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.)
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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 (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 (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
Harry Kemp’s cottage
Nick Flynn’s cottage
Around Tasha Hill