I mean this as the highest compliment: 5 Cudworth Street is one of the oddest buildings in Provincetown. Like some of the very best buildings here — Land’s End Inn at 22 Commercial, the “Mushroom House” at 236R Bradford and Jonathan Sinaiko’s Hideaway Hill at 292 Bradford — it is unique, hand-crafted and eccentric.
The house was owned for a decade by Ruth Gilbert (b 1951), a leading real-estate broker, former member of the town Planning Board, and early volunteer in the battle against the AIDS epidemic then ravaging the town’s gay population. She supplemented the documentary history with wonderful anecdotes and personal reminiscences during a March 2014 interview.
The building that one sees looking down Carver Street reputedly was constructed as a carriage house for the Gifford House, Gilbert said. Over time, it was converted into a garage.
Paul F. Wheeler and his wife Martha Zink Wheeler bought the property in 1948 from Alfred and Ethelyn Pereira. Wheeler was just two years shy of being appointed to the New York State College for Teachers in the social studies department. He and his parents, Helen and Herman Wheeler, used the house, known locally as the Wheeler Cottage, for the next 16 years. In 1964, Paul and his mother sold the property to Kalman and Evelyn Small, who owned it eight years.
It was in 1972 that the fundamental transformation of the property began, from funky summer cottage into a magnficent — if none-too-functional — expression of inventive, unprecedented, Whole-Earth-Catalog, do-it-yourself design in the hands of Paul L. Schneider (b 1947), who lived here with his wife, Mariah O. Schneider (b 1952), until 1985. Schneider was a partner of John “Jingles” Yingling in the creation of Spiritus Pizza in 1970. His artwork, divider screens of silhouetted female figures, can be seen in Yingling’s Bubala’s by the Bay. As of 2014, Schneider was still in the pizza business, at Finelli Pizza and Subs, in Ellsworth, Me.
“He considered himself a Renaissance man,” Gilbert said about Schneider: chef, artist, architect manqué. In his two-story expansion of 5 Cudworth Street, Schneider pioneered a passive radiant heating system for the living room on the first floor. Most of its south-facing facade was covered in translucent Plexiglass, behind which was a gallery of about a dozen large plastic tubes. Gilbert likened them to the Sonotubes that are used to form cylindrical concrete columns. The tubes were filled with water. The idea, Gilbert said, was that the water would absorb the heat on sunny days and retain it, creating radiant heat at other times.
If the system ever did function for the Schneiders, however, it had ceased working by the time Gilbert moved in with her husband at the time, James H. “Jim” Green (b 1931), who ran a portrait studio in the old Whaler’s Wharf building at 237 Commercial, working with other artists like Simie Maryles and William “Marcus” Smith.
“That room was always freezing,” Gilbert recalled. “The sun was supposed to heat the water in the Sonotubes to create radiant heat. All it did, in actuality, was grow algae in the tubes.” Within a few years, the couple had to install a Vermont Castings Defiant wood-burning stove to blast heat through the house. Two tubes fell accidental victim to a “my-parents-are-out-of-town” party at which the couple’s teenage daughter was host. Once upended, they flooded the living room — and an Oriental rug, which Ruth and Jim found drying on the line upon their return home. Shades of Risky Business.
Gilbert recalls all these things with laughter, betraying an obvious affection for the place. “The house always had a great vibe,” she said. If only Plexiglass walls could talk. (Or retain heat.) The property was purchased in 1994 by Paul Houlihan of Brookline, who owns it to this day. • Provincetown Historic Survey • Assessor’s Online Database ¶ Updated 2014-03-16