397 Commonwealth

397 Commonwealth (2014)

Irregular Lot: 46.03' on Commonwealth and 46.12' on Marlborough (6,919.10 sf)

Irregular Lot: 46.03′ on Commonwealth and 46.12′ on Marlborough (6,919.10 sf)

397 Commonwealth is located on the north side of Commonwealth, between Massachusetts Avenue and Charlesgate East, with 395 Commonwealth to the east and 401 Commonwealth to the west.

397 Commonwealth was built in 1924-1925 on a vacant lot by the William H. Whitcomb Construction Company. It was built for the Moorland Company, which shown as the owner on the original building permit application, dated March 14, 1924.

The rear of the lot on which 397 Commonwealth was built extends north to Marlborough Street and has a secondary street address of 446 Marlborough. 397 Commonwealth also occasionally appears with the address 399 Commonwealth.

The architect indicated on the original building permit application is H. B. Andrews of 40 Court Street in Boston. There is no architect of that or similar name listed in the City Directories for the period, nor is there any architect listed at 40 Court. It appears that the architect may have been Hiram Bertrand Andrews, a civil engineer and expert on reinforced concrete, who, in the 1920s, was a partner in the engineering firm of Andrews, Tower, and LaValle, of Springfield, Massachusetts.

The Moorland Company purchased the land for 397 Commonwealth on July 25, 1923, from real estate dealer William H. Ross. He had purchased it on December 26, 1922, from the estate and heirs of Charles Edward Cotting, who had died in July of 1920. He and his wife, Ruth Stetson (Thompson) Cotting, had lived at 404 Marlborough.

Charles Cotting had purchased the lot on March 1, 1904, from Alexander Emmanuel Rodolphe Agassiz of Cambridge, who had purchased it on January 17, 1901, from Frederick Ayer. Alexander Agassiz was a zoologist and oceanographer, and also was developer and president of the Calumet and Hecla Copper Mines. When he purchased the land from Frederick Ayer, the Boston Evening Transcript indicated that he had “bought the lot for the site of a private dwelling.” He continued to live in Cambridge, however, and left the land on Commonwealth vacant.

Frederick Ayer had purchased the land as two lots on April 15, 1899, a 52 foot wide lot on the east from S. Endicott Peabody and a 26 foot wide lot on the west from the estate of William G. Saltonstall. The deeds were conveyed through real estate dealer Frederick Frederick O. Woodruff. Frederick Ayer then built his home at 395 Commonwealth on the eastern 31.97 feet, and sold the western 46.03 feet to Alexander Agassiz.

S. Endicott Peabody and William G. Saltonstall had purchased their lots in January of 1886 from a real estate investment trust formed by Francis W. Palfrey, Francis A. Osborn, and Grenville T. W. Braman, both of the lots being part of a tract of land the trust had purchased on June 1, 1880, from the Boston Water Power Company.

When the trustees sold the lots to S. Endicott Peabody and William Saltonstall, they included language prohibiting the use of any building on the land as a stable and prohibiting the erection of any building of more than one story in height within thirty feet of Marlborough. When Frederick Ayer sold the vacant lot at 397 Commonwealth to Alexander Agassiz, he included additional language (for the benefit of Alexander Agassiz) specifying that no building in the rear of 395 Commonwealth could be located within 8 feet of the boundary line with 397 Commonwealth.

Click here for an index to the deeds for 397 Commonwealth, and click here for further information on the land west of Massachusetts Avenue between the south side of Beacon and the north side of Commonwealth.

The Moorland Company was organized by real estate dealer James Sumner Draper. He served as its president and Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth (Williams) Hodson, the former wife of Septimus Hodson, served as treasurer. She was a secretary in J. Sumner Draper’s office.

It appears likely that the Moorland Company was organized by J. Sumner Draper in association with the builder, William H. Whitcomb.  By the time the building was completed in 1925, William H. Whitcomb had become president of the Moorland Company; on April 7, 1925, the company entered into a first mortgage with the Peoples’ Savings Bank and two additional mortgages.

The original permit application for 397 Commonwealth indicates that it was being built as a dental surgery.  It does not appear to have been used for that purpose.

In July of 1925, Landon Incorporated applied for (and subsequently received) permission to change the legal occupancy from dental and medical offices to a dormitory for students, and to construct two new basement level entrances in the front of the building. Landon Inc. subsequently operated 397 Commonwealth as the Fraternities Club for students and recent graduates (the club was not affiliated with a specific college or fraternity).

Claire Frost Lyman, an English Instructor at MIT, was treasurer of Landon Inc. He lived at 378 Marlborough. His parents, Willard Clark Lyman and Clara (Frost) Lyman, lived at 455 Beacon. She was corporate clerk of Landon Inc. By the 1925-1926 winter season, they all had moved to the Hotel Puritan at 390 Commonwealth.

On October 9, 1925, Landon Incorporated purchased 397 Commonwealth from the Moorland Company. In conjunction with the purchase it assumed the first mortgage from the Peoples’ Savings Bank and entered into three additional mortgages, including one with the Moorland Company. Also in October of 1925, Landon Incorporated applied for (and subsequently received) permission to construct one story addition at the rear of the building for use as a dining room.

On November 28, 1925, Alexander Steinert of 401 Commonwealth filed a complaint with the City of Boston, noting that the Fraternities Club was operating as a public restaurant and was serving meals until 2:00 a.m. to the public. On April 14, 1926, attorney Alexander Whiteside, representing Francis H. Appleton, Jr., of 451 Marlborough and other nearby residents, filed another complaint with the city, asserting that “the Club feature is purely a fiction, the place being run as a lodging house, restaurant and rendezvous for card parties and other social activities of people who use it.” The City of Boston subsequently brought legal action against Landon Inc. and the Fraternities Club to enjoin it from using the premises for a business purpose.

By mid-1926, Claire Lyman had moved to 397 Commonwealth.

On August 15, 1926, the Moorland Company (of which William H. Whitcomb remained the president) foreclosed on its mortgage to Landon Inc. and took possession of the property. It assumed the other mortgages,

In October of 1926, Claire F. Lyman filed for bankruptcy. By 1927, he had moved to New Haven, where he was an instructor at the Arnold College for Hygiene & Physical Education.

On March 8, 1928, the People’s Savings Bank foreclosed on its first mortgage and took possession of the property.

397 Commonwealth continued to be residence for men, called The Moorland, but was no longer limited to students and recent graduates. It appears that it ceased operating its dining room as a public restaurant.

On May 1, 1934, 397 Commonwealth was acquired from the bank by the Oliver Investment Corporation. Real estate dealer and property manager Robert A. Nordblom was president of the corporation, which continued to operate The Moorland as a lodging house for men.

In December of 1936, the Oliver Investment Corporation applied for an innholder’s license to serve alcoholic beverages at The Moorland, and in March of 1937, it applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property from a lodging house into a 51 room hotel.

On August 12, 1938, the People’s Savings Bank again foreclosed on a mortgage it held on 397 Commonwealth and took possession of the property.

The bank leased The Moorland to operators who continued to maintain it as a residence for men. A January 30, 1941, Boston Globe classified advertisement read: “The Moorland Gentlemen’s Residence. Exclusive, convenient, personal switchboard service: a quiet home or club atmosphere. 397 Commonwealth Av., across from the Harvard Club; moderate weekly and monthly rates. J. V. King, manager.”

The operators also leased the ground floor to a catering business that served meals for private parties in the dining room, with the entrance located in the rear of the building on Marlborough. Contrary to the application approved in 1937, the building did not have 51 sleeping rooms and therefore did not qualify as a hotel under the zoning code.  In April of 1941, the neighbors raised objections to the noise and disruption caused by late night events, and filed a complaint with Mayor Maurice Tobin pointing out that the catering operations violated zoning restrictions prohibiting business operations in a residential district.

On November 28, 1941, 397 Commonwealth was purchased from the bank by real estate dealer Irving Zieman and Samuel H. Gurvitz, a salesman for a building materials and cabinetry company.

The new owners filed for permission to operate a business of “catering in and out of the premises,” arguing that the property had been used for that purpose for at least three years and “cannot be reasonably used for any other purpose.” They also argued that “making two rooms out of the loung room, as shown on the [1937] plan, thereby creating fifty-one rooms so that the premises can legally be conducted as a hotel, would destroy the existing lounge room which is very important to the happiness and comfort of the room residents.” The zoning Board of Appeal denied their petition at a hearing on April 15, 1942.

On May 1, 1942, Irving Zieman acquired Samuel Gurvitz’s interest in the property.

On May 15, 1942, 397 Commonwealth was acquired from Irving Zieman by his niece, Minerva B. (Onigman) Dobro, the wife of Maurice Dobro (Dobrow). She was the daughter of Henry Onigman and Irving Zieman’s sister, Bertha Rose (Zieman) Onigman. Maurice Dobro was a life insurance agent and Minerva Dobro owned a novelty store. They lived in Brighton.

The Dobros continued to operate The Moorland as a lodging house for men.

On December 28, 1951, Irving Zieman acquired 397 Commonwealth back from Minerva Dobro.

On May 29, 1953, 397 Commonwealth was purchased from Irving Zieman by the Boston Evening Clinic. It previously had been located at 452 Beacon. It continued to be located at 397 Commonwealth until about 1958, when it moved to 314 Commonwealth.

On January 31, 1958, 397 Commonwealth was acquired from the Boston Evening Clinic by the Hearthstone Insurance Company of Massachusetts. It also owned 395 Commonwealth, where it maintained its offices.

In April of 1958, Heathstone Insurance applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property into the business and professional offices.

It operated 395 and 397 Commonwealth 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.

On December 28, 1964, 395-397 Commonwealth were acquired from Hearthstone Insurance by the Association for Cultural Interchange, Inc.

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, the original building at 395 Commonwealth was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

395-397 Commonwealth remained the Bayside Residence and Cultural Center until 2021, with the original 395 Commonwealth, the Ayer Mansion, open for public tours, lectures, and events.

On December 6, 2021, 395-397 Commonwealth were acquired from The Trimount Foundation by 395-399 Commonwealth Avenue LLC (Jean Abouhamad of Sea-Dar Enterprises, manager of record).