278 Commonwealth was designed by architect John H. Besarick and built in 1883-1884 by Asa Harden Caton and John Pickett, builders. Asa Caton is shown as the owner on the original building permit application, dated September 3, 1883.
By the 1885-1886 winter season, 278 Commonwealth was the home of William Emerson Baker and his wife, Charlotte A. (Farnsworth) Baker. They previously had lived at 63 Chester Square. Charlotte Baker is shown as the owner of 278 Commonwealth on the 1888 and 1898 Bromley maps.
William Baker was a retired sewing machine manufacturer. He died in January of 1888.
By the 1907-1908 winter season, 278 Commonwealth was the home of wool merchant Samuel Gibson Adams and his wife, Abbie Louise (Fisher) Clapp Adams. They previously had lived at 475 Beacon. Abbie L. Adams is shown as the owner of 278 Commonwealth on the 1908, 1917, and 1928 Bromley maps.
Living with them were their daughter, Louise Adams, and Joseph Clapp, Abbie Adams 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 Admas 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.
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. Phi Kappa continued to be located at 278 Commonwealth until about 1940, when it moved to 312 Beacon.
By 1937, 278 Commonwealth was owned by Charles E. Abbott. In June of 1937, he filed for permission to convert the property from a fraternity into a “tenement” for nine families. He subsequently abandoned the application.
Phyllis A. Goodman is shown as the owner of 278 Commonwealth on the 1938 Bromley map and was the assessed owner through 1940.
In about 1940, 278 Commonwealth was acquired by William Karmazine, a loan company executive. He acquired 280 Commonwealth at about the same time. William Karmazine, trustee, was the assessed owner of both properties from 1941 through 1946.
In August of 1939, probably in anticipation of acquiring the property, he applied 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.
The property changed hands and by 1956, 278 and 280 Commonwealth were owned by Robert Osborne Tillinghast. He also owned 29 Gloucester, around the corner on the east side of Gloucester at Public Alley 432.
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.
By 1963, 278-280 Commonwealth were owned by the Mifro Realty Trust. The buildings continued to be occupied as a dormitory for the Cambridge School of Business.
In February of 1963, Mifro Realty Trust applied for (and subsequently received) permission to re-install necessary 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.
In 1966, Chamberlayne School and Chamberlayne Junior College acquired 278-280–282 Commonwealth, 29 Gloucester, and 34 Gloucester from First Community Investment. Chamberlayne already owned 260–262–264–266–270–274–276 Commonwealth, which it had acquired earlier in the 1960s.
It continued to use the buildings as dormitories.
In December of 1976, Back Bay Restorations Company 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.
In October of 1976, prior to finalizing either purchase, Back Bay Restorations 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.
In February of 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.