257 Commonwealth was designed by McKim, Mead, and White, architects, and built in 1886-1887 by Thomas J. Lyons, mason, and Morton & Chesley, carpenters, 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 November 5, 1887, “Building Intelligence” report on the project in the American Architect and Building News noted that it would be of “brick and Gatelawbridge stone.”
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 Pride’s Crossing, and in 1905, they purchased a home and fourteen acres in Hamilton, where they had extensive gardens designed by Arthur Shurcliff.
The Cochranes’ eight children lived with them: Alexander Lynde Cochrane, Mary Russell Cochrane (born Mary Isabelle), Charlotte Blake Cochrane, Hester Sullivan Cochrane, Francis Douglas Cochrane, Marjorie Cochrane, James Sullivan Cochrane, and Ethel Cochrane. Marjorie and James Cochrane were twins.
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. They also maintained a home, Lakeview Farm, in North Andover. By the next season, they 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, was one of the organizers. The Vincent Club continued its annual shows for many decades, becoming one of the fixtures of the social season.
Alexander Lynde Cochrane (known as A. Lynde) graduated from Harvard in 1893 and spent the next three years in the West. He returned in about 1896 and worked for the Cochrane Chemical Company. He lived briefly at 257 Commonwealth and then moved to 2 Spruce and later to 9 Charles.
Charlotte Cochrane married in September of 1895 to Lindsley Loring of Brookline. After their marriage, they lived in Chestnut Hill and Westwood. He was associated with the National Dock and Warehouse Company (founded by his grandfather, Elisha Thacher Loring) and later would become treasurer of Cochrane Chemical.
Hester Cochrane married in May of 1897 to George Richmond Fearing, Jr., of New York. A Harvard classmate of A. Lynde Cochrane, he briefly had practiced law and then became an investment banker. After their marriage, they lived in Paris for a year and then in Westwood. In 1908 they purchased 168 Beacon to be their Boston residence.
During the 1898-1899 winter season, the Cochranes were joined at 257 Commonwealth 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, they had moved from 257 Commonwealth, and by the 1900-1901 winter season were living at 245 Commonwealth.
Francis Douglas Cochrane (known as F. Douglas) graduated from Harvard in 1899. He traveled to the Far East and then worked for several years in mining and mineral exploration, largely in the West. From about 1902, he maintained his Boston residence at 9 Charles with his brother, A. Lynde Cochrane.
Alexander and Mary Cochrane continued to live at 257 Commonwealth and Pride’s Crossing with Marjorie, James, and Ethel Cochrane. Their daughter Mary was not enumerated with them in the 1900 US Census and by the 1910 Census she was a permanent patient at Bournewood Hospital in Brookline.
James Cochrane graduated from Harvard in 1900. He subsequently worked for a steel company, Cochrane Cemical, and a mining company. He traveled extensively, living at 257 Commonwealth when in Boston.
Marjorie Cochrane married in June of 1903 to Francis Murray Forbes of 65 Marlborough, a real estate dealer and a co-founder in 1897 of Cabot. Cabot & Forbes, real estate brokers and developers. After their marriage, they lived in Wenham.
Ethel Cochrane married in November of 1903 to Howard Gardiner Cushing. He was a portrait artist. After their marriage, they lived at 168 Beacon with his parents, Robert Maynard Cushing and Olivia (Dulany) Cushing (their first child, Olivia, was born there in October of 1904). They subsequently lived in Brookline and Newport, and later in New York City.
By the 1906-1907 winter season, A. Lynde Cochrane and F. Douglas Cochrane had moved back to 257 Commonwealth to live with their parents. At about that time, A. Lynde Cochrane retired from the Cochrane Chemical due to ill health.
F. Douglas Cochrane married in December of 1908 to Ramelle McKay Frost of Charleston, South Carolina. After their marriage they lived at 59 Bay State Road and then in Milton. He joined Cochrane Chemical and in 1912 was named an officer of the company. He subsequently became an investment banker and also was a founder of the New England Oil Refining Company.
A. Lynde Cochran married in August of 1917 to Vivian Hervey Wessell, a stage actress from New York. After their marriage, they lived in Hopkinton and then in Hamilton.
By the 1919-1920 winter season, 257 Commonwealth was the home of F. Douglas and Ramelle Cochrane. They previously had lived in Milton. They also maintained a home in Manchester, Massachusetts.
James Cochrane, by then an investment banker with F. Douglas Cochrane’s firm, moved to an apartment at 925 Boylston.
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 and Ramelle Cochrane raised their four children at 257 Commonwealth: Alexander Cochrane, Mary McKay Cochrane, Ramelle Frost Cochrane, and Francis Douglas Cochrane, Jr.
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.
In 1929, the Stackpoles purchased a home, Kragsyde, in Manchester, Massachusetts. They subsequently razed the house and replaced it with another built on the original foundation.
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.
Alexander Cochrane, a stockbroker, married in August of 1937 to Eugenie Helen Grew (born Coffin) of 185 Marlborough. After their marriage, they lived at 87 Pinckney. Ramelle Cochrane married in January of 1940 to Thomas Boylston Adams of South Lincoln, where they lived after their marriage.
F. Douglas and Ramelle Cochrane and their unmarried children, Mary and F Douglas, Jr., moved to 18 Exeter soon thereafter, and were living there by April of 1940, when the 1940 US Census was taken.
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.