Ice House Condominiums (Former Consolidated Weir Company Cold Storage Plant)
Unlovely. Ungainly. Unimaginably large, by local standards. But still, the Ice House embodies one of the more important lessons that architecture has to teach about town history. It is the only one remaining of the seven enormous cold storage plants that once lined the waterfront, giving Provincetown an unmistakably industrial quality that most painters and photographers seemed to have excised from their frames in favor of colorful trap boats and draggers.
The story of the Consolidated begins with William Irving Atwood (1859-1933), a Provincetown native whose parents were John Atwood and Rebecca Miller (Nickerson) Atwood, through whom he could claim Mayflower ancestry. In 1873, he joined his father in the firm of Atwood & Company, a commission house in Boston that dealt with Provincetown fishermen. He opened the Consolidated Weir Company in 1900 and, in 1907, constructed this five-story freezer. At least one worker died during the project when he fell through a scuttle. The Consolidated was built like a factory, not a large shed. Its heavy, solid concrete frame had masonry infill walls; a detail that would make it easier to convert years later into residential use. Atwood returned from Boston in 1922 to take full charge of the plant as president, general manager and treasurer. (“William I. Atwood,” The Advocate, 17 August 1933.)
In one of the archival photographs below, showing the interior of the plant with the fish arrayed in shallow pans, note that one solid block of frozen fish has been stood on edge.
The Consolidated originally used a steam-driven heat absorption system. After the company went bankrupt in 1938 and was acquired — as were so many Provincetown operations — by the enormous Atlantic Coast Fisheries Company combine, an electric-powered compression system was installed. Some time in the 1950s, the freezer was used for the storage of cranberries instead of fish. That changed with its acquisition in 1957 by Henry B. W. Snelling, a Boston Brahmin who was also president of the Plymouth Bay Packing Company of North Truro. Snelling said at the time that he would restore freezer’s upper four stories to use by the fishing industry, while retaining the retail ice business that had been started on the ground floor. But the cold storage business wouldn’t even last another decade.
Gary Ross acquired the building in 1964 with a view toward residential conversion, a process that took nearly 20 years, all in. Under a variance granted in 1965, Ross first converted the three-story west wing of the plant into eight apartments. But in 1970, he ran out of money for the more ambitious plan of converting the main building. At that point, Munroe Moore led a fight to have the town acquire the property and turn it into a playground. Further fights lay ahead. The developer Albert Hartheimer acquired an option on the property in 1975, envisioning 33 apartments in the main building. A year later, the town declared a moratorium on large-scale developments, limiting the construction of new apartments to four a year on any property. Warm debate ensued over whether the ban covered the Ice House retroactively. The Zoning Appeals Board denied Hartheimer’s application and Ross took the town to court, finally accepting the decision in a 1979 settlement. The next approach, in 1982, called for 22 apartments.