238 Bradford Street

Provincetown Theater

Against a tradition of impromptu theater spaces, a purpose-built playhouse opened in June 2004 in the reconstructed Provincetown Mechanics garage (formerly Cape End Motors). It is now the 130-to-145-seat Provincetown Theater. It was developed by the Provincetown Theater Foundation as a home for the Provincetown Theatre Company (founded 1963) and the Provincetown Repertory Theatre (founded 1995), and designed by Brown Lindquist Fenuccio & Raber of Yarmouthport. More pictures and history »

9-11 Carver Street

Gifford House Inn
In a resort town where accommodations come and go by the year — and by the dozens — the Gifford House Inn is an astonishing stalwart. It is more than 140 years old. With 77 Bradford Street, it occupies the crest of Mill Hill, from which surprisingly generous vistas of the town and harbor can be enjoyed. Beautiful, it is not. Grand, it is not. But with 26 guest rooms and the Club Purgatory, Porchside Lounge and Thai Sushi Café by Ying, it’s certainly lively. And that’s saying a lot for a hotel of its age — whatever that age may be. More pictures and history»

† Wharf at 83 Commercial Street

Wharf Players Theater
Theater was taken so very seriously in Provincetown in the early 20th century that schisms arose. Mary Bicknell’s Wharf Theater, founded in 1923, first performed in a movie theater, then moved briefly to Frank Shay’s barn. Both factions — Bicknell’s and Shay’s — sought to dominate at this playhouse. The more conservative Bicknell group tried to get the upper hand by walking off with benches, props and equipment. In 1925, they built their own theater, on what had been known as the Myrick Atwood Wharf. More pictures and history»

214 Commercial Street

Art House | D. Flax | Frappo 66

A decade after remaking the old Congregational church at 256-258 Commercial Street into the Art Cinema in 1954, George I. Shafir of New York set out to build a movie theater from the ground up: the New Art Cinema, reached through an arcade of shops housed in substantively altered older structures. (No. 214 is idenitified as a floater in the Long Point exhibit at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum.) You can still see the juncture between old and new buildings from the alleyway. The architect was Burnett V. Vickers of Orleans, who also designed an expansion of the Provincetown Inn. The most interesting feature is the carved wood signpost, which Roslyn Garfield told me was the work of the Joan Wye (±1926-2006). More pictures and history»

† 237 Commercial Street

Provincetown Theater | Whaler’s Wharf

The most spectacular fire in Provincetown’s living memory — on the mild night of Tuesday, 10 February 1998 — destroyed the 79-year-old Provincetown Theater (by then known as Whaler’s Wharf), the abutting Handcrafter store and much of the Crown & Anchor, incidentally damaging Marine Specialties and threatening the Julie Heller Gallery before it was brought under control by firefighters and emergency workers who had rushed to the cape end from as far away as Plymouth. (The fire could be seen in Dennis.) “There goes our history,” one onlooker was quoted as saying in The Banner. And, yes, a lot of history was lost that night — though, fortunately, no lives were. More pictures and history»

237 Commercial Street

Whaler’s Wharf

After the devastating 1998 fire, a project was undertaken to rebuild Whaler’s Wharf — or rather, to build a new and larger commercial structure of the same name at 237 Commercial Street. The developers worked with Ginny Binder of Binder Boland Associates. The design was clearly intended to evoke the monumental central arch of the 1919 Provincetown Theatre. The interior was a kind of last-gasp homage to the Festival Marketplace multilevel urban shopping arcade. But the size of the building turned out to be a matter of considerable controversy. And it’s worth asking how attractive a modern shopping mall can be when Commercial Street beckons outside. More pictures and history»

247 Commercial Street

Crown & Anchor

On a summer’s night, the Crown & Anchor can’t be missed. In fact, it can’t be ignored. Not only is it one of P-town’s most prominent facades, with its grand columned portico and tower, but performers from the Cabaret — usually in drag — boisterously regale passers-by. The hotel business is a sideline; this is the town’s “largest entertainment complex,” true to its roots in the mid-19th century, when Timothy P. Johnson built the Central House (its first name) as a public hall for shows and entertainment, a bowling alley and — quite as important — a saloon. More pictures and history»

256-258 Commercial Street

Former Congregational Church of the Pilgrims | Former Art Cinema | Saki | John Dough’s | Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop | Red Eye Coffee | Toko Indo

Your first reaction on standing in front of this building may well be: “So where’s the church?” It’s hard to make out, what with all structural additions that have grown by accretion — and like topsy — in what used to be the church’s ample front yard. But if you step across Commercial Street for a slightly better perspective, you’ll quickly recognize the shape and volume of a 19th-century house of worship. More pictures and history»

286-288 Commercial Street

Former Star Theater | Former Board Stiff | Hocus Pocus

In January 2012, Shop Therapy and Spank the Monkey moved to this building from 344-346 Commercial Street. • Forensic architectural investigation is often aided by obvious clues. The false front on the two-story building at 286-288 Commercial Street looks nothing like its gable-roofed neighbors. That’s because it was built in 1910 as a theater — the Star Theater — Provincetown’s first movie house. The theater was developed by Albert Zerbone (±1872-1959), who’d come to New Bedford from the Azores when he was four years old and began his career as an exhibitor in Provincetown by showing movies at the Masonic lodge. Zerbone’s projectionist was his cousin, Antone Joseph Viera. The theater was leased beginning in 1918, to Frank Knowles Atkins (±1877-1940), prorietor of the town’s second movie house, the Pilgrim Theater, at 293 Commercial Street. More pictures and history»

† 293 Commercial Street

Pilgrim Theater

Frank Knowles Atkins (±1877-1940) was the heir to the Samuel Knowles livery stable at this location, which had been established by his grandfather. He moved the livery business to Bradford Street and then built the Atkins Theater, which The Advocate described as the second movie palace in Provincetown and “at one time the finest on this part of the cape.” The newspaper said that here “were shown many of the early ‘flickers’ of the silent era.” (“Old Theater Is Coming Down,” The Advocate, 5 May 1938; “Frank Atkins Dies After Busy Career,” The Advocate, 2 May 1940.) Victor Lewis purchased the theater and renamed it the Pilgrim. He closed it and then, in 1938, demolished it. More pictures»

303 Commercial Street

Post Office Café & Cabaret

Though Land’s End Marine Supply is strongly identified with the east end of downtown, this was its birthplace in 1940 — founded by Joseph E. Macara (1904-2000) — and was its home for four years. Years before that, it was Silva’s Fish Market. After Land’s End moved out, the building was home in the early 1960s to the Wreck Club, run by Manuel Souza. The longtime commercial tenant has been the Post Office Café & Cabaret, one of the busiest nightclubs in town. It does not get its name from having once been the Provincetown post office. Rather, as a 1975 business directory explained, its first-floor décor came from a former post office in Ossining, N.Y., also known as the home of the Sing Sing penitentiary. More pictures and history»

† Wharf at 571 Commercial Street

Lewis Wharf

You can’t see the most culturally important wharf in town. It’s long gone. But the cairn-mounted plaque next to 571 Commercial Street explains why this is still a place of pilgrimage: “In 1915, on a wharf extending from this site, a fish shed owned by Mary Heaton Vorse was converted to a theater by a group later named the Provincetown Players. On July 28, 1916, the Players staged Bound East for Cardiff, the first production of a play by a young and then unknown author, thus launching the career of Eugene O’Neill as a playwright and changing the course of modern drama in America.” More pictures and history»

† 2 Gosnold Street

2 Gosnold Street, Provincetown (ND). Published by Cape Cod Photos. Courtesy of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (Salvador R. Vasques III Collection, No. PC 3210). 
2 Gosnold Street, Provincetown (1958). Courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project (Municipal Collection).Provincetown Playhouse on the Wharf

In local theatrical history, the Provincetown Playhouse was a landmark second in importance only to Lewis Wharf, 571 Commercial Street, where Eugene O’Neill’s Bound East for Cardiff was first performed in 1916. (How important? Enough to draw the first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, to a performance of Mrs. Warren’s Profession in August 1961.) But in true Provincetown fashion, the structure had more than one use and more than one distinction. As a maritime landmark, it served as the shop in which the surf-cleaving boats of the United States Life Saving Service were perfected, sparing the lives of untold numbers of coast guardsmen, who were as much in peril at a shipwreck as the crew members and passengers they were trying to rescue.

2 Gosnold Street, Provincetown (ND). Published by Cape Cod Photos. Courtesy of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum (Salvador R. Vasques III Collection, No. PC 3216). 

More pictures and history»

2 Gosnold Street

2 Gosnold Street, Provincetown (2011), by David W. Dunlap. 
Julie Heller, 2 Gosnold Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.Julie Heller Gallery

Two lively traditions — the theater and the arts — are embodied in this dilapidated but utilitarian shed, exactly the sort of place in which much of the town’s cultural flowering occurred. It has been in the hands of the Heller family since 1972/1973, when Lester Heller (1919-2009) and Adele Heller (d 1997) took over the Provincetown Playhouse on the Wharf, here at 2 Gosnold Street, and converted it into an Equity house. Sadly, they were given little time to implement their vision. Arsonists destroyed the theater and adjoining costume and set shop in 1977, though the box office and Eugene O’Neill Museum (located in this building) survived.

2 Gosnold Street, Provincetown (2010), by David W. Dunlap.

More pictures and history»

133 MacDougal Street

Provincetown Playhouse

Please don’t spend too much time looking for MacDougal Street. It’s in Greenwich Village, 300 miles away. But it seemed impossible to catalog Provincetown’s built environment without acknowledging this Off-Broadway playhouse, which has introduced generations of theatergoers to the notion that the Cape End was a crucible of the dramatic arts in the early 20th century from which emerged one of America’s greatest playwrights, Eugene O’Neill. The 88-seat theater descends directly from Lewis Wharf, 571 Commercial Street, ¶ Updated 2013-02-25