Provincetown Inn Waterfront Resort and Conference Center.
Well worth a visit even if you’re not staying here, the sprawling Provincetown Inn — part of which stands on four acres of landfill created especially for the hotel — is so large that its parking lot alone could fit the Crown & Anchor and the Boatslip and Land’s End Inn combined. The principal attraction on a walk-through are historical murals of Provincetown and Long Point, painted by Don Aikens from 1966 to 1972. But you shouldn’t miss the two-story interior court, built 1923-1925, or the outdoor swimming pool in the shape of a Pilgrim hat, tapering to the deep end, with symmetrical staircases on either side of the shallow end, where a brim ought to be.
Joshua Paine (1865-1932), a Provincetown native, developed the inn. Through his mother, Martha Freeman Atwood, he was descended from Elder William Brewster, the spiritual leader of the Pilgrims. His sister, Nancy W. Paine Smith (d 1940), wrote The Provincetown Book. Paine married Harriet Roxanna Payrow (±1864-1951). Paine also built the Castle at 2 Commercial Street, just across the way, which was the forerunner of the Murchison House. And he developed the Cape Cod, Colonial and Puritan cold storage plants.
The inn opened in 1925, according to a history its own Web site, the inn opened in 1925, through the usually reliable Clive Driver fixes the opening 10 years earlier, in Looking Back. This apparent discrepancy would actually explain some visible forensic evidence suggesting strongly that the inn first functioned strictly as a restaurant and that a two-story hotel wing was added on the north in 1923-1925.
In 1933 and 1934, the inn was briefly under the management of Charles W. Kokerda, who renamed it the Provincetown Sippican Hotel and Annex, after the Sippican Hotel that he had owned in Marion, Ohio. At this time, there were 50 guest rooms in the establishment, 31 of them with private bathrooms, The Advocate reported on 13 July 1933.
Chester G. Peck Jr. (±1914-2000), the “Bossman” and an absolute dynamo of a hotelier, took over the management in 1935 and enlarged the inn far beyond anything Paine would have recognized, becoming synonymous in the process with the Provincetown Inn. (Or was the Provincetown Inn synonymous with Chester Peck?) During World War II, the inn was effectively commandeered by the Navy for use as a Coast Guard training center.
But after the war, Peck got going. Big time. The first thing he did, in June 1946, was to open the Breakwater Room — “Dance, Drink and Dine in a Place of Gay Beauty” — with Ernie Bell and his four-piece dance orchestra. Manny Veara was the bartender. The room, which setaed 255, occupied a specially built wing on the west side of the hotel. The Advocate’s reporter, who confessed to being “goggle-eyed” in an account published on 13 June 1946, noted a 22-foot mahogany bar with leather upholstered sides, leather banquettes, chromium tables and chairs, a flagstone floor, Delft-blue ceiling, and Gay 90s wallpaper. In addition, Charles Heinz painted windmill and lighthouse murals. A screened-in porch overlooked the namesake West End Breakwater on its “long tumbling trek to Wood End, a great wall across the flats in low tide and a foam-flecked crest in high,” The Advocate effused.
Expansion wasn’t about to stop there. In 1954, Peck had the audacity to propose a four-acre landfill offshore from the inn. Four acres! Imagine the Environmental Impact Statement if he had come along 30 years later. And he seems to have been completely candid about the business motivation behind his proposed reshaping of the shoreline: “mainly to expand automobile parking facilities for visitors at the Inn and the area of the First Landing Place Plaza,” The Advocate reported on 30 December 1954. It flips the modern paradigm on its head: unapologetically subordinating the beachfront and wetlands to the car.
There was opposition, all right, but not along present-day environmentalist lines. Speaking for the Town of Provincetown to commonwealth regulatory officials in Boston, Selectman Frank D. Henderson objected to the landfill as a private taking; depriving the public of the ability to sail over the four acres at high tide or walk through the area in low tide. Ralph S. Carpenter, the proprietor of Delft Haven and creator of the First Landing Place Plaza, objected that the landfill would block views from his cottages, change the topography of the beach, and possibly undermine the plaza.
But Peck eventually prevailed, and the creation of this new peninsula began in 1957. It is where the enormous parking lot, a one-story motel extension and the Pilgrim-hat pool were eventually built. It was also the site, from 1967 to 1997 of a recreational and entertainment building designed by Burnett V. Vickers of Orleans, the architect of the New Art Cinema. This structure, supported on 82 piles driven through the sandy landfill, housed the pool, a shuffleboard court, bowling alley, Ping Pong and pool room, cocktail lounge, night club and snack bar. It was at this time that passageways were added to link all the disparate units in the complex under cover. That allowed Peck to keep the Provincetown Inn open year-round, beginning around 1968, as reported in The Advocate on 2 November 1967.
A redecoration effort begun in 1966 yielded the historical murals by Don Aikens that are now probably the Inn’s second best-known architectural feature. (Sorry, but nothing competes with a pool in the shape of a Pilgrim hat.) Based on old postcards and vintage photos, they depict many familiar scenes around town and included faces that were recognizable to viewers at the time, like those of Frank “Scarry Jack” Crawley, who lived at 8 Central Street, and many town criers. The most ambitious suite of murals is the recreation of the Long Point settlement, occupying three walls in what is now known as the Tiffany Room. This is especially priceless because Aikens depicted the floaters as they currently appeared on their inland sites, complete with second stories they didn’t have on the Point and landscaping that would have impossibly genteel out in that rugged spot. He also created “three-dimensional murals” that incorporated physical elements, like a boat hull, to give them actual depth. One such tableau shows the galley of a tugboat named the Chester — for you know whom.
Peck sold the business in 1972 to a group of investors from whom Brooke S. Evans emerged as the owner in 1977, under the Provincetown Inn Limited Partnership. He rather fancily styled the place the Provincetown Inn & Executive Conference Center in 1978.
For a time, the outboard building was a hub of Provincetown’s nightlife. “The Fore and Aft Room and the Pilgrim Room went through a variety of incarnations that included live entertainment, a disco and theater productions,” Sue Harrison recalled in The Banner on 20 February 1997. Grace Jones and Phyllis Diller performed there (not on the same bill), as did Wayland Flowers and his puppet, Madame. “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler had a training camp in the building, which also served — in one of those marvelous instances of local incongruity — as the home for several years of the Provincetown Theater Company. It offered readings, playwriting workshops and performances year-round, “many of them original works by local playwrights,” Gillian Drake said in The Complete Guide to Provincetown (1992). A spacious lawn, and the pool (once again outdoors), are all that remain.
Restaurants, clubs, lounges, and lobby stores have come and gone at the Provincetown Inn. Among them: Camilla’s gift shop, in the mid 1930s; the Provincetown Inn Gift Shop in the late 1940s, a division of the Mayflower Gift Shop chain, which included the Corner Gift Shop at 250 Commercial Street and the Mayflower Gift Shop at 317 Commercial Street; the Breakwater School of Aquatic Sports, in the late 1950s; the Inn Coiffure beauty shop in the mid 1960s; the Pilgrim Room restaurant, beginning in the 1960s; the Landing cocktail bar, beginning in the 1960s; and the Lucille and Vivian Clothes Boutique, operated in the 1960s by Lucille (Crawley) Donahue and Vivian (Crawley) Worman, part of a retail empire that stretched to 435 Commercial Street and to Harvard Square. The sisters also ran the Everbreeze Restaurant at 429 Commercial Street.
The Pilgrim Pool Bar and Grille, the Beachside Seafood Grille, and the West End Lounge operate currently. Live theater is offered during the summer in the Mayflower Room.
There are 101 guest rooms. High-season rack rates in 2017 ranged from $149 a night for a room without balcony, overlooking Commercial Street, to $499 for the Long Point Light Suite on Friday and Saturday nights. Shoulder-season rates were as low as $89 a night.
As of 2014, the Evans family had run the Provincetown Inn longer than “Bossman” Evans. The family also operates the Outer Reach Resort in Truro. Evan Evans, the son of Brooke Evans, was the president of the ownership entity in 2018, when an application was filed with the Licensing Board to transfer its innholder, liquor, and entertainment licenses to Patrick J. Sheehan, identified as the president of the Sheehan Hospitality Group LLC. Sheehan is also the managing member of the Sheehan Health Group L.L.C. of Southborough. The company manages rehabilitation and skilled care centers in Brighton, Jamaica Plain, Southbury, West Brookfield, and Worcester.
¶ Last updated on 29 June 2020.
Also at 1 Commercial Street:
Mark A. Peters wrote on 5 January 2012: I’m sorry but this is not about the Provincetown Inn, but rather of the address. I had heard from a fairly credible source (who passed a couple of years ago) that there was a shoddily constructed dwelling on the beach by 1 Commercial. Known as something like “Pig Town,” it served to separate blacks and other social outcasts from the more “civilized” parts of town. It finally succumbed to the tides. Even though it was probably more than 100 years ago, I believe that this dark chapter, if true, requires exploration.
Irma Ruckstuhl wrote on 6 August 2013: In the early ’60s, the inn’s dining room would be filled every Sunday evening with local families, who came for the special roast beef dinner. All the waitresses were local women, many of whom had worked there for years. Everyone wore their best. Jackets and ties were a requirement. Chester Peck did not yet consider women in trousers appropriately dressed. Ray Wells claimed credit for changing this policy when she arrived one evening in a smart pants suit and — about to be denied entrance — remarked something to the effect of, “Well, if all the fashionable ladies in Paris are wearing pants suits, I can’t believe you won’t let me in to the Provincetown Inn!” [Ray, it should be noted, was a woman.]
James Hickey wrote on 15 November 2013: I never realized the pool was in the shape of a Pilgrim’s hat!
T. Patrick Korsak wrote on 15 November 2013: Never stayed there, but have enjoyed the pool and its services the past five years.
Dan Shaw wrote on 15 November 2013: I love those murals! Those interior/exterior facades are very Dorothy Draper.
Bob Thompson wrote on 17 June 2018: As a college kid, I bellhopped there in the summers of ’66-’68. Chester and Jean Peck were great to work for. He noticed a patron’s being very rude to a waitress — told him to leave and not return.
Lots of wonderful locals: Bob and Jean Hendrickson, whom my wife Martha and I (we met there in 1966) would take to lunch whenever we returned for a visit; Manny and Theresa Martin; Nellie Cook; Freeman Watson; Brother Costa; Tom Francis; Virgie Bailey and his chiffon pies; Jimmy Crowley; Tony Rego; Mitch and his wife; and Sophie.
Mr. Peck always brought in a couple of cases of beer every night after the kitchen closed and shared with the crew while they were cleaning up. Great place to be in those days.