303 Commonwealth

303 Commonwealth (2015)

Lot 33' x 124.5' (4,109 sf)

Lot 33′ x 124.5′ (4,109 sf)

303 Commonwealth is located on the north side of Commonwealth, between Gloucester and Hereford, with 297 Commonwealth to the east and 305 Commonwealth to the west.

303 Commonwealth was designed by McKim, Mead, and White, architects, and built in 1895-1896 (the builder is not identified on the original building permit application).   It was built as the home of  George Augustus Nickerson and his wife, Ellen Floyd (Touzalin) Nickerson.  They had lived temporarily at 183 Commonwealth in 1894.   George Nickerson is shown as the owner of 303 Commonwealth on the original building permit application, dated June 29, 1895.

The Nickersons also maintained a home in Dedham.

George Nickerson was president of the Arlington Mills, textile manufacturers.

He died in September of 1901, and during the 1901-1902 winter season, 303 Commonwealth was temporarily the home of  Dr. Charles Goddard Weld, a surgeon, and his wife, Hannah Putnam (Train) Weld. They had lived in an apartment at 333 Commonwealth in April of 1901, when their daughter, Mary, was born.

Architectural drawings of the front elevation, first floor plan, and architectural details of 303 Commonwealth, ca. 1897); from A Monograph of the Works of McKim, Mead & White: 1879-1915 (The Architectural Book Publishing Company, New York); Plate 97

Architectural drawings of the front elevation, first floor plan, and architectural details of 303 Commonwealth, ca. 1897); from A Monograph of the Works of McKim, Mead & White: 1879-1915 (The Architectural Book Publishing Company, New York); Plate 97

By the 1902-1903 winter season, the Welds had moved to 190 Commonwealth and 303 Commonwealth was once again the home of Ellen Nickerson. She continued to live there in 1904.

By 1905, 303 Commonwealth was the home of Mrs. Mary Ward (Lyon) Cheney, the widow of Charles Paine Cheney.  She continued to live there until her marriage, in September of 1907, to William Henry Schofield, a professor of English and head of the Department of Comparative Literature at Harvard.  He also taught Old Norse and Norwegian and was a pioneer of Scandinavian studies at Harvard.

By the 1907-1908 winter season, 303 Commonwealth had become the home of cotton merchant Isaac Rand Thomas and his wife, Gertrude Stewart (Fabyan) Thomas.  They previously had lived at 134 Marlborough.  They had purchased 303 Commonwealth from Ellen Nickerson in the spring of 1907 (the transaction was reported in the Boston Globe on March 20, 1907), but did not move there until the late fall.  They also maintained a home, Monstone Farm, in Ipswich.  Gertrude F. Thomas is shown as the owner of 303 Commonwealth on the 1908, 1917, and 1928 Bromley maps. and was the assessed owner through 1931.

303 Commonwealth (ca. 1897); from A Monograph of the Works of McKim, Mead & White: 1879-1915 (The Architectural Book Publishing Company, New York); Plate 96

303 Commonwealth (ca. 1897); from A Monograph of the Works of McKim, Mead & White: 1879-1915 (The Architectural Book Publishing Company, New York); Plate 96

Isaac and Gertrude Thomas continued to live at 303 Commonwealth until about 1924, when they made Ipswich their year-round home.

By the 1924-1925 winter season, 303 Commonwealth was the home of Edward Pierson Beebe.  He had lived at 261 Marlborough during the previous season.  He also maintained a home, Highfield Hall, in Falmouth.  He continued to live at 303 Commonwealth until his death in August of 1926.

303 Commonwealth was not listed in the 1927 Blue Book.

By 1928, 303 Commonwealth was the home of Bayard Warren and his wife, Elizabeth (Sears) Warren.  They also maintained a home in Prides Crossing.  By 1929, they had moved to an apartment at 301 Berkeley.

303 Commonwealth was not listed in the 1929-1931 Blue Books and was shown as vacant in the 1930-1931 City Directories.

303 Commonwealth (ca. 1942), photograph by Bainbridge Bunting, courtesy of the Boston Athenaeum

303 Commonwealth (ca. 1942), photograph by Bainbridge Bunting, courtesy of the Boston Athenaeum

By 1932, 303 Commonwealth was the home of attorney Dudley Leavitt Pickman, Jr., and his wife, Vivian Hervey (Wessell) Cochrane Pickman.  They had been married in November of 1930 (she was the widow of Alexander Lynde Cochrane, who had died in January of 1928) and had lived briefly at 127 Beacon in 1931.  Prior to her first marriage, she had been a stage actress.

Dudley Pickman was the assessed owner of 303 Commonwealth from 1932 and is shown as the owner on the 1938 Bromley map.

They also maintained a home in Cohasset and later in Beverly.

Viviane Cochranes children by her first marriage —  Alexander, Nancy, Lucy, and Jean Cochrane — lived with them.  Lucy Cochrane later became an actress and author under the name C. Z. Guest.

In his The Proper Bostonians, Cleveland Amory describes the “coming out” parties at 303 Commonwealth for Nancy and Lucy Cochrane: “Mrs. Pickman gave her balls right on Commonwealth Avenue, but her version of the Boston at-home debut was some distance from the traditional.  For Nancy’s ball the Pickman house was entirely transformed into a Paris street scene, complete with sidewalk cafés, lampposts and twinkling stars.  For Lucy’s ball two years later the home became almost equally unrecognizable, the entrance hall being transformed by a  vigorous array of potted trees and plants into a garden scene and the dining room being hung from top to bottom with gold satin looped up mountain laurel and hemlock boughs.”

The Pickmans continued to live at 303 Commonwealth until their deaths, he in April of 1964, and she in October of 1965.

303 Commonwealth (ca. 1968), photograph by Cortlandt V. Hubbard; courtesy of the Library of Congress

303 Commonwealth (ca. 1968), photograph by Cortlandt V. Hubbard; courtesy of the Library of Congress

In December of 1966, the Estate of Mrs. Dudley Pickman filed for permission to convert the property from a single-family dwelling into a single-family dwelling and funeral parlor.  The application was subsequently abandoned.

By 1967, 303 Commonwealth was owned by Portia Law School.  In September of 1967, the Calvin Coolidge College (a division of Portia Law School) filed for permission to convert the property from a single-family dwelling into classrooms for adults.  The proposal was strongly opposed by neighborhood residents and in December of 1967, the zoning Board of Appeal voted not to allow the use.

In June of 1968, Kurt Esser, an attorney with the Gillette Company, and his wife, Myrna (Steinowitz) Esser, purchased 303 Commonwealth from the Portia Law School.  They previously had lived at 230 Marlborough.  In July of 1968, Myrna Esser filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property into five apartments, one of which became their home.  And in October of 1977, she converted the property into five condominium units, the 303 Commonwealth Condominium.

In February of 2009, Jeff Bates, a condominium owner, filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property into three units and an interior garage, accessed from the rear.

297-303 Commonwealth (2015)