A New Form of Housing Gets Introduced to Boston

David Bates / April 5, 2012-11:51 am

In preparing for my “seminar” about condominiums, I took to scouring articles about the birth of condominium living in Boston. This is what I learned….

It seems that condominiums had become popular in other parts of the country as early as 1966, but the concept had been slow to take hold in Boston. That is until about forty years ago, when 400 real estate professionals crowded a Newton Marriot ballroom to attend a seminar about this new type of housing (and living).

The Vendome was one of Boston's early condominium projects.

Not long after the Newton Condominium Seminar, condominium projects became a staple in local real estate headlines. Some notable early condominium projects included The Vendome at 160 Commonwealth Avenue, a former hotel which had been destroyed by a horrific fire, and the former Prince Macaroni Warehouse in the North End. Back Bay developers made news by asking in the neighborhood of $30 a square foot, meaning one of the 2600 square foot condominiums at 276 Marlborough, could be purchased for around $80,000 (note: a re-sale occurred in this building last year for $2.4 million).

By 1975, more than 6,000 condominiums had been developed in Boston. While developers were motivated by rent control laws and profits, condo buyers wanted to experience the benefits of home ownership and live in good locations where single family living was either not affordable or not available.

A mid-70’s HUD report concluded, “Bostonians like condominiums.” Yet, controversy and challenges still surrounded condo conversions. Boston Mayor, the honorable Ray Flynn, tried to protect tenants who would be displaced by conversions and lobbied for laws to slow apartment building owners from converting their apartments into condominiums. The public-at-large, on the other hand, was still getting used to this strange, new concept where the common areas were controlled by what one writer called “a shadowy organization known as ‘The Association,’” and where owners didn’t even really own the ground beneath their homes.  After spending tens of thousands of dollars purchasing a condominium, one buyer opined that all he got in return for his money was the air and plasterboard in his unit. Somebody should have given him a lousy T-shirt too, don’t you think? LOL.

By 1977,  it was apparent that condominium living –which early on been referred to as a “craze” — was here to stay. In fact, one industry observer noted that “condominium” was becoming “a very respectable word in the real estate lexicon.”