The tower of the Provincetown Public Library is — and always was — a skyline ornament. But it was even more imposing in 1860 when it was built as the Center Methodist Church, with a steeple piercing the sky at 162 feet. The steeple came down after the Portland Gale of 1898, but the church nonetheless inspired Edward Hopper (as discussed by Stephen Borkowski with The New York Times), among other painters. The Methodists sold it in 1958 to Walter P. Chrysler Jr., whose father founded the Chrysler Corporation. He turned it into the Chrysler Art Museum, a fine-art collection now housed in Norfolk, Va. The old church was briefly the Center for the Arts before reopening in 1976 as the Provincetown Heritage Museum, curated by Josephine Del Deo. (Presciently, one of the life-size dioramas in the museum was “The 1873 Library,” whose wax-figure librarian, by Mary Bono, is shown above.) The museum’s astonishing, ship-in-a-bottle centerpiece was a half-scale model of the legendary schooner Rose Dorothea, built by Francis “Flyer” Santos. In 2005, the building began a new life as the Provincetown Public Library, replacing the Freeman building at 330 Commercial Street.
It still makes for a terrific museum, with the model, the extravagant Lipton Cup won by the original Rose Dorothea, paintings, and the delightful Tourists by Chaim Gross.
Here is an abbreviated version of the tour from the library’s Web site:
“Upon entering the library, one immediately sees one of the key elements which qualify it for the National Register of Historic Places: the matching wooden staircases which spiral from the front lobby to the second floor. … The first object visitors notice … is the Lipton Cup. This magnificent trophy was awarded to Provincetown’s Capt. Marion Perry by the legendary tea baron, Sir Thomas Lipton. The Grand Banks schooner Rose Dorothea won the Boston-Gloucester Fishermen’s Race in 1907. … A kiosk invites library users to view two short films, Abraço o Barco (Embrace the Boat), the story of the Rose Dorothea, and Safe Harbor: Provincetown — A Community Responds to AIDS: The First Decade, 1983-1993.
“Provincetown Library’s collection of over 30,000 books, periodicals and audiovisual materials begins here. Incorporated into the design of the bookshelves are end panels made of the arm rests from the church pews that once seated the Methodist congregation. … Behind the circulation desk is a painting entitled Sailing by local artist Anne Packard. The Provincetown Art Commission displays throughout the library recently restored work from the town’s collection of over 300 paintings by artists with local roots. … You’ll enjoy the Marc Jacobs Reading Room, a technology-free zone for quiet reading and study. Below the two paintings by Karl Knaths and Ada Gilmore on the Center Street side, several public computers are available.
“Heading up to the second floor via the public stairway, one notices a trio of large black-and-white pictures showing fishing schooners at sail. These were photographed during the legendary Boston-Gloucester Fishermen’s Race in 1907. … We see a portrait of Francis “Flyer” Santos by Sal Del Deo. Captain Santos and others tell the story of the giant model’s construction, which took place from 1977 to 1988, in the film Abraço o Barco … Walking toward the bow of the ship, one notices nautical design touches inspired by the Rose Dorothea, including port-hole windows and wave-shaped bookshelves.
“A cozy reading corner commemorates Alice O’Grady Joseph, who directed the Provincetown Public Library from 1965 to 1982. When the card catalog became obsolete, the nostalgic cabinet was reused to file a large collection of recipes. Above it is a painting by Henry Hensche, titled Margaret Mayo, Expecting Motherhood. … The front spar of the Rose Dorothea extends cleverly into the glass-doored Bowsprit Room (which once served as the choir loft). …
“Ascending the public stairway to the third floor on the Johnson Street side, we note the portrait of former library trustee J. Arthur Lopes, painted by Henry Hensche, and William L’Engle’s painting, Marya. … The best view in town is offered by the 15-foot tall windows … Another impressive view from the balcony is the 66½-foot model of the schooner Rose Dorothea. On her deck are two dories representing the 12 dories on the actual schooner; one can also see the authentic detailing on the handmade sails and rigging. Looking up, notice the two ovals cut out of the historic vaulted ceiling to accommodate the masts of the ship. … Though not original to the building, the glass-block walls of the elevator let in natural light from the arched windows.”
This brief capsule description and history will be greatly expanded.