491 Beacon (21-23 Massachusetts) is located on the SW corner of Beacon and Massachusetts Avenue, with 483 Beacon to the east, across Massachusetts Ave., 495-497 Beacon to the west, 7-9 Massachusetts/504 Beacon to the north, across Beacon, and 25-27 Massachusetts to the south.
491 Beacon (21-23 Massachusetts Avenue) was designed by architect Ernest N. Boyden and built in 1891 by John Hurley, mason, as a three unit apartment building and store, for real estate dealer Seth Russell Baker. It was one of three contiguous buildings designed by Ernest Boyden and built for Seth Baker at the southwest corner of Beacon and Massachusetts Avenue. 25-27 Massachusetts Avenue, also a three unit apartment building and store, was built at the same time, and 495-497 Beacon, a four-unit apartment building, was built the previous year.
Also in 1891, Seth Baker had three apartment houses built near the southeast corner of Beacon and Massachusetts Avenue, at at 479–481–483 Beacon (483 Beacon was razed for construction of the Hotel Cambridge in 1898). They also were designed by Ernest Boyden.
Seth Baker is shown as the owner of 491 Beacon on the original building permit application for 491 Beacon, dated February 28, 1891. On the application, the address is shown as 491-495 Beacon, corner 470 West Chester Park (West Chester Park was renamed Massachusetts Avenue on March 1, 1894).
Seth Baker purchased the land for 491 Beacon (21-23 Massachusetts Avenue), 25-27 Massachusetts Avenue, and 495-497 Beacon in two transactions. On April 25, 1890, he purchased the corner lot, with a frontage of 44 feet on Beacon and 93 feet on Massachusetts Avenue, from Henry Lee, H. Hollis Hunnewell, and Augustus Lowell, and on May 3, 1890, he purchased the lot to the west, with a 28 foot frontage on Beacon, from Oscar L. Stillings. Oscar Stillings had purchased the lot on August 14, 1888, from Henry Lee and his partners.
All of the land originally had been part of a larger parcel that Henry Lee and his partners purchased on February 20, 1883, from a real estate investment trust formed by Grenville T. W. Braman, Henry D. Hyde, and Frank W. Andrews. The parcel was one of several tracts of land the trust had purchased from the Boston Water Power Company on March 1, 1872.
In subdividing their land, Henry Lee and his partners had created two passageways to provide access and drainage to the alley: a four foot wide passageway at the rear of 499 Beacon and 501 Beacon, connecting with a six foot wide passageway extending south behind 29 Massachusetts Avenue. Unlike similar passageways elsewhere in the Back Bay (for example, at the rear of houses facing on the side streets), these passageways were not created as easements over the lots, but as separate open spaces “appurtenant to the granted premises” to which each property owner had access in common with the owners of the other the abutting properties.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 491 Beacon (21-23 Massachusetts Avenue), 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.
Seth Baker sold all three buildings as they were being completed: 495-497 Beacon in October of 1890, 25-27 Massachusetts Avenue in July of 1891, and 491 Beacon in October of 1891. The deeds included a three and one-half foot wide easement across the rear 495-497 Beacon and a six foot wide easement across the rear of 25-27 Massachusetts Avenue, connecting to the passageways leading to the alley.
In September and October of 1891, as 491 Beacon was approaching completion, real estate dealer Henry Wilson Savage advertised the new apartments. His September 1, 1891, advertisement in the Boston Post described them as “new sunny suites of 10 rooms and bath; every room outside; extra large closets; marble halls, stairs and bath rooms; 5 bay windows; hardwood floors; onyx fireplaces, etc.; rents reasonable; discount to parties desiring to engage now and occupy later.”
On October 1, 1891, 491 Beacon was purchased from Seth Baker by Eugene Hamilton Fay. He and his wife, Emma Frances (Hutchins) Lewis Fay, lived in Chelsea. He was associated with Henry W. Savage, listing himself in the City Directories as a clerk at the same business address. On the same day, Eugene Fay also purchased 479-481-483 Beacon from Seth Baker.
On October 31, 1891, 491 Beacon was purchased from Eugene Fay by retail clothing merchant and banker Abraham Shuman. He and his wife, Hettie (Lang) Shuman, lived at 60 Vernon in Roxbury. After her death in June of 1904, he moved to 90 Commonwealth.
By mid-1891, the corner store at 21 Massachusetts Avenue (472 West Chester Park) was a pharmacy operated by William Dexter Wheeler. He previously had been a clerk with John G. Godding & Co., druggists, located at 278 Dartmouth (149 Newbury). He continued to maintain his store there until about 1907. By 1908, it had become a branch of John G. Godding & Co., which also continued to be located at 278 Dartmouth. It continued to be located there in 1918. By 1920, it had become the Miller Drug Company, operated by Max Samuel Miller.
By 1897, an additional (fifth) story had been added to the 23 Massachusetts Avenue portion of the building and to 25-27 Massachusetts Avenue.
On March 31, 1923, 491 Beacon was acquired from Abraham Shuman’s estate by Carroll T. Donohue, who conveyed it on April 2, 1923, to real estate dealer Ira W. Shapira, as trustee of the Inverness Realty Trust.
In about 1924, the storefront at 23 Massachusetts Avenue became The Esplanade Restaurant. It was owned by the Caracostas family, who were confectioners doing business as Caracostas Brothers. The partners were Angelo (Evangelos) E. Caracostas, John (Johannes) E. Caracostas, James (Dimitrios) E. Caracostas, and Peter (Panagiotis) E. Caracostas, all children of Efstradios and Irene (Erini) (Kuses) Caracostas.
The Caracostas family also operated a restaurant, the Chimes Spa, at 328 Massachusetts Avenue (corner of Huntington), and in August of 1926, the Chimes Spa Company purchased 25-27 Massachusetts Avenue, after which they expanded The Esplanade Restaurant (later the Esplanade Café) into 25 Massachusetts Avenue. It remained at 23-25 Massachusetts Avenue until about 1949, when the Esplanade Café terminated its lease at 23 Massachusetts Avenue and expanded into 495-497 Beacon, which it purchased in June of 1949.
On February 26, 1925, 491 Beacon was acquired by Bertha (Levitt/Leavitt) Miller, the wife of Max Samuel Miller, who operated the pharmacy in the corner storefront at 21 Massachusetts Avenue. After purchasing the building, the Millers moved to one of the apartments; they previously had lived in Cambridge and before that in Revere. Max Miller also operated a drug store on Bennington Street in East Boston.
In June of 1957, Max Miller filed for (and subsequently received) permission to legalize the occupancy of 491 Beacon as four apartments and one store, indicating that the “building has been used as a store and 4 family as long as around 15 years to my knowledge.”
Max Miller died in September of 1964. Bertha Miller continued to live at 491 Beacon in apartment 1. The Miller Drug Company continued to operate at 21-23 Massachusetts Avenue, managed by the Millers’ son, Eugene M. Miller. He and his wife, Susan (Lement) Miller, lived in apartment 2 at 491 Beacon.
In March of 1967, Bertha Miller acquired 25-27 Massachusetts Avenue from Edward J. Goodfellow. He also owned 495-497 Beacon, which he continued to own.
Bertha Miller died in January of 1973. 491 Beacon and 25-27 Massachusetts Avenue were inherited by her three sons: Eugene, James, and Sidney Miller.
The Miller Drug Company closed at about the same time and Eugene and Susan Miller moved elsewhere.
On May 31, 1979, 491 Beacon and 25-27 Massachusetts Avenue were purchased from the Miller family by David G. Ricupero.
In March of 1981, David Ricupero filed for permission to combined 491 Beacon and 25-27 Massachusetts into one property, with the address to be 491 Beacon and the combined occupancy to be eleven apartments, a retail store, and a restaurant, which he indicated was the existing occupancy. He subsequently abandoned the permit.
In August of 1982, he applied for (and subsequently received) permission to legalize the occupancy of 491 Beacon as seven apartments, a retail store, and a restaurant.
491 Beacon remained a residential and commercial building in 2020.