395 Commonwealth was designed by architect Alfred J. Manning and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany, and built in 1899-1900 for Frederick Ayer and his wife Ellen Barrows (Banning) Ayer. They lived at 232 Beacon and at their home in Lowell while the house was being completed. Frederick Ayer is shown as the owner on the original building permit application, dated December 9, 1899, and on a second application to build a one-story storage building in the rear, dated November 19, 1900. He also is shown as the owner on the 1908 and 1917 Bromley maps. The Ayers also maintained a summer home, Avalon, at Prides Crossing.
The rear of the lot on which 395 Commonwealth was built extends north to Marlborough Street and has a secondary street address of 444 Marlborough.
Although the original building permit application names only Alfred J. Manning as the architect, much of the interior was designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, the noted artist, interior designer, and master of stained glass. He also collaborated with A. J. Manning on the exterior. A December 21, 1901, article in the American Architect and Building News notes “In carrying out his design the architect had the benefit of association with Mr. Louis C. Tiffany, who designed the exterior mosaic-work, which makes the house so notable on a Boston street, as well as decorated the interesting main staircase…”.
Frederick Ayer began his business career as a manufacturer of patent medicines in partnership with his brother, Dr. James C. Ayer. He subsequently entered the textile manufacturing business in Lowell and Lawrence, and (with his son-in-law, William Madison Wood) was founder of the American Woolen Company.
Frederick Ayer also was a real estate investor, and at about the same time he had 395 Commonwealth built, he commissioned two commercial buildings on Broadway in New York, both designed by A. J. Manning. A March 1900 issue of Carpentry and Building magazine, commenting on recently planned buildings, noted: “An office and loft building 15 stories and basement in height is to be erected for Frederick Ayer of Boston at 524-526 Broadway, the architect, A. J. Manning, estimating the cost at $350,000. Mr. Manning is also architect for a loft building to be put up at 599-601 Broadway for the same owner, at a cost of $500,000.”
The Ayers’ three children lived with them: Beatrice Banning Ayer, Frederick Ayer, Jr., and Mary Katharine (Kate) Ayer. Beatrice Ayer married in May of 1910 to George Smith Patton, Jr., a Lieutenant in the US Army who would become a noted General in World War II. After their marriage, they moved to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, where he was stationed. Frederick Ayer, Jr., a trustee, married in August of 1914 to Hilda Proctor Rice and moved to Topsfield. Mary Katharine Ayer married in May of 1917 to Keith Merrill, a lawyer in Minneapolis.
Frederick Ayer died in March of 1918 and Ellen Ayer died the next month, in April of 1918.
The Heirs of Frederick Ayer continued to be the assessed owners in 1923.
In the fall of 1923, Ethel Josephine (Hixon) Abbott acquired 395 Commonwealth from the Ayer estate. The transaction was reported in the Boston Globe on September 28, 1923. She was the wife of Charles Edward Abbott, president of the E. A. Abbott Company (founded by his father, Edward A. Abbott), office building contractors, which subsequently converted 395 Commonwealth into offices.
In early 1925, the Professional Building Company acquired 395 Commonwealth from Ethel Abbott. The transaction was reported in the Boston Globe on February 8, 1925. It operated 395 Commonwealth as medical offices.
The property subsequently changed hands, remaining a medical office building.
In January of 1953, the Hearthstone Insurance Company of Massachusetts acquired 395 Commonwealth and moved its offices there. It previously had been located at 120 Boylston. For several years, it also continued to lease offices to doctors, dentists, and others.
In January of 1958, Hearthstone Insurance acquired 397 Commonwealth from the Boston Evening Clinic. Thereafter, it operated the two properties as a single building, the Hearthstone Building. In addition to maintaining its offices there, it leased space to other businesses, among them the Frick Company, dealers in refrigerators, and the Paul L. Beane Company, food brokers.
In December of 1964, the Association for Cultural Interchange, Inc., acquired 395 Commonwealth and 397 Commonwealth from Hearthstone Insurance.
An affiliate of the Roman Catholic Opus Dei organization, the Association for Cultural Interchange opened a dormitory and cultural center for women students, Bayridge Residence, at 395 Commonwealth and 397 Commonwealth.
In September of 1966, 395 Commonwealth was added to the State Register for Historic Places.
In March of 1971, the Association applied for (and subsequently received) permission to remodel the dormitories, including combining 395 Commonwealth and 397 Commonwealth into one building, with the address of 395 Commonwealth.
In August of 1974, the Association for Cultural Interchange, Inc., changed its name to The Trimount Foundation, Inc. It continued to operate the Bayridge Residence and Cultural Center at 395 Commonwealth.
In June of 1988, it applied for (and subsequently received) permission to build a 300 s.f. addition at the rear of the property allowing the extension of the existing chapel at 395 Commonwealth.
In April of 2005, 395 Commonwealth was designated a National Historic Landmark in recognition of its standing as one of only three surviving examples of residential interiors designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany, and the sole example of an interior designed by him at the time the building was built, rather than as part of a remodeling.
In June of 2013, The Trimount Foundation entered into a Preservation Restriction Agreement for 395 Commonwealth with the Massachusetts Historical Commission, designed to preserve “those characteristics which contribute to the architectural, archaeological and historical integrity of the Premises which have been listed in the National and/or State Registers of Historic Places… which include, but are not limited to, the artifacts, features, materials, appearance, and workmanship of the Premises…”.
395-397 Commonwealth remained a dormitory in 2015, the Bayside Residence and Cultural Center, with the original 395 Commonwealth, the Ayer Mansion, open for public tours, lectures, and events, under the auspices of the Campaign for the Ayer Mansion, Inc., formed in 1998 to preserve the building.