371 Commonwealth (61 Massachusetts Avenue) is located on the NW corner of Commonwealth and Massachusetts Avenues, with 355 Commonwealth to the east, across Mass. Ave., 373 Commonwealth to the west, 51 Massachusetts to the north, across Alley 905, and 370 Commonwealth to the south, across Commonwealth.
371 Commonwealth (57-59-61-63 Massachusetts Avenue) was designed by Mackay and Dunham, architects, and built in 1892-1893 by Keening & Strout Brothers, masons, for real estate developer and investor Albert Geiger. It was built as a six-story apartment house, The Chesterfield, with several stores on the street level, fronting on Massachusetts Avenue, and five apartments on the upper floors. Albert Geiger is shown as the owner on the original building permit application, dated November 19, 1892, and on the final building inspection report, dated November 20, 1893.
As originally laid out, the portion of Commonwealth between Massachusetts Avenue and Charlesgate East had a curved roadway intended to provide a transition from the formal design of the preceding blocks to the parklands in the Back Bay fens. It was divided into uneven islands and included a strip of green space in front of 371-387 Commonwealth and a small triangular island at the eastern end on which the statue of Leif Ericson (Erikson) was located (dedicated in 1887). In 1917-1918, the roadway was straightened and widened, the central mall design of the previous blocks was extended to Charlesgate East, the green space in front of 371-387 Commonwealth eliminated, and the Ericson statue was relocated to the Charlesgate East end of the block.
Albert Geiger acquired the land for 371 Commonwealth on November 14, 1892, from Augustus F. Arnold, a bookkeeper with the real estate conveyancing firm of Kern & McLoud. Augustus Arnold had acquired it the month before from Henry Lee, H. Hollis Hunnewell, and Augustus Lowell. It was part of a larger parcel that Henry Lee and his partners purchased on February 20, 1883, from a real estate investment trust formed by Grenville T. W. Braman, Henry D. Hyde, and Frank W. Andrews. The parcel was one several tracts of land the trust had purchased from the Boston Water Power Company on March 1, 1872.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 371 Commonwealth (61 Massachusetts Avenue), and click here for further information on the land west of Massachusetts Avenue between the south side of Beacon and the north side of Commonwealth.
On November 1, 1892, the Boston Herald reported on plans for 371 Commonwealth:
“The building will be a six-story structure of light sandstone and imported white Scotch bricks, which will make its front notable on the broad avenue. Each of the five upper stories will contain one suite of apartments, containing 14 rooms, or possibly 15. This will give the largest suites in the city, and it is expected that they will rent from $4000 to $6000 per year apiece. The frontage of the house will be nearly that of three ordinary city dwellings, and is to be given up to three rooms, which may all be thrown together for such purposes as receptions.
“Stores will occupy the ground floor. It may be a matter of general surprise to learn that stores may be built on any portion of the avenue, but it is said that the deed for this land, which comes from the Boston Water Power Company, and not from the commonwealth, contains no restrictions against stores. These stores will open on West Chester park, however. It is expected that the total rental of the building will be about $30,000.”
The article also commented on plans for the Hotel Ericson, to be built at the same time at 373 Commonwealth and also designed by Mackay and Dunham. It noted that the plans for the building “call for a front of light colored sandstone, and an effort will be made by the parties interested in the two structures to have the fronts similar in general appearance, if not alike, so that the buildings will look to be one at a little distance.”
On November 20, 1892, the Boston Herald reported that “Mr. Geiger has begun work” on 371 Commonwealth and indicated that the “front is to be of Indiana limestone and a cream-colored Perth Amboy brick” and that “four stores, fronting on West Chester park, will occupy the street floor. One of the stores has already been engaged, which shows the demand for business property upon this great crosstown thoroughfare. … The second floor … will be given up to several suites for physicians and dentists, while the four upper stories will contain as many suites of 14 rooms each for housekeeping.”
On August 6, 1893, the Herald reported in more detail on 371 Commonwealth, which had been substantially completed. “The building is constructed exteriorly of light freestone and cream brick and is six stories in height. On the lower floor are a physician’s suite of two rooms and a bath, and three stores, the latter opening on West Chester park. The other floors are occupied by large housekeeping apartments, one on each floor, access being obtained by an elevator and staircases. Each suite consists of a parlor and two chambers on the avenue side, and of a music room, library, two chambers and the dining room on the other street. The kitchen, servants’ rooms, comprising two bedrooms and a bathroom, and the main bathroom, open on to an area between this building and the Ericson, an apartment hotel now building. The hallways are finished in oak, as is the dining room; the chambers are in white and the library in curly birch. Open plumbing, steam heat, gas and electric lights have been put in throughout the house.” In the same issue of the Herald, the Chesterfield advertised the availability of the apartments as the “most spacious and beautiful suites ever built in America.”
On November 1, 1893, 371 Commonwealth was purchased from Albert Geiger by Alfred William Hartt for himself and as guardian for his two younger brothers, Dudley Nickerson Hartt and John Philip Hartt. They were the three surviving children of John Francis Hartt, a ship chandler and former boot and shoe dealer, and Emma Louisa (Nickerson) Hartt. John and Emma Hartt had been killed in a railroad accident in Chicago on April 11, 1889, along with their son, Robert Winslow Hartt.
Alfred Hartt was a landscape architect and would later become a trustee. He married in June of 1895 to Augusta Gore Batchelder. After their marriage, they lived in Brookline. Dudley Nickerson Hartt graduated from Harvard in 1902. He became a wool dealer and,. in 1906, he purchased a sheep ranch in Montana. He married in October of 1908 to Katharine Menzies Barbour. After their marriage, they lived in Meagher County, Montana, and later in Brookline and in Cazenovia,New York. John Philip Hartt became an insurance broker. He married in March of 1910 to Millicent Harwood Lawrence. After their marriage, they lived in Salem, Massachusetts, and later in Dedham and Manchester, Massachusetts.
371 Commonwealth was completed in late 1893 and was first occupied during the 1893-1894 winter season.
Among the first residents were Albert Geiger and his wife, Emma (Pfyffer) Geiger. They previously had lived in an apartment at 290 Commonwealth. They continued to live at The Chesterfield during the 1894-1895 season, moved to The Belvoir at 636 Beacon (which he had built in 1893-1894) for the next season, and then to 350 Beacon (which he had built in 1895-1896) for the 1896-1897 season. By the 1897-1898 season, they had moved back to 290 Commonwealth.
Also among the first residents of 371 Commonwealth were Joseph Koshland and his wife, Florence (Sternberger) Koshland. They previously had lived in an apartment at 362 Commonwealth. He was a wholesale wool merchant from San Francisco. His unmarried brother, Abraham, lived with them until about 1899, when he moved to an apartment at Trinity Court (southeast corner of Dartmouth and Stuart). Joseph and Florence Koshland continued to live at 371 Commonwealth in May of 1910, at the time of the 1910 US Census, but moved later that year to New York City. Abraham Koshland assumed management of the Koshland family’s wholesale wool business in Boston. He married in April of 1901 to Estelle Wangenheim; after their marriage, they lived at 168 Bay State Road and then, by the 1918-1919 winter season, at 170 Beacon.
On January 22, 1924, 371 Commonwealth was damaged by a three alarm fire which started on the fifth floor.
On February 21, 1924, 371 Commonwealth was acquired from the Hartts by Mary Margaret O’Brien. She was a secretary in the real estate office of Jacob Lebowich and probably held the property on his behalf or on behalf his brother, Samuel L. Lowe (Lebowich), also a real estate dealer.
In June of 1925, she filed for (and subsequently received) permission to remodel the retail stores, installing new windows and doors. The building remained two stores and five apartments.
In November of 1925, Mary O’Brien married to Edward Aloysius Mulvey, credit manager for a leather company and later treasurer of the Pilgrim Cooperative Bank. After their marriage, they lived in Cohasset.
On February 12, 1927, 371 Commonwealth was acquired from Mary (O’Brien) Mulvey by her sister, Frances E. O’Brien., who appears to have held it for the benefit of Samuel L. Lowe (Lebowich), who, by that time, was managing the property. He and his wife, Carolyn (Wyzanski) Lowe, lived in Wareham
In April of 1927, Samuel Lowe filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from apartments into medical offices. The building subsequently was known as the Pasteur Building.
On October 9, 1934, Frances O’Brien transferred 371 Commonwealth to Catherine Hassey. She was a secretary in a real estate office. probably the office of Samuel Lowe. She married in 1937 to Andrew J. Sullivan.
On December 3, 1943, Catherine (Hassey) Sullivan transferred 371 Commonwealth to Maurice Levine, and on November 15, 1945, he transferred the property to Samuel Lowe’s wife, Carolyn.
Samuel Lowe died in June of 1954. At the time of his death, he and his wife were living at the Statler Hotel in Boston. He was president and treasurer of the Motor Mart Garage in Park Square and, according to his June 16, 1954, Boston Globe obituary, was “the first to inaugurate a helicopter service in the city, using the 50,000 square feet roof of the garage as a landing site.”
On June 1, 1955, 371 Commonwealth was acquired from Carolyn Lowe by Dr. Robert B. Gorsey, a dentist, and his wife, Lena (Garber) Gorsey. They lived in Newton Centre.
Robert Gorsey died in July of 1956.
On November 18, 1958, 371 Commonwealth was acquired from Lena Gorsey by the Mystic Lakes Realty Corporation, and on November 24, 1958, it was acquired from Mystic Lakes Realty by the R. S. R Realty Company, Inc., owned by Richard S. Robie. He was a real estate dealer, automobile leasing company operator, and president of the John S. Powers Schools.
In December of 1961, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to remodel the interior. The application indicated that the proposed use would continue to be offices.
On April 25, 1962, 371 Commonwealth was purchased from R. S. R. Realty by real estate dealers Moses I. Richman and Harold A. Richman, trustees of the 371 Commonwealth Avenue Trust.
In June of 1962, Moses Richman filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the third through sixth floors from offices into lodging units. In February of 1963, he filed for (and subsequently received) permission to install an entrance canopy extending 18-½ feet from the front of the building.
On March 16, 1967, 371 Commonwealth was acquired from Moses and Harold Richman by the Capitol Finance Corporation. On April 6, 1967, Capitol Finance transferred the property to its president, Allyn Louis Levy and to the Jane & Steve Levy Partnership, composed of two trusts for the benefit of Allyn Levy’s children – the Jane E. Levy Trust and the Steven P. Levy Trust – of which he and Jason Poster were the trustees.
On January 15, 1968, 371 Commonwealth was acquired from Allyn Levy and the Jane & Steve Levy Partnership by Edward H. Mank, trustee of the New England Real Estate Equities Trust.
In 1971, Walter Bauke purchased 371 Commonwealth from the New England Real Estate Equities Trust. When he purchased the property, its legal occupancy was three retail stores, two offices, lodging house with 45 rooms, and two apartments.
On June 9, 1971, 371 Commonwealth was purchased from Edward Mank by Walter Bauke. When he purchased the property, its legal occupancy was three retail stores, two offices, lodging house with 45 rooms, and two apartments.
In October of 1971, he applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert one of the three retail stores into a restaurant with take-out service.
On November 26, 1975, the South Boston Savings Bank foreclosed a mortgage given by Walter Bauke and took possession of the property, and on April 6, 1976, it was purchased from the bank by Ronald J. Carlow, trustee of the Ronbar Realty Trust.
On June 29, 1979, 371 Commonwealth was purchased from Ronald Carlow by real estate dealer Charles C. Patsos, trustee of the 371 Commonwealth Trust. In October of 1982, Feliciano Petruzziello succeeded Charles Patsos as trustee of the 371 Commonwealth Trust, in February of 2001, Gloria Petruzziello succeeded Feliciano Petruzziello as trustee, and in April of 2006, Gina Petruzziello succeeded Gloria Petruzziello as trustee.
371 Commonwealth remained a combination commercial and residential building in 2018, with a restaurant on the street level at 57-65 Massachusetts Avenue, and a lodging house, two apartments, and two offices on the upper floors.
Over the years, a number of commercial tenants occupied the retail store spaces at 57-63 Massachusetts Avenue.
Among the earliest commercial tenants was Norton Brothers, florists, who opened a shop at 61 Massachusetts Avenue in 1896. It had moved by 1898 and 57-59-61 Massachusetts Avenue was the location of M. D. Rich & Co., bicycle dealers. They were no longer there in 1899, and by 1900 it was once again Norton Brothers. It remained there until about 1903, after which it became the florist shop of Sidney Hoffman. Hoffman florists continued to be located at 61 Massachusetts Avenue until the mid-1950s.
Another longterm commercial tenant was Fennell’s Liquors, located at 59 Massachusetts Avenue from 1938 until 1992.
In the 1990s, the corner retail space at 61-63 Massachusetts Avenue was Baci’s restaurant. It closed in about 1998, and by 2000, the space was leased by The Seasonal Table, a retail food store that also sold beer and wine. It subsequently closed, and the space was used for a restaurant, which expanded into the former retail stores at 57-59 Massachusetts Avenue.