500 Commercial Street

White Horse Inn

Behind the familiar yellow door is the White Horse Inn, which borrows its name from the Greenwich Village tavern of Bohemian fame. The White Horse Tavern was a favorite of Frank D. Schaefer (d 2007), a German immigrant, “a patron of artists, a fine photographer and a man of immaculate taste,” as Philip Hoare eulogized him in 2007. Importantly for our story, Schaefer was also a friend of the artist Jackson Lambert, who brought him to Provincetown in 1962. A year later, Schaefer bought 500 Commercial from Sigrid Gudmunds. He and Lambert set about creating a hostelry that has been compared more than once to a Joseph Cornell box.

“Whole rooms were decorated with bits of carved wood: finials and bedheads, altar rails and intricate panels, creating an idiosyncratic, three-dimensional collage,” Hoare wrote in The Independent. “Windows were set with reclaimed stained glass and leaded lights. Schaefer made a point of sleeping in each suite, so as to ensure its livability; many had large windows for use by artists as studios. One apartment rejoices in a bright yellow floor, a statue of Buddha on its terrace, covered in a hundred bead necklaces, and overlooking it, a wooden sculpture by Lambert.”

In a stellar cast of transients — Norman Mailer, Joyce Carol Oates, Grace Paley and Gore Vidal among them — one of the more constant has been the director John Waters, who spends summers not far away in an apartment that’s too small for house guests. Waters has stayed here and sent his own guests here. Through a mail-order ministry, he also performed the wedding service for Schaefer and Mary J. Martin.

“If I go for a short time, I’ll always stay at the White Horse Inn,” Waters told Gerald Peary in an interview for Provincetown Arts (1997-1998). “I like Frank, it’s very homey, and I feel comfortable there. But here’s the one thing I don’t understand about Ptown. Why isn’t there a nice hotel with a phone in it? It’s a nightmare for me. I have to have a phone in my business. Nobody has phones, except the Holiday Inn. I’m going to go to Ptown and stay at the Holiday Inn?”



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