56 Commonwealth was designed by architect George Nelson Jacobs and built in 1930 as a five story, 22-family apartment house. It was built for real estate dealer Frederick E. Johnston, who is shown as the owner on the original building permit application, dated February 10, 1930.
Plans for the building — including elevations, floor plans, framing plans, and foundation and steel bracing plans — are included in the City of Boston Blueprints Collection in the Boston City Archives (reference BIN P-77).
56 Commonwealth replaced a townhouse which had been razed in April-May of 1930. It had been acquired on January 20, 1930, by Arthur Russell, a salesman with Frederick Johnston’s firm. On June 25, 1930, after the house was demolished, the property was transferred to Frederick Johnston.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 56 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 436, from Berkeley to Clarendon.
On January 21, 1931, 56 Commonwealth was acquired from Frederick Johnston by George J. Wilson. On June 18, 1935, the Charlestown Five Cents Savings Bank foreclosed on its mortgage to George Wilson and took possession of the property. On March 27, 1940, it was acquired from the bank by the General Commonwealth Corporation.
Irving Boyer (Israel Levine) and his wife, Nellie (Raphael) Boyer, owned The Sheraton Shop, a furniture store at 717 Boylston. They lived in Newton. Samuel M. Lewis was a manufacturer; he and his wife, Sally E. (Kramer) Lewis, lived in Chestnut Hill.
On November 6, 1945, Irving Boyer and Samuel Lewis transferred the property to Mutual Associates, Inc., of Boston, of which Irving Boyer was the president and Samuel Lewis the treasurer. Mutual Associates also owned 60 Commonwealth.
On June 1, 1959, Mutual Associates transferred 56 Commonwealth and 60 Commonwealth back to Irving Boyer and Samuel Lewis, and on the same day it was acquired by Southeast Management Corporation.
On July 1, 1971, Southeast Manager Corporation liquidated its assets and transferred 56 Commonwealth and 60 Commonwealth to Robert Gordon and Lola Jacobson. Robert Gordon was treasurer of Southeast Management. On July 1, 1971, they transferred both properties to Phyllis Norman.
In July of 1974, Phyllis Norman filed for (and subsequently received) permission to legalize the number of units as 23 (rather than 22), reflecting the original 22 units plus the superintendent’s apartment, which existed since the building was built but was not included as a separate dwelling unit in the original permit application.
On August 1, 1974, both properties were acquired back from Phyllis Norman by Robert Gordon and Lola Jacobson. On the same day, they were acquired by Norman G. Gear, trustee of the 56 and 60 Commonwealth Associates Trust.
On September 30, 1974, he converted 56 Commonwealth into 28 condominium units (having subdivided five apartments to achieve the increased number) and 60 Commonwealth into eight condominium units. Although separate buildings, with a building between them, the two buildings were converted into a single condominium: the 56 and 60 Commonwealth Condominium.
56 Commonwealth (Demolished)
The original house at 56 Commonwealth was designed by Snell and Gregerson, architects, and built ca. 1866, by Standish and Woodbury, masons. It had been one of four contiguous homes (54-56-58-60 Commonwealth) built at the same time in a Georgian Revival style, with bow fronts and balustraded parapets above the main cornice.
56 Commonwealth was built as the home of Maria (Francoeur) Sayles, the widow of Willard Sayles, a textile manufacturer and merchant, on land she purchased from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on January 4, 1866. At the same time, her son, banker and broker Henry Sayles, had 58 Commonwealth built next door to the west, and her son-in-law and daughter, Dr. John Cauldwell Sharp and Helen Sharp, had their home built next door to the east, at 54 Commonwealth. Henry Sayles lived only briefly at 58 Commonwealth, if at all, and by 1868 was living with his mother at 56 Commonwealth. He was unmarried. In 1869, Maria Sayles’s son-in-law and daughter, John Reed Brewer and Caroline Francoeur (Sayles) Brewer, built 72 Commonwealth as their home, and in 1870, her daughter-in-law, Jane Hereford (Hallett) Sayles, the widow of Francis Willard Sayles, built 74 Commonwealth as her home.
Maria Sayles died in February of 1874. In her will, she left 56 Commonwealth to Henry Sayles and he continued to live at there until about 1876. He also maintained homes in Brookline and in Bar Harbor, Maine. He had moved by 1877 and subsequently maintained his Boston residence at the Somerset Club, leasing 56 Commonwealth to others.
By the 1876-1877 winter season, it was the home of Arthur Cheney and his wife, Emeline (Lewis) Cheney. They previously had lived at 131 Boylston. Arthur Cheney was Boston agent for his family’s silk manufacturing mills in South Manchester, Connecticut. In the 1860s, he and Dexter H. Follett had built Selwyn’s Theatre in Boston, later renamed the Globe Theatre; from the early 1870s, Arthur Cheney both owned and managed the theatre. He died in October of 1878.
During the 1878-1879 winter season, 56 Commonwealth was the home of former China shipping merchant James Murray Forbes and his wife Alice (Bowditch) Forbes. They previously had lived at 249 Berkeley. By 1880, they had moved to a new home they had built at 107 Commonwealth.
By the 1879-1880 winter season, 56 Commonwealth was the home of attorney Charles Taylor Lovering and his wife, Marian Shaw (Sears) Lovering. They continued to live there during the 1880-1881 winter season, but moved soon thereafter to their newly-completed home at 263 Commonwealth.
By the 1881-1882 winter season, 56 Commonwealth was the home of William Arnold Buffum, a noted collector of amber, and his wife, Marian (Simmons) Buffum. They previously had lived at 222 Beacon. They continued to live at 56 Commonwealth in 1886.
By the 1886-1887 winter season, 56 Commonwealth had become the home of Henry Sayles’s brother-in-law and sister, Charles Francis and Harriet (Sayles) Francis. They previously had lived in Newton, and before that in New York City. They also maintained a home in Bar Harbor. He was a retired silk importer and wholesale dry goods merchant.
Charles and Harriet Frances had four children: Charles Frances, Jr., Henry Sayles Francis, Harriet Sayles Francis, and George Tappan Francis.
Charles Francis, Jr., had married in September of 1884 to Fannie Long and was a farmer in Florida. Harriet Francis had married in April of 1883 to Herbert Jaques, an architect; they lived in Chestnut Hill. Henry S. Francis was a wool dealer; he was unmarried and lived with his parents at 56 Commonwealth. G. Tappan Francis was a mechanical engineer; he lived in Newton until about 1890, when he moved to Chicago.
Charles Francis and Henry S, Francis continued to live at 56 Commonwealth. During the 1891-1892 winter season, they were joined by Herbert Jaques and Harriet (Francis) Jaques, who resumed living in Chestnut Hill the next season. After the 1892-1893 season, Charles and Henry Francis moved temporarily from 56 Commonwealth, Charles Francis to the Union Club at 8 Park and Henry S. Francis to 3 Spruce.
During the next three winter seasons, 56 Commonwealth was the home of woolen manufacturer Frederic Simmons Clark and his wife Isabella (Talbot) Clark. They previously had lived at 181 Beacon. By the 1896-1897 season, they had moved to 17 Commonwealth.
By the 1896-1897 winter season, Charles and Henry Francis were living at 56 Commonwealth again, joined by Herbert and Harriet Jaques, who also continued to have a home in Chestnut Hill and also a home at Schooner Head on Mt. Desert, Maine. In about 1899, they were joined by Charles Francis’s son, G. Tappan Francis, who moved back to Boston from Chicago.
In December of 1899, Charles Francis married again, to Jeannette E. Ridgeway (Hayden) Herrick Martin, the widow of Edwin Herrick and of Isaac P. Martin. They and the Jaqueses moved soon thereafter. The Jaqueses resumed living in Chestnut Hill; Charles and Jeannette Francis probably moved to Bar Harbor; he died in April of 1903 in Atlanta, Georgia.
G. Tappan Francis continued to live at 56 Commonwealth and, by the 1900-1901 winter season, had been joined by his uncle, Henry Sayles (who continued to own the house). In April of 1901, G. Tappan Francis married Frances Coren Brown of Highland Park, Illinois. After their marriage, they lived at 56 Commonwealth.
G. Tappan Francis continued to work as a mechanical engineer. From about 1905 to 1911, he was superintendent of the Chickering Piano factory at 791 Tremont, and from 1912 to 1915 was treasurer and superintendent of the United Printing Machine Company.
In 1909, they built a second home in Charles River Village in Needham.
Henry Sayles died in March of 1918, and 56 Commonwealth was inherited from him by G. Tappan Francis.
The Francises continued to live at 56 Commonwealth until about 1929, when they moved to an apartment at 172 Beacon.
On July 29, 1929, 56 Commonwealth was purchased from George Tappan Francis by Edward Girard McCarthy. The property subsequently changed hands and was acquired on January 20, 1930, by Arthur Russell, a real estate salesman in the firm of Frederick E. Johnston. The house was demolished in April-May of 1930, and on June 25, 1930, the property was transferred to Frederick E. Johnston.