253 Commonwealth was designed by architect William Whitney Lewis and built in 1880-1881 by James Smith, mason, and Morton & Chesley, carpenters, one of two contiguous houses (253-255 Commonwealth) built in the same design. The houses were built for Henry Osborne Roberts and Nathaniel Brookhouse Mansfield, partners in the shipping merchant firm of Roberts & Mansfield.
Henry Roberts and Nathaniel Mansfield purchased the 52 foot wide lot for the two houses on May 8, 1880, from real estate dealer Samuel Horatio Whitwell. The lot previously had changed hands several times, and originally was part of one of several parcels purchased from the Boston Water Power Company on January 29, 1866, by a real estate investment trust formed by John Templeman Coolidge, Franklin Evans, and Charles Henry Parker. The trust had subsequently subdivided the parcels into lots, which it sold to investors and builders, who then frequently resold the lots to others.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 253 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the north side of Commonwealth and Alley 427, from Fairfield to Gloucester.
The original building permit applications, dated September 3, 1880, show Henry Roberts as the owner of 253 Commonwealth and Nathaniel Mansfield as the owner of 255 Commonwealth. On March 28, 1881, after the houses were built, they separated the ownership: Henry Roberts sold his interest in 253 Commonwealth to Nathaniel Mansfield, and Nathaniel Mansfield sold his interest in 255 Commonwealth to Henry Roberts. He and his wife, Julia Brown (Knowlton) Roberts, lived in Salem and appear never to have occupied 255 Commonwealth. He sold the property in February of 1883.
Nathaniel Mansfield and his wife, Mary H. Smith (Wood) Mansfield, made 253 Commonwealth their home. They previously had lived at 50 Dwight. They also maintained a home in Manchester.
Nathaniel and Mary Mansfield continued to live at 253 Commonwealth during the 1887-1888 winter season, after which they made their home in Manchester.
During the 1888-1889 winter season, 253 Commonwealth was the home of Albion Bryant Turner and his wife, Mary Alice (Rawson) Turner. They previously had lived at 457 Beacon.
By 1890, the Turners had moved to 459 Marlborough.
On June 11, 1889, 253 Commonwealth was purchased from Harriet Mansfield by Eustace Cary Fitz, He and his wife, Sarah Jane (Blanchard) Fitz, made it their home. They previously had lived at 196 Commonwealth.
Eustace Fitz was an iron and steel importer and manufacturer, and was president of the Blackstone National Bank and several other companies. He served as mayor of Chelsea in the mid-1860s, and was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and then the State Senate in the mid-1870s.
The Fitzs’ unmarried daughter, Emma Jenny Fitz, lived with them. She was a noted amateur photographer.
They continued to live at 253 Commonwealth until his death in May of 1895. After his death, Sarah Fitz and Emma Fitz moved to an apartment at 270 Commonwealth. 253 Commonwealth continued to be owned by a trust established under his will for Sarah Fitz’s benefit.
By the 1896-1897 winter season, 253 Commonwealth was the home of Miss Catharine Jane Chamberlayne, who operated Miss Chamberlayne’s School for Girls in the house. She previously had lived and operated the school at 64 Commonwealth.
She continued to live and operate her school at 253 Commonwealth in 1905, but had moved both the school and her residence to 28 Fenway by 1906. The school remained at 28 Fenway until about 1920, but had moved to 261 Clarendon by the 1921-1922 winter season. Catharine Chamberlayne continued to operate the school until about 1917, after which she became “principal emeritus” until her death in April of 1920. By 1922 (and probably soon after Catharine Chamberlayne’s retirement), the school was under the direction of Bertha K. Filkins, who previously had been a teacher in the school and had lived at 28 Fenway. After the school moved to 261 Clarendon, Miss Filkins also made it her residence.
On March 31, 1905, 253 Commonwealth was purchased from the Fitz trust by Arthur Stoddard Johnson. He and his wife, Jennie Maria (Blake) Johnson, made it their home. They previously had lived at 258 Commonwealth.
Arthur Johnson was a trustee of his family’s estate and various other estates.
During the 1919-1920 winter season, the Johnsons were living elsewhere and 253 Commonwealth was the home of George Lee and his wife, Eva Marie (Ballerini) Lee. They previously had lived in Brookline. George Lee was an artist with a studio at 304 Boylston and a yachtsman. They also maintained a home in Beverly Farms, which subsequently became their primary residence. In 1926, they were one of the first residents of the newly-built cooperative apartments at 301 Berkeley.
By the 1920-1921 winter season, the Johnsons had resumed living at 253 Commonwealth.
The Johnsons were again living elsewhere during the 1927-1928 winter season, and 253 Commonwealth was the home of attorney Henry Eldridge Warner and his wife, Henrietta Edla (Slade) Warner. They previously had lived at 406 Beacon. They also maintained a home in Lincoln. By the 1928-1929 season, they had moved to 369 Beacon.
On December 18, 1948, 253 Commonwealth was acquired from Arthur Johnson by Curry College. It was located at 251 Commonwealth and operated 253 Commonwealth as a dormitory. Curry College ceased operation in 1953 and 253 Commonwealth was shown as vacant in the 1954-1956 City Directories.
On January 7, 1955, 253 Commonwealth was acquired by Commonwealth Berkeley Associates, Inc. (William B. Cohen, treasurer).
In September of 1955, they acquired 255 Commonwealth, and in January of 1956, they applied for (and subsequently received) permission to combine it with 255 Commonwealth and convert the properties from single-family dwellings into twelve apartments.
The project never went forward and 253 Commonwealth continued to be shown as vacant in the 1957 and 1958 City Directories.
On June 20, 1956, 253 Commonwealth was acquired from the DiNannos by Christopher (Chrest) A. Dounelis. He and his wife, Cora A. (Wright) Dounelis, made it their home and probably operated it as a lodging house. They previously had lived in Maine. In August of 1958, they purchased and subsequently moved to 232 Commonwealth.
On September 2, 1958, 253 Commonwealth was purchased from Christopher Dounelis by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Alumni of T. E. P. Student Aid Foundation. The property became the fraternity house of the MIT Chapter of the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity. It previously had been located at 486–488 Beacon.
253 Commonwealth continued to be the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity house in 2017.