64 Commercial Street

A classic full Cape — long the home of Roslyn Garfield (1921-2012) and Phyllis Temple (1928-2008) — this house at 64 Commercial Street dates from the early 19th century, meaning that it originally faced the water, long before there was a Commercial Street. But it did so at a different location: across from the Red Inn. It was moved to this location in 1840. It was the property of Miss Ella A. Small at the turn of the 20th century, when it was denominated 51 Commercial Street. In the 1930s, Mrs. Ella A. Sibley (±1860-1944; née Smith, but perhaps the same person as Ella Small) offered rooms to let. In 1945, her heirs sold 64 Commercial Street to Irving and Rachel Ashley Sametz of Westport, Conn., operators of the Ashley Shop at 445 Commercial Street.

They, in turn, sold the property to Garfield in 1956. Garfield taught at Nauset High School in Orleans and was a partner with Judith Tobey in a shop at 220 Commercial Street that was first called the Etcetera Shop and then Shirts Etcetera. In the 1960s, she was also involved with the Provincetown Collegium Musicum, an annual gathering of music students who studied and performed on Baroque and Renaissance instruments like the harpsichord, lute and viol.

Garfield used 64 Commercial Street not only as home but as an antiques and crafts business in the 1950s and then for her real estate business. Conrad Malicoat, who turned fireplaces into artworks (see 36 Commercial Street), executed an utterly delightful brick chimney with a relief of a breaching whale. What’s especially significant is that the whale is on the outside, completely visible to passersby on Atwood Avenue. In other words, it’s a public artwork. Malicoat was also responsible for the Gaudí-esque millwork in the kitchen.

Another significant piece of art built right into the house is a sculptural column in wood by the artist Joan Wye (±1926-2006), who spent many years in Provincetown as the wife of Jim Forsberg (“Joan Wye, 80,” The Banner, 14 September 2006). Wye’s most prominent public work in town is the colorful mast — a kind of abstract totem pole — in front of the Provincetown Art House. She playfully signed her works “JY.”

Garfield was credited as having been in the nucleus of the “first wave” of lesbian wash-ashores in the 1940s and ’50s by Karen Christel Krahulik in Provincetown: From Pilgrim Landing to Gay Resort (New York University Press, 2005). “Roslyn Garfield arrived as a schoolteacher, a respected and likely occupation for women at the time,” Krahulik wrote. “But at Land’s End [Provincetown] she branched out into male-dominated fields, embarking first on a career in real estate before becoming a prominent attorney as well as the town moderator.” After Krahulik’s book was published, Garfield — then 83 years old — was appointed Provincetown’s representative to the Cape Cod Commission, the regional planning and regulatory authority. She served until 2009.

The town moderator, elected every three years, presides over Town Meeting; in essence, the annual legislative session in which the voters consider all operating and capital budgetary measures. The moderator also appoints members of the finance committee and fills vacancies on other bodies if appointing authorities fail to act. Garfield served six terms, or 18 years, from 1985 to 2003. Unopposed in 1997, she received 81 percent of the vote. Unopposed again in 2000, she received 77 percent of the vote; not a bad approval rating for a 15-year incumbent. And in Provincetown! When the Town Meeting of 2007 needed a temporary moderator (Mary-Jo Avellar had resigned because of her election as a selectman), voters turned again to you-know-who. “Garfield received a thunderous ovation when she took the gavel and presided over the four-hour-plus meeting,” The Cape Codder reported. During Roslyn Garfield Week in 2010, Jay Critchley of the Provincetown Community Compact presented her with a sand-encrusted gavel, recalling her role in successfully defending his first significant art installation, Just Visiting for the Weekend (“Roslyn Garfield Week in Provincetown,” Provincetown Live, 10 October 2010).

Her life was deeply intertwined with that of Phyllis Temple, her partner for 40 years and the principal real estate broker for Roslyn Garfield Associates for 36 years. “She was one of the first volunteers for the Provincetown AIDS Support Group,” The Banner said in her obituary (“Phyllis Temple,” 3 January 1968).

She and Roslyn served many hours as the auction recorders for the Fine Arts Work Center and the AIDS Support Group auctions. She was a volunteer at both the Provincetown Heritage Museum and the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, and she and Roslyn for many years hosted the annual potluck event for the Provincetown Conservation Trust. In 2001 she received the Leadership Award from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. From beach picnics to the most elegant restaurants in Paris, Phyllis never failed to have a grand time. And she was always up for an adventure. There are those who remember her sinking into a quaking bog while on a Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies walk and never missing a beat. Not to mention her delight at actually touching the skin of an orca in Provincetown Harbor.

[10 July 2011]









One thought on “64 Commercial Street

  1. Very nice to have stumbled onto this page. I had the honor of meeting and spending time with both Roz and Phyllis. It was wonderful to get to know them and to see them in action as vital movers and shakers in their community.

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