Friday, June 16, 2017

Gillette & Sias Mansions, Beacon Street

This stretch of land on the north side of Beacon Street just west of Lancaster Terrace would be unrecognizable today except for the stone wall, which still stands. It is now the site of the apartment building at 1550 Beacon, built for senior housing in the 1970s, and Temple Beth Zion at 1566 Beacon, completed in 1948.

(Note: This article first appeared in Brookline Patch as part of a biweekly series of historical images of Brookline from the Brookline Historical Society and the Public Library of Brookline.)

Gillette & Sias Mansions
The two large houses formerly on the site were associated, at different times, with the heads of two well-known consumer product companies. The house on the left was the home from 1907 to 1913 of King C. Gillette, inventor of the safety razor and founder of the company that bears his name. It was torn down in 1944. The house on the right was built by Charles D. Sias, a senior partner in the Chase & Sanborn coffee company. A later owner moved it up the hill to Mason Terrace, where it remains today.

A present-day view of the site, via Google Street View, is below.

1550-1566 Beacon Street Today

Both houses were built after the 1880s expansion of Beacon Street from a narrow country lane to a wide boulevard, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and with trolleys providing easy access to Boston. The older of the two is the Sias house, built in 1889 for Charles Sias, who began as a salesman with Chase & Sanborn before rising to become senior partner with the firm. It was designed by Arthur Vinal who was also the architect of the Richardsonian Romanesque High Service Building at the Chestnut Hill Reservoir, now condominiums and the Waterworks Museum, and the gatehouse at what is now Fisher Hill Reservoir Park.

The next owner, lumber company executive Frederick McQuestern, had the house moved up the hill to 41 Mason Terrace, shown below.

King Gillette

The Gillette house was built in 1892 for Benjamin Lombard Jr., a banker and real estate executive. It was designed by the architectural firm of Little, Brown, & Moore, which also designed the main house of the Brandegee Estate in South Brookline. King Gillette purchased the house for his family in 1907 and lived there until 1913 when they moved to Los Angeles.

Gillette had first come to Brookline in 1895 when he was a salesman for the Crown Cork Company, maker of disposable bottle caps. It was while living here that he came up with the idea for the safety razor, as described by Gillette himself in a company magazine in 1918:

"I was living in Brookline at No. 2 Marion Terrace at the time [1895],” he wrote, "and as I said before I was consumed with the thought of inventing something that people would use and throw away and buy again. On one particular morning when I started to shave I found my razor dull, and it was not only dull but it was beyond the point of successful stropping and it needed honing, for which it must be taken to a barber or to a cutler. As I stood there with the razor in my hand, my eyes resting on it as lightly as a bird settling down on its nest—the Gillette razor was born.”
It took years of experimentation to solve the technical difficulties involved in producing the kind of razor Gillette had in mind, but a patent was granted in 1904 and sales took off, making Gillette a great financial success and a household name. Three years later he bought the Beacon Street house.

A close look at a section of the stone wall in the old and new photos (below) makes it possible to pick out individual stones. This section is to the right of the tree in the modern image and further to the right in the older one.

Stone Wall

No comments:

Post a Comment