From 31 to 41 Commercial Street are seven buildings on 450 feet of beachfront, collectively the Masthead Resort, owned and operated since 1959 by John J. Ciluzzi Sr. (b 1923) What seems at first like a completely random group can actually be discerned as a symmetrical compound of three substantial houses at the ends and center — No. 31, the Old Furniture Shop; No. 37, a Long Point floater; and No. 41, the Helena Rubinstein summer home — with two cottages in each of the two interstices.
The assemblage was begun more than a century ago by the Hendrick family, which owned the lots that are now Nos. 31, 33 and 35. In 1911, Edith C. Hendrick acquired the lot at No. 39 from Jose Garalha. In the 1940s, Edith I. Hendrick operated an antiques store at No. 31 in partnership with Arthur E. Anderson, a native of Sweden and, like Miss Hendrick, a resident of Worcester. In 1943, Hendrick and Anderson together acquired No. 37, thereby unifying the assemblage all the way to — but not including — No. 41, which was owned at the time by Helena Rubinstein. Anderson was finally able to buy the Rubinstein house in 1945, by which time he alone was described as the operator of the Old Furniture Shop.
Anderson’s accommodations were known in the 1950s as the Masthead Cottages. He and his wife, Olive, sold the Masthead to John and Dorothy Ciluzzi of New Jersey in 1959. They improved the property, but not too much.”Some people have criticized us for not modernizing here,” Ciluzzi told Pru Sowers (“West End Motel Owner Bows Out of an Era,” The Banner/Wicked Local, 24 September 2009). “But this is authentic Cape Cod.” Besides running the Masthead, Ciluzzi had been known as an avid and accomplished tennis player, and a familiar figure at the Provincetown Tennis Club.
Unifying the disparate collection of buildings is a seawall that has permitted construction of an unusually large garden, atop a loam infill behind the wall, and a 400-foot private boardwalk.
31 Commercial Street
The Old Furniture Shop
The Old Furniture Shop was an antiques store operated by Edith Hendrick on property acquired from her family in the 1920s. The artisan Arthur Anderson apprenticed here and then operated the antiques store and the cottage colony until the Ciluzzis arrived. Its gently understated door-jamb sign was restored in 1998. Inside this building is the Mrs. Bob Hope Room, where Delores Hope once stayed, and the Billy Joel Efficiency.
33 Commercial Street
35 Commercial Street
37 Commercial Street
Dick “Flood” Smith lived in this house, built around 1850, when it stood at the eastern end of the Long Point settlement. For a time, until 1943, the house was owned by the artist George Elmer Browne. Anderson and Hendrick acquired it in 1943.
39 Commercial Street
Isabella Rossellini Cottage
The cast and crew of Norman Mailer’s movie Tough Guys Don’t Dance appropriated much of the Masthead during the location filming in 1987. This was Isabella Rossellini’s home away from home. His guests’ behavior was not recalled too fondly by Ciluzzi. “They were O.K. when they were in separate places,” he recalled more than two decades later (“West End Motel Owner Bows Out of an Era,” The Banner/Wicked Local, Sept. 24, 2009). “But when they got together, the music was blaring, the windows were all wide open in December with the heat on full-blast. I had to collect thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of damage from the film company for imploded televisions and damage to the floor where they all put out their cigarettes.” Is it perhaps telling that Rossellini’s stay is nonetheless commemorated, although there is no Ryan O’Neal Room at the Masthead?
41 Commercial Street
Helena Rubinstein Cottage
One of the most surprising walk-on roles in the town’s celebrity cavalcade was Helena Rubinstein, the cosmetics queen, and author of My Life for Beauty, who was formally Princess Gourielli during her brief heyday here in the early 1940s. She owned 41 Commercial Street and two houses across the road, 40 Commercial Street and 42 Commercial Street. The Rubinstein and Rossellini quarters commanded the highest rack rates at the Masthead in 2011: $540 a night during peak season.
At the turn of the 20th century, when this building was denominated 12 Commercial Street, it was operated as a summer boarding house by Sylvester Ellis, a contractor who specialized in moving buildings around town. There was a small recreation pier off its back yard, forerunner to the dock at the Masthead. Provincetowners knew this stretch of the West End as the Ellis Bathing Beach.
I’m especially intrigued by the bell out the end of the Masthead dock, inscribed: “Cast by Henry N. Hooper & Company Boston 1856.” This suggests strongly to me that the bell once hung in the tower of the Eastern School at 492-494 Commercial Street. A 1957 account noted the removal of the school bell, cast in “1855” by Henry N. Hooper of Boston, to Ralph Carpenter’s Delft Haven complex (“To Fellows and Friends Afar and Abroad, The Advocate, Oct. 17, 1957). Might that “1855” be a typo? Could this be the same bell, having passed from Carpenter’s hands to Ciluzzi’s?