The Provincetown Playhouse on the Wharf’s wharf, built by Capt. Charles Cook, had a workshop in which Charles Gardner and Capt. George Bickers perfected the Race Point surfboat. The boatbuilder Jonathan “Jot” Small followed. He was succeeded by the artist Heinrich Pfeiffer, who renamed it the Art Colony Wharf and built a theater. It opened in 1937, showing foreign films. In 1940, the New England Repertory Company — Catherine Huntington, Virginia Thoms, and Edward Dodge Thommen — turned it into a playhouse. First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy attended a performance of Mrs. Warren’s Profession here and a UMass undergrad named Richard Gere appeared in a Tom Stoppard play.
Lester Heller and his wife, Adele, were the last owners and directors of the playhouse, which they converted in 1973 into a resident Equity company. They opened an O’Neill museum in a shed that doubled as the box office. In 1977, arsonists set fire to the complex. The theater and shop were destroyed. William Warner’s design for a new building, won a competition judged by I. M. Pei. Financing never materialized. The Hellers’ daughter Julie turned the surviving box office into the engaging Julie Heller Gallery. She specializes in local artists, so a trip here amounts to a history lesson in a continuum stretching from this salon deep into the town’s past.
More than 2,000 buildings and vessels are searchable on buildingprovincetown.com. The Building Provincetown book is available for purchase ($20) at Town Hall, Office of the Town Clerk, 260 Commercial Street, Provincetown 02657.