253 Commonwealth was designed by architect William Whitney Lewis and built in 1880-1881 by James Smith and Morton & Chesley, builders, one of two contiguous houses (253-255 Commonwealth). The original building permit applications, dated September 3, 1880, show H. O. Roberts as the owner of 253 Commonwealth and N. B. Mansfield as the owner of 255 Commonwealth.
Henry Osborne Roberts and Nathaniel Brookhouse Mansfield were partners in the shipping merchant firm of Roberts & Mansfield. It appears likely that the two houses were built jointly by them, perhaps with the intention that each would occupy one of them. Henry Roberts and his wife, Julia Brown (Knowlton) Roberts, lived in Salem and appear never to have moved to Boston. Nathaniel Mansfield and his wife, Mary H. Smith (Wood) Mansfield were residents of Boston (at 50 Dwight) and moved to 253 Commonwealth when it was completed. He is shown as the owner of 253 Commonwealth on the 1883 and 1888 Bromley maps. They also maintained a home in Manchester.
During the 1888-1889 winter season, 253 Commonwealth was the home of banker and broker Albion Bryant Turner and his wife, Mary Alice (Rawson) Turner. They previously had lived at 457 Beacon. By 1890, they had moved to 459 Marlborough.
By the 1889-1890 winter season, 253 Commonwealth was the home of iron merchant and banker Eustace Cary Fitz and his wife Sarah J. (Blanchard) Fitz. They previously had lived at 196 Commonwealth. He is shown as the owner of 253 Commonwealth on the 1890 and 1895 Bromley maps.
They continued to live at 253 Commonwealth until his death in May of 1895. After his death, Sarah Fitz moved to an apartment at 270 Commonwealth; the Eustace Fitz estate continued to own 253 Commonwealth, with Emma Fitz (their daughter) et al, trustees, shown as the owners on the 1898 Bromley map.
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 1922. 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.
In the spring of 1905, 253 Commonwealth was purchased from the Eustace Fitz estate by Arthur Stoddard Johnson and his wife, Jennie Maria (Blake) Johnson. The transaction was reported in the Boston Globe on April 29, 1905. They previously had lived at 258 Commonwealth. He is shown as the owner of 253 Commonwealth on the 1908, 1917, 1928, and 1938 Bromley maps.
He 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 had lived at 406 Beacon earlier in 1927. They also maintained a home in Lincoln. By 1929, they had moved to 369 Beacon.
By 1950, 253 Commonwealth had been converted into a dormitory for the Curry School of Expression (Curry College) at 251 Commonwealth. The dormitory continued to be located there until about 1953, when Curry College ceased operation at 251 Commonwealth.
By 1956, it was owned by Ted DiNanno. In January of 1956, he 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.
By 1959, 253 Commonwealth was the location of the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity of MIT.
It continued to be the Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity in 2014.