39 Marlborough was built ca. 1869, one of three contiguous houses (35-37-39 Marlborough) designed by Emerson and Fehmer, architects, and built by I. & H. M. Harmon, masons, at about the same time. 37 and 39 Marlborough are mirror opposite buildings, with a shared central entrance porch which creates a symmetrical entryway.
Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay does not attribute 35-37-39 Marlborough to a specific architect. However, a March 8, 1869, article on in the Boston Traveller on “Real Estate Movements” included the following: “On Marlboro’ street, one each for H. C. Dodge, C. W. Freeland, and G. A. Newell. I & H. M. Harmon are the builders. Emerson & Fehmer are the architects.”
Photographs from about 1900 show that the bay of 37 Marlborough stopped at the cornice line and there was a dormer in the mansard roof, whereas the bay of 39 Marlborough extended to the top floor. This may have been the original design, or the top floor bay at 37 Marlborough may have been removed and replaced by the dormer.
The land on which 39 Marlborough was built was part of a larger parcel of land originally purchased from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on November 6, 1858, by George Goss. He and his partner, Norman Carmine Munson, were the contractors responsible for filling the Commonwealth’s Back Bay lands. The original parcel ran from where 9 Marlborough would be built west to Berkeley Street, comprising 17 lots with either 24 foot or 25 foot frontages. On the same day he purchased the land, George Goss sold the lots to nine different buyers, who then resold them to others.
Between July and October of 1865, Charles William Freeland made a series of purchases from those who had bought land originally part of George Goss’s tract. He assembled a parcel with a frontage of 248 feet where 21-39 Marlborough would be built.
Charles Freeland was a merchant, cotton manufacturer, and real estate developer. He and his wife, Sarah Ward (Harrington) Freeland, lived at 117 Beacon.
He built the houses at 21-23-25-27 Marlborough for sale to others, and sold the land where 29-31-33-35 Marlborough would be built. In the case of 37-39 Marlborough, he sold the land for 39 Marlborough, but retained the land for 37 Marlborough until after the house had been built.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 39 Marlborough, and click here for further information about the land on the north side of Marlborough from Arlington to Berkeley, south of Alley 421.
On October 13, 1868, the land for 39 Marlborough was purchased from Charles Freeland by Alice Almia (Almira) (Lamb) Dodge, the wife of dry goods merchant Henry Cleaves Dodge. They previously had lived at the Hotel Pelham (southwest corner of Tremont and Boylston).
When 41 Marlborough was built in 1865 by Charles Minot and his wife, Maria Josephine (Grafton) Minot, the party wall between 39 and 41 Marlborough had not been built precisely on the boundary line between the two lots, with half the wall on either side, but rather was fractionally further to the west. On March 1, 1869, Almira Dodge purchased a small strip of land from the Minots so that she would own half of the party wall.
In the fall of 1871, the Dodges traveled to Europe. They appear to have divorced sometime after mid-1877 and never resumed living at 39 Marlborough. By about 1880, Henry Dodge made his home in Europe, and in April of 1888 he remarried in Nice, France, to Rosalie Cox. They continued to live there until their deaths, he in August of 1913 and she in November of 1920.
39 Marlborough remained the property of Almira Dodge and, after her death, was inherited by her son, Henry Percival Dodge, a career US diplomat. He died in October of 1936, and the property was inherited by his widow, Agnes Page (Brown) Dodge, and his daughter, Alice Lamb Cleaves Dodge, who was by his first marriage, to Margaret Riché (Adams) Dodge.
By 1872, 39 Marlborough was the home of James Haughton, a wholesale dry goods dealer, and his wife, Eliza (Richards) Haughton. They previously had lived in Brookline. By 1875, they had moved to 91 Boylston.
By November of 1873 (when their daughter Mabel was born), 39 Marlborough was the home of James Dillon and his wife, Emma (Atkins) Dillon. He was a commission merchant. They continued to live there in 1878, but had moved to Dorchester by 1879 (when their daughter Ruth was born).
By 1879, 39 Marlborough was the home of Rev. William Wilberforce Newton and his wife, Emily Stevenson (Cooke) Newton. They previously had lived in Newark, New Jersey, where he was rector of Trinity Church (Episcopal) until October of 1876, when he resigned to accept the position of rector of St. Paul’s Church in Boston.
By the 1880-1881 winter season, 39 Marlborough was the home of paper manufacturer Mortimer Blake Mason and his wife Mary Emma (Phillips) Mason. They had married in October of 1880, and 39 Marlborough probably was their first home together. They continued to live there during the 1882-1883 winter season. By the 1883-1884 season, they had moved to 190 Commonwealth.
By the 1883-1884 winter season, 39 Marlborough was the home of Dr. Buckminster Brown, an orthopedic surgeon, and his wife, Sarah Alvord (Newcomb) Brown. He also maintained his medical office there. In 1883, they had lived (and he had maintained his office) at 59 Bowdoin. They continued to live at 39 Marlborough during the 1885-1886 season, but moved thereafter to 19 Marlborough.
By the 1886-1887 winter season, 39 Marlborough was the home of attorney Russell Gray and his wife, Amy (Heard) Gray. They had married in November of 1886, and 39 Marlborough probably was their first home together. Prior to their marriage, he had lived t 143 Beacon with his mother, Sarah Russell (Gardner) Gray, the widow of Horace Gray. Russell and Amy Gray also maintained a home in Nahant.
Their two sons, Horace Gray and Augustine Heard Gray, lived with them. Horace Gray married in October of 1915 to Katharine Meeker and they moved to 290 Commonwealth. He was a physician.
Russell Gray died in 1929. Amy Gray continued to live at 39 Marlborough. Augustine Gray, a career Naval officer, continued to live with her. He married in about 1933 to Elizabeth DuBois Jordan. They lived at 39 Marlborough with his mother until about 1936, when they moved to Long Beach, California.
39 Marlborough had remained the property of the Dodge family, and on December 26, 1946, it was acquired by Amy Gray from Henry Percival Dodge’s widow, Agnes Page (Brown) Dodge, and his daughter, Alice Lamb Cleaves Dodge.
On September 30, 1949, 39 Marlborough was purchased from the estate of Amy Gray by Dr. Francis Licata, a physician. He converted it into two apartments and a medical office, leasing the apartments to others and using the office for his medical practice. He and his wife, Angelina (Mirabella) Licata, lived in Revere. He maintained his medical office at 39 Marlborough until his death in December of 1963.
On December 28, 1964, 39 Marlborough was purchased from the estate of Francis Licata by Margaret L. Stuart. She converted the house into a dormitory for women students and, in October of 1965, filed an application to legalize the occupancy as a lodging house. At the same time, she also filed to legalize the occupancy of 61 Marlborough, which she also had converted into a dormitory.
Neighboring residents strongly opposed the use of the buildings as a dormitories, and in February of 1966 the Board of Appeal denied her petitions. The Building Department subsequently required that she remove all remodeling that had been installed to convert the house into a dormitory, thereby returning it to its legal use as doctors’ offices and two apartments.
On November 9, 1966, the South Boston Savings Bank foreclosed its mortgage to Margaret Stuart and took possession of the property.
On December 1, 1966, 39 Marlborough was purchased from the South Boston Savings Bank by Residential Back Bay, Inc.
Residential Back Bay, Inc., was a non-profit corporation formed in September of 1965 by neighborhood residents seeking to reverse the adverse effects resulting from the proliferation of lodging houses, dormitories, and poorer-quality apartments. In an October 8, 1967, article, the Boston Globe described the organization’s goals as being the “purchase of Back Bay properties with the intention of renovating them for eventual resale to families,” and also serving “as a sort of communications center through which potential home buyers could be steered to properties fitting their needs.” 39 Marlborough was the first property acquired by Residential Back Bay, Inc.
In July of 1967, Residential Back Bay, Inc., applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property into four apartments.
On August 29, 1967, Walter Lang Koltun and his wife, Janet (Ferris) Koltun, purchased 39 Marlborough from Residential Back Bay, Inc. Walter Koltun was a biochemist who worked with Linus Pauling and Robert Corey in the development of atomic models, and later was a fundraising executive with MIT.
In a report from the early 1970s, Residential Back Bay, Inc., described its experience with 39 Marlborough as follows: “We were able to acquire an abandoned townhouse and dispose of it to a young family who have now converted it into a first-rate apartment building. The owners live on the first three floors of the building and lease apartments on the upper floors thereby providing sufficient income to defray investment and maintenance costs.”
On September 21, 1976, the Koltuns converted the property into four condominium units, the Thirty Nine Marlborough Street Condominium.