551 Commercial Street

 
Even newcomers to Provincetown usually know within a few days the names of the theatrical luminaries who have spent time at land’s end; beginning, of course, with Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams. So I’ve long been mystified as to why it’s not better known that this was the summer home for years of Abram S. “Abe” Burrows (1910-1985), the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, lyricist and director. His two best-known musicals, Guys and Dolls and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, have probably been seen — in one incarnation or another — by more people than have ever attended an O’Neill or Williams play (for better or worse). Moreover, Burrows played an active role in local life in the 1950s and ’60s. More pictures and history»

554 Commercial Street

 

Arguably the most magisterial of the East End homes, 554 Commercial Street looks as if a head of government might be housed there. And, in a way, he was. Justice Robert A. Welsh of the Second District Court of Barnstable from 1933 to 1973 — the law in these parts for two score years, as were his father before him and his son to follow — bought this property in 1936. More history and pictures»

555 Commercial Street

She studied under Leopold Auer, putting her in the company of Mischa Elman, Jascha Heifetz and Efrem Zimbalist. She played a Guarnerius. She made her Carnegie Hall debut at 22, when The New York Times called her a “live wire” whose fire and speed gave her “all the certain quality absent in the artistic makeup of Heifetz.” She was Thelma Given (1896-1977), whose fame and age seemed inversely related. She and her mother both lived here. More pictures and history»

556 Commercial Street

Ethel Archer Ball ran her considerable real estate brokerage from here in the 1950s. Since 1983, this has been the home of Dr. Brian O’Malley and his wife, Dr. Wilsa Ryder, who practice together at Provincetown Medical Group, 30 Shank Painter Road. In 2007, the Massachusetts Medical Society named O’Malley one of 20 community clinicians of the year, noting that he has been “widely active in the community.” He has been chairman of the board of health and was, until 2011, medical director of Seashore Point and its predecessor, the Cape End Manor.

557 Commercial Street

The soul of the Blessing of the Fleet is of course Provincetown Harbor. But its heart could at one time be found at 557 Commercial Street, where Clement S. Silva (±1927-2008) and his wife, Ursula (Quade) Silva — yes, that would be Clem and Ursie — gave an annual party that “began with a few family members and over the years grew to become a festival of its own with hundreds of guests,” as his obituary described it. (“Clement S. Silva, 81,” The Banner, 4 September 2008.) Silva was born to Margaret (Dutra) Silva and Arthur B. Silva. He served in the Navy during World War II, then fished on the Shirley & Roland and the Two C’s (later the Nancy & Ricky), after which he became an ambulance driver and a firefighter, rising eventually to the post of town fire chief. Clem and Ursie weren’t the proprietors of Clem & Ursie’s but its namesakes through their children Clement A. Silva and Debra J. Silva, who were.

560 Commercial Street

If you graduated from Provincetown High School in recent decades, you might owe an indirect debt of gratitude to this house. Its sale upon the death of Celia Francis in 1983 helped create, as her bequest directed, the $800,000 John Anderson Francis Family Scholarship Fund, which has annually awarded financial aid to eligible students bound for two- and four-year colleges. Francis was herself a graduate of P.H.S. in 1921 and used a scholarship she’d been awarded to attend Boston University. Her father, John A. Francis, was the proprietor of Francis’s Flats at 577 Commercial; most famously the lodging of Eugene O’Neill. The scholarship awards come only from interest. In 2011, the fund was carrying a balance of $1.2 million according to the committee chairwoman, Gail S. Browne.

561 Commercial Street

 
A sublime and romantic expression of its occupants’ callings, 561 Commercial has a painter’s studio thrust over the sea’s edge, face to face with nature, and a writer’s cottage, tucked into the town’s streetscape. The poet Gail (Beckwith) Mazur (b 1937) is the writer. Her husband, the painter Michael Mazur (1935-2009), was the artist. They bought this property in 1989. More pictures and history»

562 Commercial Street

 
Bernard Simon (1896-1980), who won praise from The New York Times in 1948 for his “mature and accomplished sculpture figure,” bought this house with his wife, Edna, in 1962. Born in Russia, he studied at the Art School of the Educational Alliance in New York, as did Chaim Gross, Ben Shahn, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and other luminaries. He worked in the United States and in Italy. The municipal art collection includes his handsomely evocative El Toro, carved in Pietrasanta. The Simons purchased No. 562 from the artist John Miley “Jack” Foster, a 1917 Princeton graduate who attended the Art Students League after his service in World War I. He had owned it since 1937.

564 Commercial Street

 
Susan Glaspell House

Though not as widely known today as they ought to be, the writers Susan Glaspell (1876-1948) and George Cram “Jig” Cook (1873-1924) were arguably the chief force behind the Provincetown Players, whose first production in 1915 — the summer before Bound East for Cardiff — was of the couple’s play, Suppressed Desires. Glaspell, a native of Davenport, Iowa, graduated in 1899 from Drake University and then went to work at The Des Moines Daily News, covering a murder case that would later inform her works Trifles and A Jury of Her Peers. Back in Davenport after a year at the University of Chicago, she joined the Monist Society, which was led by Cook, and their love affair began. They bought 564 Commercial in 1914 and set out to make it their own with the help of one singular interior designer: the celebrated painter Charles Demuth. More pictures and history»

564 Commercial Street

564 Commercial Street, by David W. Dunlap (2011).

564 Commercial Street, by David W. Dunlap (2011).

Though not as widely known today as they ought to be, the writers Susan Glaspell (winner of the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1931) and George Cram “Jig” Cook were the chief force behind the Provincetown Players, whose first production in 1915 was of their play, Suppressed Desires. They bought No. 564 in 1914 and engaged a singular interior designer: the celebrated painter Charles Demuth. “Jig had decided that the upstairs walls should be orange,” Linda Ben-Zvi wrote in Susan Glaspell: Her Life and Times. “Demuth agreed. ‘But the slope must be yellow,’ he insisted, referring to the special nature of the Cape Cod house, which had sharp angles in the upper story. ‘And the floor green,’ Jig added. ‘But the woodwork black.’” In the yard, Cook created a sundial atop four nude sculptures of Glaspell. It was in this house that the decision was made in 1916 to produce Bound East for Cardiff, by the young playwright Eugene O’Neill.


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.

564A Commercial Street

Happy Home

Behind Susan and Jig Cook’s house was a cottage called Happy Home in which Agnes (Boulton) O’Neill gave birth to Shane O’Neill amid great forebodings about her marriage to Eugene O’Neill. She was attended by Dr. Daniel Hiebert. The episode is described at some length in Boulton’s memoir, Part of a Long Story. If the building still exists, it appears to be on the north side of a subdivided plot and now carries the street number 269A Bradford.

565 Commercial Street

 
Norman Mailer House

Ideally suited to serve as the center of an active family’s life, that is precisely the role 565 Commercial played, beginning in 1966, for Norman Mailer (1923-2007), and his fourth wife, Beverly Mailer (b 1930). “Set on the bay, the house, which had a large wood-paneled kitchen and a huge dormitory for Mailer’s brood of six children, reflected Mailer’s expansive life-style,” Hilary Mills wrote in Mailer: A Biography (1982). More pictures and history»

566-568 Commercial Street

 
Benjamin Sonnenberg (1901-1978) was a larger-than-life figure among New York’s elite in the mid-20th century; one of the original public relations maestros who burnished and promoted corporate and individual images. Though he represented some of the nation’s most powerful power brokers, his own home on Gramercy Park outshone the residences of all but a few of his clients. Fittingly, here in town, he owned two houses: 566-568 Commercial and 571 Commercial. More pictures and history»

570 Commercial Street

 
Cape Codder Guests

Members of the Mayo family have owned No. 570 for more than a century, and have run it as an accommodation at least since the 1930s, when it was called Mayo’s Cape Codder. At the time, Charles Atkins Mayo (b 1885) lived here with his wife, Mary A. Mayo (b 1886). Mayo was a fisherman whose son, Charles A. Mayo Jr. (b 1910), was nationally renowned for his pursuit of the giant bluefin. In 1962, Mayo Jr. was described by Sports Illustrated as “perhaps the finest tuna skipper on the Atlantic coast.” The Cape Codder is now owned by his son, Charles Atkins “Stormy” Mayo III (b 1943), a founder of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies who currently directs its right whale habitat studies. 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»

571 Commercial Street

571 Commercial Street, Courtney Allen's model of Lewis's Wharf, by David W. Dunlap (2008).

571 Commercial Street, Courtney Allen’s model of Lewis’s Wharf, by David W. Dunlap (2008).

571 Commercial Street, bargeboard from 113 Commercial Street, by David W. Dunlap (2008).

571 Commercial Street, bargeboard from 113 Commercial Street, by David W. Dunlap (2008).

Lewis’s Wharf is long gone. But the nearby plaque tells why it was so important: in a makeshift theater here, in 1916, Bound East for Cardiff was first performed, launching Eugene O’Neill’s career. After the Provincetown Players left for Greenwich Village, Courtney Allen ran the Sixes and Sevens coffee shop on the pier. He also created the model pictured above. Mary Heaton Vorse owned both the pier and the upland Arequipa Cottage, which she sold in 1928 to Katharine “Katy” Smith. The next year, Smith married John Dos Passos. They spent time here until her death in 1947 in a car crash that cost “Dos” an eye. The public-relations impresario Benjamin Sonnenberg bought this home in 1954 as a birthday present for his wife, Hilda. The late artist Mary Kass owned it in recent years. The beach facade has bargeboards from the Delight Cottage Resort, 113 Commercial Street.


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.

571 Commercial Street

 
Katharine and John Dos Passos House

The home at what was the foot of the old Lewis Wharf has considerable historic interest of its own. Like the wharf, this upland property was owned by Mary Heaton Vorse. It consisted of a small house, which Vorse called the Arequipa, and an even smaller fish shed to the west. Until the 1920s, when Lewis Wharf was destroyed by “fire and ice and the sea,” it had been Vorse’s hope to move there one day from her home at 466 Commercial. “Now that the wharf was gone,” she recalled, I wanted to live on the Arequipa when the children were grown up.” More pictures and history»

575 Commercial Street

Booksellers are disappearing nowadays, but in 1920, there were two at this address: Ted Robinson’s Book Shop and Frank Shay’s Traveling Book Shop, conducted from a 1916 Model T station wagon. “When Frank found out that the best selling was done at Ted’s, he parked in his front yard,” The Advocate reported. “Both did a whale of a business.”

577 Commercial Street

577 Commercial Street, ceiling beams in Eugene O'Neill's apartment, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

577 Commercial Street, ceiling beams in Eugene O’Neill’s apartment, by David W. Dunlap (2010).

John Francis, owner of Francis’s Flats and Sunbeam Cottage at No. 577 helped creative souls, Eugene O’Neill and Agnes Boulton included, by renting to them cheaply. Ceiling beams in the flat they occupied in 1919 are inscribed — perhaps in O’Neill’s hand — with lines evidently derived from the theosophist Mabel Collins:

Before the eyes can see, they must be incapable of tears!

Before the ear can hear, it must have lost it’s sensitiveness!

Before the voice can speak, it must have lost the power to wound!

Before the soul can fly, it’s wings must be washed in the blood of the heart!

The building was later called Garbage Gables, perhaps because of the refuse left by long weekends of partying. It was extensively renovated in the ‘70s. Bob Tieger was the architect.


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.

577 Commercial Street

John Francis Apartments (Francis’s Flats)

It’s never been easy for creative souls to afford Provincetown. But John A. Francis (±1873-1937) — who ran the Country Store and an insurance and real estate business — tried to make it easier by offering apartments to them at deeply discounted rents. “How many struggling painters and writers John A. Francis helped keep alive during their early days will never be known,” The Advocate said in its 1937 obituary. “Some achieved fame, others oblivion, but it seems that their benefactor never tried to figure it out in advance.” (“Provincetown Pays Tribute to Benefactor of Artists,” The Provincetown Advocate, 26 August 1937.) He was perhaps the most beloved man in town. More pictures and history»

579 Commercial Street

Though Town Meeting doesn’t usually want for theatrics of some sort, there was perhaps no meeting so sadly dramatic as that in March 1964 when Selectman Frank Dears Henderson (±1901-1964) collapsed and died on the floor of the Town Hall auditorium after speaking to an article on the warrant. Attempts by Dr. Daniel Hiebert and others to revive him proved useless. He had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. A few days after his death, a memorial cortege made its way by Jeep across the dunes to the shack, now known as Kemp-Tasha, where Henderson had spent many days.

580 Commercial Street

 

The artist George Yater (1910-1993) and his wife, the artist and poet Shirley (Pell) Yater (±1912-2007), lived here in the early 1960s. (Two of his paintings can be seen on the Provincetown Artist Registry.) The Yaters met in their 20s when they were both studying with Henry Hensche. More pictures and history»

581 Commercial Street

Gerald Mast and Pitti, 581 Commercial Street, Provincetown (1970s). Courtesy of Alex Gildzen. 
Gerald Mast (1940-1988), described as America’s film scholar laureate, was living in Greenwich Village in 1971 when he bought this house from Hannah Dale Henderson and Charlotte Dean of California for $52,000. He spent summers here with his partner, Peter Burnell, a classically trained actor who won his greatest renown as Mike Power on The Doctors, a daytime soap opera on NBC. (Mast is pictured above in the yard, with Pitti.) Their friend Alex Gildzen (b 1943), a poet, artist, playwright and blogger (Arroyo Chamisa), describes life here in a comment below. Gildzen himself wrote the poem Cats in Provincetown in this house, which he recounts in “Remembering Provincetown.” During Mast’s years here, he grew remarkably in stature with the publication of The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies and Film Theory and Criticism. More history»

583 Commercial Street

While nothing beats the sheer artistry of a Conrad Malicoat chimney, this whimsically diminutive version of the Pilgrim Monument certainly deserves mention as being among the very best smokestacks in town. The house belonged for many years to Herschel Alt (±1897-1981), a widely recognized expert in mental health and child welfare, and his wife, Edith (Seltzer) Alt, who was his co-author on the book Russia’s Children, a 1959 study of child welfare under the Soviet state, said to have been the first available to readers in the United States. More history»

586 Commercial Street

 
Ship’s Bell Condominium

Eleanor Roosevelt slept here. And not before or after, either, but while she was First Lady. This little-known episode, long overshadowed by the stories of Jacqueline Kennedy’s evening visit in 1961, occurred on Tuesday, 1 October 1940. It was a very grim moment in world affairs that seemed to point ever more inevitably to global war: Germany, Japan and Italy had just days earlier signed the tripartite agreement creating the Axis. And the presidential election was only a month away. Roosevelt, The Advocate reported, had come to Provincetown for a “short respite … from telephones, turmoil and other distractions.” The First Lady was accompanied only by her private secretary, Malvina “Tommy” Thompson, and was at the wheel herself as they drove up to the Colonial Inn around five o’clock. More pictures and history»

587 Commercial Street

Merry Meeting House

No. 587 has been known by the delightful name “Merry Meeting” at least since the 1910s. It was owned for many years by Albion E. Kelley, assistant postmaster, whom we met at 584 Commercial. Beginning in the late 1950s, it was the summer home of Robert Richenburg (±1917-2006), a well-respected and influential Abstract Expressionist painter who had studied in New York with Hans Hofmann. “Mr. Richenburg was praised by critics and sought after by collectors,” Randy Kennedy wrote, “and was particularly known for ominous paintings in which fields of black were punctuated by bursts of color and line.” (Randy Kennedy, “Robert Richenburg, 89, Artist of Abstract Expressionist Work, Dies,” The New York Times, 13 October 2006.) More history»

592 Commercial Street

 
Creative fires burned everywhere in 1916 during the “Great Provincetown Summer,” as it was called by the painter Marsden Hartley (1877-1943). But 592 Commercial was a furnace. Hartley himself was living here as a guest of the journalist and activist John Reed (1887-1920), who had recently returned from covering the European conflagration. Reed was accompanied by his lover and future wife, the journalist Louise Bryant (1885-1936), who would also take Eugene O’Neill, from across the street, as a lover that summer. Added to this stewpot was Hippolyte Havel (1871-1950), the household chef — or “kitchen anarchist,” as Reed called him, after he’d branded Reed a “parlor socialist.” Among the many others coming and going from the house was Hartley’s friend, the painter Charles Demuth (1883-1935).

Just one such summer would have been history enough for any house, but No. 592 is further distinguished as the home from 1951 to 1996 of the Manso family. Leo Manso (1914-1993), was an eminent painter, collagist and teacher who came to Provincetown’s attention during the influential Forum 49 series at 200 Commercial Street. In 1952, Manso ran a New York University-affiliated art workshop here. He was also a cofounder of Gallery 256, at 256 Commercial Street; of the Provincetown Workshop, 492 Commercial; and of the Long Point Gallery, which took over the workshop’s space. His wife, Blanche (Rosenberg) Manso (1917-1996), was an expert collector of ancient Asian art [?] who ran a store here called Arts of the Past in the late 1960s. Their son, the author Peter Manso (b 1941), wrote Brando: The Biography, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, in this house. More pictures and history»

593 Commercial Street

 
Just as it might be said that Mary Heaton Vorse crafted the literary lens in Time and the Town through which we commonly see the Provincetown of the 20th century, it might also be argued that Joel Meyerowitz (b 1938) crafted the visual equivalent in 1978 with his Cape Light portfolio. A Meyerowitz photo, like a paragraph of Vorse, serves as a kind of platinum bar in its representation of this place, against which other efforts are almost inevitably — if unconsciously — judged. He owned this property for 25 years, from 1986 to 2011, and used it as his summer home and studio. According to Christopher Busa, this was the boathouse in which Eugene O’Neill first stayed during the “Great Provincetown Summer” of 1916, when his friend John Reed invited him to move down from Truro after the success of Bound East for Cardiff. Reed and his lover, Louise Bryant, were living across the street that summer, at 592 Commercial Street. Before the season ended, Bryant and O’Neill were lovers, too. More pictures and history»

594 Commercial Street

The Cook family has owned this property for at least 75 years, along with an 11-foot strip at 597A Commercial that gives them beach access. Lauren Cook (±1902-1963), a founder of the East End Racket Club and of the Provincetown Yacht and Tennis Club, lived here with his wife, Marion (Moran) Cook. They were succeeded by their son, Stephen E. Cook, and his wife, Getrude A. “Trudy” Cook. The Cooks ran a real-estate business here. In the mid-’60s, Trudy also ran the March Hare store, which offered “mad papier-maché earrings, handmade dresses in exciting colors, ‘mod’ accessories,” and other groovy goods.

595 Commercial Street

At the turn of the 21st century, this was where the artist Barbara E. Cohen and her spouse, Honey Black Kay (1942-2007), a therapist and teacher, spent their summers. The cottage had at one time been owned by the sculptor Avrom “Arlie” Sinaiko (1902-1984), as had 597 Commercial next door.

Cohen was graduated from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts (Tufts University) in Boston and studied art history at Oxford. She is known in New York and Provincetown as an abstract painter and sculptor. She has also created lovely composite pictures that, at their base, are manipulated Polaroid SX-70 prints, on which she engraves and paints further color, form and imagery. The first collection of these works, Dog in the Dunes, was published in 1998, followed in 2002 by Provincetown East West. More pictures and text»

597 Commercial Street

 
597 Waterfront Apartments

Apartments? Plural? At first glance, No. 597 looks like a cozy bungalow, far too small to be a multi-unit accommodation. But the waterside view tells a different story. It is, in fact, a good-sized building. And the wonderful border collie on the signpost tells part of the story. It’s my guess that the dog in question is Bandit, beloved of John A. Lisbon (1949-2011), a contractor who lived here with his wife, Linda S. Lisbon. John’s father, Joseph Lisbon, was a fisherman who skippered the Francis Elizabeth in the mid-1950s. Linda Lisbon continues to own and run the apartments. More pictures and history»

597A Commercial Street

Skinny little rights-of-way and easements percolate through and among many shoreline properties, generally preserving the beach access rights of upland property owners on the other side of Commercial. Less common, though not unique, are separately demised fee interests like Lot 15-3-18-0-R, an 11-foot-wide parcel of land owned by the Cook family of 594 Commercial, which has owned this strip since 1897 at least.

599 Commercial Street

 
This is the house that Abercrombie & Fitch built — or at least raised several feet further into the air. For a time, 599 Commercial Street was owned by Michael S. Jeffries (b 1944), the chief executive officer of Abercrombie, who was credited in a 2006 profile by Benoit Denizet-Lewis on Salon with having transformed the company “from a struggling retailer of ‘fuddy-duddy clothes’ into the most dominant and imitated lifestyle-based brand for young men in America” by “celebrating young men in their teens and early ’20s with smooth, gym-toned bodies and perfectly coifed hair.” And what could better illustrate the changes that have come to Provincetown than to note that a half century earlier, this had been the home of Dr. Clara M. Thompson (1893-1958), one of the leading psychoanalysts of her time and a cofounder, with Erich Fromm and others, of the William Alanson White Institute? Its headquarters, in a handsome rowhouse at 20 West 74th Street in Manhattan, is named the Clara Thompson Building. More pictures and history»