25 Exeter. They continued to live there until about 1936, when they moved to 61 Marlborough.
On March 13, 1936, 25 Exeter was purchased from Elizabeth Mason by Alice (Willard) Morse, the wife of real estate dealer John Hamilton Morse.
The Morses appear to have attempted to use the property in a series of ways.
In April of 1936, Alice Morse filed for permission to convert the property from a single-family dwelling into ten apartments and, although the use was granted by the Board of Appeal, the permit was abandoned. In May of 1940, John Morse filed for permission to convert it from a single-family dwelling into a single-family dwelling and restaurant. Again, their proposal was approved by the Board of Appeal, but appears never have been realized.
The house was shown as vacant in the City Directories from 1937 through 1946, and was not listed in the Boston Lists of Residents for the same period. Photographs from the early 1940s show that the house was for sale.
In January of 1945, John Morse filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the house into medical offices. The permit was once again abandoned.
On May 7, 1945, 25 Exeter was acquired from Alice Morse by John W. Dearborn, who conveyed it on the same day to D & S Real Estate, Inc. Harold T. Sweeney was the president of D & S Real Estate and Margaret L. (Defrain) Drumheller, the former wife of Arthur Drumheller, was the treasurer. They lived at 706 Huntington and also operated the Dinner Bell Restaurant at 708 Huntington.
In June of 1946, D & S Real Estate, Inc., filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the house from a single-family dwelling into offices and two apartments.
On March 12, 1946, 25 Exeter was acquired from D & S Real Estate by 25 Exeter Street, Inc. Margaret Drumheller was the treasurer of 25 Exeter Street, Inc.
That same year, Margaret Drumheller donated space at 25 Exeter for the Bible Research Library of the Anglo-Saxon Federation of America, an organization formed by attorney Howard Benjamin Rand to promote the belief that the Anglo-Saxon people were the descendants of one of the ten lost tribes of Israel. In the early 1960s, Margaret Drumheller, by then a resident of Newton Centre, became president and secretary of the Bible Research Library Society.
By the mid-1960s, 25 Exeter was the home of Rev. Ann Wigmore and the location of her Rising Sun Christianity, Inc. It also continued to be the location of the Bible Research Library Society, a travel agency, and several apartments.
Ann Wigmore and Rising Sun Christianity promoted the medicinal value of sprouts, weeds, and wheat grass juice. In a February 17, 1994, article about her death, the Boston Globe described her career as follows: “Wigmore, 84, was well-known for espousing the healing value of foods such as sprouts and wheat grass juice. Although she was not a medical doctor, she was often called ‘Doctor Ann’ by many who attended her classes in the Back Bay or her operation in Puerto Rico. She taught, among other things, how to grow sprouts and wheat grass, and prepare ‘living foods’ such as ‘rejuvelac’ — a beverage made of the residue of sprouted wheatberries soaked in water for two days.”
On July 28, 1968, Rising Sun Christianity purchased 25 Exeter from 25 Exeter Street, Inc.
In April of 1974, Rising Sun Christianity applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert 25 Exeter into a church, holistic school, and ten lodging units. In its approval of the change of use, the zoning Board of Appeal included a “sunset” provision specifying that the approval would expire in five years. In December of 1980, the Board of Appeal extended the use, with provisos that the use would expire if Ann Wigmore no longer was a director of the organization or if the title to the property were to change.
In June of 1982, Rising Sun Christianity also acquired 196 Commonwealth, and in October of that year it changed its name to the Hippocrates Health Institute, Inc.
The Institute continued to be located at both 25 Exeter and 196 Commonwealth until 1986, when it consolidated its activities at 196 Commonwealth
On April 9, 1986, 25 Exeter was purchased from the Hippocrates Health Institute by Robert Banker and Alan E. Lewis, trustees of the Commex Realty Trust.
On May 5, 1987, 25 Exeter was purchased from the Commex Realty Trust by Michael Correra. In June of 1989, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to legalize the occupancy as offices and two apartments located on the fourth floor. On March 5, 1990, he transferred the property to Bullfinch Management, Inc.
On November 12, 1991, 25 Exeter was purchased from Bullfinch Management by Gerald Zaltman, a professor of marketing and motivational research expert, and his wife, Ann M. (Gove) Zaltman. In December of 1991, they applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property into three apartments.
On June 26, 1997, the Zaltmans converted 25 Exeter into three condominium unis, the 25 Exeter Street Condominium.
Over the next ten years, Ofer Nemirovsky, a private equity investment banker, and his wife, Shelly Nemirovsky, purchased all three units from the Zaltmans.
On June 29, 2007, Lynn Hyer removed the condominium provisions, and in October of 2007, filed for (subsequently received) approval to consolidate 25 Exeter and 196 Commonwealth as one single family dwelling with the address of 25 Exeter, to be the Nemirovsky’s home.
196 Commonwealth was designed by Peabody and Stearns and built in 1881 by Andrew Anderson, carpenter, and David Connery & Co., masons and builders, as the home of Elizabeth Elliot (Torrey) Spooner, the widow of Daniel Nicolson Spooner. Their unmarried daughters, Ellen O. Spooner and Mary Torrey Spooner, lived with her. They previously had lived at 186 Beacon and, before that, at 23 Commonwealth. Elizabeth Spooner is shown as the owner of 196 Commonwealth on the original building permit application for 196 Commonwealth, dated July 16, 1881
Daniel Spooner had been a partner in the China shipping firm of Russell & Co. He and Elizabeth had resided in Canton from about 1852 until about 1857, when they returned from China to Boston and he became a merchant. By 1865, he was treasurer of the Great Falls Manufacturing Company, a textile mill in Somersworth, New Hampshire. He died in August of 1869.
Elizabeth Spooner purchased the land for 196 Commonwealth on May 13, 1881, from architect John Hubbard Sturgis, who had purchased it from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts the same day.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 196 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 433, from Exeter to Fairfield.
During the 1888-1887 winter season, Elizabeth Spooner and her daughters were living elsewhere and 196 Commonwealth was the home of iron merchant and banker Eustace C. Fitz and his wife, Sarah J. (Blanchard) Fitz. They previously had lived in Chelsea. They continued to live at 196 Commonwealth through the 1888-1889 season (by which time the Spooners were living at 333 Beacon), but had moved to 253 Commonwealth by the 1889-1890 season.
Elizabeth Spooner and her daughters resumed living at 196 Commonwealth during the 1889-1890 winter season, but moved thereafter to The Huntington at the corner of Blagden and Huntington. By the 1892-1893 season, they were at the Thorndike at 230-240 Boylston, and by the 1893-1894 season, they were living at 341 Beacon.
During the 1890-1891 winter season, 196 Beacon was the home of Thomas Reed Wheelock and his wife, Edith Haswell (Clarke) Wheelock. They previously had lived at 367 Beacon. He was a ship broker doing business in Shanghai. By the 1891-1892 season, the had moved to 283 Commonwealth.
196 Commonwealth was not listed in the 1892 Blue Book.
On June 9, 1892, 196 Commonwealth was purchased from Elizabeth Spooner by George Fordyce Blake. He and his wife, Martha Jane (Skinner) Blake, made it their home. They previously lived in Belmont. Their unmarried daughters — Jennie Maria Blake and Alice Norton Blake — lived with them. They also maintained a home at Phillips Beach in Swampscott.
George Blake was a manufacturer of brick-making equipment and steam pumps.
Jennie Blake married in April of 1895 to Arthur Stoddard Johnson. He was trustee of his family’s estate and various other properties. After their marriage, they lived at 258 Commonwealth.
Martha Blake died in June of 1897. George Blake continued to live at 196 Commonwealth with their daughter, Alice.
Alice Blake married in June of 1901 to attorney James Montgomery Newell, After their marriage, they lived at196 Commonwealth with her father.
George Blake died in July of 1904. In his will, he left 196 Commonwealth to Alice Newell.
James and Alice Newell continued to live at 196. They also maintained a home in Nahant.
James Newell died in December of 1939. Alice Newell continued to live at 196 Commonwealth until her death in September of 1957.
On April 23, 1958, 196 Commonwealth was purchased from Alice Newell’s estate by real estate dealers Stuart H. Hastings and Joseph A. Gautreau.
On June 26, 1958, 196 Commonwealth was purchased from Stuart Hastings and Joseph Gautreau by Rev. Proctor Leonard Davis, and on September 4, 1958, he transferred the property to himself and his wife, Rae Pommer Davis, trustees of the Max Isaac Reich Memorial Foundation, to be a religious center, Hebron House, devoted to “promoting Christianity among the Jews”.
In January of 1960, the Foundation filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from a single-family dwelling into a religious office and single-family dwelling. The application indicated that on the first floor there would be a small chapel, reception room, and reading room; on the second floor there would be a library and prayer-conference room; on the third floor there would be offices, a conference room, and a guest room and bath; and on the fourth floor would be a small apartment for single occupant.
On March 24, 1967, 196 Commonwealth was purchased from the Max Isaac Reich Foundation by Dr. Kenneth Warren Steere, a physician, and his wife, Ruth Ellen (Hanson) Crawford Steere. Hebron House continued to be located there in 1970, but by 1972, 196 Commonwealth had become the Steeres’ home and his medical office. They continued live (and he to maintain his medical offices) there in 1981.
On June 1, 1982, 196 Commonwealth was purchased from the Steeres by Rising Sun Christianity, Inc. controlled by Ann Wigmore. Her organization had been located at 25 Exeter, next door, since the early 1960s. Kenneth Steere died one month later, in July of 1982.
In October of 1982, Rising Sun Christianity changed its name to the Hippocrates Health Institute, Inc. It continued to be located in both 25 Exeter and 196 Commonwealth until 1986, when it consolidated its activities at 196 Commonwealth and sold 25 Exeter. 196 Commonwealth became Ann Wigmore’s home as well as the location of her classes.
On December 17, 1992, Rising Sun Christianity transferred 196 Commonwealth to its successor organization, the Ann Wigmore Foundation.
On February 16, 1994, 196 Commonwealth damaged by a fire which resulted in Ann Wigmore’s death, the victim of smoke inhalation.
On September 30, 1994, 196 Commonwealth was purchased from the Ann Wigmore Foundation by Modern Continental Enterprises, Inc., and on January 2, 1996, it was purchased from Modern Continental Enterprises by Russell Associates, Inc.
On July 9, 1996, 196 Commonwealth was acquired from Russell Associates by Vincent Donald Mignosa, trustee of the Vincent D. Mignosa Realty Trust. In October of 1996, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property back into a single-family dwelling. On April 3, 1998, he transferred the property to himself and his wife, Rita (Lee) Lyon Mignosa, trustees of the R and D Realty Trust.
On May 27, 2003, 196 Commonwealth was purchased from the Mignosas by Lynn Hyer, trustee of the Drury Lane Realty Trust, on behalf of Ofer Nemirovsky, a private equity investment banker, and his wife, Shelly Nemirovsky, owners of two of the three condominium units at 25 Exeter. In January of 2007, the Nemirovsky’s acquired the third unit at 25 Exeter, and on June 29, 2007, they transferred all three units to Lynn Hyer.
On June 29, 2007, Lynn Hyer removed the condominium provisions at 25 Exeter, and in October of 2007, filed for (subsequently received) approval to consolidate 25 Exeter and 196 Commonwealth as one single family dwelling with the address of 25 Exeter, to be the Nemirovsky’s home.