303 Dartmouth is located on the NE corner of Dartmouth and Commonwealth, with 315 Dartmouth to the north, across Alley 424, 152 Commonwealth (287 Dartmouth) to the south, across Commonwealth, 151 Commonwealth to the east, and 306 Dartmouth to the west, across Dartmouth.
303 Dartmouth was designed by architect Robert Gould Shaw (of the firm of Shaw and Shaw), and built in 1876 by Standish & Woodbury, masons and builders, and David H. Jacobs & Son, masons, one of two contiguous houses (151 Commonwealth and 303 Dartmouth), designed to create symmetrical compositions on both the Commonwealth and Dartmouth façades.
Robert Gould Shaw and his wife, Isabella Pratt (Hunnewell) Shaw, made 151 Commonwealth their home, and 303 Dartmouth became the home of Isabella Shaw’s brother and sister-in-law, Arthur Hunnewell and Jane Hubbard (Boit) Hunnewell.
The land on which 151 Commonwealth and 303 Dartmouth were built was originally two lots, a 32 foot wide lot at the corner of Commonwealth and Dartmouth, and a 26 foot wide lot to the east of it. The corner lot was purchased from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on April 9, 1863, by a trust established under the will of Gardiner Greene for the benefit of his daughter, Martha Babcock (Greene) Amory, the wife of Charles Amory, and the 26 foot wide lot was purchased from the Commonwealth on December 20, 1870, by Martha (Greene) Amory in her own right. Charles Amory was a textile manufacturer; he and his wife lived at 9 Marlborough and then at 198 Beacon.
On January 25, 1872, the two lots were purchased from Martha Amory by Hollis Hunnewell, the brother of Arthur Hunnewell and Isabella (Hunnewell) Shaw. He and his wife, Louisa (Bronson) Hunnewell, lived at 315 Dartmouth, across the alley to the north.
On December 1, 1876, after the houses were completed, Hollis Hunnewell sold the property to his father, Horatio Hollis Hunnewell, for $40,000, and on the same day H. Hollis Hunnewell gave 303 Dartmouth to Arthur Hunnewell and 151 Commonwealth to Isabella (Hunnewell) Shaw, the consideration being “love and affection” (and one dollar).
Click here for an index to the deeds for 303 Dartmouth, and click here for further information about the land between the north side of Commonwealth and Alley 424, from Clarendon to Dartmouth.
Presumably because they were built for himself and his brother-in-law, Robert Gould Shaw designed two the houses in an unorthodox manner. Rather than divide the 58 foot wide into two regularly shaped lots, he made 151 Commonwealth 38 feet wide on Commonwealth and then tapered it to the east so that the frontage on the alley was only 27 feet 8 inches. The lot at 303 Dartmouth, with a frontage of 124 feet 6 inches on Dartmouth, was only 20 feet wide on Commonwealth and increased to 30 feet 4 inches on the alley. In addition, he designed an open courtyard 6 feet wide and 19 feet long in the middle, between the two houses, to be shared by the owners.
By the 1878-1879 winter season, Arthur and Jane (Boit) Hunnewell had made 303 Dartmouth their Boston home. He was a banker in his family’s firm. They previously had lived at 273 Clarendon. They also maintained a home in Wellesley (named in honor of his mother’s family, the Welles). Jane Hunnewell’s niece, Florence Dumaresq Boit, is credited for introducing the game of golf in New England, constructing a seven-hole course on the lawn of the Hunnewells’ estate in Wellesley in the early 1890s.
During the 1880-1881 winter season, the Hunnewells were traveling in Europe and 303 Dartmouth was the home of his brother and sister-in-law, Walter and Jane Appleton (Peele) Hunnewell. They had lived briefly at 91 Marlborough earlier in 1880; their primary residence was in Wellesley. They had moved from 303 Dartmouth by the 1881-1882 season and Arthur and Jane Hunnewell had resumed living there. By the 1882-1883 season, Walter and Jane Hunnewell were living at a new home they had built at 261 Commonwealth.
During the 1889-1890 winter season, Arthur and Jane Hunnewell were living elsewhere and 303 Dartmouth was the home of paper manufacturer and former Congressman William Augustus Russell and his wife Frances Spofford (Hall) Russell. They had lived at 257 Commonwealth during the 1888-1889 season. They had moved by the 1890-1891 season and the Hunnewells had resumed living at 303 Dartmouth; by the 1891-1892 season, the Russells were living next door at 151 Commonwealth.
On October 25, 1930, 303 Dartmouth was acquired by Mrs. Katharine Mary (Ryan) Gibbs, widow of William Gibbs and founder of the Katharine Gibbs School. On January 14, 1931, she transferred the property to the Katharine Gibbs Realty Trust. The school already owned the two houses immediately to the east, at 151 Commonwealth and 135 Commonwealth, and also owned 90 Marlborough and 92 Marlborough. In August of 1936, it acquired 21–23 Marlborough.
In August of 1931, the school applied for (and subsequently received) permission to change the occupancy of 303 Dartmouth from a private dwelling to a school and dormitory, and to change a window to a door to provide an additional basement entrance.
In August of 1935, it cut through doors between 151 Commonwealth and 303 Dartmouth, and in January of 1946, it cut through doors between 151 Commonwealth and 135 Commonwealth on the second, third, fourth, and fifth floors.
In mid-1953, Katharine Gibbs School acquired 6 Arlington to consolidate its operations in one location.
On August 31, 1953, 303 Dartmouth was acquired by real estate dealer Thomas J. Diab’s Baid Realty Corporation (Baid being the reverse spelling of Diab). At the same time, he also acquired 135 Commonwealth, 151 Commonwealth, 90 Marlborough, and 92 Marlborough from the school. The school retained 21-23 Marlborough, converting them from dormitories to classrooms.
In 1955, The Commonwealth School, Inc., leased 303 Dartmouth and 151 Commonwealth. Charles E. Merrill, Jr., founder and headmaster of the school, lived at 23 Commonwealth.
In January of 1956, the Board of Appeal approved the School’s plans to consolidate the buildings and to construct an addition at the rear for use as a gym and dining room (probably replacing an addition constructed in 1902 behind 151 Commonwealth).
On September 27, 1957, the school acquired 303 Dartmouth and 151 Commonwealth from Baid Realty.
Commonwealth School continued to be located at 151 Commonwealth and 303 Dartmouth in 2016.