248-250 Commercial Street

Big Vin’s Liquor

The storefront addition is so dominant here that it’s almost impossible to focus on the beautiful Greek Revival house that’s at the core of the property, and is denominated 4 Gosnold Street, unless one steps back a few yards. It’s worth doing so for the pure pleasure of seeing the Ionic-column portico in the side yard. Its best-known retail incarnation was as the Corner Gift Shop, which dated at least to the late 1940s and was run for a time by Irma Ruckstuhl and her husband, Kurt R. Ruckstuhl (d 2000). Other tenants in the ’40s included the Flower Shop and Annette’s jewelry store.

† Wharf at 251-253 Commercial Street

Charley Cook’s Wharf

As early as 1838, Young’s Wharf was shown at the foot of what was once known as Forest Street (now Gosnold). It was Charley Cook’s Wharf under Capt. Charles Cook. By the late 1930s, it was known as the Art Colony Wharf, over which Heinrich Pfeiffer (d 1957) presided. On the wharf stood the Artists Theatre, which Pfeiffer originally intended for movies. In 1939, stage plays were added to the bill. The next year, following the destruction of the Wharf Theatre in the West End, Pfeiffer arranged for a summer season with the New England Repertory Company, so that Provincetown would not be deprived of summer theater. This evolved into the Provincetown Playhouse on the Wharf, discussed at 2 Gosnold Street.

251-253 Commercial Street

Shalom’s Gift Shop

One of the most important surviving 19th-century commercial properties, this long, two-story structure — built before 1858 — was known at one time as the Wharf Head Building, as it was owned by A. Young and stood at the head of Young’s Wharf (later Charley Cook’s Wharf). It was the location of the town’s first telegraph office and the Nautilus Club met for a time on the second floor. More pictures and history»

252 Commercial Street

252 Commercial Street, Adams Pharmacy, by David W. Dunlap (2009).

252 Commercial Street, Adams Pharmacy, by David W. Dunlap (2009).

Norman Cook Jr., courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project.

Norman Cook Jr., courtesy of the Provincetown History Preservation Project.

Nancy (Salvador) Stefani at Adams General Store, by David W. Dunlap (2013).

Nancy (Salvador) Stefani at Adams General Store, by David W. Dunlap (2013).

You can’t fill a prescription at Adams General Store, but to many, this is still “Adams Pharmacy,” as it was from 1875 until 2009; the oldest business in continuous operation at one location — and a nexus of civic life. The town’s first telephone switchboard was here and so, until 2003, was a soda fountain. The Greek Revival-style main building is from around 1850. Dr. John Crocker started the pharmacy, succeeded by John Darrow Adams. He passed it to his daughter, Jennie (Adams) Cook, who passed it to her son, Norman Cook Jr., whose widow, Dorothy “Dot” Cook, sold it in 1989 to Vincent Duarte. Nancy (Salvador) Stefani is a welcome face at the counter. The whimsical mural map (pictured) is by Nancy Whorf.

More than 2,000 buildings and vessels are searchable on buildingprovincetown.com. The Building Provincetown book is available for purchase ($20) at Town Hall, Office of the Town Clerk, 260 Commercial Street, Provincetown 02657.

252 Commercial Street

Adams (Formerly Adams Pharmacy)

You can’t get a prescription filled here any longer, but it will be years before they stop calling Adams a pharmacy, since that’s what it was from 1875 until 2009, when the prescription service was sold to Stop & Shop. Adams describes itself as the “oldest business in continuous operation at one location in Provincetown” and it remains a nexus of civic life of city life, as it has long been; home to the town’s first telephone switchboard in the early 1900s and, until 2003, to an old-fashioned soda fountain. Paradoxically, the soda fountain was taken out by Vincent Duarte, the current owner of Adams, to safeguard the privacy of pharmacy clients — but now there aren’t any clients and there isn’t any soda fountain. More pictures and history»

254 Commercial Street

Former Fire House No. 3 | Former Fire Department Headquarters

The two-story building at 254 Commercial Street was constructed around 1859 for Rescue Hook and Ladder Company No. 1. This was also the firehouse for Pumper No. 3, the Ulysses. The truck bay is now frequently in use as an information or solicitation center for civic and nonprofit events. (In many older accounts, you will see No. 254 assigned to Adams Pharmacy, while this building is given the street address 256A Commercial Street.)

255-257 Commercial Street

Former Post Office | Cotton Gallery

Given its handsome, handmade neo-Classical architectural details; its history and age; its complexity; and the relative lack of modern “improvements,” 255-257 Commercial Street may qualify as the most interesting commercial building downtown. And its significance is greatly enhanced by the presence of a similar building next door, at No. 251-253. Both are owned by the Shalom family. “This building, in concert with 251-253 Commercial are excellent examples of early wharf head buildings,” Tom Boland wrote in the Historic District Survey. “Both survive largely intact from their original design and create a definite sense of streetscape.” 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»

259-263 Commercial Street

Snow Building | Lily Pond | Paws & Whiskers

Two three-and-a-half-story buildings, built before 1858, are joined by a one-story “hyphen” at 259-263 Commercial Street. Obadiah Snow bought No. 261 in 1873 and No. 263 in 1875. Here he sold household furnishings and fancy goods. There is a rich history of the Snow family — and several revealing pictures of these buildings — the chapter “The Photographer and His Surroundings,” in Irma Ruckstuhl’s Old Provincetown in Early Photographs. James Arthur Lopes (±1904-2001), who made his home at 120 Bradford Street, moved his men’s store here to the Snow Building in 1954. The store was in business until 1973. (“James Arthur Lopes, 97,” The Banner, 10 May 2001.) Residents in 1984 included the artist Cynthia H. Packard (b 1957). Recent retail tenants have included the Lily Pond gift store and Paws & Whiskers a pet store.

260 Commercial Street

Town Hall Exterior

This great Victorian-era confection from 1886, the center of town life in so many ways, has emerged from a basement-to-rooftop renovation more resplendent than it’s been since — well, since the days of Victoria. The new pale green exterior, framed by cream-colored highlights, echoes the original paint job and gives the building, designed by John A. Fox, a welcome articulation. There was some grumbling at first about the ambitious scale of the renovation in the middle of an economic crisis, but as the hall emerged from its construction cocoon, its newfound dignity spoke for itself. What compelled the project was an engineer’s finding in early 2008 that the hall was “dangerously overstressed.” More history»

260 Commercial Street

260 Commercial Street, Town Hall, by David W. Dunlap (2011).

260 Commercial Street, Town Hall, by David W. Dunlap (2011).

Town Hall, a great Victorian-era confection from 1886 and the center of civic life in many ways, emerged in 2010 from an extensive renovation more resplendent than it had been since the days of Victoria. The new pale green exterior, framed by cream-colored highlights, echoes the original paint job and gives the building, designed by John A. Fox, a welcome articulation. There was some grumbling about the ambitious scale of the renovation during an economic crisis, but as the hall emerged from its construction cocoon, its newfound dignity spoke for itself.

Town Hall auditorium, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

Town Hall auditorium, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

What compelled the project was an engineer’s finding in 2008 that the hall was “dangerously overstressed.” Town officials closed the auditorium — scene of concerts, performances, lectures, dances, costume balls, women’s wrestling matches, and exhibitions, including the first Art Association show — and then the entire building, moving into a trailer complex on Jerome Smith Road. The renovation was by McGinley Kalsow & Associates.

Ross Moffett’s “Spreading Nets,” by David W. Dunlap (2011).

Today, in the entry vestibule, you’re swept into a Social Realist panorama in the murals Spreading Nets and Gathering Beach Plums, by Ross Moffett. Their presence signals that Town Hall is an art gallery, too. Other masterpieces typically on view from the municipal collection include Charles Hawthorne’s monumental Crew of the Philomena Manta and his much more intimate Fish Cleaners. In the basement, you can still see the barred jail cell windows.

Town Meeting at Town Hall in 2011, by David W. Dunlap.

Town Meeting at Town Hall in 2011, by David W. Dunlap.

Upstairs, the auditorium is the heart of the building, where Town Meeting is conducted. In Provincetown, the people as a whole compose the legislative body, with all the pluses and minuses you might expect from governing with your neighbors. Excitement runs high at times. Former Selectman Frank Henderson, 63, collapsed and died after speaking on a contentious issue at the 1964 Town Meeting. Day-to-day administration is in the hands of a town manager, hired by the five-member Board of Selectmen, elected at large, which is responsible for planning and policy making.

To name two stars who have graced the stage: Elaine Stritch appeared with the Provincetown Players in the summer of 1946, before her Broadway debut. In July 2014, the month Stritch died, Joan Rivers performed here, two months before she died.

In May 2004, Town Hall was the celebratory site of many of the state’s first weddings among same-sex couples. Marriage license applications that year totaled 900, up from 25 the year before.

More than 2,000 buildings and vessels are searchable on buildingprovincetown.com. The Building Provincetown book is available for purchase ($20) at Town Hall, Office of the Town Clerk, 260 Commercial Street, Provincetown 02657.

260 Commercial Street

Town Hall (Interior)

Go in and let yourself be swept into the Social Realist panorama of Provincetown in the murals Spreading Nets and Gathering Beach Plums, by Ross Moffett. Their presence signals that Town Hall is an art gallery, too. The showstopping artwork at the end of the long central corridor is Crew of the Philomena Manta by Charles W. Hawthorne. Upstairs, the auditorium is the heart of the building, where Town Meeting is conducted. Remember, we’re in New England. This is the real deal: the people as legislative body, with all the pluses and minuses you might expect from governing with your neighbors. There is no mayor. Day-to-day administration is in the hands of a Town Manager, hired by the five-member Board of Selectmen, which is responsible for planning and policy making.

Portuguese Square

Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson's "Doughboy" in Portuguese Square, by David W. Dunlap (2011).

Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson’s “Doughboy” in Portuguese Square, by David W. Dunlap (2011).

Doughboy, a memorial of the Great World War, is the town’s best-known and least-known work by a woman artist, Theo(dora) Alice Ruggles Kitson. The Gorham Manufacturing Company cast the bronze. It was erected in 1928. Veterans of subsequent conflicts appear in the Veterans Park Honor Roll, three low walls of rough-hewn granite with plaques bearing the names of those who served. The newest roster reflects America’s perpetual state of war: “Iraq – Panama – Grenada – Haiti – Gulf – Bosnia – Somalia – Lebanon.” The benches on Commercial have long been called the “Meat Rack.” The selectmen ordered them removed in 1971 to rid the area of “undesirables,” but townsfolk fought back and the benches were reinstalled. Today, in early morning, this is where the town’s hidden workforce of restaurant and guest house employees often gathers before another tough day begins.

More than 2,000 buildings and vessels are searchable on buildingprovincetown.com. The Building Provincetown book is available for purchase ($20) at Town Hall, Office of the Town Clerk, 260 Commercial Street, Provincetown 02657.

265-267 Commercial Street

Former Provincetown Advocate Building | WayDownTown

One of the most elaborate surviving storefronts from the early 20th century had every reason to be so ornate, since it was once The Provincetown Advocate Post Card Shop — the premier showcase for the image of Provincetown; source of the pictures and artifacts that would convey the town’s charms around the nation. From the late 1930s through the mid-1960s, the Town Crier Shop occupied the space with a much more generalized inventory including housewares, stationery, toys and gifts. More pictures and history»

269-271 Commercial Street

El Mundo

For a time, this late-19th-century building seems to have served as an annex to the Town Crier Shop, whose principal space was next door, at 265-267 Commercial Street. In the early 1950s, this was Christine’s Luncheonette, named for Christine M. (Souza) Silva (1913-2008), who owned the business with her husband, Anthony Silva (d 1968). Mrs. Silva was a native of Portugal and a 1931 graduate of Provincetown High School. The Silvas also owned the Cape Cod Garage, the Monument Fish Company and Cabral’s Market. (“Christine M. Silva, 94,” The Banner/Wicked Local, 22 May 2008.) More pictures and history»

273 Commercial Street

Diane Z

Malchman’s was a long-lived sportswear and clothing store that occupied several key properties downtown, but this is where it grew up. The firm was founded in 1919 by H. N. Malchman. This building was constructed for Malchman in 1921. (“Town Crier Shop Sold to Local Man,” The Advocate, 29 December 1966.) In late 1966, Malchman’s son, Nathan, bought the Town Crier shop at 265-267 Commercial Street and moved the main business there, and used this structure to house his Shoe Port shop, which came out of the Porthole Building at 246 Commercial Street. There are now large plate-glass windows on both floors of its front facade. More pictures and history»

274-276 Commercial Street

Former Seamen’s Savings Bank | Cabot’s Candy | Shell Shop

Salt-water taffy and seashells. You can almost hear Patti Page singing Old Cape Cod. But this substantial commercial building was not constructed as the unofficial headquarters of long-ago summertime fantasy. It was built in 1892, in Queen Anne style, as the headquarters of the Seamen’s Savings Bank, which occupied the building until 1964, when the new — and still current — headquarters opened at 221-223 Commercial Street. The tenants here are Cabot’s Candy of Cape Cod, owned and run since 1969 by Giovanni “John” Cicero (b 1943), and the Shell Shop, owned and run by Cynthia “Cindi” Gast, which has been in business since 1974. More pictures and history»

275 Commercial Street

George’s Pizza & Pub

Believe it or not, there is a 19th-century house hiding under all the 20th-century commercial appurtenances; a very well-known house in its day, as it was the home for 90 years — yes, 90 years — of Louise Cook “Mid” Paine (±1861-1951). She was born in this house, just before Lincoln was elected president, the daughter of Phoebe Cook Paine and Capt. James Colin Nickerson Paine. She died here toward the end of the Truman presidency. In between, she taught piano, made hats and welcomed transient guests. More pictures and history»

277-277A Commercial Street

Walter Welsh Council of the Knights of Columbus | Shor | Outer Cape Kites & Toys | Cape Cod Gourmet | Cafe Maria | Himalayan Handicrafts

Forget Town Hall. It might reasonably be argued that for a time in the mid-20th century, the real locus of political power in Provincetown was upstairs in this building, in the hall owned and used by the Walter Welsh Council (Council No. 2476) of the Knights of Columbus, and by the affiliated St. Peter’s Club. This was where the leaders of the Portuguese Roman Catholic community sat. And where they sat, there was the head of the table. For instance, when the Knights of Columbus publicly appealed to every business in town to close for three hours on the afternoon of Good Friday — as they did each year — it’s a safe bet that most proprietors complied, no matter their religious beliefs, if for no other reason than to keep the custom of Catholic shoppers. More pictures and history»

279-281 Commercial Street

Penney Patch Candies | CC’s Cape Cod Jewelry | Hair by the Sea | Bead Garden | Mojo’s

There is probably no other taffy, fudge and candy store in Provincetown — perhaps none on the face of the earth — that can claim to be source for the title of a John Waters movie. But the slogan of a candy lipstick sold by Penney Patch, “Eat up your make up,” inspired the title Eat Your Makeup (1968). More pictures and history»

280 Commercial Street

Zinnia Jewelry

Shortly after the turn of the century, when it was denominated 269 Commercial Street, this building, constructed in the 1850s, was the property Capt. Angus McKay, who also owned [?] the ill-fated Cora S. McKay and Willie A. McKay, both of them Grand Banks schooners that were lost in 1900; the Cora McKay with 28 men aboard. McKay dealt in dry goods and boots. A succeeding proprietor was Herman J. Robinson, whose clothing store was here at least through the 1960s. More pictures and history»

281-283 Commercial Street

Exuma Fine Jewelry

Street numbers are a fairly fugitive thing in Provincetown, so it’s difficult sometimes to know with precision whether No. 283 in one generation is the No. 279 of another. That’s to say that some of these businesses may have been in other buildings, but a tentative historical roster would include the Mira Mar Beauty Shop (No. 283 in the late 1930s), Cre’s Dress Shop (No. 285 in the mid-40s), Alfred Hair Stylist (No. 283 in the late 1940s), Hubert’s Country Kitchen (No. 281 in the late 1950s), the Monument Fish Company (No. 281 in the early 1960s), Barrett’s Candy Shop (No. 283 in the mid-60s). It is certainly the home now of Exuma Fine Jewelry, established in 1971.

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»

290 Commercial Street

Former First National Bank of Provincetown | Puzzle Me This

With its second-story pilasters supporting a proudly monumental pediment, 290 Commercial Street certainly looks at first glance like something more than your ordinary retail building. (Never mind the current hot-pink paint job.) Indeed it was: the First National Bank of Provincetown. The original structure, whose extent can be discerned from the bracketed portion of the side eaves, was constructed in 1854. Eugene O’Neill was among the bank’s customers, and his signature card survives. In 1921, the first floor of the structure was extended across the front lawn and up to the sidewalk line. The upper two floors were extended later. The bank remained here until 1950, when it opened its new headquarters at 170 Commercial Street. More pictures and history»

† 291 Commercial Street

Nickerson’s Monumental Studio

Well into the ’30s stood a remnant of Reuben Nickerson’s Monumental Studio, a stoneworking shop continued by his son, Theodore S. Nickerson. It had been in business at least since the 1870s, when this lot was denominated 272 Commercial. On the 50th wedding anniversary of Theodore and his wife, Lillian P. (Rich) Nickerson, The Advocate recapitulated his career, beginning when marble was in vogue: “A hand chisel and wooden mallet were used in the laborious process of fashioning the ornate bunches of flowers, figures and the frequently length epitaphs. More pictures and history»

291 Commercial Street

Town House Mall | Cuffy’s

Two buildings compose this commercial front: a three-story, gable-front structure from the 19th century and a one-story eastern annex that was added sometime around the 1940s. In both guises, this building has long been a busy presence downtown, back to the late 1800s, when it was Mrs. L. Jane Dyer’s Dining Rooms and Bakery. At the time, it was denominated 272 Commercial Street, and it shared the lot with Nickerson’s granite works. More pictures and history»

† 293 Commercial Street

S. Knowles Boarding and Livery Stable

Samuel Knowles ran the Orleans-Provincetown stage coach and this livery stable. The business passed to his grandson, Frank Knowles Atkins (±1877-1940), who moved it to a site on Bradford Street, opposite the Old Colony Rail Road depot. More 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»

† 293 Commercial Street

Boston Fruit Stand

Where the Pilgrim Theater had stood, Alexander “Alex” Sideropoulos (d 1961) opened the Boston Fruit Stand in the late 1930s or early 1940s. His “smile brightens the mid-Commercial business section,” The Advocate said. Sam Janoplis of the Mayflower Café would occasionally pinch hit at the stand.

† 293 Commercial Street

Edie’s Coffee Locker

This little building was constructed on or near the site of the Pilgrim Theater in the late 1930’s. It was originally the Jelly House, specializing in beach plum jelly. In later years, it was Edie’s Coffee Locker, named for Edith Mae (Sawyer) Roderick (±1925-2000). The joint sat 18 people. She cooked lunch and dinner and her husband, David W. Roderick, cooked breakfast. (“Edith Mae Roderick, 75,” The Banner, 24 August 2000.) Frances W. Fields (±1908-2001) was also credited with opening the Coffee Locker. (“Frances W. Fields, 93,” The Banner, 29 March 2001).

293 Commercial Street

Twist’d Sisters | Cock & Bull | Black Dog | Lucky Dog Ptown | The Underground

This imposingly mediocre structure — which proves that a gabled roof does not a Provincetown building make — was built in 1972. The current retail tenants are Twist’d Sisters New York Pizza, formerly owned by Joni Cozzi and Paige Mansfield and now owned by Julie Knapp and Gail Morrison; Cock & Bull Leather Shop, owned by Michael Donovan; a branch of the Black Dog General Store chain; a fast-food outlet called Lucky Dog Ptown, formerly a Subway outlet; and a cellar bar called, appropriately, The Underground, formerly the Good Times Pub. More pictures and history»

294A Commercial Street

294A Commercial Street, Provincetown (2012), by David W. Dunlap.Our picture of early 20th-century Provincetown and Cape Cod is substantially, marvelously richer because of the work of Josef Berger (1903-1971), who wrote pseudonymously under the name of Jeremiah Digges. In 1934, he moved to Provincetown from New York City, where he’d been a newspaper reporter and editor and an author of children’s books. Two years later be began working on Cape Cod Pilot (1937), unique among the volumes in the Federal Writers’ Project American Guide Series (the W.P.A. guides) as a collection of personal anecdotes and observations. One of Berger’s two chapters on Provincetown, for instance, includes this memorable and perennially useful guide to marketing: “When you buy a fish, look him in the eye. More pictures and history»

296 Commercial Street

Lotus Guest House | Body Body

A two-and-a-half story shingled commercial structure, with a prominent polygonal corner turret, that was built around 1900 in Queen Anne style. This building would be best remembered by old-timers — real old-timers — as the Cutler Pharmacy. An early use of the word “gay” as a synonym for homosexual can be found in a 1951 anecdote told by “Bossy” McGady in his uninhibited newspaper column: “A ‘Gay Boy’ dashes into Cutler’s, in an awful tizzy, forgot the new eye brow pencil ‘it’ had just purchased.” (“Up Along and Down Along, The Advocate, 16 August 1951.) In the 1970s, this was a restaurant known as Mother Marion’s. It is currently the Lotus Guest House, owned and run by Jeff and Gurli Lovinger. More pictures and hsitory»

296A Commercial Street

Moffett House Inn

Now the Moffett House Inn bed-and-breakfast, this charmingly situated house was built around 1820 in the Federal style. The home of Ross Moffett and Dorothy Lake Gregory Moffett “was used by them for over 50 years as a residence and painting studio,” Josephine Del Deo wrote. “Although Moffett painted in several other locations until 1964, his wife used the premises for her work as a painter and illustrator during most of the period from 1933 to 1975. Ross Moffett was one of the deans of American painting and lived in Provincetown from 1913 to his death in 1971.” He was the author of Art in Narrow Streets (1964), an account of the development of the art scene in Provincetown in the early 20th century, which you can still find in local bookstores. More pictures and history»

299 Commercial Street

Provincetown Portuguese Bakery

Readers of Building Provincetown have been known to wonder what could possibly fuel me for seemingly nonstop work when I’m in town. O.K. Here’s my confession: malasadas from the Portuguese Bakery (and foot-longs from John’s). Even visitors who were scarcely aware of Provincetown’s Portuguese heritage when they arrived can’t pull themselves away from the pastry cases of this modest but venerable town institution. And natives have even fonder memories. “The smells from that bakery were irresistible,” Mary-Jo Avellar recalled, saving special praise for the Viana bread, which she was dispatched to buy once or twice a week as a girl. “I used to have a hard time bringing it home without having eaten a sizable chunk.” More pictures and history»