333 Commonwealth

333 Commonwealth (2022)

Lot 80' x 124.5' (9,960 sf)

Lot 80′ x 124.5′ (9,960 sf)

333 Commonwealth is located on the north side of Commonwealth, between Hereford and Massachusetts Avenue, with 329 Commonwealth to the east and 337 Commonwealth to the west.

333 Commonwealth was designed by Mackay and Dunham, architects, and built in1895 by Mead, Mason & Co., builders, as the Empire (Hotel Empire), an apartment hotel. It was built for Henry Squarebriggs Mackay (McKay) of Mackay and Dunham.

On January 18, 1895, the Boston Globe reported that Henry S. Mackay had purchased the land at 331-335 Commonwealth. He took title to the land on February 13, 1895, from Ellen A. (Larrabee) Johnson, the wife of real estate dealer Henry M. Johnson. She had purchased it in two lots on November 19, 1890, the western 50 feet from Mary (Mason) Stockton, the wife of Howard Stockton, and the eastern 30 feet from Hasket Derby. The lots were part of a tract of land originally purchased from the Boston Water Power Company on March 1, 1872, by a consortium of Grenville Temple Winthrop Braman (former treasurer of the Boston Water Power Company), Henry D. Hyde, and Frank William Andrews.

Click here for an index to the deeds for 333 Commonwealth, and click here for further information on the land on the north side of Commonwealth between Hereford and Massachusetts Avenue.

On January 19, 1895, the day after the Globe reported Henry S. Mackay’s purchase of the land at 331-335 Commonwealth, the Boston Evening Transcript described his plans to “erect a first-class family hotel, to be completed and ready for occupancy by the first of next September. The building will contain thirty apartments, ranging from two to twelve rooms to each suite. It will be fireproof and equipped with all improvements. The most prominent feature of the establishment will be the absence of housekeeping facilities from all the suites. The design of the architect is to have a large dining-room on the first floor, also a number of smaller dining-rooms adjoining, with kitchens and servants’ rooms in the basement.”

Henry S. Mackay previously had designed and was an owner of the Hotel Ericson at 373 Commonwealth, completed in 1893, which also was built without kitchens and other housekeeping facilities in the apartments. The Transcript article on the plans for 333 Commonwealth commented that “this style of apartment house is somewhat of a new departure for Boston, but the Ericson is proving so satisfactory to its owners that Mr. MacKay considers it wise to build a second and larger house. There is a growing demand for small suites, in the choice locations of the Back Bay, where the inconveniences of housekeeping can be done away with; and this second venture of Mr. MacKay may prove as successful as the first.”

Boston Evening Transcript, 28Sep1895

On February 15, 1895, the Transcript reported that the permit for the building had been approved by the Inspector of Buildings.

On August 3, 1895, the Boston Globe commented on the building’s progress, describing it as a “six-story steel and terra cotta structure, containing 30 suites, with a front of Indiana limestone, and granite foundations.  It has every modern improvement, the suites being non-housekeeping, there being a handsome café on the first floor.”

In September of 1895, Henry Mackay announced that the property would be “under the sole management of Thomas MacKiernan, late steward of the Somerset and Algonquin clubs.”

The Empire was ready for occupancy in early October.  Later that month, Henry MacKay filed a permit application to build another large apartment hotel, the Tuileries, at 270 Commonwealth. He purchased the land for the new building in November of 1895 from Ellen Johnson.

By the 1896-1897 winter season, the first residents had made 333 Commonwealth their home. Among them were Henry MacKay and his wife, Robena (Robina/Ruby) (Mackay) Mackay.  They previously had lived in an apartment at the Hotel Ericson.

To finance the Empire and the Tuileries, Henry Mackay had entered into multiple mortgages on both properties, including mortgages with Ellen Johnson when he purchased the land, several additional mortgages on each building, and a blanket mortgage covering both buildings with Mead, Mason & Co., the builders.

Ellen Johnson died in November of 1898, and on December 22, 1898, Henry Johnson foreclosed on her mortgages to Henry S. Mackay on both properties. He was quoted in a March 27, 1899, article in the Barre (Vertmont) Telegram as saying “’The property is simple [sic] covered up with attachments, and it was to clear up the title that foreclosure proceedings have been brought.  I never saw such a muddle in my life.’”

333 Commonwealth (ca. 1895); courtesy of the Print Department, Boston Public Library

333 Commonwealth (ca. 1895); courtesy of the Print Department, Boston Public Library

In early February of 1899, Henry Mackay and his family left Boston for the west, where they were mentioned as staying in a hotel in Salt Lake City in the February 10, 1899, edition of the Salt Lake Tribune.  According the Barre (Vermont) Telegram article, they had gone west “to make, as it was understood, a temporary visit to his gold mine in the West.  He has not been heard from since.”

Henry Mackay was declared bankrupt in April of 1899. He and his family remained in the west and he became a mine engineer, promoter, and investor, with interests in the southwest and Mexico.

In 1899, the Empire and the Tuileries were managed by Fred H. Chester, who previously had been clerk of the Hotel Brunswick (southeast corner of Boylston and Clarendon). He and his wife, Mary A. (Meredith) Chester, lived at the Empire.

333 Commonwealth was sold at auction on March 31,1899. The property was acquired by Frederick (Fred) Wellington Ayer, a lumber dealer and paper and pulp manufacturer from Bangor, Maine. His wife, Marietta Rollins (Mann) Ayer, was Ellen Johnson’s niece, and he was acting for the Johnson family.

270 Commonwealth was sold at auction on April 26, 1899. In May of 1896, Ellen Johnson had assigned the mortgage to Ellen Louise (Tileston) Hemenway, the widow of Charles Porter Hemenway. She was the successful bidder and took possession of the property.

After the Johnson family acquired the Empire, Henry Johnson became proprietor of the hotel and his nephew, George F. Johnson, became the manager. George Johnson was the son of Henry Johnson’s brother, Samuel H. Johnson and Mary Ann (Burchsted) Johnson.

Henry Johnson died in September of 1900. In his will, he left one fourth of his estate to each of his wife’s three nieces: Marietta Rollins (Mann) Ayer (daughter of Jonathan Mann and Harriett Louise (Larrabee) Mann), wife of Fred W. Ayer, of Bangor; Ella Frances (Mann) Guild, wife of Charles H. Guild, of Bangor; and Ellen (Nellie) A. (Strickland) Goodnow (daughter of Philo Augustus Strickland and Mary Elizabeth (Larrabee) Strickland), wife of Walter Richardson Goodnow, of 293 Commonwealth (and formerly of 47 Hereford). Henry Johnson left the remaining fourth of his estate to George F. Johnson, in trust, with the income to go to him during his life and principal to be paid to his wife’s three nieces upon his death.

George Johnson continued to manage the Empire in 1900.

In May of 1901, Fred W. Ayer, as executor of Henry Johnson’s estate and administrator of Ellen Johnson’s estate, acquired the mortgage on 270 Commonwealth from Ellen Hemenway. On June 20, 1901, he foreclosed on the mortgage and took possession of the property.

333 Commonwealth and 270 Commonwealth remained the property of Henry Johnson’s estate until March 9, 1918, when each devisee under Henry Johnson’s will received his or her one-fourth interest in each property.

From September of 1901, the Empire and the Tuileries were managed by Harry Lamprey Brown, who previously had managed the Hotel Westminster (southwest corner of St. James and Trinity Place) and also was the summer season manager at the Islesboro Inn in Dark Harbor, Maine.  He left in 1902 and became proprietor and manager of the Hotel Victoria at 273 Dartmouth.  In about 1911, he became treasurer of the Waltham Watch Company.

Boston Evening Transcript, 7Jun1902

In June of 1902, the Johnson estate leased the Tuileries and the Empire to John Frederick Harvey and his stepson, Charles Adams Wood. Harvey & Wood also were proprietors of the Hotel Bellevue at 21-23 Beacon and several summer and winter resort hotels, including the Passaconaway Inn in York Cliffs, Maine, and the Piney Woods Hotel at Thomasville, Georgia.  J. Fred Harvey, his wife, Clara Maria (Adams) Wood Harvey, and her son Charles Wood lived at the Hotel Bellevue.  J. Fred Harvey had managed the Hotel Ericson at 373 Commonwealth until 1900, and possibly somewhat later, and in the mid-1890s, when Henry S. Mackay was building the Empire, they had agreed that he would manage both hotels. He subsequently was not given the position at the Empire after it was completed and successfully sued Henry Mackay for damages.

From 1904, the Empire and the Tuileries were managed by the firm of Ainslee & Grabow (later the E. R. Grabow Company), which also managed the New Ocean House in Swampscott and several other properties. The firm announced its management of the two hotels in the September 3, 1904, edition of its New Ocean House Reminder, indicating that “under the new management both houses will be thoroughly renovated and made ready for occupancy on September twenty-fifth, the American plan will be continued, and those who desire a select, retired city home for the winter season will find their wants here satisfied.”

On May 25, 1920, the Boston Globe reported that 333 Commonwealth and 270 Commonwealth had been sold to a “purchasing syndicate” that intended to make “extensive improvements.” The article also reported that “after the present leases have expired,” E. R. Grabow Company would cease management of the properties and they would be managed by Fannie L. Randall.

On August 26, 1920, 333 Commonwealth and 270 Commonwealth were acquired from the heirs of Henry Johnson by Fannie L. Randall, probably acting on behalf of the investment syndicate mentioned in the Globe article. Fannie L. (Whitney) Giles Randall was the widow of Charles W. Randall. After acquiring the properties, she lived at 333 Commonwealth. She previously had lived in Brookline.

On June 12, 1922, 333 Commonwealth was acquired from Fannie Randall by the Professional Building Co., Inc., and on the day, it also acquired 353 Commonwealth from Stanley W. Lovejoy, a real estate dealer associated with the company. In August of 1921, Fannie Randall had sold 270 Commonwealth to the Professional Building Company’s president and treasurer, Charles E. Abbott, who subsequently transferred to his company.

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

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

On June 15, 1922, the Boston Globe reported on the sale (indicating that the buyer was the Commonwealth Building Company, Inc.). It described 333 Commonwealth as “27 apartments and the usual public rooms of a first-class hotel.” It noted that “title is given by Mrs. Fanny L. Randall who will continue the management for the new owners as a hotel as in the past.”

On November 14, 1922, 333 Commonwealth, 270 Commonwealth, and 353 Commonwealth were acquired from the Professional Building Co. by the Commonwealth Home and Office Trust, the trustees of which were Russell S. Codman (trustee of the Central Building Trust and other concerns), Allan Forbes (president of the State Street Trust Company), and Leavitt C. Parsons (president of Marshall & Co., Inc.).

On April 16, 1923, 270 Commonwealth and 353 Commonwealth – both of which had been converted into medical offices — were re-acquired by the Professional Building Co. The Commonwealth Home and Office Trust retained 333 Commonwealth, which continued to be operated as a hotel.

In 1923 and 1924, real estate dealer Stanley Williams Lovejoy (who had owned 353 Commonwealth in 1921) was listed in the City Directories as “proprietor” of 333 Commonwealth. He and his wife, Helen Marcia (Jaques) Lovejoy, lived in Winchester. Fannie Randall continued to live at 333 Commonwealth and manage the hotel until her death in September of 1929.

On August 21, 1934, the Boston Globe reported that Emile F. Coulon, managing director of the Touraine, Westminster, and Victoria hotels, would renovate 333 Commonwealth “from basement to roof” and transform it “into a typical French hotel, to be known as the Lafayette” which would be “the only hotel in the United States strictly French in its operation.” The Globe article described the remodeling plans in some detail:

“The main dining room will have a fresco ceiling, which will be paneled and ribbed with a delicate shade of turquoise blue, combined with gold and snow white. It depicts the color scheme of the Louis XIV period. Large French windows will carry heavy French hangings to harmonize with the general architecture of the period. At either end of this salon will be large fireplaces.

“On the second floor various rooms will be laid out for banquet and small group dinner parties. Atop the hotel will be erected four penthouses of three and four rooms each, equipped with every modern convenience.”

On September 6, 1934, the City Institution for Savings of Lowell foreclosed on its mortgage to the Professional Building Co. (the mortgage having been assumed by the Commonwealth Home and Office Trust) and took possession of 333 Commonwealth, and on November 10, 1934, it sold the building to Hotel Lafayette, Inc., of which Emile Coulon was president.

The Restaurant Lafayette opened on January 1, 1935, with a civic dinner including Governor-elect James Curley. By 1940, it was known as Maison Lafayette.

Advertisement for the Hotel Lafayette; Boston's Back Bay, published by the Back Bay Association, 1941

Advertisement for the Hotel Lafayette; Boston’s Back Bay, published by the Back Bay Association, 1941

On September 7, 1939, the City Institution for Savings foreclosed on its mortgage to Hotel Lafayette, Inc., and transferred the property to a reorganized corporation, Maison Lafayette, Inc., of which Joseph D. Hopkins was president and treasurer. He previously had been manager of the Hotel Abbotsford. On April 14, 1940, the Boston Globe reported that Joseph Hopkins had introduced “an innovation in Boston hotels.” “Recognizing the interests of Bostonians in foreign foods, Mr. Hopkins is featuring ‘Guest Chefs’ of the nations from all parts of the world, including France, Belgium, Switzerland, China, India and Egypt.”

Ownership of 333 Commonwealth changed from Maison Lafayette, Inc., to The Lafayette Company in 1943, and from the Lafayette Company to The Lafayette Corp. in 1944.

On April 30, 1947, the Boston Globe announced that the Hotel Lafayette would be operated by Edward Bryce Bell, “who leaves his position as president and managing director of the Somerset Hotel.”

333 Commonwealth remained the Hotel Lafayette until about 1952.

On November 7, 1952, the Boston Globe reported that the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston had acquired 333 Commonwealth for a home for elderly women. On March 3, 1953, The Lafayette Corp. transferred the property to the Archdiocese, and on June 9, 1953, it transferred the property to the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm. The home, known as St. Patrick’s Manor, remained at 333 Commonwealth until 1968, when it moved to a new, larger property in Framingham.

On June 18, 1969, Edward M. Levitt and his wife, Arlene (Cherniak) Levitt, trustees of the Gardner Realty Trust, acquired 333 Commonwealth from the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm.

They continued to operate the property as a nursing home, the Gardner Pierce House, until 1979.

In 1979, they applied for permission to convert the property into a commercial hotel with fifty suites. Their application was denied and, in October of 1979, they applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property into 24 apartments.

On January 26, 1981, the Levitts sold 333 Commonwealth to 333 Commonwealth, Inc., of which Edward Levitt was president. On September 1, 1981, it converted the property into 24 condominium units, the 333 Commonwealth Condominium.

329-337 Commonwealth (2022)