On the Market: 9 Brimmer Street

An inside look at a townhouse for aspiring aristocrats.

By Rachel Levitt | Boston Magazine |

WHEN A BUYER WANTS a sprawling lawn and four-car garage, she goes to Beverly Farms. When she’s after pedigree, she starts nosing around Beacon Hill. But she has to do her homework — even in this historically affluent neighborhood, many properties are of questionable lineage. They might look the part, but pardon us, we have to ask: Did someone important reside there?

[sidebar]That’s why we love this 8,250-square-foot residence, tucked away on a quiet lane just around the corner from Charles Street and the Public Garden. Not only does it have genuine Brahmin roots, but at $758 per square foot, it also beats the city’s newbies — like the Ritz-Carlton, where big units can go for twice that. The five-story, ivy-covered 1867 brick townhouse was once the home of Admiral Richard E. Byrd, who may or may not have been the first man to reach the North Pole, but was most certainly the first to reach the South Pole. If Byrd’s explorer renown fails to impress, his wife’s name should carry more weight: Marie Donaldson Ames hailed from the family of wealthy industrialists who in 1889 built Boston’s first skyscraper at One Court Street (it was recently transformed into the Ames Hotel). In fact, it was Marie’s father who bought 9 Brimmer for the young newlyweds back in 1927. The father lived next door at number 7 and, wanting to keep his daughter and grandchildren close, linked the two townhouses through a passage on the fourth floor. (Worry not, that hole has since been patched.)

Rich interior details such as oak paneling, leaded-glass windows, and some of the loveliest plasterwork in town are mere accoutrements to the house’s strongest feature: its soaring ceilings. The current owners — who also have homes in London and Punta del Este, Uruguay — instantly fell for the impressive 14-foot-high ceilings on the first floor and 12-foot ceilings on the second and third levels. The wife made an offer the day she saw it. She then phoned her husband, who was engaged in a game of bridge across the pond, to let him know a suitable property had been found. They gutted the kitchen, outfitted it with elegant Mark Wilkinson cabinetry, and restored most of the historical ceilings.

Currently, the house is divided into a main two-story unit, with a duplex apartment above and a garden-level unit below that together might fetch enough rent to cover the $39,856 property tax bill each year. If a buyer has a large extended family, she’s in luck: The four-story staircase that connects the units is still intact — it’s just blocked by a skylight at the top of the second floor. It can easily be removed to return the residence to its original single-family status. In any case, it’s important to make regular trips to the rooftop deck, which offers impressive views of the neighborhood as well as the Cambridge skyline.

Though he died here in 1957, the admiral is said to still lurk around the home. But that shouldn’t deter ambitious buyers — at this address, even the spirits have a blue-blood pedigree.