385 Commonwealth was designed by architect Obed F. Smith and built in 1885-1886 by Charles H. Dodge, mason, for building contractor George Wheatland, Jr., for speculative sale, one of six contiguous houses (381-383-385-387-389-391 Commonwealth). George Wheatland, Jr., is shown as the owner on the original building permit application for 381 Commonwealth, dated December 15, 1885. At the same time, George Wheatland, Jr., was having six more houses built at 430-440 Marlborough, on the lots to the north, behind 381-391 Commonwealth, also designed by Obed Smith and built by Charles Dodge.
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 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.
George Wheatland, Jr., purchased the land for 381-391 Commonwealth and 430-440 Marlborough on June 20, 1885, from Henry M. Whitney. It was part of a parcel Henry Whitney had acquired in two transactions, on November 24, 1882, and on March 20, 1885, all part of a tract of land originally purchased from the Boston Water Power Company on June 1, 1880, by a real estate investment trust formed by Francis A. Palfrey, Francis A. Osborn, and Grenville T. W. Braman.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 385 Commonwealth, 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 16, 1887, 385 Commonwealth was purchased from George Wheatland, Jr., by Mary Morse (Baker) Glover Patterson Eddy, widow of George Washington Glover, former wife of Dr. Daniel Patterson, and widow of Dr. Asa Gilbert Eddy.
Mary Baker Eddy was the founder of the Christian Science Church. She previously had lived at 571 Columbus, where she had moved in about 1884 after the death of Asa Eddy. They had lived at 569 Columbus at the time of his death in June of 1882, and before that had lived in Lynn.
Perhaps because of Mrs. Eddy’s association with the church, George Wheatland included a stipulation in the deed conveying 385 Commonwealth to her (and not contained in the other deeds for 381-391 Commonwealth) specifying that for a period of five years “there shall be no sign or advertising placed or displayed on or in connection with said premises in any manner so as to be visible to passers, but the ordinary door plate, containing the name of the occupant without more shall not be held to be within the prohibition, and said premises during the period shall be used for no other purpose than that of a private dwelling house.”
Mrs. Eddy lived at 385 Commonwealth until 1889, when she moved to Concord, New Hampshire. She continued to own 385 Commonwealth and made it available for use by the Church.
In the mid-1890s, when the original Mother Church was being completed on Massachusetts Avenue, Mrs. Eddy decided to renovate the house. In a July 12, 1894, letter to Septimus Hanna, at that time Pastor of the Mother Church, she commented that “perhaps I shall cleanse and refurnish that house [385 Commonwealth] … for my winter home.” However, instead of becoming her Boston home again, in the fall of 1894, 385 Commonwealth became the home of Septimus Hanna and his wife, Camilla (Turley) Hanna.
Judge Septimus James Hanna was a former lawyer and judge in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and then Leadville, Colorado. He left the practice of law to devote himself to Christian Science. In 1892, Mary Baker Eddy appointed him as editor of the Christian Science Journal and his wife as assistant editor, and in January of 1895, he became First Reader of the Church. He also continued as editor of the Christian Science Journal and also as editor of the Christian Science Sentinel when it was created in 1898.
Mrs. Eddy proceeded with her plan to remodel 385 Commonwealth, and Edward P. Bates, who oversaw construction of the Mother Church, also supervised the renovation of the house. In his reminiscences (The Construction of the Mother Church: Reminiscences of Edward P. Bates, C.S.D.), he comments on the remodeling:
“In the spring of 1895, she sent for me and commissioned me to do considerable work on the house. It was in a block and looked like the other houses; she wished to have it emphasized in some way so that it might be distinguished from the others. It was located near the middle of the block, so this could be done to advantage. The vestibule doors of the house were red oak, hardly in keeping with the style of the building. The vestibule itself was very plain and was susceptible of improvement. She also suggested building a room or tower on the roof which could be seen for several blocks, and the house put in general good order.
“We employed the same architect who helped us finish the church; he made designs and specifications for the remodeling of parts of the house, for additions and renovations, submitted them to her, and she ordered the work done and the bills brought to her when it was finished. I employed the same builder who was so efficient in finishing The Mother Church, and set him at work. We removed the front and the vestibule doors and substituted very fine San Domingo mahogany doors with panels of cathedral glass. The hardware for the original doors was common, and we had elegant bronze fittings made for the new doors. A very neat design in mosaics was made for the floor of the vestibule, which was laid, also dado on the sides. This very much improved the appearance of the front. The room which was built on the roof had slightly the appearance of a tower, with a stairway leading up to it, and it was a very nice apartment to retire to on a summer evening, and it distinguished the house from its neighbors.”
Margaret M. Pinkham’s A Miracle in Stone: The History of the Building of the Original Mother Church indicates that the architect for the remodeling was Frederic R. Comstock.
On February 12, 1898, Mrs. Eddy deeded 385 Commonwealth to the Christian Science Church, specifying that it be used as the residence for the First Reader.
The Hannas continued to live at 385 Commonwealth until about 1902, when he retired and they moved to Colorado Springs.
In April of 1905, Mrs. Eddy acquired 387 Commonwealth, which she leased to others.
On July 7, 1905, Mrs. Eddy entered into a new deed confirming her prior transfer, naming specific members of the Board of Directors of the Church as trustees (the prior deed had named the Church itself as the trustee), and specifying that “the First Reader of the church, and his or her successors, shall have the use and enjoyment of said estate so long as he or she may occupy and perform the duties of that position.”
387 Commonwealth remained her property at the time of her death in December of 1910. In her will, she left the bulk of her estate to the Christian Science Church, and 387 Commonwealth passed into its possession following the resolution of a court challenge by her son, George Washington Glover, Jr. The Church leased 387 Commonwealth to others, converting it into a lodging house in 1933 and into apartments in 1987. In July of 1938, the Church acquired 383 Commonwealth, which it also converted into a lodging house and then into apartments.
From June of 1941 to June of 1942, George Channing (born George Christian Stucker) was First Reader and lived at 385 Commonwealth with his wife, Adelaide (Glaser) Channing. They previously had lived in San Francisco. Their daughter was Carol Elaine Channing, the noted stage and film actress, who was beginning her career on Broadway.
385 Commonwealth remained a single-family dwelling, the residence of the First Reader, in 2018.