If you live in the Back Bay, you probably know The Sisters. You might not know that that’s what they’re called though. 128 and 130 Commonwealth Ave are 2 iconic Back Bay single family homes. They don’t fit in. They’re not brick, they’re not brownstone. They’re not mid/late 19th century revivals or Victorian. They’re Beaux-arts styled white limestone.
I originally was just going to have a light little post with a few pictures, but the more I dug the more interesting the stories got. A huge shout out to www.backbayhouses.org. It's an amazing resource and if you're into the Back Bay, I highly recommend you check it out.
Here’s what my light research has told me. It's going to be a little confusing, but I chose to go in chronological order as opposed to separating each building's story. 128 Commonwealth Avenue and 130 Commonwealth Avenue were designed by Samuel Kelley and built by Antoine Xavier in 1882. 128 Comm was for Samuel Shapleigh while 130 Comm was for William Seavy Rand. Both of whom, were contractors.
In 1883, Shapleigh sold 128 to Col. Jonas French and Rand sold 130 to Edmund and Sally Bennet.
Jonas Harrod French served as Lieutenant Colonel in the Union army, and was mayor of New Orleans for 18 days in 1862. He was also president of the Cape Anne Granite Company, and director of the Maverick National Bank in Eastie. In 1891, he got found out for embezzling and was arrested at the home. He was required to sell the home to pay restitution.
Edmund Hatch Bennet was a State Attorney of Vermont and later judge of the Vermont Supreme Court. After moving to Massachusetts, he served as Taunton’s first mayor and while residing in 130 was the Dean of Boston University Law School. And to bring it on home, he received his education from the Litchfield Law School in Litchfield, CT.
Bennet sold 130 Comm to George and Sarah Brooks in 1890. Brooks was a local real estate investor who previously lived in his development at 295-297 Beacon. They also had a summer home in Swampscott.
Dr. Dwight Moses Clapp purchased 130 Comm from Sarah Brooks in 1898. He was a dentist who ran his practice out of the home. Dwight died in 1906, leaving 130 to his wife, Clara Clapp. This is where it gets good! Clara sold the property to Charles Bond in 1908. The same Charles Bond that owned 128 Comm.
Now, at this time they were both brownstones. Bond combined the two addresses into one home, and had the white limestone façades built. It wasn’t something Bond could really afford, and was the beginning of the end. Allegedly, he killed himself at his summer home, Peachhaven, in Swampscott later that same year.
In 1909 Isabella Bond, wife of Charles, separated the buildings and sold 130 to Frances Thorley Goodwin. She lived in 128 until her death. Her family maintained ownership, selling it in 1945 to Matthew and Ione Malloy. They never even lived there!
Goodwin sold 130 to Alden Augustus Thorndike and Helen Grace Hackett Thorndike. Those names! Alden died in 1925. Grace remarried to an architect named Walter Atherton. Grace must’ve done something right, because she outlived this guy too. She sold the house to the Chamberlyne Junior College and moved to California in 1948. And in 1951 the Chamberlayne School purchased 128 Comm Ave from the Malloys. The buildings were reunited and reconnected again! Like several of its previous owners, the school filed for bankruptcy at which point the buildings were held in trust.
128 Commonwealth and 130 Commonwealth (ca. 1942), photograph by Bainbridge Bunting, courtesy of the Boston Athenaeum
They were then sold again in 1989 to George Demeter, one time owner of A.F. Doyle. Back then, they were in Beacon Hill apparently. Today they’re on Newbury. (Shout out to my friend and fellow agent Bob Joaquim.) Demeter separated the buildings, selling off 130 and dividing 128 into three condominiums. Peter and Leah Roy purchased and occupied all 3 units. Weird, right? Herb Chambers picked up 128 Comm in 2004 and restored it into a proper single family. He also had a two car underground garage put in. (I want this even more now). And it’s got a pretty sweet roof deck, I hear. He then sold it off to the current owners. Everyone knows he traded it in for a pad at the Mandarin Oriental.
130 was sold to Deepak Kulkarni, an investor, who restored it to its original grandeur, considering it a piece of art. He went as far as buying the top two units at 132 Comm Ave, extending the roof deck of 130. A double-wide roof deck. He also sold it off to the current occupants who maintain it as a single family.
Long story short, I think they’re beautiful! I wouldn’t mind living in either one. I’ve always like 130 just a little bit more.