37 Commonwealth was designed by architect Nathaniel J. Bradlee and built in 1871-1872, one of three contiguous houses built in 1871-1873 (35-37-39 Commonwealth) and one of ten contiguous houses (29-33-35-37-39-41-43-45-47 Commonwealth) built in the same design between 1863 and 1873.
37-39 Commonwealth were built at the same time, in 1871-1872, by Jonas Fitch & Co., builders and building contractors. 35 Commonwealth was built slightly later, ca. 1873.
37 Commonwealth was built for Elisha Atkins and his wife, Mary Ellen (Freeman) Atkins. He was a ship owner, importer, and sugar refiner, doing business first as E. Atkins & Co. and then as Atkins & Freeman, in partnership with his father-in-law, William F. Freeman. He was one of the first shipping merchants to develop the sugar trade with Cuba, where he had significant land holdings.
Elisha Atkins purchased the land for 37 Commonwealth in two transactions.
On July 1, 1871, he purchased a two foot strip to the west from Samuel H. Walley. On the same day, Samuel Walley sold the remaining 26 feet of his land to Isaac Farnsworth, who had 39 Commonwealth built on the lot. Samuel Walley’s land originally was part of a 28 foot lot which had originally been purchased from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on October 31, 1860. by Freeman Allen.
On October 13, 1871, Elisha Atkins acquired the remainder of the land for 37 Commonwealth, a 28 foot lot which he purchased from from Miss Mary Pratt. She and her sister, Sarah P. Pratt had purchased it on February 13, 1863, from the Commonwealth (Sarah P. Pratt died in November of 1866).
Click here for an index to the deeds for 37 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the north side of Commonwealth and Alley 423, from Berkeley to Clarendon.
Construction of 39 Commonwealth probably began soon after the land was acquired by Isaac Farnsworth in July of 1871, and work on 37 Commonwealth may also have begun at that time, prior to Elisha Atkins taking title from Mary Pratt. An August 24, 1871, Boston Traveller article included both houses among the work underway by architect Nathaniel J. Bradlee.
By 1873, Elisha and Mary (Freeman) Atkins had made 37 Commonwealth their home. They previously had lived at 23 Pemberton Square. They also maintained a home in Belmont. In October of 1872, probably shortly before he and his wife took occupancy of 37 Commonwealth, he purchased the land for 35 Commonwealth and, after it was built, sold it to dry goods merchant Charles Marsh and his wife, Julia (Barrett) Marsh.
On December 1, 1874, Elisha Atkins and Isaac Farnsworth entered into an agreement specifying that the owner of 37 Commonwealth would have the right to have windows in the party wall until such time as they were obstructed or closed up by an addition at 39 Commonwealth.
On December 2, 1874, Elisha Atkins transferred 37 Commonwealth into his wife’s name.
The Atkinses’ three surviving children — Edwin Farnsworth Atkins, Grace Evelyn Atkins, and Helen Louisa Atkins — lived with them.
Edwin Atkins, who was a member of his father’s importing and sugar refining firm, married in October of 1882 to Katharine Wrisley. After their marriage they may have lived briefly at 37 Commonwealth with his parents, but moved soon thereafter to Belmont.
Helen Atkins married in October of 1885 to John Rayner Edmands, assistant in charge of time services for the Harvard Observatory. After their marriage, they lived in Cambridge.
Grace Atkins married in January of 1887 to William Howell Reed. After their marriage, they lived at 37 Commonwealth with her parents. William Reed was treasurer of the Ashton Valve Company, manufacturers of steam valves. During the Civil War he had served as a member of the U. S. Sanitary Commission, and following the war he wrote two books on the subject. He also wrote a memoir of Elisha Atkins.
Elisha Atkins died in December of 1888, and Mary Atkins died in April of 1897.
In her will, Mary Atkins had left 37 Commonwealth to their daughter, Grace, and she and her husband continued to make it their home. By 1899, they had been joined by William Howell Reed’s mother, Mary Ann (Williams) Reed, the widow of David Reed. She died in January of 1900.
William and Grace Reed continued to live at 17 Commonwealth during the 1900-1901 winter season. In February of 1901, they purchased 218 Commonwealth. It appears they continued to live at 37 Commonwealth during the 1901-1902 winter season (they are listed there in the 1902 Blue Book and 218 Commonwealth was not listed). Soon thereafter, however, they moved to their new home.
On March 20, 1902, 37 Commonwealth was purchased from Grace Reed by John Martin Graham. He and his wife, Ludovica (Dimon) Morrill Graham, made it their home. They had married in July of 1901, and had lived at 173 Commonwealth the previous season. They also maintained a home in Manchester.
Living with them were John Graham’s children by his first marriage, to Sarah H. Tucker (who had died in March of 1893): Caroline Tucker Graham and Edward Howland Graham.
Caroline Graham married in October of 1905 to James Winthrop Tewksbury, a broker, and they moved to Needham. Edward Graham, a banker, married in April of 1909 to Gladys Jacquelin Smith, and they moved to 5 Gloucester.
John Graham was a banker and served as president of the International Trust Company from 1883 until his retirement in 1914.
On May 10, 1915, he transferred 37 Commonwealth into his wife’s name.
In 1916, John Graham was sued by International Trust for $200,000 resulting from alleged improper loans and negligence during his management of the company.
The Grahams continued to live at 37 Commonwealth there during the 1918-1919 winter season, but moved soon thereafter to Manchester.
The house was not listed in the 1920 US Census nor in the 1920-1924 Blue Books.
The property subsequently changed hands and on September 19, 1923, was purchased by Mrs. Lucy Erline Clinton (Hardy) Choate, the former wife of George Warren Choate. She previously had lived at 127 Newbury.
By 1925, it also was the clubrooms of the Junior League of Boston. It previously had been located at 240 Boylston.
In about 1928, Lucy Choate converted the property into eight apartments. She continued to live there in 1933, but had moved to 16 Exeter (196 Marlborough) by 1934.
On August 25, 1933, the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company foreclosed on Lucy Choate’s mortgage and took possession of 37 Commonwealth.
On April 28, 1938, 37 Commonwealth was acquired from the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company by real estate dealer Ray C. Johnson.
The property subsequently changed hands. By the late 1940s, it was managed by attorney and real estate investor Maurice Eli Goldberg, who appears on various permits from 1948 and probably had an ownership interest. He and his wife, Kate D. (Byer) Goldberg, lived in an apartment at 207 Commonwealth.
In February of 1949, Maurice Goldberg applied to convert 37 Commonwealth from eight to nine apartments, but subsequently abandoned the permit. On March 9, 1959, he acquired the property as trustee of the Maurice E. Goldberg Charitable and Educational Trust.
In December of 1966, the trust filed for (and subsequently received) permission to legalize the occupancy as eight apartments, noting that it had been converted into a lodging house in 1923, and that in 1928 it was converted into eight apartments and had remained as such even though the legal status had never been established.
On March 20, 1967, 37 Commonwealth was acquired from the Maurice E. Goldberg Charitable and Educational Trust by Theodora Perry and Robert Emmons, Jr., trustees of the Litchfield Trust.
The building was damaged by the March 29, 1968, fire that destroyed the First and Second Church at the corner of Marlborough and Berkeley.
On November 19, 1968, 37 Commonwealth was acquired from Theodora Perry and Robert Emmons, Jr., by Russell J. Amaral, trustee of the Ramsey Realty Trust.
In December of 1968, the Ramsey Realty Trust applied for (and subsequently received) permission to repair the fire damage to the roof and fourth floor and, at the same time, to remodel the house to increase the number of apartments from eight to twelve.
37 Commonwealth changed hands and on April 28, 1977, it was purchased by attorneys Laurence Eric Hardoon and Paul Samson. In September of 1975, they had purchased 39 Commonwealth, and in December of 1977 they purchased 41 Commonwealth. All three buildings remained apartment houses. In December of 1986, they sold 41 Commonwealth, and on June 1, 1998, they transferred 37 and 39 Commonwealth to the Commonwealth Avenue Real Estate LLP.
On November 4, 2005, 37 Commonwealth was purchased by Joseph R. Jenkins, trustee of the 37 Commonwealth Realty Trust. In December of 2006, he applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert it back into a single-family dwelling. The conversion was never completed, however, and on June 28, 2010, the property was acquired by Mark Balk. trustee of the 37 Commonwealth Avenue Nominee Trust.
On June 6, 2011, Mark Balk converted 37 Commonwealth into three condominium units, The 37 Commonwealth Avenue Condominium.