† 542 Commercial Street

 
Mayo Cottage

Provincetown’s first guest house, with Provincetown’s first swimming pool, was also Provincetown’s Pennsylvania Station: the beloved landmark that no one believed could be torn down for an inappropriate and overscaled development — until it happened. In fact, it happened at about the same time that preservationists were rallying fruitlessly in New York to save Penn Station, in the early 1960s. And it had something of the same result of spurring civic resolve against further fiascoes.

Capt. Edwin C. Mayo (1835-1889) made his home here when it was denominated 493 Commercial Street. He was a Grand Banker, and he drowned in November 1889 trying to save his boat in a storm.

The very next year, his home had become the “Seaside Cottage for summer visitors.” The Advocate said in 1962 that it was “the first guest house in Provincetown,” evidently distinguishing it from the hotels and inns that had long been in existence. Just after the turn of the 20th century, it was renamed the Mayo Cottage, under the proprietorship of a “Mrs. A. M. Mayo” (perhaps Alexandrina, Captain Mayo’s widow).

In the late ‘teens or early 1920s, Mrs. Charles Robsham took over the Mayo Cottage and renamed it the Vernon Inn. During her proprietorship, the compound was expanded all the way east to Kendall Lane, taking in the former Kendall Cottage at 544 Commercial, which became the Vernon Inn Annex. The inn boasted of a “fine bathing beach.”

Marion Wells took over in 1939 and renamed the place the Seascape House. A thorough renovation was supervised by Gordon Pulver. Two years later, just before World War II put a stop to any such construction activity, Pulver undertook further refinements of the inn. Peter Hunt designed the signs and a “cheerful breakfast bar” with a “smart black floor expertly spattered in red and white.” (“Seascape Opens, Victorian Accents,” The Advocate, 3 July 1941.) The Seascape House had what The Advocate described in 1962 as the “first pool built on the Lower Cape,” designed by James S. Thomas.

Guests of the Seascape who arrived in Provincetown by plane could expect to be met at the airport by Bob Casper, driving a 1938 Ford station wagon. (Shades of Holiday Inn!) They received morning newspapers in their rooms, and their laundry was done for them by the staff. Such attention and amenities drew some stellar patrons: Leonard Bernstein, Abe Burrows, Victor Borge, Jose Ferrer, Hans Hofmann, Sidney Janis, Louise Nevelson and Edward G. Robinson among them. In 1960, Wells married the Boston architect Josiah H. Child. They turned the Seascape over to Robert Roman of North Truro in 1962. (“R. Roman Buys Seascape House,” The Advocate, 25 January 1962.)

Roman said he would continue to operate the Seascape House and the associated Shore Club much as they had been run. Apparently, no one took it as an omen that his North Truro motel was called the Buccaneer.

Within a year, Roman was complaining that the Seascape was obsolete and that it was “almost impossible to induce the people to stay in it.” He moved four buildings on the Commercial Street property down to the far east end of Bradford Street and began constructing — on the shoreline parcel opposite the old Mayo Cottage — a 40-room, four story building to be called the Surfside Arms and Motor Inn. A Beach Point-style motel, four stories high! Across from the Mayo Cottage! It was beyond unthinkable. Ross Moffett minced no words:

A four-story motel might well be the atom bomb that would senselessly kill the only feature, or aspect, that distinguishes Provincetown from all the other towns in this country. While this bomb would not blow art to bits on the instant, its fallout, as it slowly enveloped us, would within a few years bring to an end the conditions for all cultural activity in this area.

While it didn’t have quite that effect, the construction of the north pavilion of the hotel in 1965 was responsible for the loss of the Mayo Cottage, just as wrecking crews 300 miles to the southwest were finishing up with Penn Station.


 

 

 

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