Once, organic products were really organic. A highly desirable lubricant for timepieces and precision instruments was an oil ladled from the heads of dead pilot whales (called blackfish) and the most prized binding agent for otherwise volatile perfumes was the waxy substance ambergris, secreted from the intestines of sperm whales and famously worth more than its weight in gold. David Conwell Stull, who lived here, traded in whale oil but was best known as the Ambergris King, so expert in judging the value of a lump of ambergris that he could set the market price.
His refinery was at 465 Commercial Street (now adorned by a replica quarterboard from the whaler Montezuma). “There was a subtle aroma around these premises, as though the ghost of a whale had passed by,” Mary Heaton Vorse wrote. Stull died in 1926 and was buried in Town Cemetery.
Incidentally, nice as the sign is on the front porch, it’s wrong. According to George Bryant (whom I trust on such matters), Sylvanus Cook did not build this house. Rather, it was the home of Nathaniel Cook in the latter 19th century, when it was denominated 433 Commercial. Sylvanus lived on the other side of Cook Street, in what is now 474 Commercial.
In 1966, the old Stull house was purchased by Munro and Mary Moore. “Mun” Moore, an avid sailor, served as a selectman for many terms and was among the founders of the Fine Arts Work Center. He is remembered in the Munro Moore Cup, awarded to the winning Class D boat in the Long Point Race that is part of the annual Great Provincetown Schooner Regatta. Mary Moore, who still owns this house, is the donor relations coordinator of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.
Though the house itself is a marvel, the best thing about the Moore property may be the front lawn — across the street at 477 Commercial.