635 Commercial Street


 
Hyphen-House (West half)

A view from the beach makes immediately clear why Nos. 635 and 637 Commercial Street were once known collectively as the Hyphen-House, for there is indeed a slender connector between the two structures, which are now separate properties. At the time these two were in single ownership, the complex also included a garage, 638 Commercial Street, which has long been the Kearney family home. There is no evidence either of the hyphen connecting passage or of the garage on a 1929 street atlas, suggesting they were built in the 1930s. Not a lot of people had the money to build at that time, of course, but Gordon Fisher Sr. (1873-1945) of Pittsburgh seems to have been one of them.

Fisher’s forbears had arrived from England in 1637 (Anthony Fisher on his father’s side) and 1641 (Thomas Shreve on his mother’s side). He included the Rev. John Davenport, a founder of the New Haven colony, among his ancestors. Fisher was graduated from Princeton in 1895 and received his law degree from New York University in 1897. He married Matilda Carothers Milligan in 1901. Five years later, his name was added to that of a 68-year-old western Pennsylvania law firm that became Dalzell, Fisher, Young & Hawkins. (Many iterations later, the firm continues to practice in Pittsburgh as Thomson, Rhodes & Cowie.) He was also, as his Advocate obituary said, “affiliated with several steel companies.” Gordon Fisher Jr. (1904-1978), married Dorothy Babcock. Her father was Edward Vose Babcock, a lumber magnate and one-time mayor of Pittsburgh. Gordon Fisher III became president of the Babcock Lumber Company in 1963.

What a splash the Fishers must have made. Gordon Jr. arrived for the 1941 summer season — the last before World War II — aboard his yacht From Now On, with his children Gordon III and Mary aboard. (Must have been a lot of portaging between Pittsburgh and the Cape.) In 1944, while Gordon Jr. was in the Navy, his wife died in Beverly Hills. Only months after the war ended, in December 1945, Fisher sold all three properties that composed the Hyphen-House complex: Nos. 635, 637 and 638.

In the late 1940s, the property was run as a lodging house and restaurant called the Hyphen-House, about which more in the entry for No. 637.

The great photographic portraitist Arnold Newman (1918-2006) spent at least a couple of summers in this beachfront house in the late 1950s and early 1960s with his wife, Augusta “Gus” Newman, and their sons Eric and David. Newman is specially renowned for his “environmental” pictures of Igor Stravinsky framed by the prop and top of a grand piano, Pablo Picasso in moody chiaroscuro, Robert Moses standing on a steel beam with the New York skyline behind him and Alfred Krupp gazing infernally within a Krupp factory. Newman’s great contribution to local art history were his portraits, many of them in color, for the article “At the Tip of Cape Cod” in the July 1961 issue of Horizon magazine. They included Milton Avery, Victor Candell, Edward Dickinson, Jan Gelb, Chaim Gross, Hans Hofmann, Edward Hopper, Franz Kline, Karl Knaths, Leo Manso, Boris Margo, Jack Tworkov, Sol Wilson, and 16 members of the Art Association, including Ross Moffett, in an extraordinary group portrait in the Hawthorne gallery. The Hofmann portrait is among those shown on the Portraits page of new Arnold Newman Archive site. (Be warned: don’t start looking at his portraits unless you have at least a half hour free. They’re mesmerizing.)

The three Hyphen-House properties were ultimately divided. The beachfront property is known locally as the Schwartz-Meyer house. Members of ths Schwartz family, which owns the west side, include Shepard Schwartz, the president of Shepard Steel in Hartford.


On 28 June 2020, I received this wonderful email from Thomas Lee Randleman of Cleveland, which adds terrifically to the history of the house:

“I lived at 635 Commercial Street from the late ’70s to 1975/6. I shared the house with John Terence Kelly and we bought the property from Roslyn Garfield.

“During that time, I ran a (sort of) gallery at the small building in front of the Inn at the Mews [359 Commercial Street] called, The Thomas Lee Randleman Gallery, where I sold lithographs and prints but not serious art.

“Mr. Kelly was an architect and spent his time between Cleveland and Provincetown but I lived there year-round.

“Across the street was our neighbor the artist Joe Kaplan and his wife Virginia. Next to us in the other half of ‘Hyphen House’ was owned by Dr. Bernard Meyer, of New York City. His son is the director, Nicholas Meyer, who directed the film The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.

“It was the time of lots of T-shirt shops and leather craftsman shops, etc. Not nearly as ‘elegant’ as it has become. But it allowed all kinds of people from various backgrounds and financial means to congregate in this paradise. In the late ’70s, a large crack appeared in the break wall [sea wall/bulkhead]. We could not afford the repair. It had to be done by the Army Corps of Engineers, as it is part of the National Seashore.

“We sold the house to Shep Schwartz and his wife, who was an actress.”


[Updated 2020-06-29]


 

 

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