390 Commonwealth was designed by architect Edward B. Stratton and built in 1908-1908 as a seven story hotel, the Hotel Puritan, for boot and shoe manufacturer and real estate investor William Ball Rice. He and his wife, Emma Louise (Cunningham) Rice, lived in Quincy. He is shown as the owner of 390 Commonwealth (shown as 398 Commonwealth) on the original building permit application, dated August 24, 1908.
The building was built on two lots, one with a frontage of 100 feet at 394-398 Commonwealth, which William Rice’s Avenue Real Estate Trust acquired from the estate of Henry Lee in early 1908, and the other with a frontage of 90 feet at 388-392 Commonwealth which the Trust acquired from the estate of J. Malcolm Forbes in mid-1908. The two transactions were reported in the Boston Globe on January 29, 1908, and July 1, 1908, respectively.
The building occupied a frontage of 130 feet, leaving a vacant lot to the east at 388 Commonwealth with a frontage of 60 feet. The lot at 388 Commonwealth remained under the same ownership as 390 Commonwealth, and was vacant until 1957, when a parking lot was installed for use by the Hotel Somerset. The parking lot was replaced by an eight story building in 1983.
In his Houses of Boston’s Back Bay, Bainbridge Bunting incorrectly indicates that a six story, six family apartment building, designed by Arthur Vinal, was built in 1899 at 388 Commonwealth. The application to which Bunting refers was for 386 Commonwealth (which he also lists, correctly) and was for only one building at 386 Commonwealth.
The Hotel Puritan opened in November of 1909. Like The Somerset to the west and the Hotel Vendôme further east on Commonwealth, the Hotel Puritan accepted both travelers and permanent guests.
A January 31, 1909, New York Times article described the building, still under construction, in some detail. “It is a fire-proof structure seven stories in height, in the French Renaissance style, of limestone and red Norman brick, with a mansard roof of graduated slates, and will contain about 300 rooms and 170 baths. There is a spacious entrance on the first floor, between high stone posts surmounted by lanterns and ornamented by wrought iron grills and flower boxes.”
An article in the August 1911 issue of Architecture and Building provided details on the interior, noting that the first story included “ample public space with several small suites. The vestibule is finished in stone and the lobby in Circassian walnut. One of the main dining rooms is decorated in old gold, and the other in blue and silver. There are private dining-rooms also.” The upper stories have suites which are adaptable “to any necessary expansion into family suites of various sizes. The ample court space at the rear, supplementary to the street frontage, permits of amply lighted rooms throughout. The architect has employed the bay construction to good advantage, both for interior lighting and for the architectural effect in the façade. The lighting fixtures were designed and made by Bigelow Kennard & Co. to harmonize with the decoration.”
William Rice died in May of 1909, before the Hotel Puritan opened. It continued to be owned by the Rice family through its Avenue Real Estate Trust. John D. Hardy, trustee of the trust, is shown as the owner of 390 Commonwealth (including the vacant lot at 388 Commonwealth) on the 1912 and 1917 Bromley maps, and Harry L. Rice (William and Emma Rice’s son) et al, trustee of the trust, on the 1928 and 1938 maps.
In 1952, the Hotel Puritan was absorbed by the Hotel Somerset and the two were operated as an integrated property by Sonnabend Operated Hotels, which became the Hotel Corporation of America in 1956 (in 1979, it became Sonesta International Hotels).
In its October 31, 1952, article on the opening of the new, expanded hotel, the Boston Globe wrote: “The Somerset Hotel took on a ‘new look’ yesterday with the official opening of its new lobby and entrance. The consolidation of the Somerset with the Hotel Puritan has made possible one large hostelry containing 524 rooms. The main lobby, constructed with a coral terrazzo floor, plastered green walls, and a ceiling of the latest acoustical material, has a 33-foot curved desk of green Italian marble and two tone plate glass. Iron trim stairways connect with the terrace lobby, formerly the street level of the Puritan, and with the lower level of the Puritan, where a dining room, cocktail lounge and coffee shop are located. Smart shops open off the terrace lobby.”
In November of 1957, the hotel applied for (and subsequently received) permission to install a “macademized open-air parking lot for use by the Hotel Somerset” on the vacant lot at 388 Commonwealth.
In 1972, real estate developer Pasquale Franchi purchased the Hotel Somerset. His company, Somerset Building, Inc., remodeled the buildings, converting them from a hotel into 187 apartments, a night club, shops, and offices. The entirety of 390 Commonwealth was devoted to office and commercial space.
In 1976, the Savings Banks Trust Company of New York City foreclosed on its mortgage to Somerset Building Company. It was the only bidder at the foreclosure auction and took possession of 390-400 Commonwealth.
The properties subsequently changed hands, including going through foreclosure again, and in January of 1982 were acquired by the 400 Commonwealth Avenue Apartments LP.
In March of 1983, Frederic W. Rust, trustee of the Puritan Investment Trust, purchased 390 Commonwealth from the 400 Commonwealth Avenue Apartments LP. The purchase included 390 Commonwealth and the vacant lot at 388 Commonwealth, and an interest in the Somerset garage on Newbury.
In September of 1983, Frederic Rust received permission to remodel 390 Commonwealth into apartments and to construct a new building on the vacant lot. The new building, designed by architects Bruner, Cott & Associates, was eight stories plus a basement and was connected to 390 Commonwealth. The basement and first floor of both the original building and new building were designated for office and commercial use, with apartments on the upper floors. The lease for the Aku-Aku Restaurant, located at 390 Commonwealth, was purchased so that its space could be remodeled for office use.
The remodeling of 390 Commonwealth and the new building at 288 Commonwealth were not completed until 1986.
In October of 1985, Puritan Investment Trust applied for (and subsequently received) permission to establish the occupancy of 390 Commonwealth as 91 apartments, swimming pool, and general offices.
In April of 1986, the Puritan Investment Trust converted the building into 91 residential units and 4 commercial units, the Windsor Place Condominium.