28 Commonwealth was designed by Gridley J. F. Bryant and Arthur D. Gilman, architects, and built in 1860-1861, one of nine contiguous houses (20-22-24-26-28-30-32-34-36 Commonwealth). In his Houses of Boston’s Back Bay, Bainbridge Bunting calls the group “one of the most imposing compositions in the whole district.”
Bunting’s comment echoed the views of the Boston Evening Transcript in its July 14, 1860, article announcing plans for the nine houses:
“A large and elegant block of first class houses will shortly be seen rising in the very center of the filled area, being on the south or left hand side of the broad central avenue, and about half way from Arlington to Berkley [sic] street. Nine of these houses will be similar in height, arrangement, material and external finish – a fact which we record with some wonder – as we had never before believed that nine persons could be found in Boston, who had not some crotchets of their own which they would be sure to prefer to the general uniformity of the streets, or the general welfare and appearance of the city. In this case, the block will form a very marked and striking ornament to the wide avenue on which it is to be placed. We learn that the contracts for these houses have been concluded, and that the works will be commenced next week, Messrs. G. J. F. Bryant and Arthur Gilman, Architects.”
20-26 Commonwealth and 34 Commonwealth were built on 19 foot wide lots, with entrances centered on the façade and no windows on the first floor (later, windows were added on both sides of the entrances at 22-26 and 34 Commonwealth). 28 Commonwealth was built on a 22 foot wide lot with the entrance on the east and a window on the west. 30-32 Commonwealth were each built on 19.5 foot lots as a symmetrical pair, with a window on the east at 30 Commonwealth and on the west at 32 Commonwealth. 36 Commonwealth was built on a 30 foot wide lot, but originally was identical to 32 Commonwealth, with the western portion of the lot left open. In about 1890, the entrance was converted into a window and a two-story addition was constructed on the west side of the house, with a street level entry. Small windows were later added on both sides of the window that had replaced the original entrance.
The land on which 20-36 Commonwealth were built was part of a larger tract of land owned by shipping merchant and US Congressman Samuel Hooper. He and his wife, Anne (Sturgis) Hooper, lived at 27 Commonwealth.
On May 2, 1860, Samuel Hooper had purchased two lots on the south side of Commonwealth Avenue from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, one with a frontage of 78 feet starting with the lot where 20 Commonwealth would be built and extending west, and the other with a frontage of 220 feet extending east from the corner of Commonwealth and Berkeley. On the same day, Nathan Bourne Gibbs, Jr., also a shipping merchant, purchased a lot with a 60 foot frontage between the two lots purchased by Samuel Hooper. On June 22, 1860, Samuel Hooper purchased Nathan Gibbs’s parcel, so that he owned all of the land from 20 Commonwealth to Berkeley Street. He subsequently subdivided the property and sold the lots to different owners, for whom houses were then built. Among the purchasers was Nathan Gibbs, who bought a lot with a 40 foot frontage where he and his wife, Elizabeth Swift (Burgess) Gibbs, built their home at 38 Commonwealth.
Eight of the nine lots where 20-36 Commonwealth were built were sold by Samuel Hooper on July 1 or 2 in 1860 (the ninth lot, for 36 Commonwealth, also was sold at that time but was not conveyed by deed until July of 1862). The buyers contracted with Charles Woodbury and Lemuel Miles Standish, masons, and Jonas Fitch, carpenter and builder, to construct the houses to the designs of Gridley J. F. Bryant and Arthur Gilman. Based on the architectural drawings for 22 Commonwealth, cited by Bunting, and three building contracts filed with the Suffolk County deeds for 26, 28, and 34 Commonwealth, the contracts were executed on July 7, 1860, and specified a deadline for completion of the houses by August 1, 1861. Two of the lots were purchased by the builders as their homes, 30 Commonwealth by Jonas Fitch and his wife, Catherine (Blodgett) Fitch, and 32 Commonwealth by Lemuel Miles Standish and his wife, Olive L. (Nutter) Standish. Charles Woodbury and his wife, Relief (Ball) Woodbury, lived at 91 Pinckney, but then built a new home at 16 Commonwealth ca. 1864.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 28 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 437, from Arlington to Berkeley.
28 Commonwealth was built as the home of George Tyler Bigelow and his wife Anna Smith (Miller) Bigelow. George Bigelow purchased the land from Samuel Hooper on May 2, 1860. They previously had lived at 126 Tremont. They also maintained a home in Quincy.
The July 7, 1860, contract for building 28 Commonwealth was filed with the Suffolk County Deeds Registry and includes details about the materials and construction of the house. Click here for an abstract and partial transcription of the contract.
George Bigelow served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1840-1846) and State Senate (1847-1848). In 1848, he was appointed associate Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, in 1850 a full Justice, and in 1860 Chief Justice. In 1868, he retired from the bench and became actuary for the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company.
George and Anna Bigelow lived at 28 Commonwealth until his death in April of 1878. After his death, Anna Bigelow moved to their home in Quincy.
The house was not listed in the 1879 Blue Book.
On February 21, 1879, 28 Commonwealth was purchased from Anna Bigelow by Dr. Henry Harris Anthony Beach, a physician and surgeon. He and his wife, Alice (Mandell) Beach, made it their home and he also maintained his medical offices there. They previously had lived (and he had maintained his offices) at 104 Boylston.
Alice Beach died in July of 1880. Henry Beach continued to live at 28 Commonwealth and, in December of 1885, he married again, to Amy Marcy Cheney.
Amy Cheney was a pianist and composer. A child prodigy, she began composing music at age four and performing publicly at age seven. She studied in Boston and made her professional debut in 1883, at age sixteen. After her marriage to Henry Beach, she focused on composition.
Click here for an external link to Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy’s website on Amy Beach.
Henry and Amy Beach continued to live at 28 Commonwealth until his death in June of 1910.
After his death in 1910, Amy Beach embarked on a three year tour of Europe and then resumed her career as a performer. Between tours, she lived in New York City and in Centerville on Cape Code. She is credited with composing more than 150 works ranging from chamber and orchestral works to church music and songs.
By 1911, 28 Commonwealth was the medical office of Dr. Farrar Crane Cobb, a physician and Superintendent of the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. He had maintained his offices at 317 Marlborough in 1910. He and his wife, Frances W. (McMurray) Cobb, lived at 5 Brimmer Street.
Longer-term residents listed in the Blue Books at 28 Commonwealth during this same period included Henry C. Tuttle (from about 1913 through about 1915); Charles C. Newcomb, a produce merchant, and his brother, George Dillingham Newcomb, treasurer of an iron foundry (from about 1914 through about 1915; they previously had lived at 118 Commonwealth); and Dr. Henry C. Marble (from about 1915 through about 1917).
By the 1918-1919 winter season, 28 Commonwealth was the home of Arthur Gilpatrick and his wife, Mina A. (Barron) Gilpatrick. At the time of the 1920 US Census, he was the manager of a restaurant, and he and his wife maintained a lodging house at 28 Commonwealth.
Among the lodgers at 28 Commonwealth was Madame Maria Kedrina, a ballet dancer and teacher, who also maintained her studio at the house in 1922.
On December 27, 1924, 28 Commonwealth was purchased from Amy Beach by the estate of Adelaide (Weir) Root Manning.
The Gilpatricks continued to live there during the 1925-1926 winter season, but moved soon thereafter to 4 Commonwealth.
28 Commonwealth became the home of Adelaide Root Manning’s daughter, Mrs. Pauline (Root) Otis Danielson, the widow of William Sigourney Otis and of John DeForest Danielson. She previously had lived at 4 Commonwealth, where the Gilpatricks moved.
Pauline Danielson also maintained a home, Pound Farm, in Medford.
On April 8, 1947, the estate of Adelaide Root Manning transferred 28 Commonwealth to the estate of Pauline Danielsen. On the same day, real estate dealer Thomas J. Diab purchased the property from Pauline Danielson’s estate, and the next day it was acquired from Thomas J. Diab by Lenore Y. (Vermorel) Veo, the wife of Dr. Charles Kenneth Veo, a dentist. Earlier that year, they had lived on Nantucket and he had maintained his dental office at 122 Commonwealth.
In October of 1947, Lenore Veo filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert 28 Commonwealth from a single-family dwelling into a single-family dwelling and dentist’s office.
They continued to live (and he to maintain his dental office) there until about 1949.
On June 10, 1949, 28 Commonwealth was acquired from Leonore Veo by Sydney Sinclair Abrams, an engineer. He lived there with his parents, Hyman Ely Abrams (Abramowitz), a printer, and Frances (Rosenthal) Abrams. They previously had lived at 93 Revere.
On March 1, 1950, the Boston Globe reported that Sydney Abrams had formed American Cinema Enterprises, with plans to make films in Hingham, utilizing shipyard buildings as sound studios.
On January 3, 1951, Sydney Abrams transferred 28 Commonwealth to his mother.
The Abramses continued to live at 28 Commonwealth in 1951.
On July 30, 1951, 28 Commonwealth was acquired from Frances Abrams by Edward Joseph Fox, a lawyer. He was a widower and previously had lived at the Hotel Victoria at 271 Dartmouth. His unmarried sisters, Helen (Nellie) E. Fox, a clerk, and Agnes G. Fox, a teacher, lived with him. They previously had lived at 88 Mt. Vernon.
Edward Fox died in December of 1956. Agnes and Helen Fox continued to live at 28 Commonwealth until about 1962.
On August 15, 1962, 28 Commonwealth was purchased from Helen and Agnes Fox and their brother, James A. Fox, by the Wendell Realty Corporation.
By 1963, 28 Commonwealth was the home of Ronald G. Havelock and his wife, Mary C. Havelock. They continued to live there in 1964.
On October 25, 1965, the property was acquired by Chamberlayne School and Chamberlayne Junior College, for use as a dormitory. Chamberlayne went bankrupt in the mid-1970s, and on June 15, 1975, 28 Commonwealth was transferred to Bernard P. Rome, the trustee for their bankruptcy.
On November 14, 975, 28 Commonwealth was purchased from Bernard Rome by Peter K. Gearhart, Nicholas Gervasi, and William Boyajian, general partners in Commonwealth Limited.
On November 17, 1975, Commonwealth Limited filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property into five apartments, and on September 14, 1976, it converted the apartments into five condominium units, the 28 Commonwealth Avenue Condominium..