Former Post Office | Cotton Gallery
Given its handsome, handmade neo-Classical architectural details; its history and age; its complexity; and the relative lack of modern “improvements,” 255-257 Commercial Street may qualify as the most interesting commercial building downtown. And its significance is greatly enhanced by the presence of a similar building next door, at No. 251-253. Both are owned by the Shalom family. “This building, in concert with 251-253 Commercial are excellent examples of early wharf head buildings,” Tom Boland wrote in the Historic District Survey. “Both survive largely intact from their original design and create a definite sense of streetscape.”
The Historic District Survey places the construction of the building some time between 1836 and 1858. Several of the important figures in the building’s history are:
• J. E. Atkins, who operated a furniture business here;
• Joseph A. West, the postmaster of Provincetown when the Post Office occupied the western half of the building;
• Walter G. Stiff (±1876-1953), one of the town’s leading photographers in the early 20th century, who kept a store here; and
• the Shalom family, who purchased the building from the Stiff estate in 1955.
As you can see in one of the historical photographs below from the Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, the building once had an open-air porch. It was badly damaged in a 1958 fire, at which time Sam Shalom was running a gift store in one part of the building, while Jane Alexander was operating the Shell Shop in another. (“$35,000 Fire Damages Building-Shops, Firemen Keep Flames From Spreading,” The Advocate, 14 August 1958.)