Given the simplicity of the historical Cape Cod dwelling, profound transformations can occur with what sound like nominal additions: a dormer here, a portico there, a new chimney, and soon you have something that only a practiced eye could recognize as a three-quarter Cape. This house — home over time to Capt. Lewis B. Pinckney, the artist Oscar H. Gieberich, and Irma and Kurt Ruckstuhl — was virtually unchanged from the 1830s through the 1970s, but has been radically altered since.
Unlike its neighbors, which are generally oriented southeast-by-east to follow Commercial Street, this house is oriented almost exactly south-southeast, affording it a little more time in the afternoon light. Modest as it was in its design, the house had a fascinating cast of characters through the 20th century. There was first of all Captain Pinckney (±1854-1932), eulogized in The Advocate as one of Provincetown’s “grand sons” and the “last survivor of one of the town’s oldest families.” He first went down to sea at 15 on a whaling trip and made many subsequent whaling trips to the coast of Africa and fishing trips to the Grand Banks. One of his whalers was the Arizona. In later years, he ran an oil business and was “well known about town as he made his deliveries of gasoline and kerosene.” Nine years after his death, in 1943, the Pinckney family sold the property to Philip and Beulah Conrad. The Conrads sold it in 1946 to Gieberich.
Oscar “Gub” Gieberich (1886-1954) came to Provincetown to study under Charles W. Hawthorne. In his early years, his living quarters were on the narrow balcony of the Class Studio on Miller Hill Road, which he shared with Houghton Cranford Smith. Befitting an artist emerging from under Hawthorne’s wing, Gieberich played a key role in the organization almost simultaneously of the Provincetown Art Association (he was a member of its first art committee, which also included Edwin W. Dickinson, Gerrit A. Beneker and Oliver Chaffee) and of the Beachcombers (among other distinctions, he played the hindlegs of Camelia, the docile dromedary, in one of the club’s theatrical presentations, pictured at 465A Commercial Street). In 1951, three years before his death, Gieberich sold the property to Carolyn L. Orne, who sold it to Paul Chapman and Alan Francis, who sold it to Raymond Ring, who sold it — in 1961 — to Kurt R. and Irma M. Ruckstuhl.
The Ruckstuhls were a prominent couple on the scene. At one time, they operated four shops simultaneously: the Candlemakers, at 220 Commercial Street; the Old Village Store, at 244 Commercial Street; the Corner Gift Shop, at 248-250 Commercial Street, and the Emporium, at 352 Commercial Street. Long after they’d left 510 Commercial, in 1987, Irma Ruckstuhl’s book, Old Provincetown in Early Photographs, was published by Dover Publications. There are 107 plates, meticulously captioned, making this one of the most erudite and valuable contemporary reference works about the town. The Ruckstuhls sold to Jerrold I. and Rosalyn Hirsch in 1974. William L. Jorgenson and Brian S. Galloway are the current owners.
Harriet Adams, the real estate agent, sold this house twice in 12 months; Raymond Ring and his mother bought it from Paul Chapman and Alan Francis in July 1960. We bought it from the Rings, who seemed to have had buyers’ remorse, in early April 1961.
A history of the financial transactions is also very interesting: we paid $17,500 ($140,000 in 2009 dollars.) We sold it to Jerry Hirsh for $155,000 ($21,700 in 1961 dollars.) The most recent sale, in April 2012, was for $1,050,000 ($21,700 in 1961 dollars.) So although all the figures sound remarkable in their own way, the house actually is changing hands for roughly the same price throughout the years.
When we bought the house, it was in very nice condition, probably renovated by Alan Francis, who was an interior decorator. But there was absolutely nothing original left. We redid the kitchen, completely rebuilt by the late artist Tony Vevers; put in the bay window on the west side and added the fireplace and chimney. There was always a nice garden. Passers-by frequently mentioned it had been Billie Miller’s (Gieberich) and was done completely in lavender and white. Billie Miller’s first artist husband was Richard Miller.
A couple of fun anecdotes about the house:
The late Lloyd Rose of Truro built the fireplace and chimney, working by himself. Lloyd drove a red convertible to the job every day with a trunkload of bricks. When he used up the day’s load of bricks he disappeared. One day he announced, “It’s finished,” and got ready to leave. “Aren’t you going to try it out?” I asked. “No,” he said. “It works.” And it did, perfectly.
Jerry Hirsh came to see the house by himself and a few hours later returned to say he’d buy it. “Don’t you want your wife to see it?” I asked. “What I say goes,” he replied. After signing a purchase and sale agreement, he asked George Bryant to go through the house and report. George arrived one day and proceeded to inspect and take notes. The house has (had?) a beautiful circular cellar and a foundation of huge 12 x 12 beams. I watched as George came up out of the cellar and rather dolefully announced, “You have a very serious infestation of powder post beetles.” We were aware of the beetles and had done some research, so I replied, “Come on, George, you know powder post beetles work at something like 1/200ths of an inch a year. This house will be here long after you and I are long gone.” George agreed, but his report contained the phrase “serious infestation,” and the city-dwelling Hirshes panicked. Needless to say, 510 is still standing.
The Hirshes divorced a few years later and Roz Hirsh came to live in the house. She worked for some time at the Chamber of Commerce and my understanding is she had little money and did little in the way of upkeep. The next owners added the front dormers and seem to have refigured the interior.
I always loved that house, but we had five abutters, several of them elderly and Kurt [Ruckstuhl] was concerned about what might happen when those properties changed hands. That was more than 30 years ago and the neighborhood has stayed for the most part the same.
The dates are wrong. My Uncle, Alan Francis didn’t sell the house in 1960. As a matter of fact, although I don’t have exact dates, he hadn’t even bought it yet at that point.
Louis B. Pinckney was the brother of my husband’s great-grandfather. I know his father was Joseph Pinckney and his mother was Elizabeth Doggett (Daggett), but I do not know who Joseph’s father and mother were — if it is even known.
Does anyone have that information? I have information that traces Elizabeth Doggett Pinckney’s line to Stephen Hopkins and William Brewster of the Mayflower.
[Ms. Reynolds’s e-mail address is email@example.com.]
The Hirsch Family owned 510 Commerical Street (“The Mousetrap”) for more than two decades, from the early 1970’s into the late 1990’s. Throughout this time period, the property was loved and respected for its history, beauty and integrity. The family lovingly maintained the home and property, showcasing it as a fine representation of the 3/4 Cape. The Hirsch Family, primarily residing in NYC, kept the house “open” throughout all four seasons, making it an essential second home. The home was open to the community and hosted many family members and friends from near and far. The family enjoyed close relationships with the neighbors, including the Alexanders and the Canavans, as well as with the clerical family of St. Mary of the Harbor. During the turmoil of the 1980’s and the AIDS epidemic, the home celebrated and lost many special P-Town friends (including Lynne Carter, Wayland Flowers and Madame). Due to Rosalyn Hirsch’s illness in the late 1990s, the house was regrettably sold. Gone in its most pure form, the memories of Captain Pinckney’s special home remains in the heart and soul of the Hirsch Family.
Hi Bradley. Jeff Notaro, one of the grandsons of the Alexander’s. I remember your family well, your older brother Mike and younger brother David, and dad Jerry, who still comes to town every so often. Sorry about your mother. Hope everyone is well. Hope to hear from you soon. I live in my grandparents house with my wife, Carrie, and 2 kids, Michael (age 15) and Ella (age 12). Holding on by a shoestring as they say. Your old house sold a couple of years ago for $1.65 million to two guys from NY. One is the Vice president of GE! Take care and thanks for the input.
Everybody ever associated with 510 Commercial has cherished the integrity of the home and its history. Irma’s comments are arrogant, self-serving and soil the memory of the home and the important history of Provincetown’s residents. Irma may be gone, but her sad words linger on and should be appropriately dismissed.
Glad to hear that the Notaro family is doing well, and carries forward the lovely legacy of the Alexanders. We very much loved and enjoyed the company of your grandparents.