393 Commonwealth was designed by Little and Browne, architects, and built ca. 1899 for Josephine (Moore) Dexter, the widow of Chicago attorney Wirt Dexter. Their daughter, Katharine Moore Dexter, lived with her. While they were awaiting the completion of their home, they lived at Arthur Little’s home at 2 Raleigh (he and his wife, Jessie Maria (Whitman) Means Little, were living at their home in Swampscott). Josephine Dexter is shown as the owner of 393 Commonwealth on the 1908 and 1917 Bromley maps.
The rear of the lot on which 393 Commonwealth was built extends north to Marlborough Street and has a secondary street address of 442 Marlborough.
Katharine Dexter graduated from MIT in 1904 and in September of that year married to Stanley R. McCormick, son of Cyrus McCormick, inventor of the reaper and founder of the International Harvester Company. Two years after their marriage, Stanley McCormick was hospitalized with mental illness and spent the rest of his life under care in Santa Barbara, California. He died in January of 1947.
By 1910, Katharine McCormick had resumed living with her mother at 393 Commonwealth. She also maintained homes in New York and Santa Barbara. She was an active advocate of woman’s suffrage (as was her mother) and strong supporter of women’s education, the League of Women Voters, and family planning.
In about 1924, Josephine Dexter transferred 393 Commonwealth to Katharine McCormick, who was the assessed owner from 1925 and is shown as the owner on the 1928 and 1938 Bromley maps.
In the fall of 1926, Katharine McCormick purchased 407 Commonwealth and made it her home.
In 1929, Josephine Dexter purchased Prangins, an estate outside of Geneva, Switzerland, primarily for Katharine McCormick’s use.
Josephine Dexter continued to live at 393 Commonwealth until her death in November of 1937.
Katharine McCormick continued to live at 407 Commonwealth and to maintain Prangins in Switzerland and a home in Santa Barbara. She also continued to own 393 Commonwealth, apparently leaving it vacant until the early 1950s.
In March of 1952, Katharine McCormick sold 407 Commonwealth and made 393 Commonwealth her Boston home.
In 1962, at the suggestion of her friend Adlai Stevenson, she donated Prangins to the US government, for use by the US diplomatic mission in Geneva.
Katharine McCormick died in December of 1967, leaving much of her estate, including 393 Commonwealth, to MIT.
In May of 1971, the Society of Jesus of New England acquired 393 Commonwealth from MIT, and used the house as a rectory.
In October of 1981, Marvin Smith, trustee of the 393 Commonwealth Associates Realty Trust, purchased 393 Commonwealth from the Society of Jesus. In September of 1981, in anticipation of the sale, the Society filed for (and subsequently received) permission to establish the legal occupancy as professional offices.
In April of 1982, Gaetano F. Morello, trustee of the 393 Commonwealth Avenue Trust, purchased 393 Commonwealth from Marvin Smith.
In December of 1982, the Trust filed for (and subsequently received) permission to establish the legal occupancy as professional offices for an advertising agency.
In December of 1983, Thomas Allen Robinson and his wife, Lessie Elaine (Thiele) Schroeder Robinson, trustees of the Dexter House Trust, purchased 393 Commonwealth from Gaetano Morello.
393 Commonwealth became the offices of Robinson Associates, Inc., an advertising and public relations agency. In 1991, it merged with several other agencies to become Cuneo, Conrad, Robinson, Wilgus, Inc. The new firm continued to be located at 393 Commonwealth.
In August of 1992, Thomas Robinson filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the existing penthouse into an apartment.
In February of 2004, Thomas Robinson and Richard F. Hazelton (successor to Lessie Robinson as trustee of the Dexter House Trust) transferred 393 Commonwealth to Dexter House Development, Inc.
In June of 2005, Dexter House Development filed for (and subsequently received) permission to convert 393 Commonwealth into six apartments.
In August of 2005, it converted the property into six condominium units, the Dexter House Condominium.
Below are front and rear elevations of 393 Commonwealth drawn ca. 1899 by Little and Browne for Mrs. Wirt Dexter. These are provided courtesy of Historic New England, whose collection also includes additional original architectural drawings of 393 Commonwealth.