278 Commonwealth was designed by architect John H. Besarick and built in 1883-1884 by building contractor Asa Harden Caton and John Pickett, mason, on land owned by wallpaper merchant Charles Henry Hayden, for speculative sale. Asa Caton is shown as the owner on the original building permit application, dated September 3, 1883.
Charles Hayden acquired the land for 278 Commonwealth on June 2, 1883, from Martha Howard (Thurston) Carter, the wife of Charles Myrick Carter, president of the Maverick Oil Company. At the same time, the Carters purchased from Charles Hayden the newly completed house at 226 Commonwealth (built by Asa Caton on Charles Hayden’s land), and the land at 278 Commonwealth probably was partial consideration for the new house.
Martha Carter had purchased the lot at 278 Commonwealth on July 20, 1882, from William Gurdon Saltonstall. The lot had changed hands several times and was part of a parcel previously owned by Nathan Matthews, part of an even larger tract he had purchased on January 2, 1871, from David Sears, Jr., Frederick R. Sears, and Knyvet Sears.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 278 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 432, from Fairfield to Gloucester.
On December 4, 1884, 278 Commonwealth was purchased from Charles Hayden by Charlotte Augusta (Farnsworth) Baker, the wife of William Emerson Baker. They previously had lived at 63 Chester Square.
William Baker was co-founder of the Grover & Baker Sewing Machine Company. He had retired from active management in the late 1860s and purchased about 800 acres in Needham (later partially in Wellesley) where he established Ridge Hill Farms and (according to his entry in Memorial Biographies of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, v. 8) “spent the remainder of his life by gratifying his taste in its embellishment in a rather eccentric and curious manner.” According to the Wellesley Historical Society, he “transformed into something closer to an amusement park in addition to a summer residence for a family. At its peak Ridge Hill Farms was home to over 100 attractions which included man-made lakes, bear pits, various exhibits, and a luxury hotel. Portions of the property were open to the public and Baker hosted a number of events, such as a funeral for a bear by the name of Billy Bruin.”
William Baker died in January of 1888.
Charlotte Baker continued to live at 278 Commonwealth with their two sons, Edward Farnsworth Baker and Walter Farnsworth (born Walter Francis) Baker.
Edward Baker, a real estate and insurance dealer, married in January of 1893 to Addie Mabel Keith. After their marriage, they lived in Brookline.
Walter Baker continued to live at 278 Commonwealth with his mother until about 1903, but moved thereafter to New York City. He died in October of 1907 in Bogata, New Jersey, where he was living at the time, a coroner’s jury finding that he was the victim of arsenical poison administered by “person or persons unknown.”
Charlotte Baker continued to live at 278 Commonwealth until her death in January of 1907.
On April 15, 1907, 278 Commonwealth was purchased from Charlotte Baker’s estate by Abbie Louise (Fisher) Clapp Adams, the wife of wool merchant Samuel Gibson Adams. They previously had lived at 475 Beacon.
Living with them were their daughter, Louise Fisher Adams, and Joseph Albert Clapp, Abbie Adams’s unmarried son by her previous marriage, to Erstene Follen Clapp.
Joseph Clapp, who was agent for a woolen mill, married in April of 1911 to Mary Frances Brooks and moved to Methuen.
Louise Adams married in February of 1914 to Ashley Day Adams and moved to Brookline.
Samuel and Abbie Adams continued to live at 278 Commonwealth during the 1925-1926 winter season, after which they moved to an apartment at 90 Commonwealth. They also maintained a home in Plymouth. They continued to own 278 Commonwealth and lease it to others.
By the 1927-1928 winter season, 278 Commonwealth was the fraternity house of the MIT chapter of the Phi Kappa fraternity. It previously had been located at 349 Commonwealth.
Samuel Adams died in July of 1932 and on September 28, 1936, 278 Commonwealth was purchased from Abbie Adams by Selma Nathan. On December 27, 1937, it was acquired from her by Phyllis A. Goodman.
Phi Kappa continued to be located at 278 Commonwealth until about 1940, when it moved to 312 Beacon.
On March 15, 1940, Phyllis Goodman transferred 278 Commonwealth to William Karmazine as trustee of the Esdith Realty Trust. He acquired 280 Commonwealth on the same day.
William Karmazine and his wife, Edna (Nurenberg) Karmazine, lived in Chestnut Hill. In March of 1940, he had established the Esdith Realty Trust to hold property for the benefit of his two daughters, Esther Reece Karmazine and Judith Shaefer Karmazine. and his niece, Enid Esta Karmazine, daughter of his brother, Nathan Karmazine and his wife, Mae (Lipsher) Karmazine.
In August of 1939, prior to taking title to the property, William Karmazine filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert 278 Commonwealth from a single-family dwelling into a lodging house and to construct fire balconies connecting with 280 Commonwealth, which already was a lodging house.
On April 5, 1946, 278 Commonwealth was acquired from William Karmazine by Frankland F. Stafford, Jr. William Karmazine had sold 280 Commonwealth to a different buyer in January of 1946.
On June 5, 1946, 278 Commonwealth was acquired from Frankland Stafford, Jr., by Ruth C. (Whitaker) Eaton Comiskey, the wife of Philip J. Comiskey, who operated it as a lodging house. They previously had lived at 523 Beacon.
On August 13, 1948, 278 Commonwealth was acquired from Ruth Cominskey by Ethel M. (Crowell) Lowd, the widow of Arley A. Lowd, who operated it as a lodging house. She previously had lived at 291 Beacon.
On November 25, 1950, 278 Commonwealth was acquired from Ethel Lowd by Edward Voekli, and on December 20, 1950, it was acquired from him by Anna M. (Phippard) McLean (MacLean), the widow of Hallet Ray McLean. She previously had lived at 364 Marlborough. She continued to live at 278 Commonwealth until mid-1956, when she moved to 325 Commonwealth.
On August 14, 1956, 278 Commonwealth was acquired from Anna M. McLean (MacLean) by Robert Osborne Tillinghast. He had acquired 280 Commonwealth in September of 1954. In April of 1957 he acquired 29 Gloucester, in February of 1962 he acquired 211 Beacon, and in March of 1962, he acquired 34 Gloucester.
In January of 1960, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to legalize the occupancy of 278-280 Commonwealth as a lodging house. In June of 1961, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to install a dining hall in the basement (the dining room had been operating without a permit earlier that year and possibly before). And in April of 1962, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from a lodging house into a dormitory, which he called Osborne Hall, to be used by the Cambridge School of Business, located at 687 Boylston.
On May 7, 1962, 278-280 Commonwealth were acquired from Robert Tillinghast by First Community Investment Co., Inc., of Lexington. They acquired 29 Gloucester, 34 Gloucester, and 211 Beacon, at the same time. On July 3, 1962, First Community Investment transferred all five properties to Robert J. McHugh, trustee of the Mifro Realty Trust.
278-280 Commonwealth continued to be occupied as a dormitory for the Cambridge School of Business.
In February of 1963, the Mifro Realty Trust applied for (and subsequently received) permission to re-install kitchen equipment in the basement of 280 Commonwealth. The application indicated that the kitchen had been moved to another location in August of 1961. “Food will be prepared and served to students that dine in basement of 278 Commonwealth. The necessary door in the party wall was installed five years ago. The present occupant is Cambridge School of Business.”
In July of 1963, the Mifro Realty Trust and the Osborne Association of Boston, an association of Cambridge School of Business students, each filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the basement and first floor into a club for use by the students, with the remainder of the building continuing to be used as a dormitory.
On June 13, 1966, 278-280–282 Commonwealth were acquired from First Community Investment by Chamberlayne School and Chamberlayne Junior College, located at 128 Commonwealth. Chamberlayne already owned 260–262–264–266–270–274–276 Commonwealth, which it had acquired earlier in the 1960s. Chamberlayne also acquired 29 Gloucester, 34 Gloucester, and 211 Beacon from First Community Investment.
Chamberlayne went bankrupt in the mid-1970s, and in June of 1975, it transferred 278-280-282 Commonwealth, 29 Gloucester, and 34 Gloucester to Bernard P. Rome, trustee in bankruptcy.
On December 15, 1976, Back Bay Restorations purchased 278-280–282 Commonwealth (and four other properties: 199 Marlborough, 238 Marlborough, 148 Commonwealth. and 298 Commonwealth) from Bernard P. Rome. One month earlier, it had purchased 274 and 276 Commonwealth from Alfonso Vitagliano, who had acquired them from Chamberlayne through mortgage foreclosures.
In October of 1976, prior to finalizing either purchase, Back Bay Restorations had filed for (and subsequently received) permission to combine 274-276 Commonwealth and 278 Commonwealth into one property, with the address at 274 Commonwealth, and convert the combined property into 23 apartments. At the same time, it also applied to combine 280 and 282 Commonwealth into one property, with the address of 280 Commonwealth, and convert the combined property into 18 apartments.
In February of 1984, it filed for (and subsequently received) permission to increase the number of apartments at 274-276-278 Commonwealth from 23 to 25.
On February 3, 1984, Back Bay Restorations converted 274-282 Commonwealth into forty-three condominium units (ten units in 274 Commonwealth, five units in 276 Commonwealth, ten units in 278 Commonwealth, eleven units in 280 Commonwealth, and seven units in 282 Commonwealth): the 280 Commonwealth Condominium.