337 Commonwealth was designed by Kirby and Lewis, architects, and built in 1880-1881, one of three contiguous houses built by building contractor Asa Harden Caton for speculative sale on land owned by wallpaper merchant Charles Henry Hayden.
Charles Hayden purchased the land for 337-339-341 Commonwealth on February 27, 1879, from Grenville T. W. Braman, Henry D. Hyde, and Henry M. Whitney, trustees of a real estate investment trust that had purchased several parcels of land on March 1, 1872, from the Boston Water Power Company
Click here for an index to the deeds for 337 Commonwealth, and click here for further information on the land on the north side of Commonwealth between Hereford and Massachusetts Avenue.
The original building permit applications and final building inspection reports for 337-339-341 Commonwealth have not been located. However, on April 13, 1880, the Boston Post reported that the Building Department had granted Asa H. Caton a permit to build a brick dwelling for N. W. Rice at 341 Commonwealth, and on April 15, 1880, the Boston Globe reported that the Building Department had granted him permits to build two brick dwellings at 337 and 339 Commonwealth. Neither article identifies the architect. However, Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay indicates that all three houses were designed by Kirby and Lewis. They also had designed three houses at 319–321–323 Commonwealth built in 1878-1880 by Asa Caton on land owned by Charles Hayden.
On October 1, 1881, 337 Commonwealth was acquired from Charles Hayden by Harriet (Cottrell) Simes Nowell, the wife of Thomas Shepard Nowell. They had married in June of 1881 in Newport and, according to the June 28, 1881, Boston Herald report on the marriage, Thomas Nowell presented his bride with a check for $25,000 and the deed to 337 Commonwealth, in her name, as bridegrooms’ presents. Prior to their marriage, he had lived at 10 Claremont Park and she had lived in Newport.
A former shoe manufacturer, from the early 1880s Thomas Nowell was president of the Avery Lactic Company, manufacturers of lactic acid. By the mid-1880s, he was an investor in and promoter of gold mines in Alaska, where he spent much of each year. In 1894, he served as Alaska’s delegate to Congress.
The Nowells continued to live at 337 Commonwealth during the winter seasons through 1901, but moved thereafter, he probably to Juneau, Alaska, and she probably to Newport, where she was living by 1907.
337 Commonwealth was not listed in the 1902-1910 Blue Books. Harriet Nowell continued to own the property, but it was heavily mortgaged, with the mortgages held by Alfred Hemenway, an attorney.
On April 28, 1909, the City of Boston Tax Collector sold 337 Commonwealth at public auction to Edmund K. Baker of Springfield for $505.10 in unpaid taxes and associated charges. Edmund Baker’s ownership of the property was subject to Harriet Nowell’s right to redeem the property.
On July 20, 1909, Alfred Hemenway acquired 337 Commonwealth from Edmund Baker with the title still subject to Harriet Nowell’s right to redeem the property. From 1910, Alfred Hemenway was the assessed owner of 337 Commonwealth; however, Harriet Nowell continued to be shown as the owner on the 1912 and 1917 Bromley maps.
By the 1910-1911 winter season, 337 Commonwealth was the home of investment banker Arthur Hewes Sargent and his wife, Emily Hall (White) Sargent. In 1909, they had lived in Brighton, and in mid-1910, at the time of the US Census, they were living in Hamilton. They continued to live at 337 Commonwealth until about 1913.
By the 1913-1914 winter season, 337 Commonwealth was the home of stockbroker and banker Joshua Bennett Holden, Jr., and his wife Mabel (Bonsal) Holden. They previously had lived at 124 Marlborough.
They probably moved from 337 Commonwealth to 267 Beacon during the 1914-1915 season, inasmuch as they are listed at both addresses in the 1915 Blue Book (they continued to live at 267 Beacon until about 1918).
337 Commonwealth was not listed in the 1916-1920 Blue Books.
By the 1920-1921 winter season, 337 Commonwealth was the home of Lula M. (Fox) Darling, the former wife of Jerome M. Darling, who operated it as a lodging house. She previously had lived at 356 Commonwealth, where she also operated a lodging house. She continued to live at 337 Commonwealth in 1931, but had moved to 320 Commonwealth by 1932.
Until mid-1926, Alfred Hemenway had continued to be the assessed owner of 337 Commonwealth, but Harriet Nowell also continued to retain her right to redeem the property. Alfred Hemenway held four mortgages on 337 Commonwealth and, on July 26, 1926, she transferred the property to him. She continued to be a resident of Newport, by then a widow, Thomas Nowell having died in January of 1914 in Seattle.
Alfred Hemenway died in October of 1927. On June 30, 1928, 337 Commonwealth was acquired from his estate by real estate dealer William J. Stober. On June 30, 1928, it was acquired from him by Miss Claire Carlin.
On December 6, 1929, Taunton Savings Bank foreclosed a mortgage it held on the property and took possession of the property.
On January 14, 1932, the Garland School of Home Making (later to become Garland Junior College) acquired 337 Commonwealth from the Taunton Savings Bank. It converted the property into a dormitory.
By the late 1960s, Garland Junior College had assembled a portfolio of 22 properties in the western portion of the Back Bay: 315, 319, 321, 329, 337, 339, 341, 343, 349, 377, 407, 409, 411, 413–415 Commonwealth, 24 Charlesgate East (419 Commonwealth), and 447, 449, and 451 Marlborough (composed of 451-457 Marlborough).
In April of 1976, Garland Junior College announced that, because of financial difficulties, it was merging with Simmons College. It subsequently sold twelve of its properties and transferred the remainder — those located furthest west (407-415 Commonwealth, 24 Charlesgate East, and 451 Marlborough) — to Simmons College.
Glen G. Grant, trustee of the Commonwealth College Trust, purchased eleven of the twelve properties that Garland Junior College sold. On October 27, 1976, he purchased 315 and 341 Commonwealth, and 447 and 449 Marlborough; on January 4, 1977, he purchased 319, 321, 329, 337, 339, 343, and 377 Commonwealth. The twelfth property, 349 Commonwealth, had been purchased in September of 1976, by Andrew Saggese, Jr., trustee of the Drew Realty Trust.
On May 27, 1980, Glen Grant transferred 315, 319, 321, 337, 339, 341, 343, and 377 Commonwealth to Judith S. Schwartz, trustee of Seofon Trust (the deed was dated in May of 1980 but recorded on June 9, 1981).
In April of 1981, the Commonwealth College Trust filed for permission to convert 337 Commonwealth from a dormitory into four apartments, which it stated was the existing use. It subsequently abandoned the application.
On May 7, 1982, Judith Schwartz sold 319, 321, 337, 339, and 343 Commonwealth back to Glen Grant and Mac C. Grant. On May 24, 1982, they transferred 337-339 Commonwealth to Dorothy F. Wirth, trustee of the 337-339 Commonwealth Avenue Trust, and on June 8, 1983, they transferred 319, 321, and 343 Commonwealth to her, also as trustee of the 337-339 Commonwealth Avenue Trust.
In November of 1983, the 337-339 Commonwealth Avenue Trust, filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert 337 Commonwealth from a dormitory into seven apartments.
On January 4, 1984, Dorothy Wirth converted 337 Commonwealth into four condominium units, the 337 Commonwealth Avenue Condominium.