Ken Janson (b 1944) and his husband, Robert C. Vetrick (b 1945) opened the Ampersand Guesthouse in 1987 and have run it for the last quarter century; a significant milestone in continuity for any bed-and-breakfast operation at the turn of the 21st century. Fitting snugly into its pretty West End setting, the Ampersand is tranquil, understated, verdant (Vetrick is an expert gardener), reasonably priced and enormously pleasant — a grown-up guest house that attracts lots of the same couples summer after summer. (Full disclosure: my husband and I are among them.) There are eight bedrooms in the main house. A two-story out building has two more bedrooms and a studio apartment named for the artist John Dennis, who owned it in the 1940s.
The original house — it has since been much expanded — was built in 1853 for Jonathan Nickerson, a merchant. “It was a wealthy house, with servants’ rooms and a back stairway,” Janson told me. The Hedge and Caswell families owned the house from the early 1860s through the early 1880s, succeeded by Francis Freeman, who added a kitchen and a porch. He owned the house from 1882 to 1923, followed by Mabel Aydelotte and later by Gerard V. and Catherine Lowther, from 1941 to 1946. Janson said it was apparently the Lowthers who converted the second floor into two separate apartments so they could realize some income from this large property.
No. 6 began its current incarnation as a transient accommodation — the Florston House — in the years just after World War II, under the proprietorship of Frank B. Johnston (±1890-1960) and his wife, Florence B. Johnston. The Johnstons owned the property from 1946 to 1964, when it was purchased by William F. O’Connor and George E. Via Jr. They sold it, in turn, to John A. Lowell of Boston in 1970. That’s when things started to get interesting.
Reborn as the Capricorn, under the management of Don Graichen, the guest house catered to and indulged gay men who were increasingly coming to Provincetown in the 1970s for sex, drugs and rock and roll. “They packed people in like crazy,” Janson said. The Capricorn had 13 bedrooms, to the Ampersand’s 10. One bedroom was called the Chicken Coop. Another was the Daisy Room, dominated by supergraphic daisies on the walls. The out building was known as the French Quarter, and one of the rooms had a Bourbon Street poster to underscore the point. The living room was painted a kind of dried-blood red. There was a bar in the corner where guests were welcome to keep their own bottles. “Provincetown’s reputation at the time was being a real party place,” Janson recalled. The Capicorn was scarcely the only guest house to cater so frankly to hedonism.
That was the Provincetown that Ken Janson first knew. Born in Cleveland, he received a degree in architecture from Miami University in Ohio. He joined the office of Don Hisaka in Cleveland, stayed with that office when it moved to Cambridge, and then joined the practice of Moshe Safdie. Robert Vetrick, also from Cleveland, had graduated as an English major from the University of Dayton and then earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from the University of Delaware. He was teaching English at Lakeland Community College in Kirtland, Ohio. In the summer of 1983, Janson was staying at the Coat of Arms on Johnson Street (not unlike the Capricorn) and Vetrick was staying at the Captain and His Ship, 164 Commercial. After they met through mutual friends, they wasted little time on preliminaries, spending the first night together at the Coat of Arms and the second at the Captain and His Ship. “I said, ‘This is a much classier place,” Janson recounted.
A couple of years later, they set out to open their own guest house. They were thinking about the possibility of buying the Painted Lady Inn, 186 Commercial. “Our realtor called us on Columbus Day weekend and said she’d found our house,” Janson said. They took a look at 6 Cottage and “knew right away that we wanted it.” At the time, the out building, denominated 6A Cottage, was being used as a studio by Charles “Chuck” Anderson, who drew exquisite eggs in pencil and charcoal, doing business as Eggcetera. They bought the property in 1986. Vetrick left his teaching job and Janson left his job with Safdie, for which he was serving as project manager at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. (Talk about a commute!) Both men have since been active in civic life here; Vetrick as a member of Provincetown’s Finance Committee (FinCom) and Janson as a member of the Board of Health. They were among the first couples to apply for a marriage license in Massachusetts in May 2004, when it became possible to do so.
Before opening the guest house, Vetrick and Janson were turning over a number of names for the reborn Capricorn. Second Act. New Beginning. One day, while walking along Commercial Street composing a poem, Vetrick realized that the couple’s lives and 6 Cottage Street were undergoing a new beginning and a continuation. “And” was the glue — an ampersand its elegant expression.