339 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 339 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 15, 1880, the Boston Globe reported that the Building Department had granted permits to Asa H. Caton to build “two brick dwellings” at 337 and 339 Commonwealth. The article does not identify the architect. However, Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay indicates that all three houses were designed by Kirby and Lewis.
On December 22, 1880, 339 Commonwealth was purchased from Charles Hayden by textile manufacturer Henry Southworth Shaw. He and his wife, Louisa Stuart (Towne) Shaw, made it their home. They had married in June of 1880. Prior to their marriage, he had lived with his parents, Southworth and Abby (Shurtleff) Shaw, at 165 Beacon.
The house was not listed in the 1908-1910 Blue Books.
By the 1910-1911 winter season, 339 Commonwealth was the home of Paul Drummond Rust and his wife, Florence R. (Stuart) Rust. They previously had lived at 207 Bay State Road. He was a lumber dealer and later would become an investment banker and broker. They continued to live at 339 Commonwealth during the 1912-1913 season. By 1915, they were living in Marblehead, and by 1917 at 338 Beacon.
339 Commonwealth was not listed in the 1914-1916 Blue Books.
By the 1916-1917 winter season, 339 Commonwealth was the home of Ann Gilston (King) Brigham, the widow of Frank E. Brigham, and their daughter, Edith Atkins (Brigham) Baldwin, the former wife of William Earle Baldwin (one of the publishers of Automobile Topics weekly magazine). They continued to live at 339 Commonwealth during the 1919-1920 season, but moved thereafter to an apartment at 333 Commonwealth.
On November 30, 1920, 339 Commonwealth was purchased from Henry Shaw by Miss Mildred Kennedy of Brookline.
339 Commonwealth became the location of the Speech Readers’ Guild of Boston, founded in 1916 by Mildred Kennedy. Anna L. Staples, and Clara M. Ziegler, to provide educational and recreational services to the deaf and the near-deaf. It previously had rented space at Trinity Court (southeast corner of Dartmouth and Stuart).
In a February 9, 1922, article in the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal, Annie R. Knowlton, chairman of the Guild’s educational committee, in addition to providing classes and social opportunities, “[t]he Guild House is equipped not only for the accommodation of its transient members, but has furnished rooms to rent to any student of speech reading, or to any patient who may want to come to Boston for treatment.”
The Speech Readers’ Guild and the Boston Guild for the Hard of Hearing continued to be located at 339 Commonwealth until 1937, when it moved to 283 Commonwealth.
On June 4, 1937, 339 Commonwealth was acquired from the Speech Readers Guild by the Garland School of Home Making (later to become Garland Junior College).
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 339 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 339 Commonwealth from a dormitory into seven apartments.
On January 4, 1984, Dorothy Wirth converted 339 Commonwealth into four condominium units, the 339 Commonwealth Avenue Condominium.
In February of 1993, Harry Stafford, on behalf of the 339 Commonwealth Condominium Association, filed for (and subsequently received) permission to legalize the occupancy as four units.