627 Commercial Street

627 Commercial Street, by David W. Dunlap (2009).

627 Commercial Street, by David W. Dunlap (2009).

Norman Mailer, by Sue Harrison.

Norman Mailer, by Sue Harrison.

Norman Mailer lived — large — in this five-bedroom house. It was built in 1930 for Dr. Percival Eaton, a leading civic figure, and called Etonia. It was the Collins Guest House in the ’40s and ’50s, run by John Collins, who sold it in 1956 to the artist Lily Harmon, an accomplished student of Henry Hensche. She called the building Harmony and, Irma Ruckstuhl said, had it clad in brick. She sold it in 1967 to Abby (Noselson) Friedman and B. H. “Bob” Friedman, a novelist and art critic who was active in the fledgling Fine Arts Work Center. “He and Abby gave grand parties,” Roger Skillings recalled, “which gave the writing and visual arts sides a chance to socialize on neutral grounds.”

627 Commercial Street, by David W. Dunlap (2008).

627 Commercial Street, by David W. Dunlap (2008).

Mailer acquired the house in 1983 with his biographer Peter Manso (Mailer: His Life and Times), who remained a co-owner until 1986. Several rooms served as sets for Mailer’s feature movie, Tough Guys Don’t Dance, including his attic writing study. He and his last wife, the artist Norris Church Mailer, split the attic — nominally. “Granted,” she wrote in A Ticket to the Circus, “he had three-quarters of the space.”

627 Commercial Street, by David W. Dunlap (2009).

627 Commercial Street, by David W. Dunlap (2009).

Norris Church Mailer, by Sue Harrison.

Norris Church Mailer, by Sue Harrison.

His biographer J. Michael Lennon (Norman Mailer: A Double Life) said: “Mailer used to love to watch the formation flying of a flock of pigeons that often roosted on his roof. … Their movements were so coordinated and precise that he offered the speculation that the birds were reincarnated Army Air Force pilots.” After Mailer’s death in 2007, the house was used as the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, cofounded by Lawrence Schiller and Norris. She died in 2010 and is buried next to her husband in Town Cemetery. The pigeons remain.


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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