260 Commercial Street

260 Commercial Street, Town Hall, by David W. Dunlap (2011).

260 Commercial Street, Town Hall, by David W. Dunlap (2011).

Town Hall, a great Victorian-era confection from 1886 and the center of civic life in many ways, emerged in 2010 from an extensive renovation more resplendent than it had been since the days of Victoria. The new pale green exterior, framed by cream-colored highlights, echoes the original paint job and gives the building, designed by John A. Fox, a welcome articulation. There was some grumbling about the ambitious scale of the renovation during an economic crisis, but as the hall emerged from its construction cocoon, its newfound dignity spoke for itself.

Town Hall auditorium, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

Town Hall auditorium, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

What compelled the project was an engineer’s finding in 2008 that the hall was “dangerously overstressed.” Town officials closed the auditorium — scene of concerts, performances, lectures, dances, costume balls, women’s wrestling matches, and exhibitions, including the first Art Association show — and then the entire building, moving into a trailer complex on Jerome Smith Road. The renovation was by McGinley Kalsow & Associates.

Ross Moffett’s “Spreading Nets,” by David W. Dunlap (2011).

Today, in the entry vestibule, you’re swept into a Social Realist panorama in the murals Spreading Nets and Gathering Beach Plums, by Ross Moffett. Their presence signals that Town Hall is an art gallery, too. Other masterpieces typically on view from the municipal collection include Charles Hawthorne’s monumental Crew of the Philomena Manta and his much more intimate Fish Cleaners. In the basement, you can still see the barred jail cell windows.

Town Meeting at Town Hall in 2011, by David W. Dunlap.

Town Meeting at Town Hall in 2011, by David W. Dunlap.

Upstairs, the auditorium is the heart of the building, where Town Meeting is conducted. In Provincetown, the people as a whole compose the legislative body, with all the pluses and minuses you might expect from governing with your neighbors. Excitement runs high at times. Former Selectman Frank Henderson, 63, collapsed and died after speaking on a contentious issue at the 1964 Town Meeting. Day-to-day administration is in the hands of a town manager, hired by the five-member Board of Selectmen, elected at large, which is responsible for planning and policy making.

To name two stars who have graced the stage: Elaine Stritch appeared with the Provincetown Players in the summer of 1946, before her Broadway debut. In July 2014, the month Stritch died, Joan Rivers performed here, two months before she died.

In May 2004, Town Hall was the celebratory site of many of the state’s first weddings among same-sex couples. Marriage license applications that year totaled 900, up from 25 the year before.

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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