500 Commercial Street

White Horse Inn

Behind the familiar yellow door is the White Horse Inn, which borrows its name from the Greenwich Village tavern of Bohemian fame. The White Horse Tavern was a favorite of Frank D. Schaefer (d 2007), a German immigrant, “a patron of artists, a fine photographer and a man of immaculate taste,” as Philip Hoare eulogized him in 2007. Importantly for our story, Schaefer was also a friend of the artist Jackson Lambert, who brought him to Provincetown in 1962. A year later, Schaefer bought 500 Commercial from Sigrid Gudmunds. He and Lambert set about creating a hostelry that has been compared more than once to a Joseph Cornell box. More pictures and history»

501-503 Commercial Street

501-503 Commercial Street, Consolidated Weir Company cold storage, courtesy of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum.

501-503 Commercial Street, Consolidated Weir Company cold storage, courtesy of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum.

Unlovely, ungainly, but undeniably important, the Ice House Condominium is the only one remaining of seven industrial cold storage plants that once dwarfed the waterfront. William Atwood opened the Consolidated Weir Company in 1900 and, in 1907, built this five-story fish freezer. After the company went bankrupt in 1938, it was acquired by Atlantic Coast Fisheries. In the 1950s, it was used for ice cubes and cranberry storage. The machine shop was moved to 11 Howland. Gary and Molly Ross acquired it in 1964 with a view toward residential conversion, a contentious process that took nearly 20 years. The poignant story of a giant finback that washed up here was rendered in a 1974 children’s book, When the Whale Came to My Town, by Jim Young.

501-503 Commercial Street, Ice House Condominium, with the Schoolhouse Center, the Captain's House, and Pat de Groot's home and  studio, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

501-503 Commercial Street, Ice House Condominium, with the Schoolhouse Center, the Captain’s House, and Pat de Groot’s home and studio, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

501-503 Commercial Street

Ice House Condominiums (Former Consolidated Weir Company Cold Storage Plant)

Unlovely. Ungainly. Unimaginably large, by local standards. But still, the Ice House embodies one of the more important lessons that architecture has to teach about town history. It is the only one remaining of the seven enormous cold storage plants that once lined the waterfront, giving Provincetown an unmistakably industrial quality that most painters and photographers seemed to have excised from their frames in favor of colorful trap boats and draggers.

More pictures and history»

506 Commercial Street

Former Tillie’s Store

If your eyes tell you that a portico under a projecting second floor speaks of a former commercial tenant, give yourself an architectural detective’s badge. This was for many years Tillie’s Store, run by Matilda “Tillie” Jason (b 1913) and her husband, John “Johnny” Jason (b 1912); one of the more important of the little neighborhood institutions that defined life in the East End in the decades after World War II. More pictures and history»

507 Commercial Street

A glimpse into the yard is all you need: this is Old Provincetown. Classic Provincetown. Bohemian Provincetown. Scintillating, eccentric, tatterdemalion, devil-may-care. And the visual clues like a dragon-like sculpture of lights lacing the foliage, serene Buddhas below, add to the aura that creative souls dwell within. And they certainly do. For nearly a half-century, 507 Commercial has been the home of one of the town’s most prolific artists, Pat de Groot. A Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant recipient, de Groot is known among other things for her series of cormorant portraits — they are nothing less than portraits — and for serenely small seascapes inspired by the limitless and ever-changing scene that greets her. In her words: “I want to grab a piece of all this, of this sacred place, and say something with paint about the sky and the sea and the horizon and how it affects me.” More pictures and history»

508 Commercial Street

Old Homestead

The Old Homestead, originally constructed around 1850, once served as guest house, according to a description by its current owner, Paul van Apeldoorn, on the HomeAway site. He bought the property in 1993 from the Canavan family, which had owned it since the death in 1946 of Capt. Frank L. Rich, who had once been the sexton of St. Mary’s Church across the street.

509 Commercial Street

Former Crave’s Frames

The picture framing business run by John F. Crave Jr. (1926-2010) was closed with his death, but the bay window storefront has been maintained by the family, as if the simpler-seeming Provincetown past that it embodies so poignantly could somehow be recaptured by just walking through the door. This noble old building is also adorned with a quarterboard from the Pequod, suggesting that Ishmael may have spent some of his retirement years here. (He actually could have, since this building was standing in the 1850s, according to the Historic District Survey, probably in use as a fish storage house.) More pictures and history»

510 Commercial Street

Given the simplicity of the historical Cape Cod dwelling, profound transformations can occur with what sound like nominal additions: a dormer here, a portico there, a new chimney, and soon you have something that only a practiced eye could recognize as a three-quarter Cape. This house — home over time to Capt. Lewis B. Pinckney, the artist Oscar H. Gieberich, and Irma and Kurt Ruckstuhl — was virtually unchanged from the 1830s through the 1970s, but has been radically altered since. More pictures and history»

512 Commercial Street

Former Simeon C. Smith, Groceries and Provisions

One of Provincetown’s loveliest old storefronts — ornamented by some marvelous millwork including the sunburst brackets shown above — hasn’t housed a retail business for many years, though it still plainly conveys its history as a neighborhood gathering spot. More than a century ago, it was the grocery and provision store of Simeon C. Smith (1845-1921), who married Emily F. Atkins in 1871 and is buried in the old Gifford Cemetery. More pictures and history»

513-519 Commercial Street

Church of St. Mary of the Harbor

As heirs to the Church of England, Episcopal congregations are often among the oldest — if not the oldest — in many New England towns. In Provincetown, however, the Episcopal church was among the latest arrivals. Even the Church of Christ, Scientist had a permanent sanctuary here (418 Commercial Street) before the Episcopalians did. But under the Rev. Robert Wood Nicholson, who was called in 1933 to be the first vicar of St. Mary’s and is portrayed here by Jerry Farnsworth, the young church flourished, becoming a small artistic treasure house in the process. (Its nominal street number is 517, but the lot embraces what used to be four discreet properties, from No. 513 to No. 519.) More pictures and history»

514 Commercial Street

Fire Station No. 5

Engine Company 5, which is housed here, is the first responding unit to fires in the East End, from Howland Street to the Truro town line. It was summoned by five blasts on a siren atop Town Hall. The house was built in 1870 and has been known over the years by several designations, including Hose Company No. 1, Pumper Company No. 4 and Pumper Company No. 5. The latter change, from No. 4 to No. 5, occurred in 1957, when Arthur B. Silva (±1893-1962) was the captain. Silva — standing third from the left, in a white shirt — was the Town Harbormaster and Wharfinger at the time of his death. He had also been the Town Sealer of Weights and Measures, a fisherman and a car salesman. More pictures and history»

516 Commercial Street

Gerrit Hondius Studio | Fine Arts Work Center

It’s fitting that this sweet little home and studio should belong to the Fine Arts Work Center, since it is associated with at least five of the artists whose careers have enriched the town’s cultural life: Robert Motherwell, Maurice Sterne, Irving Marantz, Gerrit Hondius and Paul Bowen. Hondius (1891-1970) is most closely associated with this propery, since this was his summer home and studio from 1962 until his death eight years later. His widow, Paula (Kessler) Hondius, a pianist and piano instructor, donated the property to the center in 1980. More pictures and history»

517 Commercial Street

517 Commercial Street, Church of St. Mary of the Harbor, Arnold Geissbuhler's sculptures on the rood screen, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

517 Commercial Street, Church of St. Mary of the Harbor, Arnold Geissbuhler’s sculptures on the rood screen, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

Episcopal congregations are often among the oldest in New England towns. In Provincetown, however, the Church of St. Mary of the Harbor was among the latest arrivals. Regular Anglican services were not celebrated until 1904, at King Hiram’s Lodge. In 1907, the Rev. James Cogan arrived to take charge of services, which he conducted through 1921 at the Star Theater, the First Universalist Church, Marine Hall, the First National Bank, and 217 Commercial. In 1919, the church purchased a three-story former salt house at 513 Commercial and turned it into a temporary church. Billow-Crest, on the adjacent parcel at No. 517, was purchased in 1922. Today, it is Nicholson Hall, named for the Rev. Robert Wood Nicholson, who was called in 1933 to be the first vicar. That’s him in a 1936 portrait by Jerry Farnsworth.

“Madonna of the Harbor,” by Frederick Waugh.

Under Nicholson, the church flourished. Construction began on a permanent house of worship, designed by the painter Frederick Waugh, who also contributed Madonna of the Harbor. The chancel, on the south end of the church, is the reconstructed Sandbar Club from the West End, the timbers of which were salvaged and numbered for reassembly. Richard Miller contributed the reredos painting, The Triumphal Entry. The painting above that is The Coming of the Holy Spirit, by Constance Bigelow. At the rear of the church is The Epiphany Mural by Robert Douglas Hunter. In the vestibule is Joyeux Noël by Peter Hunt. Atop the oak beam that serves as a rood screen are sculptures by Arnold Geissbuhler: Christ on the Waters, flanked by Adoring Angels. Claude Jensen created stained-glass windows in 1963 with clear plastic interstices. The sculptor William Boogar Jr. has a number of pieces in the church and the garden, which was largely the work of Waugh and Nicholson, who said, “Everyone wants to give artworks to the church but no one has offered what we need most — a load of manure — in memory of his grandmother!” The S-4 memorial cross in the garden was replaced in 1967 with a new nine-foot version, carved from California redwood by Frederick Maichle Jr.

517 Commercial Street, Church of St. Mary of the Harbor, by David W. Dunlap (2013).

517 Commercial Street, Church of St. Mary of the Harbor, by David W. Dunlap (2013).

The Rev. Robert Wood Nicholson, by Jerry Farnsworth.

The Rev. Robert Wood Nicholson, by Jerry Farnsworth.

The Rev. Terry Pannell, by Deborah Minsky, for The Banner.

The Rev. Terry Pannell, by Deborah Minsky, for The Banner.

The church was dedicated in 1936. Nicholson was succeeded in 1938 by the Rev. James De Wolfe Perry, the first to dwell in the vicarage at No. 519, where John Whorf had lived. In 1946, St. Mary’s became a parish. The Rev. Terry Pannell has served as rector since 2006. It fell to him in 2014 to begin a $318,000 project to rehabilitate the battered structure. He told The Banner, “Areas once held up mostly by prayer are now temporarily supported by heavy cross ties and steel I-beams.”

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.

518 Commercial Street

Hollyhock Cottage

This delightful little slice of gingerbread was the summer home for at least three decades — from the early 1930s through the early 1960s, if not longer — of Esther C. Townley. Her many civic activities in Provincetown included membership in the Women’s Guild of the Church of St. Mary of the Harbor, conveniently located across the street. The house, looking not too different from the way it did in 1940, has been owned since 1989 by Paul Andersen.

520 Commercial Street

With every passing decade, one cherishes more and more those Cape Cod houses whose front facades have been maintained intact, like this three-quarter Cape at No. 520. For more than a half century, until 1988, the property was owned by the family of Magnus L. Peterson (±1865-1936) and his son, also Magnus Peterson (1899-1992), who served as a surfman in his youth. The Petersons rented the property for a time in the 1940s to Justin Avellar and his family, so this was the first home Mary-Jo Avellar knew as a baby.

522 Commercial Street

We’re entering Whorf territory now. (The vicarage at St. Mary of the Harbor was owned by the Whorf family.) In the 1850s, Sarah Whorf owned this handsome full Cape, built in the late 18th century. The anomalous layout of the property, with such a deep front yard, is testimony to a time when there was no Commercial Street, and is one of the features suggesting the great age of this house, as is the central chimney. Arnold Geissbuhler (1897-1997), a sculptor well represented at St. Mary’s, lived here at one point, according to the Massachusetts Historical Commission Inventory of 1973-1977, as did the sculptor William Boogar and the writer George Grotz.

524 Commercial Street

This was the birthplace of Provincetown’s one home-grown national hero: Rear Admiral Donald Baxter MacMillan (1874-1970), an intrepid and imaginative Arctic explorer, anthropologist, geographer and naturalist who lived for many years at 473 Commercial Street, not far away. Childhood was cruel for MacMillan. When he was 9 years old, his father, Capt. Neil MacMillan, and the entire crew of the schooner Abbie Brown perished in a gale off Newfoundland. That left Sarah Gardner MacMillan, whose father had been a shipbuilder, with five children to care for alone. Already in frail health, she died when “Donny Baxter” was 12 years old. More history»

525 Commercial Street

By the Tides

Elmer L. Greensfelder (1892-1966), a Baltimore native, was a Johns Hopkins-trained chemist and inventor who became a playwright. Not a very successful playwright, though Broomsticks, Amen!, set in a Pennsylvania Dutch village, had a 41-performance run at the Little Theatre on Broadway in 1934. A year earlier, the Baltimore Civic Opera Company performed his one-act opera, Swing Low, in which a mob drags a black man off to a lynching. W. E. B. DuBois had earlier passed on the chance to perform it, saying, “The theme is a little too terrible.” Greensfelder bought this summer cottage in 1941, when it was denominated 527 Commercial. His wife, Mildred (Wood) Greensfelder, active in civic affairs, is memorialized by a playground at 211½ Bradford Street. The house has been expanded since the Greenfelders’ days, as the Historic District Survey notes.

528 Commercial Street

Still very much in Whorf territory, this lovely full Cape bears a plaque saying it was built in 1796, and that seems a perfectly reasonable claim. By the mid-19th century, the property was owned by Thomas R. Whorf. The artist Charles Kaeselau (1889-1972) made his home here with his wife, Marguerite. His gallery at one time was at 284 Commercial Street and he is well represented in the collection of the Seamen’s Bank, 221-223 Commercial. Bart Wirtz, the principal cellist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and a faculty member of the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University, also made his summer home here. The artist Elisabeth Pearl (b 1945), one of whose works is shown on the Provincetown Artist Registry, now owns the house with Sandra Lee Smith. More pictures»

† 531 Commercial Street

This ordinary house in the Historic District stirred up an extraordinary amount of recrimination in 2006 when it was torn down by its new owners, Richard L. Bready, chairman and chief executive of Nortek Inc., and his wife, Cheryl. The drama followed a predictable arc: the Breadys were permitted to “replace the wood shingle roofing, flashing and exterior trim; and add new windows and doors, wood siding and deck.” (Pru Sowers, “Historic House Razed,” The Banner, 11 January 2007.) More history»

531 Commercial Street

Give the builders of the new 531 Commercial Street this: in its street facades, they created as near a facsimile of the old 531 Commercial — which they tore down without approval from the Historic District Commission — as anyone might reasonably expect. To look at the 4,000-square-foot building from the street side, you’d be hard-pressed to identify its vintage as 2007, instead of 1900. The beach side, however, is a different matter. There, instead of a timber double-decker back porch, is a cascade of terraces. Continue reading

534 Commercial Street

Apple Tree Cottage

There was a time when you could not see the Apple Tree Cottage for the apple tree. “The height of the tree had long ago been capped by the wind to the height of the house,” Clive Driver wrote in Looking Back, “and generations of storms had formed it into a wonderful piece of living sculpture. Through many owners, the apple tree presided over a front yard planted with a few shrubs and vines, and bordered by a neatly trimmed privet hedge.” More pictures and history»

535 Commercial Street

Condominium 535 | Waterfront Apartments | “The Kibbutz”

Please do not disturb. One of the foremost American poets, Mary Oliver (b 1935), whose plain-spoken verse employs the cape end’s poignant beauty as a perpetual lesson in life, makes her home in this complex. She is a greatly private person, whose affection for solitude is evident in her writing. And, you might say, this is really not her home anyway; her place, her roots, her spiritual nourishment seem to be found at Blackwater Pond and in the woods around it. Oliver is also one half of a marvelous love story, with Molly Malone Cook, that began at the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay in 1958 and endured until Cook’s death, at the age of 80, in 2005. These women were only two in a remarkable cast of characters that has inhabited 535 Commercial Street over the years. More pictures and history»

† Wharf at 537-539 Commercial Street

Whorf’s Wharf

There was never a better-named pier in Provincetown. Indeed, there may never have been a better-named pier anywhere in these United States than Whorf’s Wharf. Originally constructed in 1850 and then expanded, the wharf reached roughly 400 feet into the harbor, almost directly from the spot now occupied by Fanizzi’s restaurant. It also reached into the Provincetown skyline, thanks to a towering windpump on the property, shown in a photograph below. More pictures and history»

539 Commercial Street

Fanizzi’s Restaurant by the Sea

Dining at Fanizzi’s, which you can do year-round, feels very much like dining at sea. Without the constant rolling. At high tide, the main room seems to be surrounded by water. Though the windows are ample, the dimensions of the space are compact; as snugly efficient as if constructed for seaworthiness. And as the restaurant’s Web site reminds visitors, storms can arise that make the location seem all too nautical. A location as good as this — in what was almost certainly the old sail loft at Whorf’s Wharf — had attracted restaurateurs for years before Paul B. Fanizzi bought it in 2001. More pictures and history»

† 542 Commercial Street

Mayo Cottage

Provincetown’s first guest house, with Provincetown’s first swimming pool, was also Provincetown’s Pennsylvania Station: the beloved landmark that no one believed could be torn down for an inappropriate and overscaled development — until it happened. In fact, it happened at about the same time that preservationists were rallying fruitlessly in New York to save Penn Station, in the early 1960s. And it had something of the same result of spurring civic resolve against further fiascoes. More pictures and history»

543 Commercial Street

Surfside Hotel and Suites

But that’s not what the people of Provincetown call it. Even those far too young to understand the reference call this double-barreled motel, stretching some 200 feet along both sides of Commercial Street, the “Green Monster.” The construction in 1964 of a four-story commercial structure on the beachfront (a three-story upland companion was to follow) so alarmed the town that a new zoning by-law was quickly enacted — while the motel was under construction, in fact — capping the height of future buildings at two-and-a-half stories, or 35 feet. Opponents of the Surfside even attempted to persuade Barnstable Superior Court to apply the height limit retroactively and compel demolition of the upper part of the motel. That’s how unpopular it was. More pictures and history»

† 544 Commercial Street

Kendall Cottage

Constructed for Jesse I. Kendall, this East End cottage was later acquired by the abutting Vernon Inn, at 542 Commercial, for use as an annex to the main house. These buildings were demolished in the 1960s to make way for the second phase of development of the Surfside Arms and Motor Inn, 543 Commercial. The lot is bordered on the east by Kendall Lane.

576 Commercial Street

Dr. George H. Dears (±1878-1948), an optometrist, divided his time in the 1920s and early ’30s between Stoughton and an office at 576 Commercial. Seriously injured in an automobile accident in 1936, however, he decided — as The Advocate put it — “to leave the bigger field of Stoughton for a more leisurely practice in Provincetown.” His office here, at the corner of Conway Street (in fact, the property is now known officially as 1 Conway Street), even included lens-grinding equipment “so that Cape End people would not be deprived of the use of their glasses for prolonged periods while lenses were being replaced.”