By Marilyn Jackson
After years of debate among the Commonwealth, the city land commissioners and the Boston Water Company, the Commonwealth in 1859 first began filling the Back Bay tidal flats block by block from the Public Garden at Arlington Street to Clarendon Street. One of the earliest homes to be built on the new land was the Gibson House, now a Victorian house museum, constructed on Beacon Street in 1860.
A year later along the sunny north side of Commonwealth Avenue five elegant homes – Nos. 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 appeared on the first block from the Public Garden, all standing at least 20 feet back from the grand Parisian style boulevard.
The distinctive home at 7-9 Commonwealth Ave. was designed in the French and Academic style as a double house, with a grand recessed entry framed by Corinthian columns, three-story bays and a slate mansard roof with decorative ornamental ironwork. The architect is unknown.
All that changed, however, in 1937, when the building at 9 Commonwealth Ave. was butchered and converted to 13 apartments. Brick replaced the limestone façade, the front stairs were removed to create a new street level entry, a new floor was added, windows were enlarged and the mansard roof was altered.
Now, 77 years later in a joint venture of Boston Residential Development of Boston and Luzern Associates LLC of Westport, CT., Nine Commonwealth is being restored to its glory, creating five spectacular condominiums within and adding a limestone veneer to the facade that compliments the flanking buildings.
“It’s a coveted address, location and block. Something special had to be recreated, and that’s under way,” said Kevin J. Ahearn, president of Otis & Ahearn Real Estate and a principal in the joint venture.
Michael Durand, president of Back Bay Construction, the general contractor, is also a principal of Boston Residential Development. Michael Moran of Otis & Ahearn Real Estate is marketing the homes, and three of them – the penthouse duplex and Units 3 and 4 – are already under agreement. The homes will be completed next June.
Listed at $3.7 million, Residence 2 will comprise three bedrooms and three baths in a floor-through layout designed by noted Back Bay architect John Meyer of Meyer & Meyer Inc.
Unit 1, a four bedroom, four bath duplex with 3,880 square feet of living space, will be listed at $6.2 million. It is not yet on the market, said Moran.
“This is a boutique building, and the lobby will be intimate, with a marble floor, detailed picture molding and custom millwork, similar to the Carlyle Hotel in New York,” said Moran.
The lobby will have an elevator with key fob access to each floor, he said. Next to it will be the staircase.
In Unit 2 the elevator will open into a small vestibule tiled with Calcutta radiance scallop marble and double doors that will swing into an expansive and open living/dining room with a large three window bay. A gas fireplace will have a wood mantelpiece and a marble surround, and the entire room will have American walnut flooring, laid in a her ringbone pattern.
The kitchen will be open to the dining room, which will be furnished with top-of-the-line Energy Star appliances, including a Wolf six-burner dual fuel range and a custom- designed range hood, a Sub-Zero refrigerator and a 24-bottle wine cooler, a stainless steel Sharp under counter microwave drawer and a Bosch dishwasher.
A long center island with breakfast seating will face the dining area, and perpendicular to the island will be a built-in china cabinet. The walnut-stained island, which will match the flooring, will be topped with Calcutta gold marble or Caesarstone, at the buyer’s request. The countertops will match. The European style cabinetry, painted linen white, will have raised panels.
Beyond the kitchen will be a gallery, off which will be two bedrooms and a good sized laundry room. The master bedroom suite will be at the far end of the residence, with windows on two exposures. The suite will include a luxurious en suite bath with a deep cast iron clawfoot tub and a frameless glass enclosed shower with a rain showerhead and hand-held shower wand. The flooring will be tiled with Carrara marble and the vanity, at the buyer’s choice, will be topped with dark Bardiglio marble or Caesarstone or will be a double washstand. The Toto toilet will be opposite the shower.
The master will have an abundance of closets as well as a built-in desk in a dressing area.
Closets in the second bedroom will occupy an entire wall. Its bath will feature a combination tub/shower with a Carrara marble surround and enclosed by frameless glass. This bath will have Waterworks features, a Toto toilet and a vanity cabinet with a single sink and topped with Carrara marble. The flooring will be a Carrara marble mosaic accented with dark Bardiglio.
Next to this bath will be a full-sized laundry with a side-by-side washer and dryer. An interior utility room for the mechanicals will be housed within this space.
The third bedroom, which could be a study, will be located at the front of the residence, off the living room. Adjacent to this room will be a full bath with a glass-enclosed shower tiled with basket weave Carrara marble with Bardiglio dot accents and a single, two-leg washstand. Or the buyer could choose a European-designed custom vanity topped with rich Nero Marquina marble or with Caesarstone. An outdoor deeded parking space will be included with this home.
Residence 1, listed at $6.2 million, has been designed for four bedrooms and four baths. Its floor plan on the upper level is similar to that in Residences 2, 3 and 4 with the same quality finishes and millwork, except that there will be an interior staircase open to the floor below, and the laundry room will be moved to the other side of the gallery, replacing the second bedroom.
On the lower level the front room, which has a bay window and a fireplace, will have built-in shelving and a desk and a double door closet. Outside this room will be two more closets and an exercise room. Toward the back of the building will be two bedrooms. The smaller bedroom will have an en suite bath that also can be accessed from the hallway and a second door into the gallery. This bath will have a glass-enclosed, marble-tiled shower.
Opposite this bedroom will be a smaller laundry room with a side-by-side washer and dryer and a sink and a hallway with a built-in desk that will lead into an expansive bed- room, which could be a second master suite. It will have a huge walk-in closet, plus a second closet, and an en suite bath with an over-sized shower and a double vanity.
Two deeded garage parking spaces will be included with this condominium.
The penthouse, Residence 5, which is under agreement, will have three bedrooms, four baths and a magnificent, deep roof terrace that will span the entire 28-foot-plus width of the building. The top floor, which will be set back and clad in copper, will have an expansive eat-in kitchen with a center island that will hold two dishwashers and will have a built-in coffeemaker next to the range. On the far side of the kitchen will be a wine cooler.
A powder room will be next to the open dining/living room, where a wall of windows and a glass door to the roof terrace will fill this room with abundant natural light. Near the door will be a wet bar.
Converting Nine Commonwealth to exclusive condominiums has been complicated, but redesigning the exterior has been a bigger, multi-faceted challenge.
“We knew that we wanted to bring this building back to its original” appearance, said Moran.
“The new design required a stone that would match 7 Commonwealth Ave., plus a strong, two-story stone base had to be reassembled and then made to fit naturally over the shifted doors and windows,” said Meyer in his architect’s statement.
“New floors and floor heights had to be determined, and new windows cut and resized, then architectural details added to the new façade.
“The most difficult task was to recreate the stone horizontal banding of 7 Commonwealth Ave. and extend it across the new façade… New mansard, scalloped slate roofs and copper skylights had to be added as well.
“In the end, Nine Commonwealth is a statement of neighborhood respect and appreciation on the exterior and a thoroughly modern program of new systems and gracious living space within,” Meyer wrote.
The building has been hidden by a green construction wrap for months but should be unveiled in December, said Moran.