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Commonwealth Avenue West
Newton Line to Warren St, Brighton

The overall conception for Commonwealth Avenue, which was built in stages between 1885 and 1895, was provided by the leading landscape architect of his day, Frederick Law Olmsted, then a resident of Brookline.  When Commonwealth Avenue was first put through in the 1885 to 1888 period (a more elaborate second stage of construction followed between 1890 and 1895), it was immediately hailed as the “the prime driveway of our city.” Called at first Massachusetts Avenue, Commonwealth Avenue acquired its present name on March 1, 1887 when the widening of old Brighton Avenue (the portion of the avenue between Packard’s Corner and Kenmore Square) linked the Brighton roadway with Commonwealth Avenue in Boston’s Back Bay.

Commonwealth Avenue was built through the least populated section of Allston-Brighton (the poor quality of its soil there and the many ledge outcroppings had made farming impractical and thus retarded development). As a result no more than a half dozen buildings had to be removed to make way for the two-mile long avenue.

In August 1887 the Boston correspondent of the Hingham Journal  visited Commonwealth Avenue (then nearing completion), and wrote as follows of the area through which it was being built: “I knew [the area] as a boy. Then it was famous as the finest sporting ground around Boston, where before the game laws were passed the crack of the shot gun and rifle were heard in season and out of season, and from which the sportsmen in the days of old...would return at the close of the day with game bags well filled with rabbits, gray squirrels, partridges, quail and woodcock for the Boston market.”

The journalist also recollected that a large piggery had once existed where Sutherland Road now crosses Commonwealth Avenue. “Now what a change!,” he declared. “It is still the primeval forest with its magnificent growth of pines, oaks, and chestnuts, and the outlines of the old piggery grounds are still visible. But through its very center almost is the finest avenue in the country with a bottom as solid, and a surface as smooth and well-rolled as the avenues leading to the costliest estates of the old world.”

By the end of 1888 Commonwealth Avenue had been completed in its preliminary form to the Chestnut Hill Reservoir at a cost to the city of about half a million dollars. It then consisted of a two hundred foot wide strip over which a single driveway meandered with gravel paths on the side for pedestrians. The macadamized central driveway was paved with pressed broken stone to a depth of about twelve inches, its surface held together with tar.

The high hopes of Commonwealth Avenue landowners were dashed again by a severe economic downturn, the Depression of 1893, which destroyed the real estate market. Six years after the improvements to the avenue had been made, a total of only four buildings stood on the avenue!

Despite improved economic conditions by the late 1890s, the Commonwealth Avenue still lagged developmentally. Beacon Street was the focus of development. The existence there of electric streetcar service was enormous advantage. Until such service was instituted on Commonwealth Avenue, in 1909, little development occurred on the Allston-Brighton roadway.

1875 Map before the construction of Comm Ave.  South St on the left would become part of Comm Ave 

1875 Map (plate L) with Washington St on the left and Warren St in the center.  In between is Breck St.  Comm Ave would follow the path of Breck St.

1885 Map (plate L) that includes the plan for Comm Ave when it was called Massachusetts Ave

1885 map (plate H) showing the plan for Comm Ave between Brighton Ave and Allston St

1899 Map (plate 40) showing Comm Ave in its present form.  Part of South St remains connecting Comm Ave with Chestnut Hill Ave

Boston Globe headline on Comm Ave construction from 1895.  See reference #6 below

Lawrence Farm which is where Boston College started (courtesy of Boston College).  This photo was taken on the hill across Comm Ave.  The Lawrence Basin of the Reservoir is on the left.  This portion of the reservoir no long exists and is now the location of the BC Football stadium

Photo of Comm Ave under construction in 1896 taken from just west of Lake St looking east

Closeup of the above photo with Foster St in the center

Trolleys at Lake St looking west C1900

Trolleys at Lake St C1900

Trolleys at Lake St looking west


Lake St Trolley Yard Construction c1910 (Courtesy Boston Public Library)

Lake St Trolley Yard C1930

Close up of the above photo.  Note the Norumbega bus

Lake St Trolley Yard C1940

Lake St Trolley 1937

Trolleys at Lake St looking east with St John's Seminary on the left c1904

Trolleys to Norumbega Park at Lake St looking east

Norumbega Park near the intersection of Comm Ave and Route 128 where the Marriott Hotel is today

Norumbega Park Poster

Comm Ave construction at Lake St c1890 looking east with the Evergreen Cemetary on the right

c1900 Looking East from Lake St

1892 image of the Evergreen Cemetery entrance.  Adjacent to Chestnut Hill Reservoir and Boston College this 19.66-acre historic cemetery was consecrated in1850. Evergreen Cemetery became Brighton's primary burial space after the 1764 Old Burial Ground on Market Street ran out of available space. The Selectmen of Brighton purchased a portion of Aspinwall Woods, a beautiful wooded tract of slightly less than 14 acres on South Street in 1848 from the heirs of William Aspinwall.  Its design struggled to integrate characteristics of a rural cemetery style such as winding roads and formal plantings with the engineering requirements of a naturally rocky and wooded landscape. The Evergreen Cemetery was acquired by the City of Boston with the annexation of Brighton in 1873.  Evergreen serves as the final resting place for prominent Brighton families and veterans of various wars.

Taken from where the BC campus is today in the early 1900s.  Comm Ave to the left with the Evergreen Cemetery in the center.  The houses from the center to the left are on Chestnut Hill Ave.  The hill near center top is Summit Ave in Brookline.

2018 Commonwealth Ave at Wade St. 
his 1897 Colonial Revival style mansion, originally called Hunningham Hall, is conspicuously situated on Commonwealth Avenue and is one of last vestiges of the free-standing residences once lined the upper end of the avenue. At some point after 1925, apartments were built behind the mansion, and Hunningham Hall was itself subdivided into apartments - See more at:
This 1897 Colonial Revival style mansion, originally called Hunningham Hall, is conspicuously situated on Commonwealth Avenue and is one of last vestiges of the free-standing residences that once lined the upper end of the avenue. At some point after 1925, apartments were built behind the mansion, and Hunningham Hall was itself subdivided into apartments.  The land on which Hunningham Hall sits originally formed part of the Brown Estate. The Brown family resided in a farmhouse at the northeast corner of Commonwealth Avenue and Foster Street. By 1890, the parcel on which Hunningham Hall would be built had passed into the hands of developer Edward P. Noyes, who subsequently sold it to Margaret Wade, who laid out Wade Street.

Collapse of 2000 Comm Ave building in 1971 from construction issues

Comm Ave with Foster St on the left (courtesy of Joel Shield) c1940

Comm Ave looking east towards Chestnut Hill Ave (courtesy of Joel Shield).  The open area on the left bordering Chestnut Hill Ave was used as a Victory Garden

1909 Map (plate 10) showing the triangle shaped area at the intersection of Comm Ave and Chestnut Hill Ave that was used as a victory garden referenced in the above photo

Close up of the above photo with a horse drawn (junk?) cart on the right

One of the few Comm Ave houses that remain today.  1954 Comm Ave in 2006

View of the Reservoir from the Raleigh Apartment building at Chestnut Hill Ave (see photo below)

Raleigh Apartment building at Chestnut Hill Ave

Reservoir Entrance from Comm Ave c1900

Comm Ave near Wallingford Rd looking east towards Washington St 1898 (courtesy Tammy Tobin).  Note how rural Brighton was before Comm Ave was built.

Same location as above photo but the trolley line is now functional c1900

Construction of Tudor Manor at 1738 Comm Ave near Sutherland Rd in 1914


Tudor Manor c1930

1686 Comm Ave c1980.  Top center identifies the building as the Aberdeen Garage. There was a Mercedes Benz dealership here in the 1980s

c1940 near Cummings Rd and west of Washington St


Rowes Quarry at Comm Ave and Washington St (right) 1914

Close up of the left side of the above photo

Close up of the right side


Rowes Quarry (courtesy Boston Globe)

Comm Ave at Washington St looking west during the 1895 construction

1935 Photo with Brighton High on the bottom left, Comm Ave running left to right and Washington St on the right.  Note how open and rural this land was before Fidelis Way was built in 1951.

At CommAve and Washington St looking east towards Warren St 1940s. 

West of Warren St


C1940 at Commonwealth Terrace near Warren St

1958 West of Warren St.  Note that the current west bound road that would be to the left of the trolleys in the photo was not yet built.

1938 Photo with Warren St to the right and the Middlemas Farm on the hill past Warren St

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