32 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.”
“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.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 32 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 437, from Arlington to Berkeley.
Lemuel Miles Standish, who built the nine houses with Jonas Fitch and Charles Woodbury, purchased the lot where 32 Commonwealth was built, and he and his wife, Olive (Nutter) Standish, made it their home. They previously had lived at 67 Carver.
Jonas Fitch and his wife, Catherine (Blodgett) Fitch, lived at 30 Commonwealth. Charles Woodbury and his wife, Relief (Ball) Woodbury, lived at 91 Pinckney, but then built a new home at 16 Commonwealth ca. 1864.
L. Miles Standish served as a member of the Boston Common Council, Board of Alderman, and the State House of Representatives. He represented Boston on the tripartite commission formed to resolve disputes between the City, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Boston Water Power Company relating to the filling and laying-out of the Back Bay.
On September 17, 1901, 32 Commonwealth was acquired from Adelaide Standish and her sister, Emma J. (Standish) Richmond, the wife of Charles Cushing Richmond, by attorney James Lowell Putnam. He and his wife, Eleanor Jay (Robinson) Putnam, made it their home. They previously had lived at 188 Marlborough.
They continued to live at 32 Commonwealth in 1905, but had moved to 125 Beacon by 1906.
On May 8, 1905, 32 Commonwealth was purchased from James Putnam by dry goods merchant George M. Preston. His mother, Catherine (Faulkner) Preston, the widow of George H. Preston, lived with him. They had lived at 13 Chestnut in 1905.
He married in September of 1908 to Georgia (Carpenter) Lee. After their marriage, they lived at 32 Commonwealth. His mother continued to live with them until her death in July of 1909. George and Georgia Preston continued to live at 32 Commonwealth in 1910, but moved soon thereafter to North Billerica.
During the 1910-1911 winter season, 32 Commonwealth was the home of William Vail Kellen and his wife, Ella Frances (Sturtevant) Kellen. In 1910, they had lived at 342 Beacon.
William Kellen was an attorney and also served as treasurer of the B. F. Sturtevant Company, manufacturers of fans and air handling equipment, founded by his father-in-law, Benjamin Franklin Sturtevant.
By the 1911-1912 season, the Kellens had moved to the Hotel Puritan at 390 Commonwealth.
During the 1911-1912 winter season, 32 Commonwealth was the home of Mrs. Adele Randolph (von Liebrich or Lieberich) Lingard, the widow of Adrian (Adolph) Alexander Lingard, and their daughter, Olga Lingard. She also maintained a home, The Pines, in the Annisquam area of Gloucester. In 1890, she had been named co-respondent in a suit brought by Adeline (Matthews) Harding against her husband, George Franklin Harding, a Chicago attorney and real estate investor. Adele Lingard’s son, Eric Adrian Alfred Lingard, was a student at Harvard. He later joined the Naval Air Corps and was credited as the first aviator ever to defend American soil from direct enemy attack in active combat when, on July 21, 1918, he engaged a German submarine which had shelled a tug and several barges offshore from Orleans, Massachusetts.
On August 9, 1912, 32 Commonwealth was acquired by wholesale grocer Frederick Henshaw Pollard. He and his wife, Anne (Durling) Pollard, made it their home. They previously had lived at 23 West Cedar. They continued to live at 32 Commonwealth during the 1913-1914 season, but moved thereafter to Lincoln. They continued to own 32 Commonwealth.
By the 1914-1915 winter season, 32 Commonwealth was the home of retired banker John McKibbin, a widower, and his daughter, Emily Wood McKibbin. They previously had lived in Detroit.
On February 11, 1927, Emily Wood McKibbin acquired 23 Commonwealth from Frederick Pollard.
John McKibbin died in July of 1927. Emily McKibbin continued to live at 32 Commonwealth until her death in March of 1973.
On November 3, 1973, 32 Commonwealth was acquired from Emily Wood McKibbin by Gioconda (Castro) King, the wife of investment banker Joseph King. She and her husband lived in New York City and Palm Beach. In April of 1974, she applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the house from a single-family dwelling into eight apartments.
On December 24, 1992, Gioconda King transferred 32 Commonwealth to her daughter, Diane Barrett, a Harvard lecturer and real estate investor, the wife of Robert J. (Bob) Vila, a contractor and restoration specialist who, from 1979 to 1989, was host of the Public Television series “This Old House” about the renovation of vintage homes.
On April 30, 1998, 38 Commonwealth was purchased from Diane Barrett by KP&B Real Estate, Inc. That same month, it filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property into three apartments.
On September 21, 1999, KP&B Real Estate, Inc. converted the apartments into three condominium units, the 32 Commonwealth Avenue Condominium.