Philip N. “Phil” Baiona (Bayon) must have paged through The Provincetown Advocate of 5 June 1952 with a mix of triumph and terror. Inside, the paper was reporting the “huge success” of opening night at the Weathering Heights Club, where Baiona — proprietor of the 12 Carver Street bar in Boston — was beginning his second season as manager, owner and chief attraction. The top story on the front page, however, sounded an ominous note: “Selectmen Clamp Down on Gay Spots With New Regulations to Curb Evils.” That crusade — to rid the town of homosexuals — would color almost every year of Baiona’s tenure at Weathering Heights, through the 1960s. Baiona turned out to be too much, too soon for the fundamentally conservative folk of Provincetown, and Weathering Heights was made a scapegoat of the people’s inchoate fears that their values and their livelihoods were under simultaneous assault by a bunch of “fairies” from Boston and New York.
The setting for this crusade was about as unlikely as you can imagine; not some waterfront dive but the barn of the old Winthrop Farm, out near the end of Winthrop Street Extension (later, Shank Painter Road). The area was sparsely settled for a good reason: as late the 1940s, there was no water service past the Winthrop barn. The farm had been run until the 1930s by Joseph Silveira Steele (1865-1939), who lived for a time at 31 Court Street. A year after Joseph Steele died, one his sons, Seraphine G. Steele (1892-1965), converted the barn into a nightspot called the Jockey Club, with room for 116 patrons on the main floor, a screened-in cocktail lounge for 50, and parking for 200 cars. (“Plan Floor Show for Night Club,” The Provincetown Advocate, 29 May 1940.) After six seasons, Seraphine was bankrupt and the place was offered for sale by the Steele family.
Under the ownership of Edward Kelly of Hyannis, Alice King and Al Jancik transformed the Jockey Club into the Weathering Heights Club and reopened in 1949, with dining, dancing and entertainment. Two years later, Kelly sold the club-barn to Baiona and Robert E. Amero. Baiona — you’ll also see his name spelled Baione, Baoine and Bayone —kept the name of the place but changed its tenor. And its soprano, too. The programs were like variety shows: a mentalist might be on the bill, along with a tap dancer, a pianist, male and female vocalists and a female impersonator, sometimes “Bella Baiona” herself. Though Weathering Heights was by no means limited to gay patrons, Baiona made little effort to disguise its preponderant affiliation. A 1958 ad joked: “Come Sit at Our Strayte Bar.”
At the beginning of the second season at Weathering Heights, in 1952, the selectmen had passed a regulation stating that: “No licensee shall … employ, cater to or encourage the licensed premises to become the habitual gathering place for homo-sexuals of either sex.”
But they needed something more to close down Baione — or at least deny him a liquor license, which amounted to the same thing for a night club out in the boondocks. The selectmen were stymied because no one actually complained about Weathering Heights, and there had apparently been no arrests in connection with the club; two useful tools when liquor licenses are at stake. But their patience finally paid off in 1960, when the Provincetown Methodist Church opened at 20 Shank Painter Road. Suddenly, Weathering Heights was too close to a house of worship. And Baiona made his own life tougher by failing to properly notify abutters that he had applied for a license renewal.
Having lost his claim to an automatic renewal, Baione found himself stripped of a liquor license in July 1960. No matter what technicalities were stacked against him, it was clear at the crowded hearing what the real issue was, as Paul Koch reported in The Provincetown Advocate:
“Opponents of the license charged that the town would gain if the license were not granted, because the previous issuance of the license had helped to attract an undesirable element to Provincetown, such as homosexuals and lesbians; that the moral fibre of the town had been and would continue to be endangered by the existence of such a place; that if the license were refused Provincetown might begin to be rid of its questionable reputation as a haven for unnatural and offensive activities and behavior and once again attract a respectable, normal class of individuals.”
The denials continued, year in and year out. Baiona decided in 1968 to sell off the Provincetown property. In 1971, after his death, it was sold to Charles W. Silva, who had considerable holdings in the area. He included the Weathering Heights parcel as the northernmost unit of a 10-lot subdivision that he proposed in 1977. But the southern eight lots were subsequently used as the site of the A&P supermarket at 56 Shank Painter Road, leaving the barn as a kind of island unto itself. A restaurant named Weathering Heights operated there at least through the late 1980s, if not longer.
Silva had the decrepit barn torn down in 2001 and replaced with the commercial building that now stands at 68 Shank Painter Road. Out of sentiment or oversight, the old sign post — looping script letters on a rough-hewn plank — was left standing. It’s now almost completely obscured by ground cover, but if you poke around carefully enough, you can find it. Weathering Heights may not have much else in common with Brontë’s novel of similar title, but it does have its Catherine Earnshaw: a ghost outside the window.
• Formerly denominated 30 Shank Painter Road • Map ¶ Posted 2013-09-07