49 Commonwealth was designed by Cummings and Sears, architects, and built in 1877-1878 by Weston & Shepard, masons and builders. 51 Commonwealth was built in 1876-1877 by I. & H. M. Harmon, masons and builders, and probably also was designed by Cummings and Sears (Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay indicates that 51 Commonwealth was designed by Cummings and Sears; neither the original permit application nor final inspection report identifies the architect).
The two houses were built to form a complementary design and, according to Bunting, were the last houses of the Academic design built in brownstone in the Back Bay. 49 Commonwealth was built on a single 26 foot wide lot; 51 Commonwealth was built on a double lot, 52 feet wide.
49 Commonwealth was built in 1877-1878 as the home of Charles Torrey and his wife, Adelaide (Bowen) Torrey. He is shown as the owner of 49 Commonwealth on the original building permit application, dated July 30, 1877, and on the final building inspection, dated October 22, 1878.
Charles Torrey purchased the land for 49 Commonwealth on May 9, 1877, from real estate dealer Alexander Sylvanus Porter. He and his wife, Mary Otis (Cushing) Porter, lived at 22 Brimmer. He had purchased the land on February 1, 1876, from Isaac D. Farnsworth and, according to a March 19, 1877, Boston Evening Transcript article, was planning “to build a spacious house” on the land. Instead, he and his wife moved to Brookline and he sold the land on Commonwealth to Charles Torrey. The land originally had been purchased from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on February 11, 1870, by Charles Greenleaf Wood.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 49 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the north side of Commonwealth and Alley 423, from Berkeley to Clarendon.
By the 1878-1879 winter season, Charles and Adelaide (Bowen) Torrey had made 49 Commonwealth their home. They previously had lived at 24 East Brookline.
Charles Torrey was a marble dealer and, from 1894, also served as president of the Boylston National Bank.
The Torreys three children – Charles Everett Torrey, Edith Adelaide Torrey, and Harry Bowen Torrey – lived with them. Edith and Harry Torrey were twins.
Charles Everett Torrey traveled to Europe in 1884 and by 1889 was living in Los Angeles County, California, where he married in April of 1889 to Lucy K. Paine.
Edith Torrey married in February of 1886 to Frederick Parsons Allen, a wholesale woolens dealer. After their marriage, they lived at 49 Commonwealth with her parents until about 1889, when they moved to Brookline.
Harry B. Torrey was a salesman with his father’s marble company. He married in September of 1889 to Mrs. Bertha (Leline) Batcheller. After their marriage, they may have lived with the Torreys at 49 Commonwealth for several years, but moved thereafter and by the 1897-1898 winter season lived at 12 Brimmer.
Charles Torrey died in April of 1905. By the 1906-1906 winter season, Adelaide Torrey had moved to Haddon Hall at 282 Berkeley.
On October 26, 1905, 49 Commonwealth was purchased from Adelaide Torrey by Mary Elizabeth (Woodhull) Perry, the widow of Gardner Blanchard Perry. She also maintained a home, Montpelier, in Middletown, Rhode Island.
Mary Perry continued to live at 49 Commonwealth until her death in December of 1910.
On June 22, 1911, 49 Commonwealth was purchased from the estate of Mary Perry by dry goods merchant Henry Coffin Everett. He and his wife, Ellen Crocker (Tufts) Everett, made it their home. They previously had lived at 353 Commonwealth. They also maintained a home at Old Colony Hill in Hingham.
Ellen Everett died in September of 1930, and Henry Everett continued to live at 49 Commonwealth until about 1936, when he moved to Newton Centre.
In January of 1936, he applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the property into a lodging house.
By 1937, 49 Commonwealth was the home of Henry Lawton, a watchman, and his wife, Winifred M. (Lyons) Lawton, who operated the lodging house. They previously had lived in England.
By 1939, Henry Everett had resumed living at 49 Commonwealth, as a lodger, as well as in Newton Centre. He continued to live at both residences until his death in November of 1945.
On August 1, 1940, 49 Commonwealth was acquired from Henry Everett by the Boston Five Cents Savings Bank. It did not take the property in foreclosure, but did hold a mortgage from Henry Everett which it assumed as part of the transaction. On April 22, 1942, the property was acquired by Warren-Stevens Inc.
By 1941, 49 Commonwealth was the home of Eva (Evangelina) Harriett (Martin) Cotter, the widow of James Angus Cotter, who operated it as a lodging house. On May 28, 1942, she acquired the property from Warren-Stevens Inc.
51 Commonwealth was built in 1876-1877 as the home of shipping merchant and investor George Augustus Gardner. He previously had lived at 81 Marlborough with his wife, Eliza Endicott (Peabody) Gardner, who died in January of 1876. He is shown as the owner on the original building permit application, dated April 24, 1876, and on the final inspection, dated September 1, 1877.
George A. Gardner’s father, John Lowell Gardner, purchased the land for 51 Commonwealth on May 18, 1872, from his brother-in-law, Francis Cabot Lowell (Francis Lowell’s wife, Mary Lowell (Gardner) Lowell, was John L. Gardner’s sister; she had died in August of 1854). Francis C. Lowell had purchased the land from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on February 17, 1864.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 51 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the north side of Commonwealth and Alley 423, from Berkeley to Clarendon.
John Lowell Gardner died in July of 1884, and on October 23, 1884, George A. Gardner purchased 51 Commonwealth from his father’s estate for $50,000 (the price at which John L. Gardner’s will specified his son could purchase the house).
George Gardner’s four surviving children — George Peabody Gardner, Ellen Gardner, John Lowell Gardner, II, and Olga Eliza Gardner – lived with him at 51 Commonwealth.
George P. Gardner married in June of 1884 to Esther Burnett and they moved to 186 Beacon, owned by George A. Gardner. He was a trustee and later would serve as president of various textile companies.
Olga Eliza Gardner married in June of 1897 to Dr. George Howard Monks and they moved to 267 Beacon. They also maintained a home, Briarwood, at Monument Beach.
George A. Gardner continued to live at 51 Commonwealth with his unmarried son, John L. Gardner, II. He also maintained a home, Bungalow, at Monument Beach on Buzzard’s Bay, and a home on Roque Island in Maine.
George A. Gardner died in August of 1916. In his will, he left 186 Beacon to George P. Gardner (who continued to live there), and 51 Commonwealth and the property at Monument Beacon in trust for the benefit of John L. Gardner, II. He left the property on Roque Island to George P. Gardner, John L. Gardner, II, and Olga (Gardner) Monks in equal shares.
John Lowell Gardner, II., continued to live at 51 Commonwealth during the 1916-1917 winter season, but moved thereafter to Monument Beach.
On November 13, 1916, Olga (Gardner) Monks purchased 51 Commonwealth from her brother’s trust, and George and OIga Monks made it their home. They previously had lived at 67 Marlborough.
George Howard Monks was a surgeon, specializing in plastic surgery, and professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and Harvard Dental School.
On December 15, 1944, 51 Commonwealth was acquired from the estate of Olga Monks by Simmons College. In March of 1945, the college acquired 49 Commonwealth, and in April of 1945, it applied for (and subsequently received) permission to combine the two houses and cut doorways in the party wall on several floors.
49 Commonwealth became Simmons College’s Prince School of Retailing, and 51 Commonwealth became its School of Social Work. From the mid-1960s, the School of Social Work (later the School of Social Service) occupied both buildings.
On September 11, 2002, 49-51 Commonwealth were purchased from Simmons College by Beal Ventures XI, LLC (Robert L. Beal, manager). In August of 2002, prior to finalizing the acquisition, Beal Ventures filed for (and subsequently received) permission to remodel the buildings into nine units, with an underground parking garage for fourteen vehicles.
On October 30, 2003, it converted the property into eight condominium units, the Fifty-One Commonwealth Condominium. Several of the condominiums were purchased by the same owner and combined, and in February of 2004, Beal Ventures filed for (and subsequently received) permission to reduce the number of units to five.