312-314 Commercial Street

 
Governor Bradford

Familiar as the Governor Bradford may seem — and if you first set foot in town within the last half century, it’s always been here — there are noteworthy things to record: It’s still in the hands of the Edwards family, which has run this restaurant and its predecessors since the 1940s. The Bradford itself is a relative newcomer among Provincetown’s heritage businesses, having opened in 1960. It has a terrific collection of domestic and maritime artifacts and an enormous (but well concealed) mural by James Wingate Parr. And it occupies two discrete buildings, No. 312, where the bar is, and No. 314, where the restaurant is.

No. 312, at the Standish Street corner, is prominent in a lot of early postcards, since the railroad tracks went right by it on their way to Railroad Wharf, where MacMillan Pier is today. The Sweet Shoppe — “Provincetown’s Palace of Sweets” — was doing business here in the late 1920s, selling cigarettes along with the chocolates.

In 1932, First National Stores, a large grocery chain also known as Finast, opened a branch in this building. It remained for 26 years, enough time to become a local landmark, vying with the A&P across the street at No. 315. “To many the store had become an institution and its salesmen sort of belonging to the family,” The Advocate said in 1958 as it noted the store’s closing. “There purchases were sometimes made to the vocalizing (and not too bad either) by the clerks and usually to a gay banter of wit that took the mind off the shrinkage of the buck.” (“To Fellows and Friends, Afar and Abroad,” The Advocate, 17 April 1958.) The closing of the downtown store followed by just two months the closing of the West End branch at 142 Commercial Street.

No. 314 was more traditionally the restaurant location. In the 1930s, it was Marshall’s Restaurant and Sea Grill. Anthony J. Marshall was the proprietor. Marshall’s brother-in-law, Herbert W. Hayes (±1882-1931) had worked in the pool room that preceded the restaurant. At Marshall’s in May 1931, a banquet was held to honor the playwright Susan Glaspell (1876-1948), who had won the Pulitzer Prize in drama for Alison’s House. Richard Miller and Mary Heaton Vorse were among the speakers who illuminated Glaspell’s achievements.

By the late 1930s, the establishment was known as Silva’s Sandwich Shop. In time, this came under the management of John A. “Chef” Edwards (±1887-1949), who ran the Sandwich Shop in the summertime and the Chef’s Lunch restaurant in the Knights of Columbus building, 277 Commercial Street, year-round. (“Funeral Yesterday for Chef Edwards,” The Advocate, 21 April 1949.) Two of his sons were active in the business: Donald V. Edwards (b ±1923) and John S. “Jack” Edwards (1915-2005). Shortly after his death, they moved all the equipment from Chef’s Lunch here to the Sandwich Shop location, which they advertised as “An Edwards Restaurant.”

In 1959, Donald V. Edwards and his wife opened the Chef’s Restaurant in what had been the First National space at the Standish Street corner (and perhaps in the adjacent Sandwich Shop space, too). Beatrice DeCosta was the head chef. By far the restaurant’s most impressive feature was a 26-foot-long mural by the well-known artist James Wingate Parr (1923-1969), “depicting a beach with the tide running out, with shells and driftwood scattered on the sand,” as The Advocate noted, complementing the décor of beige walls and furniture, driftwood accents and philodendrons. (“Nautical Motif Is Used in New Dining Room,” The Advocate, 9 July 1959.)

The mural endures to this day, but the name Chef’s Restaurant was short-lived. The space was renamed the Governor Bradford Restaurant in 1960. Also operating on the premises was the Governor William Bradford Club, which I’ll assume — until someone sets me straight — was in fact the liquor-dispensing arm of the business; the bar, if you will. Contemporary ads in The Advocate were captioned “Notice to club members,” suggesting the same kind of wink-wink arrangement found at the Ace of Spades, another nominally private club. For a time, the business was split between the Compact Room and the Shell Room.

Today, the bar operates in No. 312. The manager is Matthew Mayfield, who has worked at the Governor Bradford since 1995. The restaurant is in No. 314. It has its own bar, presided over by Roberta “Bubbles” (Sawyer) McKay (b 1930), who has worked for the Edwards family since 1970. Hers is a terrific Provincetown story. Grandfather Carlos Avila was a fisherman from the Azores who was stranded in town one winter by specially bad storms. He was lodging at 165 Bradford Street with the Flores family, which — like so many families — rented rooms to fishermen and other transients. There, he met Jenny Flores, after which meeting he decided he liked Cape Cod better than the Azores and put down roots here. Their daughter, Mary Avila, grew up to marry Edgar Sawyer. Their daughter, Roberta, grew up at No. 165. She remembers her brother, Carl Sawyer, diving for nickels and dimes from passengers getting off the Boston boats, occasionally from the top of the piershed that now houses the Whydah Museum. Her sister, Edith Sawyer, married David Roderick, whose brother was Joseph Roderick (d 2011). She came by her wonderful nickname as the shampooist at the Peter Tompkins Hair Deezines salon, 139A Bradford Street, where she worked for 19 years.

The difference between bar and restaurant is hardly noticeable inside, since they’re joined by a performance space with a small stage that the Edwards family constructed in what was once an areaway between the two buildings. They also constructed a basement bar that goes by the name of Fo’cs’le but should not be mistaken for the more famous (defunct) establishment of that name at what is now the Squealing Pig, 335 Commercial Street.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


9 thoughts on “312-314 Commercial Street

  1. Oh how I miss standing behind the bar. The whole world would come by to visit. But the washashores were the best. Right Matt.

  2. Also covered over and still in place (I hope) were the large wonderful signs on the wall behind the meat counter, spelled out in blue and white tiles: “BEEF,” “PORK,” “VEAL.” As you entered the store the fresh fruits and vegetables were to your right, then the meats, all cut to order, of course, and on the left side the groceries, stacked on shelves almost to the ceiling, which the clerks brought down by using a long-handled grabber. Naturally, the selection was fairly limited.

    My favorite recollection was asking for fresh mushrooms only to be told, “We can’t sell them things here.”

  3. Donald V. Edwards was married to Irma Edwards from Mississippi, who ran the front of the house for years before her death in the mid-’90s. Donald V. Edwards’s house is a floater, positioned behind/next to restaurant. The copper pots on display belonged to “Chef” Edwards — Donald V. and Jack’s father — and to their mother, who was a superb baker. This is the same Edwards family that lived at 7 Alden Street.

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