The centerpiece of Town Green — a little park with a lot of topography — is a monument to the Pilgrims. It’s titled Signing the Compact, but is better known simply as “the bas relief.” Just as Town Green is better known as Bas Relief Park. The park and the monument date from 1920, the 300th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landfall. The splendid vista of the Pilgrim Monument is no accident. The 170-foot-wide park property, once occupied by houses, was taken by the state under eminent domain for just that purpose. Picture essay and more history »
Category Archives for Public buildings (existing and former)
† 126 Bradford Street
Central School House
The Central School House was one of three district schools built in 1844 — along with the Western and Eastern (still standing) — each to serve a three-grade cohort: primary, intermediate and grammar. Henry David Thoreau may have been referring to this building when he described a school house “filled with sand up to the tops of the desks.” Its site is now a parking lot, associated with one of the more brutal crimes in recent history: the execution-style shooting in 1996 of Linda Silva, an investigator for the Department of Social Services. Seven years passed until the arrest of a suspect, Paul Dubois, whose request for child custody had been opposed by Silva. Dubois was convicted of first-degree murder in 2004.
211½ Bradford Street
Mildred Greensfelder Playground
The forlorn sign doesn’t begin to hint at the pioneering influence of Mildred (Wood) Greensfelder, who was the leading force in the 1940s and the 1950s for the creation, maintenance and vitalization of the town’s principal playgrounds; here, on Howland Street, and in the West End, at Nickerson Street. Such was Mrs. Greensfelder’s identification with the issue of playgrounds that Mary Hackett proposed in 1954 that the new elementary school be named in her honor, “as her constancy and perseverance has resulted in a real contribution to the health and happiness of our children.” (“Name for School,” The Advocate, Nov. 18, 1954.)
Naturally — this being Provincetown — not even the subject of playgrounds is pure mom-and-apple-pie. Mrs. Greensfelder found herself in a nasty battle with the Recreation Commission, of all bodies. The donnybrook involved included her resignation from the committee and then a legal struggle that went to court and before the voters. The issue seems to have boiled down to how much macadam should be in a playground and who had the authority to install — if Mrs. Greensfelder didn’t aprrove. And she did not approve. “It is my firm belief,” she declared in 1950, “that such a surface, even when constantly supervised, will be hazardous, and wounds received from falls on macadam can be dangerous and dirty, and bones and skulls can be broken.” (“Pioneer Worker Quits in Protest,” The Advocate, May 25, 1950.)
Even when she and her husband, the playwright Elmer L. Greensfelder, moved to Philadelphia, Mrs. Greensfelder continued to hold a strong interest in the welfare of the playgrounds. In absentia, she urged voters before the Town Meeting of 1956 to approve the money necessary for the removal of dirty sand and the “spreading of clean sand in both playgrounds.”
CCNS Herring Cove | Second Bath House
Seen from across Herring Cove, the National Park Service’s new Herring Cove bath house pavilions, which opened in 2013, seem almost to be levitating over the beach. Well, indeed they are. Several feet. The entire complex is on pilings, allowing surge waves to pass underneath, as well as to allow the entire complex to be moved farther upland if necessary. That is one of several attractions designed into the $5 million project by its architect and project manager, Amy Sebring, of the park service’s design and construction division. More pictures and history»
CCNS Province Lands | Municipal Airport (PVC)
More than 300 acres were taken out of the Province Lands to permit construction of the Provincetown Municipal Airport (PVC), a project begun in 1947. Burns & Kenerson were the original architects. The single runway — 7/25 — is 3,500 feet long. The first scheduled flights to and from Boston, operated by John C. Van Arsdale (1919-1997), began in late 1949 on Cessna Bobcats. More pictures and history»
219 Commercial Street
Even more than the grocery stores (after all, some people shopped at the A & P while others shopped at the First National), the Post Office was Provincetown’s commons, its Rialto, its great public meeting ground. But it is not untarnished in civic memory. The Post Office was the site in 1949 of a dreadful tragedy, when the town’s well-respected postmaster, William H. Cabral (b ±1900) accidentally shot and killed James “Jimmy Peek” Souza (b ±1930), a rambunctious youth whom Cabral was merely trying to frighten with his Army revolver. The extent of Cabral’s moral liability was a subject that pitted citizens against one another bitterly. And even if those memories have now softened, the Post Office itself still bears a scar from the shooting. More pictures and history»
330 Commercial Street
Freeman Building | Provincetown Tourism Office | Provincetown Community Television (PTV)
Prudent Provincetown. Why have three buildings for three functions? In 1873, as a gift to the town, Nathan Freeman built a mansard-topped structure that housed the Public Library on the first floor, a Y.M.C.A. on the second floor and a photo studio on the third. More pictures and history»
356 Commercial Street
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.
On Freeman Street
Douglas N. Trumbo Memorial
What would otherwise have been the dull sides of a small, utilitarian pump house were transformed by the artist Jackson Lambert (1919-2011) into a whimsical, fanciful and nearly three-dimensional graphic history of Provincetown, beginning with the arrival of Thorvald Ericsson (whether he arrived or not). There are cats and a seagull, salt works and a lobster trap, the Mayflower and the Monument and the Methodist church, all rendered like mosaic tiles on masonry blocks. More pictures and history»
† 1 High Pole Hill Road
Elevated high above the little village it served, the Town Hall of 1854 was clad in the very architecture of democracy — Greek Revival — though in its nobility, it could just as easily have been mistaken for a house of worship. With a pinnacle that could be seen far out to sea and a tower clock available for the citizenry to consult, Town Hall also served as a utilitarian landmark. What a splendid symbol of municipal government! And what a dumb idea for a public building: constructed of hard pine and situated well out of reach of any fire apparatus. You know what happens next, and on 16 February 1877, it did. Town Hall burned down, taking with it many of the records that would have made historical research so much more fruitful. Having paid $350 for High Pole Hill, the town was not about to walk away from its investment, though it would take another 30 years for the proper replacement to be found. ¶ Posted 2013-01-25
† 16 Jerome Smith Road
Temporary Town Hall (2008-2010)
This was the seat of municipal government when Town Hall underwent its cellar-to-rooftop renovation. Or rather, these were the seats of municipal government, since the arrangement involved five trailers joined together in the Jerome Smith parking lot, opposite the Provincetown Skate Park. Roughly 40 town employees began reporting here for work in November 2008. The inside was no less Spartan. Quarters were almost ship-like in their compact economy. But somehow, the republic survived. ¶ Posted 2013-02-13
4 Johnson Street
Fire Station No. 4
Always a fire house, this structure has been known by several designations since its construction in 1888: Steamer-Hose Company 3, Pumper Company 3 and Engine Company 4. It has been the home of at least two celebrated fire trucks: an Amoskeag steamer made by the Manchester Locomotive Works in New Hampshire in 1889 and a pumper truck made by American LaFrance in Elmira, N.Y., in 1936. The pumper, designated Engine 4, was decommissioned in 1976 but has been painstakingly rebuilt in recent years and is now a top star of any parade in which it appears. More pictures and history»
2 Mayflower Street
Veterans Memorial Community Center (Formerly Veterans Memorial Elementary School)
In the era of contraction and the mournful closing of P.H.S., it’s hard to believe that within my lifetime, expansion was the watchword in public education. It had become clear by the early 1950s that the town’s children were no longer well served by the Central School House, 126 Bradford Street, and the Western School House, on School Street. So plans were prepared for a large new building to replace them and the Governor Bradford School, 44 Bradford Street. The Veterans Memorial Elementary School, designed by Walter M. Gaffney of Hyannis, opened in 1955 and served its purpose for 56 years.
120 Mount Gilboa Road
Mount Gilboa Tank
“Ye mountains of Gilboa,” David cried out, “let there be no dew nor rain upon you, neither fields of offerings: For there the shield of the mighty was vilely cast away, the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.” The Mount Gilboa (הר הגלבוע) in the really, really, really far East End — way beyond Beach Point — was where King Saul fell on his sword in battle with the Philistines. Provincetown’s Mount Gilboa is a mountainous dune on which the town’s third standpipe was erected in 1964.
24 Race Point Road
Department of Public Works Maintenance Facilities
Long the unloved stepchild among public properties, the garage and shed complex at No. 24 burst into the headlines as the possible site of a new police headquarters to replace the aging station house on Shank Painter Road, which was originally a funeral home. The architects of the new facility were Kaestle Boos Associates of Foxborough, which specializes in police buildings. But the project was ensnared in controversy because of concerns about its possible cost and because it would put the Police Department on the other side of Route 6 from the town, creating a logistical and a psychological barrier that critics said would damage relations between the force and the citizenry. More history»
90 Race Point Road
Transfer Station and Recycling Center
What? A dump?
Only a quick glimpse at the map is needed to understand why it took nearly six years and an Act of Congress, signed by President Bill Clinton, to clear the way for the operation of the solid-waste transfer station. It sits within the Cape Cod National Seashore, whose very purpose is to ensure that protected lands are not alienated from public use and enjoyment. Provincetown was desperate for a new facility, however, and seemed to have no other place to put it. In 1993, Rep. Gerry E. Studds (1937-2006), of 91 Commercial Street, struck a deal with the National Park Service under which the town could begin building and operating a new transfer station within the seashore, pending a land swap under which the park would actually gain rather than lose acreage. More pictures and history»
200 Route 6
Wastewater Treatment Plant
“Klaatu barada nikto.” If you come upon the Wastewater Treatment Plant from the woods of the Province Lands, you may spend an astonished moment thinking you’ve discovered an alien spacecraft that landed in the early 1950s. (Be sure to say that phrase to Gort if you see him in the woods; otherwise, he’ll destroy Earth.) More pictures and history»
Ryder Street Extension
MacMillan Pier Bus Stop
The closest thing Provincetown has to a bus terminal is this little shelter, built in 2009 by the Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority primarily for the benefit of riders on its Flex buses between Provincetown and Star Market, Harwich, and its Shuttle service. You can see the rooftop solar collector in the photo at right, used to power nighttime lighting. The shelter was designed by John MacPhee of Define Design in West Yarmouth. It’s one of seven such shelters built along the Flex route, with financing from the National Park Service. As it happens, buses of the Plymouth & Brockton Street Railway Company arrive nearby from Hyannis, but their patrons usually head to a different building. • Map ¶ Posted 2013-08-20
19 Ryder Street Extension
Vacuum Pump Station
Hiding under Ye Olde Cape Codde shell is the heart of a 21st-century sewage disposal system: a 6,000-gallon tank, two wastewater pumps and four vacuum pumps that essentially suck large slugs of wastewater through PVC connector pipes from domestic valve pits all around town and then propel it out to the treatment plant at 200 Route 6. It began operating in 2003. • Map ¶ Posted 2013-08-20
19 Ryder Street Extension
Humble? Certainly. But nonetheless among the most popular places downtown. The restrooms are kept orderly by attendants on the town payroll, one of whom was photographed by Mischa Richter in his poignant, evocative chronicling of local residents. The portrait was accepted into the municipal art collection in 2010. • Map • Posted 2013-08-20
25 Shank Painter Road
Engine 1 (also designated Engine 190) went into service in 2002. [Link]
Provincetown Fire Department Headquarters
With the construction in 1993-1994 of a new four-bay fire house and adjacent headquarters building, the Provincetown Fire Department — one of only two volunteer departments on Cape Cod — consolidated operations from three different locations in the West End and downtown: Pumper House No. 1, 117 Commercial Street (now a private home); Pumper House No. 2, 189 Commercial Street (now a public restroom); and Pumper House No. 3, the former headquarters, at 254 Commercial Street (now a kind of all-purpose streetfront public space).
Ladder 2 (192) of 2009 [Link] and Engine 3 (193) of 2003 [Link].
26 Shank Painter Road
Provincetown Police Department Headquarters
In 2013, the people of Provincetown were having a hard time agreeing on anything regarding the Police Department. But it seemed to be generally acknowledged that a former funeral home, dating to 1975, had long since outlived its usefulness as police headquarters after 29 years of wear, tear, ad hoc repair and constant overstuffing. Just what the answer would be — a rebuilt station on this site, or a new station downtown or at 24 Race Point Road — remained elusive as this was being written. Chief Jeff Jaran had taken the remarkable step in 2012 of personally documenting many of the station’s most glaring deficiencies in a 25-minute video called Police Station Tour, introduced by Town Manager Sharon Lynn. It was difficult to watch it and conclude that everything was just fine as is.
Police Chief Jeff Jaran in the dispatch room, on a video tour. [Link]
† 22 Winthrop Street
The town jail in the 19th century was way out in the farmland of Winthrop Street. It was built in 1845 and served as the principal holding facility until the construction of the current Town Hall, which had detention cells in the basement. Rest of the entry to be written.
(On the 1880 atlas plate, note that on the opposite side of Winthrop Street, south of Bradford Street, is the property of B. H. Dyer. This is currently Dyer’s Barn, 9 Winthrop Street.)