257 Commonwealth was designed by McKim, Mead, and White, architects, and built in 1886-1887 by Thomas J. Lyons, mason, for chemical manufacturer Alexander Cochrane.
Alexander Cochrane purchased the 50 foot wide lot for 257 Commonwealth on January 14, 1886, from Ellen A. (Larrabee) Johnson, the wife of Henry M. Johnson. The land 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 257 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the north side of Commonwealth and Alley 427, from Fairfield to Gloucester.
In his McKim, Mead & White, Architects, Leland M. Roth notes that, when Alexander Cochrane was having 257 Commonwealth built, he 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.’”
The house was completed by the 1887-1888 winter season, and Alexander Cochrane and his wife, Mary Lynde (Sullivan) Cochrane, made it their home. They previously had lived at 44 Beacon. They 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.
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 April of 1892, the first Vincent Club show was performed in the Cochranes’ drawing room at 257 Commonwealth to benefit the Vincent Memorial Hospital. The Cochranes’ daughter, Charlotte Blake Cochrane, was one of the organizers. The Vincent 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 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 Searses 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 Searses had moved from 257 Commonwealth, and by the 1900-1901 winter season were living at 245 Commonwealth.
By the 1919-1920 winter season, 257 Commonwealth was the home of the Cochranes’ son and daughter-in-law, Francis Douglas Cochrane and Ramelle McKay (Frost) Cochrane. They previously had lived in Milton. They also maintained a home in Manchester.
On November 19, 1920, Alexander Cochrane’s estate transferred 257 Commonwealth to F. Douglas Cochrane, and he transferred it to his wife on the same day.
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 the 1927-1928 winter season through the 1929-1930 season, 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. They previously 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.
On July 31, 1941, 257 Commonwealth was purchased from Ramelle Cochrane by Bertram Cyril Hargraves. 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.
On March 28, 1945, 257 Commonwealth was acquired from Bertram Hargraves by Dr. Alonzo Jay Shadman, a physician and president of the forest Hills General Hospital. He lived in Jamaica Plain.
On September 4, 1945, 257 Commonwealth was acquired from Alonzo Shadman by the George K. Menichios Post No. 324 of the American Legion. On December 16, 1945, it officially dedicated the house as its headquarters. It continued to occupy 257 Commonwealth until about 1973.
On July 9, 1973, 257 Commonwealth was acquired from the George K. Menichios Post of the American Legion by D. Roger Howlett and Carl L. Crossman. In February of 1975, D. Roger Howlett 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. On January 3, 1983, D. Roger Howlett transferred a 38.52 percent interest the property to Carl Crossman.
On August 15, 1983, 257 Commonwealth was acquired from Carl L. Crossman and D. Roger Howlett by John V. O’Neil, trustee of the 257 Sunnywide Trust. In September of 1983, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from a single-family dwelling into seven apartments.
On August 31, 1984, 257 Commonwealth was purchased from John O’Neil by Swiss Properties, Inc. On April 18, 1985, it converted the property into six condominium units, the Cochrane House Condominium.