390 Commonwealth was designed by architect Edward B. Stratton and built in 1908-1909 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 Hotel Puritan was built on two lots, one with a frontage of 100 feet at 394-398 Commonwealth, and the other with a frontage of 90 feet at 388-392 Commonwealth. Both properties were acquired by the Avenue Real Estate Trust, formed by William B. Rice on January 15, 1908, with John D. Hardy as trustee. The 100 foot lot was acquired on January 15, 1908, from the estate of Henry Lee, and the 90 foot lot was acquired on May 8, 1908, from the estate of J. Malcolm Forbes. On July 27, 1908, the Avenue Real Estate Trust purchased a third lot behind the other two, at 425 Newbury, with a 200 foot frontage on Newbury. All three lots previously had changed hands and originally were part of one of four parcels purchased from the Boston Water Power Company on October 15, 1880, by Henry Melville Whitney, Grenville Temple Winthrop Braman, and Henry Dwight Hyde, trustees of The Park Entrance Lands Trust.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 388-390 Commonwealth, and click here for further information on the land on the south side of Commonwealth between Massachusetts Avenue and Charlesgate East.
It appears that the hotel originally was designed to occupy the entire 190 feet, inasmuch as the architect’s rendering that appeared in the August 1911 edition of Architecture and Building shows seven bays, with the entrance centered on the middle (fourth) bay. It also shows the building extending the full distance between the Hotel Somerset annex at 400 Commonwealth to the west and 386 Commonwealth to the east. This drawing was used by the hotel in later advertising.
As built, however, the building occupied a frontage of 130 feet on Commonwealth. The eastern two bays were omitted, leaving a vacant lot at 388 Commonwealth with a frontage of 60 feet. The entrance to 390 Commonwealth remained in the fourth bay from the west, creating an asymmetrical façade. Although the August 1911 Architecture and Building article included the original drawing with seven bays, it also included a floor plan showing the main floor as it was built, with only five bays.
The lot at 388 Commonwealth and the lot behind the building at 425 Newbury remained under the same ownership as 390 Commonwealth. 388 Commonwealth was vacant until 1957, when an outdoor parking lot was installed. The parking lot was replaced by an eight story building in 1983. 425 Newbury was vacant until 1966, when it became the site of a 352 car garage.
In his Houses of Boston’s Back Bay, Bainbridge Bunting incorrectly indicates that there were two six story, six family apartment buildings designed by Arthur Vinal and built in 1899. one at 386 Commonwealth and a second at 388 Commonwealth. In fact, there was only one building built, at 386 Commonwealth.
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. As of 1947, the trustees were William and Emma Rice’s son, Harry Lee Rice, and his two sons, William Ball Rice and Edmund Rice.
On July 1, 1947, the Hotel Puritan (including 388-390 Commonwealth and 425 Newbury) was acquired from the Avenue Real Estate Trust by Abraham M. Sonnabend, and on the same date he transferred the property to the Hotel Puritan, Inc., of which he served as president.
Earlier in 1947, Abraham Sonnabend’s company had assumed management of the Hotel Somerset, and in October of 1951, the Cleveland Hotel Corporation, of which he served as president, acquired the hotel. Thereafter, the Hotel Puritan and the Hotel Somerset were operated as an integrated property as the Somerset Hotel by Sonnabend Operated Hotels, which became the Hotel Corporation of America in 1956 and Sonesta International Hotels in 1979.
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” on the vacant lot at 388 Commonwealth.
On July 1, 1958, Puritan, Inc., transferred the Hotel Puritan property (388-390 Commonwealth and 425 Newbury) to Abraham Sonnabend and Reuben B. Gryzmish as trustees of the Puritan Realty Trust. The Cleveland Hotel Corporation retained the Hotel Somerset property (400-416 Commonwealth), and both properties continued to be operated by the Hotel Corporation of America.
On November 1, 1960, the Puritan Realty Trust sold the Hotel Puritan property (388-390 Commonwealth and 425 Newbury) to Louis Berry, George D. Seyburn, and Benjamin J. Tager of the International Hotel Corporation, located in Detroit. On the same day, the Cleveland Hotel Corporation sold the Hotel Somerset property (400-416 Commonwealth) to the same purchasers.
An October 20, 1960, Boston Globe article on the impending sale indicated that it “stems from the fact that the contract which H. C. A. [Housing Corporation of America] has with Prudential Insurance Company to run the 1000-room hotel in its huge Back Bay development requires H. C. A. to confine its local hotel activities to the Prudential operation.”
The Hotel Corporation of America subsequently withdrew from its agreement with Prudential in favor of the Sheraton Corporation, and on August 27, 1964, the Boston Globe reported that “Negotiations are underway by Boston’s Sonnabend and Gryzmish families to repurchase or otherwise operate the city’s well known Somerset Hotel on Commonwealth av. The two families sold the hotel for some four years ago to Detroit interests. When the hotel was owned by the Sonnabend and Gryzmish families it was operated by the Hotel Corporation of America, now headed by Roger P. Sonnabend. If the present transaction works out, Hotel Corporation of America would again operate the hotel.”
On January 31, 1966, the re-acquisition of the properties was achieved through a foreclosure of the mortgage given by Louis Berry and his partners to the Cleveland Hotel Corporation, which took possession of the properties and transferred them on the same day to the S. H. Corp.
The Hotel Corporation of America resumed operation of the properties and in 1966-1967 it constructed a 352 car garage at 425 Newbury.
On October 15, 1971, the Boston Globe reported that a “preliminary understanding” had been reached to sell the Somerset Hotel to real estate developer Pasquale Franchi, “who reportedly plans to renovate the Somerset into a luxury apartment building.” He also was in the process of renovating the Hotel Vendôme.
On December 13, 1971, the Somerset Hotel (388-390 Commonwealth, 400-416 Commonwealth, and 425 Newbury) was purchased from S. H. Inc. by Pasquale Franchi through the Westcliffe Realty Trust.
The Hotel Somerset closed on March 31, 1972.
Over the next three years, Pasquale Franchi converted the buildings into 187 apartments, a night club, shops, and offices. The entirety of 390 Commonwealth was devoted to office and commercial space.
On June 16, 1975, 388-390 Commonwealth, 400-416 Commonwealth, and 425 Newbury were acquired from the Westcliffe Realty Trust by The Somerset Building, inc. (Charles A. Pappas, president).
The properties subsequently changed hands, including going through foreclosure again, and on January 29, 1982 were acquired by the 400 Commonwealth Avenue Apartments LP.
On March 30, 1983, 388-390 Commonwealth were purchased from the 400 Commonwealth Avenue Apartments LP by Frederic W. Rust, trustee of the Puritan Investment Trust. The purchase included an interest in the Somerset garage at 425 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 at 388 Commonwealth. 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 388 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.
On April 22, 1986, the Puritan Investment Trust converted 388-390 Commonwealth into 91 residential units and 4 commercial units, the Windsor Place Condominium.