542 and 543 Commercial Street

543 Commercial Street, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

543 Commercial Street, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

542 Commercial Street (ca 1898), from the Provincetown History Preservation Project.

542 Commercial Street (ca 1898), from the Provincetown History Preservation Project.

Capt. Edwin Mayo drowned in 1889. The next year, his home (pictured) was turned into Seaside Cottage, the town’s first guest house (not hotel or inn), with the town’s first swimming pool (made, of wood, by James Thomas). It was later the Mayo Cottage, Vernon Inn, and, as of 1939, Seascape House, managed by Marion (Wells) Child. It attracted guests like Leonard Bernstein, Abe Burrows, Victor Borge, José Ferrer, Louise Nevelson, and Edward G. Robinson. In 1962, Robert Roman, proprietor of the Buccaneer Motel in North Truro, took over. His son Donald managed the business. Three years later, the Romans tore it down to build the north pavilion of the Surfside Arms and Motor Inn. Also lost was the home of Alice Palmer, a Greenwich Village littérateur and political activist.

Surfside Hotel and Suites is the current name but some townsfolk still refer to it as the “Green Monster,” after its original color scheme. The construction of a four-story building with a big hip roof right on the beachfront (a three-story upland companion followed) so alarmed the town that the height of future buildings was capped by law at two-and-a-half stories, or 35 feet. Opponents included Philip Alexander, Abe Burrows, Josephine and Salvatore Del Deo, Conrad Malicoat, Ross Moffett, Kurt and Irma Ruckstuhl, and Suzanne Sinaiko.

What looked like a monstrosity to them might today be appreciated as a way of democratizing the waterfront. The Surfside made it possible for families of modest means to enjoy a few hours every summer with an aristocrat’s view of the harbor. There is value to that, too.


More than 2,000 buildings and vessels are searchable on buildingprovincetown.com. The Building Provincetown book is available for purchase ($20) at Town Hall, Office of the Town Clerk, 260 Commercial Street, Provincetown 02657.

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