257 Commonwealth was designed by McKim, Mead, and White, architects, and built in 1886-1887 by Thomas J. Lyons, mason, on a double lot fifty feet wide. It was built for chemical manufacturer Alexander Cochrane and his wife, Mary Lynde (Sullivan) Cochrane. They previously had lived at 44 Beacon. Alexander Cochrane is shown as the owner of 257 Commonwealth on the 1888, 1898, 1908, and 1917 Bromley maps.
The Cochranes also maintained a home, designed by William Emerson, at Prides Crossing, and in 1905, they purchased a home and fourteen acres in Hamilton, where they had extensive gardens designed by Arthur Shurcliff.
In his McKim, Mead & White, Architects, Leland M. Roth notes that, when the Cochranes were having 257 Commonwealth built, Alexander Cochrane complained to Charles McKim about the appearance of the brick proposed to be used. On September 16, 1886, McKim replied that “‘Danvers brick always looks disappointing in the yard. We use it purposely because of its irregular shape and color. Built into the wall it is most satisfactory.’”
During the 1888-1889 winter season, the Cochranes were living elsewhere and 257 Commonwealth was home of paper manufacturer and former Congressman William Augustus Russell and his wife Frances Spofford (Hall) Russell. They had lived at 50 Beacon during the previous season, and by the next season had moved to 303 Dartmouth.
By the 1889-1890 winter season, the Cochranes had resumed living at 257 Commonwealth.
In 1892, the first Vincent Club show was performed in the Cochranes’ drawing room at 257 Commonwealth to benefit the Vincent Memorial Hospital. The Club continued its annual shows for many decades, becoming one of the fixtures of the social season.
The Cochranes continued to live at 257 Commonwealth in 1898, but during the 1898-1899 winter season were living elsewhere. Their daughters continued to live at 257 Commonwealth, joined by Richard Dudley Sears and his wife Eleanor (Cochrane) Sears. Eleanor (Nellie) Sears was Alexander Cochrane’s niece, the daughter of his brother (and business partner), Hugh Cochrane and his wife, Etta (Presby) Cochrane. Eleanor Cochrane had lived at 44 Beacon with the Alexander Cochranes at the time of the 1880 US Census (her mother had died when she was one year old).
The Sears had lived at 4 Gloucester the previous winter season. Richard Dudley Sears was a real estate trustee. In 1881, he had been the first American men’s singles champion in lawn tennis, and was the winner of that title for each of the six following years.
By 1900, the Sears had moved from 257 Commonwealth, and by the 1900-1901 winter season were living at 245 Commonwealth.
After their deaths, 257 Commonwealth became the home of their son and daughter-in-law, Francis Douglas Cochrane and Ramelle McKay (Frost) Cochrane. They previously had lived in Milton. She is shown as the owner of 257 Commonwealth on the 1928 and 1938 Bromley maps, and was the assessed owner through 1941. They also maintained a home in Manchester.
F. Douglas Cochrane was an investment banker and was a founder of the New England Oil Refining Company.
The Cochranes continued to live at 257 Commonwealth in 1927, but for the next three years lived at other addresses in the Back Bay. By 1928, they were living at 204 Commonwealth, and by 1929 were living at 294 Beacon.
During this period, from about 1928 through about 1930, 257 Commonwealth was the home of attorney Pierpont Langley Stackpole and his wife, Laura (McGinley) Knowles Stackpole. Her children by her marriage to Lucius James Knowles — Lucius, Jr., and Sarah Montgomery Knowles — lived with them. In 1927, they had lived at 53 Marlborough.
By the 1930-1931 winter season, the Stackpoles had moved to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at 15 Arlington, and F. Douglas and Ramelle Cochrane were once again living at 257 Commonwealth. They continued to live there until about 1940, when they moved to 18 Exeter.
By 1942, 257 Commonwealth was owned by Bertram C. Hargraves, who was the assessed owner from 1942 through 1945. He was founder and president of the New England School of Art at 186 Massachusetts Avenue and lived in Brookline. It appears likely that he intended to move the school to 257 Commonwealth but was unable to do so. The house is shown as vacant in the 1941-1945 City Directories.
In December of 1945, 257 Commonwealth became the headquarters of the George K. Menichios Post No. 324 of the American Legion, which was officially dedicated on December 16, 1945. It was the assessed owner from 1946. The American Legion continued to occupy 257 Commonwealth until about 1973.
In July of 1973, D. Roger Howlett acquired 257 Commonwealth from the American Legion. In February of 1975, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property back into a single-family dwelling.
D. Roger Howlett and Carl L. Crossman owned Childs Gallery, dealers in fine paintings and prints. In January of 1983, D. Roger Howlett transferred a 38.52 percent interest the property to Carl Crossman.
In August of 1983, John V. O’Neil, trustee of the 257 Sunnywide Trust, purchased 257 Commonwealth from Carl L. Crossman and D. Roger Howlett. In September of 1983, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from a single-family dwelling into seven apartments.
In August of 1984, Swiss Properties, Inc., purchased 257 Commonwealth from John O’Neil. In April of 1985, it converted the property into six condominium units, the Cochrane House Condominium.