34 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.”
On September 24, 1860, the Boston Post commented on the design of the nine houses, noting that they are “substantially of the same design. The fronts are of handsome pressed brick, and have elegant door-ways, large bay windows, and Cumberland stone trimmings.”
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. Two of the lots were purchased by the builders as their homes, 30 Commonwealth by Jonas Fitch and his wife, Catherine (Blodgett) Fitch, and 32 Commonwealth by Lemuel Miles Standish and his wife, Olive L. (Nutter) Standish. Charles Woodbury and his wife, Relief (Ball) Woodbury, lived at 91 Pinckney, but then built a new home at 16 Commonwealth ca. 1864.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 34 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 437, from Arlington to Berkeley.
34 Commonwealth was built as the home of insurance broker, importer, and dry goods merchant Henry Edwards and his wife, Martha Ann (Dorr) Edwards. The land for the house was purchased from Samuel Hooper on July 2, 1860, by Martha Edwards’s brothers, Francis Fiske Dorr and Charles Hazen Dorr, as trustees of a trust established for her benefit. Charles Hazen Dorr and his wife, Mary Gray (Ward) Dorr, lived in Jamaica Plan, and in about 1864 moved to a new house built at 18 Commonwealth).
The July 7, 1860, contract for building 34 Commonwealth was filed with the Suffolk County Deeds Registry and includes details about the materials and construction of the house. Click here for an abstract and partial transcription of the contract.
Martha Edwards died in May of 1882. Under the terms of her will, the bulk of her estate (including 34 Commonwealth) was to be held in trust for the benefit of her husband and various family members. After the deaths of husband, her brothers Albert Henry Dorr and Charles Hazen Dorr, and her sister, Susan Elizabeth Dorr, the trust assets were to be distributed to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (two-thirds) and the Museum of Fine Area (one-third). She named Rev. Edmund Farwell Slafter as trustee; a retired Episcopal clergyman, he lived at 249 Berkeley.
On June 15, 1882, Charles Hazen Dorr, as the surviving trustee of Martha Edwards’s trust, transferred 34 Commonwealth to Rev. Slafter.
Henry Edwards continued to live at 34 Commonwealth, joined by his sister-in-law, Susan Dorr.
By the 1890-1891 winter season, 34 Commonwealth was the home of unmarried sisters Anne Perkins Cary and Ellen Gray Cary. At about the same time, their widowed sister, Grace Morris (Cary) Kuhn, moved to 36 Commonwealth. They all previously had lived at 64 Beacon (which had been the home of their parents, who had died in the 1880s) with their sister-in-law, Lena (Laight) Cary, the widow of William F. Cary, Jr. (who had died in September of 1880).
Charles Hazen Dorr died in January of 1893 and, pursuant to Martha Edwards’s will, on April 28, 1893, Rev. Slafter transferred 34 Commonwealth to MIT.
The Cary sisters continued to lease the house from MIT.
Anne Cary died in January of 1898 and Ellen Cary moved soon thereafter.
During the 1898-1899 winter season, 34 Commonwealth was the home of Katharine (Hunter) Dunn, the wife of Thomas Dunn, and their daughter, Anna Caroline Rotch Hunter. Their usual residence was in Newport, but they had come to Boston for the season to introduce Miss Dunn into society.
On November 6, 1900, 34 Commonwealth was purchased from MIT by Marian Louise (Munger) Haskell, the wife of Dr. Henry Hill Haskell, an ophthalmologist. They made it their home and he also maintained his medical office there. They previously had lived in Auburndale and he had maintained his offices at 126 Commonwealth.
The Haskells continued to live at 34 Commonwealth in 1911. By 1913, they had moved back to Auburndale and he had moved his office to 282 Berkeley.
The house was not listed in the 1912 Blue Book.
On October 1, 1912, 34 Commonwealth was purchased from the Haskells by real estate dealer Mark Temple Dowling. In 1910, he and his wife, Isabelle May (Donaldson) Dowling, had lived at 126 St. Mary’s Street. They had divorced in October of 1911 and he had moved to an apartment at 138 Marlborough and to 34 Commonwealth thereafter. In May of 1914. he married again, to Mrs. Florence N. (Williams) Loizeaux, the former wife of William S. Loizeaux. After their marriage, they lived at 2 Raleigh.
On June 15, 1914, 34 Commonwealth was purchased from Mark Temple Dowling by Helen Augusta (Reed) Bates, the wife of wholesale grocer Jacob Pratt Bates. They previously had lived on Nantucket.
Living with them were their son-in-law and daughter, William Bartlett Tyler and Carrie Almeria (Bates) Tyler. He was a musician and faculty member of the New England Conservatory of Music. They previously had lived in Brookline, and before that in Berlin, where he had been an instructor at the Stern Conservatory.
Jacob Bates died in April of 1915. Helen Bates and the Tylers continued to live at 34 Commonwealth. From about 1917, they were joined by Miss Florence H. Barrows.
In about 1920, Helen Bates had moved to Pasadena, California, to live with her other daughter, Mabel Frances (Bates) Stainer, the former wife of Howard Douglas Stainer. Helen Bates died in October of 1920, and on November 1, 1920, Carrie Tyler acquired Mabel Stainer’s one-half interest in 34 Commonwealth.
William Tyler died in November of 1929. Carrie Tyler continued to live at 34 Commonwealth until her death in October of 1964.
On May 11, 1965, 34 Commonwealth was purchased from William and Carrie Tyler’s son, Bartlett Tyler, by Delwin B. Schneider and his wife, Katherine L. Schneider.
On June 28, 1966, it was purchased from the Schneiders by Rocco E. Paoletta. In May of 1966, prior to finalizing the purchase, he had applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the house from single-family dwelling into ten apartments.
On March 13, 1969, Lawrence Clarke Hill, Jr., purchased 34 Commonwealth from Rocco Paoletta, and on December 19, 1978, he transferred the property to himself as trustee of the 34 Commonwealth Realty Trust.
On December 21, 1979, 34 Commonwealth was purchased from L. Clarke Hill by Pamela Larsen and Edward W. Sexton, Jr., trustees of the Larsen-Sexton Trust.
In February of 1980, they applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from ten apartments into six apartments.
On May 30, 1984, they transferred the property into Edward Sexton’s name, and on June 5, 1984, he converted it into four condominium units, the 34 Commonwealth Avenue Condominium.