86 Commonwealth was built in 1874 by Theophilus P. Briggs, a carpenter and builder, for Cornelia Jane (Bangs) Thomas, the widow of merchant and banker William Thomas. Bainbridge Bunting’s Houses of Boston’s Back Bay indicates that Theophilus Briggs also was the architect of 86 Commonwealth.
Cornelia Thomas purchased the land for 86 Commonwealth on March 26, 1874, from Joseph Brown Tilton. He had purchased it from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on October 31, 1865.
Click here for an index to the deeds for 86 Commonwealth, and click here for further information about the land between the south side of Commonwealth and Alley 436, from Berkeley to Clarendon.
In late April of 1874, Theophilus Briggs received a permit to build the house (reported by the Boston Globe on April 27, 1874), and construction probably started soon thereafter. On August 3, 1874, 86 Commonwealth was cited at a hearing of the Board of Aldermen as being among several houses that had been recently completed or were under construction “the cellars or basements of which are below the established city grade of twelve feet” (reported by the Boston Globe and Boston Post on August 4, 1874).
By the 1875-1876 winter season, Cornelia Thomas had made 86 Commonwealth her home. She previously had lived at 10 Marlborough.
Cornelia Thomas’s father, Benjamin Bangs, had died in June of 1860. In his will, he left one third of the residue of his estate to Cornelia (whom he called Jane C.), to be held in trust with the income paid to her during her lifetime and the principal to be distributed upon her death as she designed in her will. He left the other two thirds to his other two daughters — Mary, the wife of Elijah Williams, and Charlotte Augusta, the wife of Samuel Bradstreet – in similar trusts. He provided separately for the children of his fourth daughter, Susan, the wife of Harrison Clark Bryant, who had predeceased him.
On March 26,1877, Cornelia Thomas entered into a mortgage with her brother-in-law, Elijah Williams, as trustee of Benjamin Bangs’s estate, and on August 18, 1877, he transferred the mortgage to William Minot and William Minot, Jr., the trustees for the trust established in Benjamin Bangs’s will for the benefit of Cornelia Thomas. On April 9, 1878, they foreclosed on the mortgage and took possession of the property.
Cornelia Thomas continued to live at 86 Commonwealth until her death in December of 1893.
On April 15, 1894, the trustees of the estate of Benjamin Bangs transferred 86 Commonwealth to William Minot, Jr., and Edward Bangs, the trustees named in Cornelia Thomas’s will. It became part of the residue of her estate, which she left, in four equal parts, to her sister, Charlotte Augusta (Bangs) Bradstreet, the widow of Samuel Bradstreet, and to the children of her deceased sister, Susan (Bangs) Bryant: Harrison Clark Bryant, Helen Augusta (Bryant) Stevens (wife of Horace Holley Stevens), and Mary Bangs (Bryant) Boardman (wife of William Boardman).
By 1895, 86 Commonwealth was the home of Cornelia Thomas’s sister, Charlotte A. (Bangs) Bradstreet. She previously had lived had lived on Blue Hill Avenue.
On May 22, 1911, 86 Commonwealth was acquired from Cornelia Thomas’s heirs by Leslie (McGregor) Morison, the widow of attorney Frank Morison. She previously had lived at 150 Commonwealth.
Leslie Morison’s son-in-law and daughter, attorney Clifton Long Bremer and Leslie McGregor (Morison) Bremer, lived with her. They previously had lived in Cohasset. They continued to live at 86 Commonwealth until about 1916, when they moved to Milton.
Leslie Morison continued to live at 86 Commonwealth until her death in 1926.
On April 29, 1927, 86 Commonwealth was purchased from Leslie Morison by Ethel (Makowsky) Barron, the wife of Dr. Maurice Edward Barron, a surgeon. They lived in Brookline.
On May 31, 1927, 86 Commonwealth was purchased from Ethel Barron by Dr. Hubert Joseph Williams. The sale was reported by the Boston Globe on July 3, 1927, with the seller identified as the Ross Development Corporation.
Hubert Williams was a physician and also maintained his office in the house. He previously had lived and maintained his office at 130 Newbury.
Hubert Joseph Williams was born Hubert Joseph Beugnies, but changed his surname to Williams at the time of his first marriage in July of 1901 to Muriel Williams. His daughter, Beatrice (Williams) Haskell, and grand-daughter, Mildred Haskell, lived with him. Beatrice Haskell was the estranged wife of textile manufacturer Henry Carvill Haskell; they were divorced in 1929.
On October 2, 1930, Hubert Williams transferred 86 Commonwealth to his daughter, Beatrice Haskell. They continued to live there until about 1932.
On October 13, 1932, 86 Commonwealth was acquired from Beatrice Haskell by Thomas George, and on November 26, 1932, it was acquired from him by Willis L. Harding.
On May 13, 1933, the Franklin Savings Bank foreclosed on its mortgage to Beatrice Haskell (which the subsequent owners had assumed) and took possession of 86 Commonwealth. It continued to own the property until 1942.
The house was not listed in the 1933-1937 Blue Books, and was shown as vacant in the 1933-1935 City Directories
In November of 1934, the Bank applied for (and subsequently received) permission to convert the house into four apartments. In 1935, it applied to add a two car garage, but subsequently abandoned the permit.
On May 15, 1942, 86 Commonwealth was acquired by the Newbury Investment Corporation, one of several companies owned by real estate investor Miss Bertha Evelyn Cohen. In March of 1954, Newbury Investment applied for (and subsequently received) permission to increase the number of apartments from four to seven. In February of 1955, it applied for (and subsequently received) permission to further increase the number of apartments to eight.
Bertha Cohen died in February of 1965. In her obituary, published February 2, 1965, and a profile article published on February 7, 1965, the Boston Globe noted that she had come to the United States from Poland as a young girl, first had worked as a milliner in Roxbury and then at Chandler’s Department Store, and then began buying property. She ultimately owned a large number of properties in Cambridge and Boston, and was “known as the woman ‘who owns Harvard Square.’“
Newbury Investment liquidated its holdings and on March 31, 1965, it transferred 86 Commonwealth and a number of other properties to Herbert Gibson, administrator of Bertha E. Cohen’s estate.
On October 20, 1970, 86 Commonwealth and sixteen other parcels were purchased from Bertha Cohen’s estate by real estate developer Max Wasserman. He transferred the properties to his affiliated company, Jacet Construction Corporation.
On November 25, 1970, 86 Commonwealth was acquired from the Jacet Construction Company by Miss Florence Beth Pockwinse. She lived at 31 Brimmer and owned several other properties in the Back Bay, most of which she operated as lodging houses.
On July 17, 1972, 86 Commonwealth was purchased from Florence Beth Pockwinse by real estate dealer Jean Elizabeth (Mahoney) Hanlon, the wife of John Hanlon. The Hanlons lived at 11 Pinckney and later at 96 Pinckney.
On October 1, 1973, 86 Commonwealth was purchased from Jean E. Hanlon by Robert Mercurio.
86 Commonwealth subsequently changed hands. It continued to be an apartment house as of 2015.