355 Commonwealth

355 Commonwealth (2014)

Lot 70' x 124.5' (8,715 sf)

Lot 70′ x 124.5′ (8,715 sf)

355 Commonwealth is located on the NE corner of Commonwealth and Massachusetts Avenues, with 353 Commonwealth to the east, 371 Commonwealth (61 Massachusetts Avenue) to the west, across Mass. Ave., 416 Marlborough to the north, across Alley 429, and 362-366 Commonwealth to the south, across Commonwealth.

355 Commonwealth was designed by architect Carl Fehmer and built in 1882-1883 by Norcross Brothers, masons, and Morton & Chesley, carpenters, for Oliver Ames and his wife, Anna Coffin (Ray) Ames.  Prior to the house’s completion, they lived at 115 Commonwealth.  355 Commonwealth was numbered 353 Commonwealth until about 1895, when three houses were built immediately to the east and given the numbers 349, 351, and 353 Commonwealth.

In his Houses of Boston’s Back Bay, Bainbridge Bunting states that 355 Commonwealth was “the first of the Boston ‘chateaux'” — large houses “deriving inspiration from the sixteenth century chateaux of the Loire Valley.”  He notes that “the most interesting feature of the exterior is the wealth of exquisitely carved brownstone relief.  The delicate pilaster arabesques and friezes filled with floral forms contrast with crisp rectangular architectural forms.  One notes especially that panels of relief above the first story windows.  Here putti intertwine with plant forms and engage in various homey activities relating to the use of the corresponding room inside: eating, playing musial instruments, conversing , and so forth.”

355 Commonwealth (ca. 1885-1890); courtesy of the Print Department, Boston Public Library

355 Commonwealth (ca. 1885-1890); courtesy of the Print Department, Boston Public Library

Oliver Ames is shown as the owner of 355 Commonwealth on the original building permit application, dated May 13, 1882, and on the 1883, 1888, and 1895 Bromley maps.

The Ameses also maintained a residence in North Easton, where the Ames pick and shovel company, founded by his grandfather, was located.

Oliver Ames was an investor in railroads, banks, and manufacturing companies, and served as Lt. Governor of Massachusetts from 1882 to 1885 and as Governor in 1886 and 1887.  Some sources indicate that he was President of the Union Pacific Railroad (which the Ames family was instrumental in forming).  In fact, that was his uncle, Oliver Ames, Jr. (1807-1877), son of Oliver Ames.

During the 1894-1895 winter season, they were joined by their son-in-law and daughter, Harry Lorenzo Chatman and Lillian (Ames) Chatman, who had married in April of 1893.  By the next season, they were living at The Westgate (Beacon at Deerfield).

Oliver Ames died in October of 1895.  The Heirs of Oliver Ames are shown as the owners on the 1898, 1908, and 1917 Blue Books, and were the assessed owners through 1922.

355 Commonwealth (ca. 1893), looking north on Massachusetts Avenue towards 411 Marlborough (416 Marlborough not yet built); courtesy of Anthony Sammarco

355 Commonwealth (ca. 1893), looking north on Massachusetts Avenue towards 411 Marlborough (416 Marlborough not yet built); courtesy of Anthony Sammarco

Anna Ames continued to live at 355 Commonwealth.  In about 1902, she was again joined by Harry and Lillian Chatman.  They previously had lived in Beverly.  He was a book publishing and bindery executive.  They continued to live at 355 Commonwealth until about 1913, when they moved to Brookline.

During part of the 1913-1914 winter season, Anna Ames was joined at 355 Commonwealth by her son-in-law and daughter, Frederick Garrison Hall and Evelyn Oliver (Ames) Hall.  He was an artist.  Their usual residence was at 260 Beacon (they were listed at both 260 Beacon and 355 Commonwealth in the 1914 Blue Book).

By the 1914-1915 winter season, Anna Ames’s son and daughter-in-law, Oakes Ames and Blanche (Ames) Ames, were living with her.  They previously had lived at 260 Beacon with the Halls and at their home, Borderlands, in North Easton.  Oakes Ames was a botanist and professor at Harvard.

Anna Ames died in March of 1917.  Oakes and Blanche Ames acquired his siblings’ interests in the house and made 355 Commonwealth their Boston home.  They also continued to maintain their home in North Easton.  They continued to live at 355 Commonwealth during the 1925-1926 winter season, but moved thereafter to 225 Bay State Road.

Architectural rendering of new Massachusetts Avenue entrance to 355 Commonwealth (1926) by Chapman and Frazer; courtesy of the Boston Public Library Arts Department, City of Boston Blueprints Collection

Architectural rendering of new Massachusetts Avenue entrance to 355 Commonwealth (1926) by Chapman and Frazer; courtesy of the Boston Public Library Arts Department, City of Boston Blueprints Collection

In May of 1926, the National Casket Company purchased 355 Commonwealth from Oliver Ames. In July of 1926, it applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from a single-family dwelling into showrooms on the lower floors and offices on the upper floors.  At the same time, it added a new entrance at 60 Massachusetts Avenue.  The remodeling was designed by architects Chapman and Frazer.  Plans for the remodeling — including floor plans and partial elevations — are included in the City of Boston Blueprints Collection in the Boston Public Library’s Arts Department (reference BIN P-21).

On January 10, 1929, 355 Commonwealth was damaged by a fire in the basement which caused smoke damage throughout the building.

National Casket Company is shown as the owners on the 1928 and 1938 Bromley maps.

In December of 1980, David H. Thorne and Paul A. Faraca, trustees of the Governor Ames Mansion Realty Trust, purchased 355 Commonwealth from Walco National Corporation (successor to the National Casket Co.).

In March of 1981, they applied for (and subsequently received) permission to remodel the property and change its use into business offices.

In June of 1984, Emerson College bought 355 Commonwealth from the Governor Ames Mansion Realty Trust.  In January of 1984, prior to purchasing the property, Emerson College applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert it into offices and a retail store.

In April of 1995, the Back Bay Investment Trust purchased 355 Commonwealth from Emerson College.

In June of 1997, it applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property into two apartments.

In July of 1999, it applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property into twelve offices and one apartment.

355 Commonwealth remained a mixed residential and commercial building in 2015.