261 Commonwealth was designed by Shaw and Shaw, architects, and built in 1880-1881 by Vinal & Dodge, builders, as the home of banker Walter Hunnewell and his wife, Jane Appleton (Peele) Hunnewell. They had lived at 303 Dartmouth during the 1880-1881 winter season. They also maintained a home in Wellesley.
Walter Hunnewell is shown as the owner of 261 Commonwealth on the original building permit application, dated September 9, 1880 (his brother, Arthur Hunnewell, was the original name shown, but then crossed off and Walter Hunnewell written in). He also is shown as the owner on the 1883, 1888, 1898, 1908, and 1917 Bromley maps.
Jane Hunnewell died in September of 1893. Walter Hunnewell continued to live at 261 Commonwealth.
During the 1899-1900 and 1900-1901 winter seasons he was living at 130 Beacon with his father, Horatio Hollis Hunnewell, a widower. 261 Commonwealth was not listed in the 1900-1901 Blue Books.
After his death, 261 Commonwealth was the home of his unmarried children, Francis Welles Hunnewell, Louisa Hunnewell, and Arnold Welles Hunnewell.
Arnold Hunnewell, a banker, lived there until his marriage in March of 1922 to Mary Copley Amory, after which they moved to 179 Beacon. They also maintained a home in Wellesley. They moved back to 261 Commonwealth, to live with his brother and sister, during the 1925-1926 winter season; they had lived at 7 Fairfield during the previous season. They continued to live at 261 Commonwealth during the 1926-1927 season, after which they moved to 129 Commonwealth.
Francis Hunnewell, who was Secretary to the Corporation of Harvard University, and his sister, Louisa, continued to live at 261 Commonwealth until about 1937, when they made Wellesley their year-round home. Francis W. and Louisa Hunnewell are shown as the owners on the 1928 and 1938 Bromley maps, and were the assessed owners through 1944.
261 Commonwealth was shown as vacant in the 1938-1945 City Directories.
In late 1944, 261 Commonwealth was acquired from the Hunnewell family by Fred L. Arata, a retail liquor dealer and real estate investor. The transaction was reported in the Boston Globe on December 24, 1944. He and his wife, Annette Flossie (Crovo) Boggiano Arata, lived in Brighton. In November of 1944, he applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from a single-family dwelling into ten apartments (including the janitor’s suite in the basement).
By 1968, 261 Commonwealth was owned by Eliot Convisor, trustee of the Cabot Realty Trust. By the mid-1960s, the number of apartments (as indicated in the Boston City Directories) had been increased from ten to eleven.
The property changed hands and in May of 1978 was purchased by Kevin O’Reilly, trustee of the O’Hara Trust for Real Estate. In October of 1978, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to legalize the occupancy as eleven apartments. And in December of 1978, he converted the property into eleven condominium units, the 261 Commonwealth Condominium.