274-276 Commercial Street

Former Seamen’s Savings Bank | Cabot’s Candy | Shell Shop

Salt-water taffy and seashells. You can almost hear Patti Page singing Old Cape Cod. But this substantial commercial building was not constructed as the unofficial headquarters of long-ago summertime fantasy. It was built in 1892, in Queen Anne style, as the headquarters of the Seamen’s Savings Bank, which occupied the building until 1964, when the new — and still current — headquarters opened at 221-223 Commercial Street. The tenants here are Cabot’s Candy of Cape Cod, owned and run since 1969 by Giovanni “John” Cicero (b 1943), and the Shell Shop, owned and run by Cynthia “Cindi” Gast, which has been in business since 1974.

During the bank’s occupancy, there were commercial tenants on the third floor, including the Dunes restaurant, which specialized in Southern fried chicken, in the 1930s; and the Harbor Vanity Shoppe in the 1940s. John C. Snow (d 1985), arguably the town’s leading lawyer, was also a second-floor tenant for many years. Other tenants included the William H. Young Insurance Agency and the S. J. Benson Insurance Agency, forerunners of the modern Benson Young & Downs at 56 Howland.

Cabot’s was established in 1927 by George Shwarz [sp?]. In a 2009 interview, I asked Cicero how the name of the business had come about. “He called it Cabot because he didn’t want to call it Shwarz,” he explained. “It’s not a very New England name.” He told me that sometimes — when he’s asked why a man named Cicero is running a business named Cabot — he’ll tell customers that his real name is actually Giovanni Caboto. The store specializes in homemade taffy, fudge, peanut brittle and honey-crunch popcorn. Of a summer night, those sweet aromas emerge from the shop like tendrils, pulling in passersby who might not otherwise have imagined themselves in the mood for taffy morsels. It has been described as the “last Cape confectioner to cook its own saltwater taffy.” (Stephen Morris, “Taffy Pulls in Sweet Tooths,” Cape Cod Day/Wicked Local, 20 August 2009.)

Cicero and his former wife, Judith, bought 274-276 Commercial Street in 1983 from Sumner E. Robinson, whose family had controlled the property since Seamen’s vacated it, Cicero said. The couple owned a number of key commercial properties downtown including 265-267 Commercial Street — the former Malchman’s clothing store — which they bought in 1975 from Jean A. and Nathan Malchman and turned it into a restaurant called Cicero’s. In 1984, they also bought from Charles W. Silva the building at 269-271 Commercial Street that housed the Viking restaurant.

Cabot’s can be seen in the background of one of the more iconic Ptown picture post cards of the 70s, showing a woman and a naked child — bare bottom to the camera — pausing at Ryder Street. ¶ Updated 2013-02-10


















6 thoughts on “274-276 Commercial Street

  1. In the old photograph at your entry for 270 Commercial Street, the small house of Mrs Atkins can be seen in the site where the bank was built. The Sanborn map 1888 shows the lot empty. Do you know if the house was moved or demolished? Back then they usually moved them around so I wonder where it is if that is the case.

    • What a great question, Denise. The John R. Smith Scrapbook on the Provincetown History Preservation Project site notes that it was moved to Miller Hill. Where on Miller Hill? — is obviously the next question. Susan Leonard has done some preliminary investigation and discovered a likely possible candidate at 12 Young’s Court. I’ll be reporting this when I next update the entry.

  2. Where on Miller Hill? Could it be the little house at 25 Miller Hill Road? In your entry, Lucinda Rosenfeld refers to a small house that was on this property. A “…Cape Cod style house that had been dragged up from the town center.” Is it still there?

    • I’ll be in town in September. You and Susan Leonard and I should go exploring!

  3. On Sunday, I walked up to 29 Miller Hill Road and looked at the small house that might be Mrs. Atkins’s house. It could be.

    But I had to investigate Snug Cottage at 178 Bradford because that is where Capt. Joseph Hatch lived in the late 1800s. He and his wife, Josephine, bought the 274-276 Commercial Street property in May 1887.

    The Barnstable Patriot of 5/31/87: “… the old building will be removed ….”

    Also in The Patriot of 12/4/88: Capt. Hatch sold “… the strip of land [274-276 Commercial] ) … to Samuel J. Rich.”

    Then in The Patriot of 12/11/88: “Capt. Joseph Hatch is raising his house on Miller Hill & putting a basement under the same.”

    The 1905 Provincetown Atlas lists Mrs. Hatch at 178 Bradford. That could be the Atkins house. So Mr. Hatch moved the building to Miller Hill, sold the vacant lot to Mr. Rich, and moved in and then put a basement underneath.

    LOL. I’m obsessed.

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