78 Commonwealth was designed by architect John Craig and built in 1922-1923 by Michael Seretto, a building contractor, as a seven-story (including the basement), seven-family apartment house. It replaced a brownstone townhouse built ca. 1872, which Michael Seretto purchased on May 7, 1922.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 78 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 436, from Berkeley to Clarendon.
In July of 1922, Michael Seretto filed a permit application seeking to significantly remodel the original structure, removing the front façade and remodeling the interior into a five-family dwelling.
In August, he filed a new permit application, seeking to remodel the house even further, in essence rebuilding it with only the party walls remaining. The application was denied and he appealed the decision to the Board of Appeal.
On August 16, 1922, the Board of Appeal granted his petition. The decision summarized the proposal as follows: “The building in question is a five-story dwelling house, which the appellant desires to remodel. The remodeling, however, is so extensive a nature as to practically constitute an entirely new building. In accordance with the law, the appellant could rebuild using second-class construction; he desires, however, to make the changes using first-class construction, altering the height of each story so as to make a six-story building in place of a five. The total height of the building, however, is increased only 15 feet.”
Plans for the building — including elevations, floor plans, and framing plans — are included in the City of Boston Blueprints Collection in the Boston Public Library’s Arts Department (reference BIN G-50).
Michael Seretto died in April of 1924.
On September 5, 1925, the Exchange Trust Company foreclosed on its mortgage to Michael Seretto, and on October 9, 1925, it sold the property to wholesale men’s furnishings dealer Edwin J. Dreyfus and retail clothier Simon Vorenberg.
In May 6 of 1927, 78 Commonwealth was acquired from Edwin Dreyfus and Simon Vorenberg by the Haymarket Realty Corporation, of which Simon Vorenberg was the president.
By 1928, real estate dealers T. Dennie Boardman, Reginald Boardman, and Richard deBlois Boardman served as rental agents for the building. In a brochure from about 1928, they indicated that there was one apartment (“suite”) on each floor, each with two rooms, a kitchenette, and a bathroom.
78 Commonwealth subsequently changed hands, remaining an apartment house. Over the years, the number of apartments was increased from seven to nine.
On December 15, 1961, 78 Commonwealth was acquired by real estate broker Mark R. Gellis. He and his wife, Julia Arline (Berlin) Gellis, lived in one of the apartments.
On May 2, 1977, 78 Commonwealth was purchased from Mark Gellis by real estate broker and investor Patrick J. Glynn and his wife, Anne T. (Kelly) Glynn. In April of 1987, they converted the apartments into nine condominium units, the 78 Commonwealth Avenue Condominium. They continued to own all of the units.
In January of 1991, the Glynns transferred the units to themselves as trustees of the 78 Commonwealth Avenue Trust, and in December of 1996, they transferred them to the Glynn Realty Associates 1 LLC.
78 Commonwealth (Demolished)
The original townhouse at 78 Commonwealth was built ca. 1872 by Charles J. Fox, a mason and builder, one of three contiguous houses (76-78-80 Commonwealth) he built for speculative sale. All three houses were Brownstone Gothic in style, designed as a symmetrical grouping: 76 Commonwealth and 80 Commonwealth as mirror opposites with bays flanking 78 Commonwealth with a flat façade. 78 Commonwealth was replaced in 1922-1923, the fenestration on the second and third stories of 80 Commonwealth was altered sometime prior to the early 1940s, and the original mansard and Gothic dormers of 76 Commonwealth were replaced in the early 1970s.
Charles Fox purchased the land for 76-78-80 Commonwealth in three transactions: two 26 foot wide lots he acquired from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on July 5, 1871, and January 31, 1872, and a four foot wide strip to the west he bought from Edward Ingersoll Browne on July 5, 1871, part of a 26 foot lot Edward I. Browne had acquired from the Commonwealth on April 28, 1871. Charles Fox subdivided the combined 56 foot lot into three lots, each 18 feet 8 inches in width.
On April 29, 1873, 78 Commonwealth was purchased from Charles Fox by Carmi Emery King. He and his wife, Margaret F. (Rogers) King, made it their home. They previously had lived in Jamaica Plain. He was a dry goods merchant dealing in small wares, trimmings, yarn, and similar items, and also president of the Mt. Vernon National Bank.
They continued to live at 78 Commonwealth for the 1879-1880 winter season, but had moved to the Hotel Huntington (Huntington at Blagden) by mid-1880.
On November 20, 1879, 78 Commonwealth was acquired by Miss Mary Miranda Wood. That same month, she also acquired 76 Commonwealth.
Mary Wood was daughter of real estate and insurance dealer Charles Austin Wood and his wife, Caroline Elizabeth (Wilson) Wood, with whom she lived. Charles Wood had been the owner and operator of the Hotel Vendôme, which he had sold the month before, and 76-78 Commonwealth probably were purchased by Mary Wood on her father’s behalf.
Soon after acquiring 76-78 Commonwealth, Mary Wood offered both houses for sale. A December 15, 1879, advertisement in the Boston Journal by real estate dealer Alexander S. Porter described them as “in perfect order and ready for immediate occupancy.”
76 Commonwealth sold, but 78 Commonwealth did not, and the Wood family made it their home during the 1880-1881 winter season; by the next season they were living at 87 Chester Square.
On February 9, 1881, 78 Commonwealth was acquired from Mary Wood by retired real estate investor William Augustus Prescott. He and his wife, Georgietta A. (Redding) Prescott , made it their home. They previously had lived at 72 Chester Square.
Georgietta Prescott died in November of 1885 and William Prescott died in January of 1895. After his death, 78 Commonwealth became the home of their daughter, Edith Sprague Prescott, and one or more of her unmarried sisters, Caroline Page Prescott and Ella Frances Prescott.
The Misses Prescott continued to live at 78 Commonwealth until about April of 1906, when Edith Prescott married to Benjamin Humphrey Dorr, a real estate dealer who lived in Dover. He was a widower.
On May 7, 1906, 78 Commonwealth was purchased from William Prescott’s estate by William K. Porter. He and his wife, Arline F. (Pickett) Porter, made it their home. They previously had lived at 3 Allen.
William Porter was a stable owner and real estate investor, credited at one point with owning more separate parcels of real estate than any other Bostonian.
The Porters’ son, William, Jr., had died in December of 1905, and his widow, Daisy (Cutler) Porter, lived with them at 78 Commonwealth.
William Porter died in May of 1912. Arline Porter and Daisy Porter continued to live at 78 Commonwealth until about 1918, but had moved to the Hotel Vendôme by 1919.
78 Commonwealth was not listed in the 1919-1923 Blue Books.
On May 7, 1922, 78 Commonwealth was purchased from the estate of William K. Porter by building contractor Michael Seretto, who subsequently replaced it with an apartment building.