15 Howland Street

Harry Kemp Cottage, 15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap. 
Paul Tasha, 15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.Tasha Hill (or Tasha Village)

Not that the Tasha family set out to create such a thing when they bought this enormous property in 1944, but their sprawling compound has a mystical feeling at times, as if it were a fantastic movie set depicting ur-Provincetown — not a literal rendering, of course, but a three-dimensional expression of the old town’s spirit: dense, communal, primitive and modest; inventive, ingenious, improvised and eccentric; romantic or shabby or mysterious, depending on your angle of vision and the time of day. Also, this must be one of the last places in town where residents can hear chickens from their bedrooms. Presiding over the compound these days is Paul D. Tasha (b 1952; pictured), a fisherman and horseman; the youngest child of Herman J. Tasha (1908-2000) and Rose “Sonny” (Savage) Tasha (1910-1994), who moved here from 222 Bradford Street, and a grandson of John Tasha (±1874-1954), who moved to Provincetown from São Miguel in the Azores. Significantly — and appropriately — Tasha Hill was also the last home of Harry Kemp, the Poet of the Dunes (1883-1960), whose cottage is shown in the above photo. Hazel Hawthorne Werner (1901-2000), the writer and author of Salt House (1934), also lived here.

The central, and by far the largest, parcel on Tasha Hill is the 15 Howland Street lot, a 6.9-acre property that Paul owns with other members of his family. (On an abutting property deep in the woods, 41R Howland Street, Paul has been building a home — with his own hands since 1986; stone by stone, board by board, beam by beam.) Paul came into the world with considerable drama just before Christmas 1952 when John C. Van Arsdale, manager of the Provincetown Municipal Airport, flew a very pregnant Sonny Tasha to Logan Airport so she could deliver her baby at the Boston Lying-In Hospital. Van Arsdale’s twin Cessna was met by an ambulance that sped away with Sonny, Herman and soon-to-be-Paul. (“Pilot Van Arsdale Beats Stork Easily in Early Morning Flight to Boston,” The Provincetown Advocate, 25 December 1952.)

Bracelet by Carl Tasha. Cambridge Artists Cooperative.Coming into the world, Paul joined three older siblings: Carla (Tasha) Stefani (b 1941), Carl Tasha (1943-2006) and Paula (Tasha) Brazile (b ±1950), whose work is in the permanent collection of the Provincetown Art Association and Museum. Carl followed Herman into metalworking, but took it to an even higher artistic level. Peter Manso called Carl a “sculptor and silversmith of great distinction” in a comment below. And Dan Richter noted that Carl’s bronze sculpture and jewelry are now collected, as are his imaginative, sensuous and whimsical belt buckles. Carl and his wife, Nancy Lamb Gribbin (b 1942) — whose son, Beau Gribbin, skippers the fishing vessel Glutton — formed a business called Carl Tasha Designs in Limited Editions. He left the Cape in the early 2000s and died in Honolulu. Their work is available through the Cambridge Artists Cooperative.

The main house, which stands on the 15 Howland parcel and is pictured below, was the home in the early 20th century of Georgia Augusta (Morrill) Atwood, from whom the Tashas bought in 1944, and her husband, William Irving Atwood (1859-1933). She was from Charlestown. He was a Provincetown native who founded the Consolidated Weir Company in 1900 and, in 1907, built the five-story freezer at 501 Commercial Street that is known today as the Ice House Condominiums. The old cold storage plant is at the foot of Howland Street, meaning Atwood had a pretty straightforward commute.

Main (Atwood) house, 15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.Like so many of their contemporaries in town, Herman and Sonny Tasha were people of many skills and interests. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, as a research assistant for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Herman studied the patterns of erosion along the Back Shore, from Nauset around Race Point to Herring Cove. He worked with Graham Giese (b 1931), who later was a co-founder of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies, 5 Holway Avenue. They were the co-authors, with John M. Zeigler, of Erosion of the Cliffs of Outer Cape Cod: Tables and Graphs (1964).

The name by which everyone knew Rose honored “her sunny disposition,” her daughter, Carla, told me in 2013. (That name is often misspelled “Sonny” — as in “Sonny” Roderick — so this is an especially useful mnemonic.) Carla also said the songwriter Bobby Hebb once spent a summer in a Tasha Hill cottage and told her mother that she was the Sunny of his famous song.

Certainly accomplished artisans — if not artists in the strictest sense — the Tashas showed off their wares in the Hairpin Studio at the foot of Tasha Hill, the only principal structure on Tasha Hill that is easily visible from the public way, pictured below. “My mother built this workshop pretty much by herself in the late 1950s,” Paul told me in 2010. “She was into designing buildings. My mother never let not knowing how to do something stop her.”

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

Thank goodness. Tasha Hill is peppered with amazing structures, few of which follow conventional architectural rules. Foremost among them is the cottage that Sunny Tasha built for her old friend Harry Kemp from 1959 to 1960, when he became too infirm to inhabit his home in the dunes, now known as the Kemp-Tasha Shack. Though 27 years younger than Kemp, Sonny became almost a mother figure to the poet. Among her other benedictions was a handmade enormous cape of sweeping dimensions, which Kemp wore with a laurel to great dramatic effect.

Harry Kemp, Provincetown (1950s). Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell: Book 10, Page 21. Courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project (Dowd Collection).The shack was all that was left to Harry after he’d been evicted in 1959 from Francis’s Flats at 577 Commercial. Sunny Tasha took it upon herself to ensure that he wasn’t abandoned. She had some wonderful material to work with, including several of the stained-glass windows from the Centenary Methodist Episcopal Church of 1910, at 170 Commercial Street, which had been torn down about a decade earlier. And she had an all-star crew of volunteer assistants in the effort, including Mihran Chobanian, Salvatore del Deo, Philip Dunigan, Paul Koch, Conrad Malicoat, Eldred Mowery, Romanos Rizk, Fred Tasch, Tony Vevers and Charles Zehnder. By April 1960 — four months from death — Kemp was ensconced at 15 Howland Street and Sunny was cautioning visitors not to “bring him anything except diabetic foods or fruit,” a dietary restriction that was widely understood in town to mean, “No more booze for Harry.” William Brevda picks up the story in Harry Kemp: The Last Bohemian (1986):

Such a prohibition was doomed to fail, for it was inevitable that Kemp was going to be Kemp, from beginning to end. Sunny went away one Sunday afternoon, and that night somebody brought Harry a jug of wine. A nurse [Grace Atkins] stopped by the cottage the next morning on her routine rounds and immediately summoned a doctor. Harry had been stricken by a cerebral hemorrhage. The end came at 11 o’clock, Monday morning, 8 August 1960.

Almost 20 years later, Sunny confided in Kemp’s biographer that she had walled up the poet’s books in this cottage. When Brevda asked to see them, she told him to pick up a crowbar. “As we ripped out board after board,” Brevda wrote in the afterword, “a wall of books began to appear … books of great poetry, most of them furiously underlined and annotated, with poems often scribbled on the inside covers. … And there, too, behind that wall, neatly folded and so long forgotten, was Harry Kemp’s poet’s cape.”

Mischa Richter. Courtesy of Dan Richter.In recent years, Kemp’s cottage has been home to the gifted photographer Mischa Richter (b 1971), the grandson of Mischa Richter of 457 Commercial Street, and son and brother of Dan and Sacha Richter of 459 Commercial. In 2010, through his own Land’s End Press, Richter published an extraordinary portfolio of intimate, large-format portraits of townspeople and some of the more surprising and poignant corners of town. Titled Saudade, it includes a poem of that same name by Nick Flynn and as close to a perfect translation of the untranslatable Portuguese word “saudade” as I’ve ever read: “If you ask one of these islanders what he means by it, he will say that he is sad, but something more than sad — homesick, for a home that no longer exists, and in his own life never did exist; he longs for something ‘again’ and the longing is so acute that it hurts and saddens — yet he cannot tell you what it is that he longs for!” The book expresses this eloquently.

Tasha Hill seems by its nature to draw eclectic and interesting tenants. Second only to Kemp was Hazel Hawthorne Werner, who — like the Poet of the Dunes — was better known as the owner of a couple of shacks, Euphoria and Thalassa, around much of the Back Shore’s social and cultural life revolved. She was, as her name suggests, related to Charles W. Hawthorne (cousin) and was also descended from Nathaniel Hawthorne. Besides Salt House, she also wrote the novel Three Women, published in 1938, and five stories for The New Yorker. She lived on Tasha Hill until 1990.

"Abstract With Sand and Pebbles," by Taro Yamamoto. Provincetown Art Association and Museum Consignment Auction, 22 September 2007.

Carla told me in a comment that the abstract expressionist Taro Yamamoto (1919-1994) lived for a time on Tasha Hill with his family. Though Yamamoto was born on the West Coast, he was later exposed to many of the institutions and artists that contributed so much to the vitality of the post-war art scene in Provincetown. He studied at the Art Students League in New York and, from 1951 to 1953, with Hans Hofmann. Another Hofmann student who spent time in a Tasha cottage was Wolf Khan (b 1927).

David Drake, Provincetown (1997), by David W. Dunlap.David Drake (b 1963), an actor, writer and director, is living on Tasha Hill as of 2013. He is probably best known as the playwright and performer of The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, for which he won an Obie award in 1993. The filmed version of The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me was released in 2000. Drake also did a memorable, 856-performance turn in Vampire Lesbians of Sodom at the Provincetown Playhouse in Greenwich Village, following Charles Busch. He’s directed Our Town by Thornton Wilder, Slap & Tickle by David Parr and The Weight of Water by Myra Slotnick at the Provincetown Theater; has appeared in three episodes of Law & Order, because he was a repeat offender; and can also be seen in Philadelphia and Longtime Companion, among other movies.

Tawny Heatherton. Courtesy of David Drake.Tawny Heatherton (b 19??) is another current resident of Tasha Hill. Like Drake, she is a show business veteran. Her aunt is Joey Heatherton, a well-known personality of the 1960s. This makes her a granddaughter of the singer and performer Ray Heatherton. Emulating her aunt, she toured with Bob Hope for the USO. She also put in an appearance on the last season of Hee Haw in 1992, as one of its voluptuous “Honeys.” Arguably, Heatherton made her greatest impression overseas with a mid-’80s Eurodisco single, “Run Crazy Man!” Other songs from this period — “Love Explosion,” “Amore Me Stasera, Cowboy,” “Exact Change Only” and “Drink, Whiskey Flower” — are not as well remembered, though “Paper or Plastic?” embodies Heatherton’s relentlessly optimistic and indomitable outlook. The question posed by the title is answered in the chorus: “Both are fantastic.”

A third generation of the ever-creative Tashas is here in the person of Andrea Tasha (b 1965), the daughter of Carl Tasha and niece of Paul. She and Khristian Bennett opened Mooncusser Tattoo in 2002, which was the first tattoo parlor in Provincetown following its legalization in Massachusetts in 2000 after a 38-year ban. The business began on Commercial Street and is now at 3 Standish Street.

Another recent resident of Tasha Hill was the athlete Christopher Bergland, author of The Athlete’s Way: Training Your Mind and Body to Experience the Joy of Exercise. • Assessor’s Online Database ¶ Updated 2013-02-18

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 


Harry Kemp’s cottage

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (1978), by Marshall Brooks. Courtesy of Marshall Brooks.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 


Nick Flynn’s cottage

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 


Jody’s cottage

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 


Sunset cottage

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 


Around Tasha Hill

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

15 Howland Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

 

16 thoughts on “15 Howland Street

  1. One central name missing from this account is Carl Tasha, Paul’s older brother. Carl was a sculptor and silversmith of great distinction and lived on Tasha Hill for years until he left town in the early 2000s. Carl ran the hill for a number of years and helped out Sunny in her dwindling years. There can be no account of the hill without mention of Carl.

    Also, Dr. Walter Richter, on Miller Hill, lived for many years in one of the shacks and took care of Sunny. Sunny herself cared for Harry Kemp during his decline.

    The Tashas, who were never part of the chichi set, nor in any way P.C., were one of the most extraordinary families (if not the most extraordinary family) in Provincetown over the past three generations.

  2. Artist Taro Yamamato lived on Tasha Hill for a time, with his family.

    The Provincetown Art Association has work of Paula Tasha as part of their permanent collection.

  3. Great write-up. That property surely deserves a book of its own.

    Hazel Werner also deserves a book of her own. I was employed by her as her personal secretary, which evolved into more and more of a caretaker role during her last couple of years on Tasha Hill, and became very close to her.

    I wonder why Sunny “walled up” Harry’s books. Seems a strange thing to do.

    • Mother knew that anything not nailed down would simply disappear. There were thousands of books and periodicals in our home. Many disappeared,were misplaced or borrowed. The only safe place she knew for Harry Kemp’s personal library was “hidden in plain sight”. Resourceful,as ever, the books were exactly where she put them. Paula Tasha

    • Dan Towler, I wonder if I could get in touch with you? I’m doing research on Hazel Werner and would very much like to talk to you.

  4. What a wonderful write up about a location that was a deep and formative part of my early childhood as Herman and Sunny and my parents were good friends back in the 40’s and 50’s and I spent a lot of time in that house. Memories of the large table in the kitchen- always something cooking to feed anyone who might stop by, and people were always stopping by some staying on and on. Sunny had a most memorable resonance to her voice. Her speaking voice was on the edge of song.
    As I can see by what you included that you realize, the Tasha homestead and it’s history could be a book unto itself.
    Thank you for granting it such good space!

    • I was surprised that no mention was made of Carl Tasha’s paintings. I have a painting of his from 1985. Although the front of the painting does not have a signature, I did send Carl a picture of the painting and he did respond that he painted it and sold it the summer of 1985. All the information I have been able to find is on his jewelry and sculpture designs. I agree that this write up is excellent and captures a time that can never be duplicated.

  5. Notes on the cottages: Rose & Herman were part of the Wellfleet jet set, friends with many of the Bauhaus design group. On reading the new work,Cape Cod Modern, we realize we knew these people, though we were very young.That society is from where Sunny drew her eclectic cottage designs. On occasion,mother and an architect friend would clear our big dinner table,lay out craft paper,sharp scissors and brandy. We would be off to bed,and awake to a perfect scale model of her next cottage; sun-ray 4×4 cantilevered ceiling,beam for beam, and other details depending on what lumber she had to work with. Embracing minimalism,repurposing church windows,salvage,castoff fixtures, flotsam & jetsam,and a -make it do or do without- budget defined her work.
    It is true that Herman choose to build with cement block and he choose efficient shapes. Never as
    interesting,they are stronger construction. Each structure is an important part of our childhood. Both Sunny and Herman were artists and crafters, always dreaming,designing, creating. More than interesting.
    Paula Tasha

  6. I have enjoyed reading this interesting info on the the Tasha family. I have a bracket by C. Tasha l believe I bought in the early or mid 70,s on the street in San Francisco. It is signed in 2 places. I have always known somehow it was a very special piece. I would be happy to share a photo if anyone is interested and may know more about it. Thanks.

  7. amazing story. amazing family. i stayed in tasha hill in late 1980’s & wrote a lot of poetry. i have rently returned & become friends with Paul again, & i am still in love with Provincetown…

  8. Love for Tashaland for me since ‘64, a separate reality still,my fave duck into woods,a stones throw from the sea…a haven

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s