18 Commercial Street

Red House

Red House, the plaque says – a bit needlessly, since the house is clearly that. A white-on-blue enamel plaque, designed by Claude Jensen, shows a Cape Cod house on a scow on the waves, with the narrow stretch of Long Point and its lighthouse in the distance. That indicates a house that was floated across the harbor from the antebellum settlement on the point. Once called the Gilbert Spencer cottage, 18 Commercial Street was built around 1830. It seems to have acquired its distinctive color in the 1930s, when it was acquired as an annex by the Red Inn, across the road at 15 Commercial Street, which used it to house workers and overflow guests. More history»

31-41 Commercial Street

 
Masthead Resort

From 31 to 41 Commercial Street are seven buildings on 450 feet of beachfront, collectively the Masthead Resort, owned and operated since 1959 by John J. Ciluzzi Sr. (b 1923) What seems at first like a completely random group can actually be discerned as a symmetrical compound of three substantial houses at the ends and center — No. 31, the Old Furniture Shop; No. 37, a Long Point floater; and No. 41, the Helena Rubinstein summer home — with two cottages in each of the two interstices. More pictures and history»

43 Commercial Street

Dr. Don’s Landing

Dr. Don’s Landing, a condominium at 43 Commercial Street, occupies a building that once stood at the center of the Long Point settlement, where it was built around 1840 for the whaling captain John C. Weeks Sr., whose son lived at 42 Commercial Street. Harriet Weeks Spear was born here in 1851, when the house will still across the harbor. It was ferried over when Harriet was seven years old and she continued to live there well into her 80s, after completing a half century as a high school teacher. She married at the age of 70. More pictures and history»

47 Commercial Street

 
Labrador Landing Condominium

The Labrador Landing Condominium at 47 Commercial Street occupies a large 1835 structure that distinguished for its dimensions early on: it was the only two-story house on Long Point, where it belonged to John Williams. In 1947, Donald F. Witherstine opened the Shore Studio Gallery. It was one of the first and most important commercial galleries in town. “We could use the amazing Mr. Witherstine in 57th Street also,” Edward Alden Jewell wrote in The New York Times that year. “He is a force, a whiz, a conflagration.” More pictures and history»

52 Commercial Street

 
La Principessa

A splash of pink, this 1850s house at 52 Commercial Street is known as “La Principessa.” It was here that John Whorf, a water-colorist whom The Advocate called the “jewel in the crown of many noted Provincetown artists,” rode out the hurricane of 1944. Though born in Winthrop, he came to town at a young age to visit his grandfather Isaiah. Handsome and worldly, he became a consummate town insider, serving as Skipper of the Beachcombers, but was also well-known off-Cape. More pictures and history»

64 Commercial Street

 
A classic full Cape — long the home of Roslyn Garfield (1921-2012) and Phyllis Temple (1928-2008) — this house at 64 Commercial Street dates from the early 19th century, meaning that it originally faced the water, long before there was a Commercial Street. But it did so at a different location: across from the Red Inn. It was moved to this location in 1840. It was the property of Miss Ella A. Small at the turn of the 20th century, when it was denominated 51 Commercial Street. In the 1930s, Mrs. Ella A. Sibley (±1860-1944; née Smith, but perhaps the same person as Ella Small) offered rooms to let. In 1945, her heirs sold 64 Commercial Street to Irving and Rachel Ashley Sametz of Westport, Conn., operators of the Ashley Shop at 445 Commercial Street. More pictures and history»

68 Commercial Street

The James M. Burke was among the largest and best known boats in the Provincetown fishing fleet in the mid-20th century. And this is where himself — Capt. James M. Burke (±1865-1941) — berthed, when he wasn’t out on his namesake vessel or aboard the Amelia D. or the Cormorant, which he also owned. Burke, a Provincetown native whose parents were born in Ireland, was chiefly known around town as a master politician. From 1915 to 1940, he was the chairman of the Republican Town Committee — when such a thing could even be imagined to exist (“J. M. Burke Dies, Funeral Friday,” The Advocate, 6 November 1941). In 1900, he married Ada Holmes (±1866-1948) of Brooklyn. Mrs. Burke operated 68 Commercial Street both as a kindergarten and as a rooming house. More pictures and history»

99 Commercial Street

 
Sal’s Place

Restaurants come and go in Provincetown. Sal’s Place came in 1963 — almost a half century ago — and is still around, as is the founder and namesake, Salvatore Del Deo, though he’s no longer connected with the business. The restaurant is housed in the Union Wharf Building, an upland relic of the Union Wharf, which was built around 1830-1. This structure was the first home of the Seamen’s Savings Bank, from 1852 to 1868. It was here that Leander Rockwell, a seaman from Nova Scotia, made the first deposit of $36. The bank’s next move was only a short distance away, to the Union Exchange at 90 Commercial Street. More pictures and history»

100 Commercial Street

 
There was a day — and not too long ago — when there would have been few things as common in town as a Portuguese family living at the west end of Commercial Street. Now, there are few things as unusual. But some longtime families remain; a quiet, enduring and modest presence in the midst of growing (if tastefully understated) ostentation. Roxanne “Jill” Pires (b 1944) exemplifies that tradition, living in a home just beyond the Turn that has been in her family’s hands for more than 60 years. More pictures and history»

112 Commercial Street

 
As you approach the Turn in Commercial Street from the east, you may think you’re being watched. You are. A bust of William Shakespeare has taken up more-or-less permanent residence in a second-floor window at No. 112. Year in and year out, window open or shut, the ghostly little Bard casts his eyes over the West End Rialto. More pictures and history»

176 Commercial Street

Webster House | Yesterday’s Treasures
Well worth a second look; not for the storefront right on the street but for what looks like a half Cape forming an interior ell. This was the property of Helen P. Rogers at the turn of the 20th century, when it was denominated 175 Commercial Street. The current retail tenant is Yesterday’s Treasures. Doubtless the most controversial retail tenant here was the Fetish Chest, which opened in 1997 to complaints from the neighbors like, “It looks like it dropped out of the sky from New York City’s 42nd Street.” (“New Sex Shop Flaunts Its Wares,” The Banner, 20 February 1997.)

† Wharf at 179 Commercial Street

Joseph Manta’s Wharf
Joseph Manta arrived in the United States in 1854, sailed, opened a grocery store in 1876 and then bought this wharf in 1882, which then was known as Joseph Manta’s Wharf, and denominated 180 Commercial Street. He acted as a wholesale agent for several large schooners, and also prepared dried salt cod. His wife was Philomena Manta, a name that ought to ring a very resonant bell for lovers of Provincetown history and the work of Charles W. Hawthorne.

184 Commercial Street

 
Marc by Marc Jacobs

What is now among the most up-to-date venues in Provincetown is a house that dates to the mid-19th century, according to the Historic District Survey. James Fuller owned the building at the turn of the 20th century, when it was denominated 181 Commercial Street. It was the home in the mid-1960s of Bert Perry (±1921-1966), the piano player for many seasons at the Ace of Spades Club across the street. More pictures and history»

† Wharf at 187-189 Commercial Street

 
Steamboat Wharf
Steamboat Wharf was once the maritime gateway to Provincetown, where passengers arrived by steamboat from Boston. The pier was originally known as Bowley’s Wharf. It was built in 1849. Joshua and Gideon Bowley also built a ship outfitting store on Commercial Street in 1851. More history»

190 Commercial Street

 
Spiritus

The Spiritus pizzeria is so interwoven with recent P’town history that it is almost hard to believe its home had an earlier life. But it did, all the way back to around 1837, when 190 Commercial Street was probably constructed for Reuben Collins II and his family. In 1892, when the building would have been denominated No. 189, his children Richard and Minnie physically divided the house between them. (Both were allowed to use the front door and stairs.) It was not reunited again until its purchase in 1945. An optometrist, Dr. Max Berman, operated here from the late 1940s until the late 1970s. John Love Yingling arrived in 1978 and transformed the place into Spiritus, the unofficial after-hours gathering spot on warm summer nights for hundreds of men. (The pizza isn’t bad, either.) More pictures and history»

192-194 Commercial Street

A Gallery | FK Full Kit Gear Shop

An important Federal-style building, easy to overlook. This was the property of Bessie D. Freeman at the turn of the 20th century, when the building was denominated 191 Commercial Street. City Video was a longtime tenant. The current tenants are A Gallery, showing the works of Eileen Counihan, Steve Desroches, John Dimestico, Alexandre Jazédé, Olga Manosalvas, Adam Peck, Marian Peck, Christopher Sousa and Harry Wicks. Downstairs is FK Full Kit Gear Shop, “Serious Gear for Serious Men.” Serious about what is obvious enough. More 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»

† 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»

† 329 Commercial Street

 
Former Long Point School House | Former Post Office | Arnold’s Radio and Cycle Shop

During the Long Point diaspora of the mid-19th century, the settlement’s most prominent public buildings — the school house and post office — are both reputed to have made the voyage across the harbor. The post office wound up at 256 Bradford Street, the school house at 329 Commercial Street, where it remained until a disastrous fire in 1949, serving in its latter years as the home of the appliance and bicycle shop of Arnold F. Dwyer (±1918-1998), which is still in business, though on a far more modest scale. More pictures and history»

331 Commercial Street

Deja Vu | Burger Queen

The long commercial history of this building is easily traced back to the 1870s, when this was the store of W. H. H. Weston, manufacturer and dealer in stoves, pumps, metalware and glassware; and the building itself was denominated 306 Commercial Street. The business was assumed in 1898 by Herbert Engles. During the mid-20th century, this was the home of Isadore Ferreira (1903-1966) and his wife, Philomena (Cordeiro) Ferreira. Ferreira was born in São Miguel and arrived in town at 17 to open a shoe repair business. More pictures and history»

† 336 Commercial Street

 
Pilgrim House

The Pilgrim House did not accommodate the first visitors, for whom it was named. But it did open for business around 1810 and counted Henry David Thoreau among its guests. (Not an especially satisfied guest, as a page from his 1857 journal makes amusingly clear.) The original structure, set so far back from the street that there was room for a gazebo or bandstand in its front yard, might have dated to the late 1700s. Though much transformed, it managed to last until October 1990, when it was destroyed in a four-alarm blaze that required more than 100 firefighters from seven Cape towns to extinguish and injured more than a dozen people. More pictures and history»

350 Commercial Street

Monty’s | Phenomena Estate Jewelry & Art

Capt. Alexander “Alec” Kemp (±1854-1946), master of the schooner Sea Fox, was described by The Advocate as the “last great Grand Banks skipper” at the time of his death at the age of 92. He lived at 350 Commercial Street. Born n Cape Breton, he arrived in Provincetown when he was 16 but spent most of his life at sea. (“Funeral Is Held for Captain Kemp; Death Ends Long Voyage of Cape End’s Grand Grand Banker, The Advocate, 17 January 1946.) “For 45 years, he fished on the perilous Grand Banks, making 49 trips in that period, doubling up with two trips a year when demand was good and conditions favorable. He was proud of his most unusual record — as well he might be — that he never lost a vessel, but even more important, never lost a man.” More history»

386 Commercial Street

 
Waterford Inn – Café – Tavern

“Captain Lavender’s Deck” at the Waterford is not some sort of coy code to entice gay patrons. No, this property once was home to Captain Lavender — in fact, the Captains Lavender: Robert M. Lavender (1847-1928) and Stephen S. Lavender (1852-1910), who appears to have been Robert’s younger uncle. (Stephen’s much older brother, Capt. Joseph A. Lavender, was Robert’s father. Joseph was lost at sea in 1870.) The family came from Nova Scotia, as did Robert’s wife, Louisa J. (1847-1920), herself a remarkable woman. More pictures and history»

404 Commercial Street

 
Dalla Cucina

It seems sometimes that the owners of just about every stately Provincetown house claim it was built for a whaling captain. In the case of 404 Commercial Street, a monumental Greek Revival structure that would not look wholly out of place in Charleston or Savannah, the claim is not hard to believe. Diners have known it as the Southern Mansion, Landmark, Chester, Bistro 404 and Dalla Cucina. More pictures and history»

466 Commercial Street

 
Kibbe Cook – Mary Heaton Vorse House

Your perspective on Provincetown was shaped in some measure by Mary Heaton Vorse (1881-1966), the author of Time and the Town: A Provincetown Chronicle (1942), whose house this was from 1907 until her death in 1966. An ardent progressivist and champion of labor — a “militant liberal,” The New York Times said in her obituary — Vorse was deeply involved with the Provincetown Players. In her book, she depicts the town with the convincing skill of a W.P.A. muralist. It’s not that she glosses over fissures, but she imbues her characters — Portuguese, Yankee or washashore; fisherman, homemaker or playwright — with proletarian nobility and the capacity to put aside differences and work shoulder-to-shoulder in the town’s best interests. More pictures and history

472 Commercial Street

 
Once, organic products were really organic. A highly desirable lubricant for timepieces and precision instruments was an oil ladled from the heads of dead pilot whales (called blackfish) and the most prized binding agent for otherwise volatile perfumes was the waxy substance ambergris, secreted from the intestines of sperm whales and famously worth more than its weight in gold. David Conwell Stull, who lived here, traded in whale oil but was best known as the Ambergris King, so expert in judging the value of a lump of ambergris that he could set the market price. More pictures and history»

476 Commercial Street

 
Figurehead House

Could there have been a better known lady in Provincetown? I’m not referring to the figurehead that gives 476 Commercial Street its name — renowned as she is — but to Abbie Cook Putnam (±1870-1956), who was the town librarian from 1901 to 1935. Miss Putnam was not to be trifled with. For her, the fact that a 28-year-old playwright who showed up at the library in 1917 had achieved a bit of local renown was of no consequence. Eugene O’Neill wasn’t a property owner, so Miss Putnam was not about to issue him a library card unless someone proper had vouched for him. 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»