Well worth a visit even if you’re not staying here, the sprawling Provincetown Inn Waterfront Resort and Conference Center — part of which stands on four acres of landfill created especially for the hotel — is so large that its parking lot alone could fit the Crown & Anchor and the Boatslip and the Land’s End Inn combined. The principal attraction are historical murals of Provincetown and Long Point, painted by Don Aikens from 1966 to 1972. But you shouldn’t miss the two-story interior court of the original inn, built 1923/25, or the outdoor swimming pool in the shape of a Pilgrim hat, tapering to the deep end, with symmetrical staircases on either side of the shallow end, where a brim ought to be.
Joshua Paine (1865-1932), a Provincetown native, was the developer of the Provincetown Inn. Through his mother, Martha Freeman Atwood, he was descended from Elder William Brewster, the spiritual leader of the Pilgrims. His sister, Nancy W. Paine Smith (d 1940), wrote The Provincetown Book. Paine married Harriet Roxanna Payrow (±1864-1951). Paine also built the Castle at 2 Commercial Street, just across the way, which was the forerunner of the Murchison House. And he developed the Cape Cod, Colonial and Puritan cold storage plants.
The Inn opened in 1925, according to a history its own Web site (though the usually reliable Clive Driver fixes the opening 10 years earlier in Looking Back). In 1933 and 1934, it was briefly under the management of Charles W. Kokerda, who renamed it the Provincetown Sippican Hotel and Annex, after the Sippican Hotel that he had owned in Marion, Ohio. At this time, there were 50 guest rooms in the establishment, 31 of them with private bathrooms (“Provincetown Inn Now Open,” The Advocate, July 13, 1933″).
The next year, 1935, was arguably the most fateful in the Inn’s history. That was when the management was taken over by Chester G. Peck Jr. (±1914-2000), an absolute dynamo of a hotelier who enlarged the Inn far beyond anything Paine would have recognized, becoming synonymous in the process with the Provincetown Inn. (Or was the Provincetown Inn synonymous with Chester Peck?)
During World War II, the Inn was effectively commandeered by the Navy for use as a Coast Guard training center. After the war, Peck got going. Big time.
The first thing he did, in June 1946, was to open the Breakwater Room — “Dance, Drink and Dine in a Place of Gay Beauty” — with Ernie Bell and his four-piece dance orchestra. Manny Veara was the bartender. The Breakwater Room, which could seat 255, occupied a specially built wing on the west side of the hotel. The Advocate’s reporter, who confessed to being “goggle-eyed,” noted a 22-foot mahogany bar with leather upholstered sides, leather banquettes, chromium tables and chairs, a flagstone floor, Delt-blue ceiling and Gay 90s wallpaper. In addition, Charles Heinz painted windmill and lighthouse murals. A screened-in porch overlooked the namesake West End Breakwater on its “long tumbling trek to Wood End, a great wall across the flats in low tide and a foam-flecked crest in high” (“‘Breakwater Room’ a Place of Charm,” June 13, 1946).
Expansion wasn’t about to stop there, however. In 1954, Peck had the audacity to propose a four-acre landfill offshore from the Inn. Four acres! Imagine the Environmental Impact Statement if he had come along 30 years later. And he seems to have been completely candid about the business motivation behind his proposed reshaping of the shoreline: “mainly to expand automobile parking facilities for visitors at the Inn and the area of the First Landing Place Plaza,” The Advocate reported (“Public Works Officials Hold Hearing on Petition to Fill Shore Near Inn,” Dec. 30, 1954). It flips the modern paradigm on its head: unapologetically subordinating the beachfront and wetlands to the car. It’s like one of those paradoxically comic lines in Mad Men.
There was opposition, all right, but not along present-day environmentalist lines. Speaking for the Town of Provincetown to commonwealth regulatory officials in Boston, Selectman Frank D. Henderson objected to the landfill as a private taking; depriving the public of the ability to sail over the four acres at high tide or walk through the area in low tide. Ralph S. Carpenter, the proprietor of Delft Haven and creator of the First Landing Place Plaza, objected that the landfill would block views from his cottages, change the topography of the beach and possibly undermine the plaza.
But Peck eventually prevailed and the creation of this new peninsula began in 1957. It is where the enormous parking lot, a one-story motel extension and the Pilgrim-hat pool were eventually built. It was also the site, from 1967 to 1997 of a recreational and entertainment building designed by Burnett V. Vickers of Orleans, the architect of the New Art Cinema. This structure, supported on 82 piles driven through the sandy landfill, housed the pool, a shuffleboard court, bowling alley, Ping Pong and pool room, cocktail lounge, night club and snack bar. It was at this time that passageways were added to link all the disparate units in the complex under cover. That allowed Peck to keep the Provincetown Inn open year-round, beginning around 1968 (“Provincetown Inn to Remain Open Year Round,” The Advocate, Nov. 2, 1967).
A redecoration effort begun in 1966 yielded the murals by Don Aikens that are now probably the Inn’s second best-known architectural feature. (Sorry, but nothing competes with a pool in the shape of a Pilgrim hat.) Based on old postcards and vintage photos, they depict many familiar scenes around town and included faces that were recognizable to viewers at the time, like Frank “Scarry Jack” Crawley (b 1866). (“Provinceown Inn Gets New Decor,” The Advocate, Apr. 14, 1966.) The most ambitious of the suite of murals by Aikens is the recreation of the Long Point settlement, occupying three walls in what is now known as the Tiffany Room. This is especially priceless because Aikens depicted the floaters as they currently appeared on their inland sites, complete with second stories they didn’t have on the Point and landscaping that would have impossibly genteel out in that rugged spot. He also created “three-dimensional murals” that incorporated physical elements like a boat hull to give them actual depth. One such tableau shows the galley of a tugboat named the Chester — for you know who.
Peck sold the business in 1972 to a group of investors from whom Brooke S. Evans emerged as the owner — [after a foreclosure?] — in 1977, under the Provincetown Inn Limited Partnership. He rather fancily styled the place the Provincetown Inn & Executive Conference Center in 1978.
For a time, the outboard building was a hub of Provincetown’s nightlife. “The Fore and Aft Room and the Pilgrim Room went through a variety of incarnations that included live entertainment, a disco and theater productions,” Sue Harrison recalled in The Banner (Feb. 20, 1997). Grace Jones and Phyllis Diller performed there (not on the same bill), as Wayland Flowers and his puppet Madame. “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler had a training camp in the building, which also served — in one of those marvelous instances of local incongruity — as the home for several years of the Provincetown Theater Company. It offered readings, playwriting workshops and performances year-round, “many of them original works by local playwrights,” said Gillian Drake in The Complete Guide to Provincetown (1992). A spacious lawn, and the pool (once again outdoors), are all that remain.
Restaurants, clubs, lounges and lobby stores have come and gone. There were, for instance:
• Camilla’s Shop, a gift shop, in the mid 1930s.
• The Provincetown Inn Gift Shop in the late 1940s, a division of the Mayflower Gift Shop empire that included the Corner Gift Shop at 250 Commercial Street and the Mayflower Gift Shop at 317 Commercial Street.
• The Inn Coiffure beauty shop in the mid 1960s.
• The Pilgrim Room restaurant, beginning in the 1960s.
• The Landing cocktail bar, beginning in the 1960s.
• The Lucille and Vivian Clothes Boutique, operated in the 1960s by Lucille Crawley Donahue (±1904-2000), part of a retail empire that stretched to 435 Commercial Street and to Harvard Square. They also ran the Everbreeze Restaurant at 429 Commercial Street.
• The Inn Pub is the former Landing. It operates currently.
• The Pilgrim Pool Bar and Grill operates currently, in season.
• The West End Lounge operates currently.
There are 101 guest rooms at the Provincetown Inn. High-season rack rates in 2011 ranged from $179 a night for a room without balcony, overlooking Commercial Street, to $409 a night for suites. Shoulder season rates were as low as $69 a night.
The Evans family continues to run the Provincetown Inn, having been proprietors almost as long as Chester Peck. Evan Evans, the son of Brooke Evans, is the manager of the hotel and president of the ownership entity, the Provincetown Inn Cooperative, of which Lois Evans is also an officer. Derek Evans is [was?] the front desk manager. Jeff Evans has also been involved. The family also operates the Outer Reach Resort in Truro.