246 Commercial Street

 
Porthole Building | Provincetown Bookshop | Galadriel’s Mirror

In an era when small-scale, independent bookselling seems to be as perilous a way to make a living as small-scale, independent fishing, it is a comfort in every way to walk into the Provincetown Bookshop, a general interest bookstore in congenially cramped quarters with smart selections in many fields. It has been in business for 78 years (as of 2010) — the last 47 of them under the same management and the last 70 of them exactly where you’ll find the store now: the Port-Hole Building, an Art Moderne commercial extension of Captain Philip Cook’s large, Greek Revival-style house, which was built around 1850. Look above the ocean-liner curves of the storefront, best from across the street, and you’ll see the old house clearly.

Capt. Philip Cook, a customs official, postmaster and representative, was “prominent in Cape affairs,” The Advocate recalled in 1939. The house passed to his son Elisha F. Cook and then to his wife and their daughter, Annie (Cook) Snow, who sold it in 1939 to Paul Smith. He was a great local booster. He wrote and published A Modern Pilgrim’s Guide to Provincetown, a nicely comprehensive handbook that came out in several editions during the 1930s.

In 1932, Smith opened the Provincetown Bookshop at 447 Commercial Street, where the Karilon Gallery currently does business. Smith’s store featured works by authors with a lower cape connection; John Dos Passos, Susan Glaspell, Inez Hogan, Harry Kemp, Norman Matson, George O’Neil, Eugene O’Neill, Lynn Riggs, Frank Shay, Wilbur Daniel Steele, Mary Heaton Vorse, Edmund Wilson — and himself — among them. Not only could you buy books here, you could rent them on a daily basis. “To my dismay,” Smith would later say, “the local authors gave their books away. Consequently, I sold books by other writers who did not live here.” The Provincetown Bookshop was, in effect, a commercial circulating library. In the late 30s, the shop was quartered at 265 Commercial Street. “Good books” cost 5 cents a day to borrow while “new books” commanded 5 cents a day (equal now roughly to 75 cents). If you decided to buy the book, you could deduct 3 cents from the price for every day you’d rented it.

In 1939, Smith made his critical move: he purchased the Philip Cook house at No. 246 and almost immediately planned to extend it across its deep front yard to the street line, with one or two one-story shops. He commissioned the architect Brit Bolton, whose initial scheme was described as “modified Colonial” style.

Happily, Smith and Bolton departed from that plan — would Provincetown really have needed another Ye Olde Shoppe facade? — and settled instead on a modernistic approach; “the first example in this town,” The Advocate said, and much talked about. “The one-story front is somehow reminiscent of the bridge of a ship, with a large port-hole window in one of the two shops, another in the entrance, and a large front and corner window in the book shop. And the whole is extremely neat, white and ship-shape in appearance. … It will be well lighted by means of the new flourescent lights.” Whether by design or through common town usage, the commercial portion of the Cook house came to be called the Port-Hole Building.

The bookshop opened in its new quarters in the summer of 1940, followed shortly by Davy Jones’ Locker next door, run by Mayme Claxton, which offered “ceramics, glass, plastics in attractive designs you won’t find elsewhere.” Other tenants in the porthole storefront have included the Shoe Port shoe store, run by Jean A. Malchman, a unit of the Malchman’s clothing store across Commercial Street. In recent years, it’s been a jewelry and gift store called Galadriel’s Mirror, referring to a magical water basin described in The Lord of the Rings.

The main house reopened in 1940 as the Priscilla Alden Club Residence for Women — and only for women — under the management of Mary Hoxie Ryder. It took its name from Priscilla (Mullins) Alden, who arrived on the Mayflower and later married John Alden, after a legendarily oblique courtship that was described — if not wholly invented — by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in The Courtship of Miles Standish. Ryder was said to have been a direct descendant of Priscilla Alden.

Its seven rooms, on the second and third floors of the house, were not numbered but named after other women, Alden’s sister pioneers, who came to the New World aboard the Mayflower: Remember Allerton, Dorothy Bradford, Mary Chilton, Humility Cooper, Desire Minter, Rose Standish and Susanna White. “The floors throughout have been painted a rich Cape Cod Wagon Blue and the walls and ceilings of the bedrooms are ivory, contrasting pleasantly with the maple furniture.” The Advocate‘s conclusion, as expressed in a headline on July 25, 1940, a few decades ahead of its time:

“Ladies Like Living Minus Gentlemen.”

In the late ’40s, the bookshop was being run by Smith; his wife, Isabel “Bunny” (Bouker) Smith; and their daughter, Shaw. The pennies-a-day rental policy continued at least through the 1950s. On a given July day in 1960, a visitor might have found sunburned tourists, beatniks, a lot of children and sailors from the U.S.S. Macon looking through the art books. “Oh, there’s Paul Klee. He’s from Kentucky.” “Yeah? Man, that’s queer stuff.” “That’s not so hard. All you got to do is paint what your unconscious thinks.” Throughout this time, the Smiths operated other book stores in Key West, New Orleans and Chapel Hill. It was the North Carolina business that compelled Smith to shed the old Provincetown business in 1963. “My book store in Chapel Hill needs more and more of my attention,” he explained. Smith once said that his warmest memories were of children in the bookstore, and the children’s books section remains the most prominent in the store.

Luckily for Provincetown, the store was acquired by proprietors who turned out to be even more devoted than the Smiths: Joel Newman and Elloyd Hanson, who were also partners in life. (For the first couple of years, beginning in 1963, Hanson’s partner in the Provincetown Bookshop was Terrill Schukraft.) Both played the woodwind known as the recorder. In 1963, Hanson was the editor of The American Recorder, the quarterly magazine of the American Recorder Society. Newman was an assistant professor of music history at Columbia University. And they both belonged to Morningside Recorder Consort in New York. Having bought Mr. Smith’s business, they purchased the Captain Cook house from him in 1967. Over their decades in Provincetown, they also published recorder ensemble music under the Provincetown Bookshop name. With one other musician, they played as the Band of Three in Christmas services at St. Mary of the Harbor. Hanson died in 2007.

Of all their employees, Paul Haines is probably the best known to current customers while the best known alumnus is surely John Waters, who worked there for about seven years in the late ’60s and early ’70s, after having been a clerk at Molly Malone Cook’s East End Bookshop at 349 Commercial Street. “They sought me out,” Waters recalled in his 1997 interview with Provincetown Arts. “Probably because I was passionate about books.” He credited Hanson with having introduced him to writers like Jane Bowles and Ronald Firbank.

“It was great because, as part of the job, you could have any book as long as you read it. I didn’t abuse the policy, but I did get free books that I’d never heard of in my life. I also got $100 a week, which was really a fortune then, more money than anyone I knew. … Every winter they closed up, and I could go anywhere in the country and collect unemployment, and some of my early movies were financed by that.”

Waters still patronizes the Provincetown Bookshop when he’s in town. “I could still work there,” he said in 1997. “When I go in now, I feel like walking behind the counter and saying, ‘Yes, we have The Outermost House!'”


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A Personal Reminiscence by Jane Kogan

Bob Klein, 246 Commercial Street, by Jane Kogan. Courtesy of Jane Kogan.Bob Klein with Cindy Coble's daughter Kia, 246 Commercial Street, by Jane Kogan. Courtesy of Jane Kogan.

Bob Klein had the shop Galadriel’s Mirror for 42 summers. I worked beside him at Provincetown Bookshop for 40 of them. We started working at the adjacent shops the same summer, 1972, and I retired at the end of 2011. Cindy Coble is spot on that Bob knew a great deal about many things, and it’s true he was usually right, and let you know it — that was the annoying part.

But over the decades, after years of irritation with his attitudes, I came to appreciate and like him more and more, and rely on him for information on varied topics, and now find that I miss him more than I would have thought possible. Of course in the off-season, there was plenty of time to talk, and we did. But Bob was business first, always. He ran a good business, and I always brought friends and relatives in, as his prices were better than others’. As Cindy says, he was a great educator. It amazed me that a client he had seen perhaps just once before, several years earlier, he could greet by name, remember what that person had bought, and might even remember a spouse or kids, or something they’d told him.

Jane Kogan, 246 Commercial Street, Provincetown. Courtesy of Jane Kogan.Terrill Schukraft was Roslyn Garfield’s girlfriend in 1963 when Ros helped her and Elloyd to buy the bookshop from original owner Paul Smith who had started it as a summer business in 1932. Elloyd aside, I worked at the bookshop longer, and more hours than anyone else, coming in the year after John Waters left, and being there until two years ago. Though Joel paid the bills, for many years I was the rock on which the bookstore rested in terms of getting orders done, and books unpacked and on the shelves. People often thought I was the owner, and I worked there as if I was. One memorable time, I kept the store open without electricity in the aftermath of a hurricane, and found the books customers wanted with the use of a flashlight. After Elloyd’s death I worked yearround doing absolutely everything needed to keep the store going but paying the bills.

Jane Kogan, 246 Commercial Street, Provincetown. Courtesy of Jane Kogan.Most of the written signs photographed here were by me. Over the years I reorganized the shop, bringing in a gay section in the mid-’70s, dismayed that Elloyd and Joel had never thought, in this town, to have one; and of course it became one of our best-selling areas. Elloyd always kept classics in, and over the years we greatly expanded the poetry, cooking, essays and dictionaries, children’s, and bargain book sections. Elloyd — who had gone to seminary in New York City — always had a wonderful religion section. Because he and Joel were into music (Joel a full professor at Columbia University and Elloyd for years a recorder teacher at adult summer music camps, as well as giving private lessons to local Provincetown children and adults), there was a large music section with hundreds of Dover opera scores and instrumental music. Joel ran a mail-order business for recorder and other antique instruments’ sheet music, ordering the music from publishers here and in Europe, and with a clientele of individuals as well as music schools and music camps.

8 thoughts on “246 Commercial Street

  1. Eloyd’s funeral service at St. Mary’s filled the church. His ashes are buried underneath a bush to the left of the street entrance to the church grounds

  2. I was employed at Galadriel’s for 20 years. The best years of my life, despite working 80 hours a week. Joel, Eloyd, Paul and Jane ensured my three children had a plethora of reading material all year long. The kids would sit in the bookshop and read for hours while i sold platinum and gold to locals and tourists.

    Joel and Eloyd were always hosting dinner parties, and the aroma of some delicious dish, along with the sound of classical music vibrating through the back door of the jewelry store is one of my fav memories. They were wonderful cooks, and both had a wry sense of humour.

    I miss Eloyd very much.

    I miss it all very much.

  3. When the Malchmans operated the Shoe Port, Jean’s father, “Pop Wasser,” ran the store. A diminutive man who charmed all who met him, Pop and his wife had long been an act on the Chautauqua vaudeville circuit.

    When I first met Jean and Nate, about 1953, they had a small cart on the porch of the Central House (now the Crown and Anchor) where they made and sold a modern version of “Stanhope” jewelry with the buyer’s photo in the viewing spot. Nate was not too long out of the Army, where I think he was assigned to writing for the Stars and Stripes; Jean was from Madison, Wisc.

    Their only son, David, now lives in Connecticut and practices as a licensed physician’s assistant.

  4. Bob Klein, who owned Galadriel’s Mirror, recently passed away. He’d been in business in Provincetown since 1974, and had the shop at 246 Commercial for 30-plus years.

    I recently sat down with Joel [Newman], who rented to Bob all those years, and we told stories of the “good old days” — of Elloyd [Hanson], and of the first time Elloyd’s parents came to visit Ptown. Joel gave the parents fair warning that Ptown was very different than the Midwest. After a few rounds of drinks while perched on the roof of the building and people-watching, Elloyd’s parents relaxed and had a good laugh. Joel has the old photos to prove it.

    Joel shared many memories of the bookshop, from Elloyd running it with Roz Garfield’s girlfriend, to purchasing the business and then the building. He remembers thinking, “What on earth can a professor from Columbia (where Joel taught) bring to running a bookshop?” He and Elloyd thrived there, and as I sat with him in the back of the building, surrounded by the photos, artwork, musical scores, books stacked in every corner, I was aware of a life well lived.

    We still can’t talk about Bobby without crying. It’s too fresh. Bob had a crusty exterior, and if you were lucky enough to get past it, you were gifted with knowing a gem. (Couldn’t help it.) Bob knew everything about everything, and as annoying and persistent and most perseverant as he was — and he was — he was always correct.

    Bob had an eclectic aesthetic, bar none. His glory, the shop that is Galadriel’s, was his life’s work. I worked there for too many years to count, and my daughter and son after me. At least a few times a day, a customer will come in and tell a story about how the rock specimens, fossils, shells, and unique flotsam and jetsam (sorry, but I had to dust all that stuff) had inspired their love of geology, travel, collecting.

    Bob didn’t just sell rocks, he schooled you on all there was to know about them. He loved inquisitive children, just starting out on their rock collection. Many moons ago, Bob was a school teacher in West Virginia, and his natural tendency to educate was always evident.

    Galadriel’s is part hands-on museum, part retail.

    The picture of the porthole is how I’ll remember Bob, the store, the years sitting behind the counter at the old register, watching the sun set, sneaking nips of Scotch between customers. Somehow during those summers, my children grew up, I became very middle-aged …

    … and now I’ll sneak a sip of Scotch in memory of Robert C. Klein. Thanks for everything, Bob, from helping me raise my children (one of the best memories: taking Henry to the E.R. after the boom broke his nose during a very windy day at the West End Racing Club), to gainfully employing us, dinners at Sal’s and Ciro & Sal’s, for teaching Henry how to fish, for always picking up the phone, for always being there. You were always there.

    • With this gorgeous and moving tribute, you have brought Bob Klein to life for those of us who were not lucky enough to know him. Thank you very much.

    • I just returned from the Cape last week, and made my usual trek to Ptown to visit Bob…I was shocked to see the store closed, and assumed he had just decided to retire. My father started purchasing items from Bob way back in the 70’s and my mother still wears much of it. I even worked for Bob for two summers…ahh…the late nights, the fun we had heading down to Pucci’s for his ubiquitous Rob Roy, (or two)…he taught me a lot while I worked there. I will always be grateful. Truthfully, I don’t think Ptown will ever be the same without Bob and Galadriels.

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