Cape Cod Cold Storage freezer.
Unless you lived here at the time, in which case you remember it clearly, it’s almost as if this enormous building never existed. You can scour great landscape paintings and mediocre vacation snapshots in vain for some sign that a 60-foot-high industrial structure — much taller than its nominal four-story elevation would suggest — once stood where Station Provincetown’s lawn and parking lot are now. Mary Hackett was one of the few artists to acknowledge that the hulking freezer was as much a part of town as were quaint wharves and crooked streets.
What kept the building and the fish and the workers so cold was a network of cooling pipes through which calcium chloride brine was pumped at a temperature of 27 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. (Freon seems also have been used.)
The freezer was, by any standards, an imposing building. This photo, taken in September 1961, comes from the Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 2, Page 71, on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 9 (Dowd Collection).
Left: It almost looked like something from a medieval Italian city in a photo taken at the time of demolition and found in the Municipal Collection on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 5110. Right: Mary Hackett was one of few artists to recognize the freezers’ place in the landscape. “Tom Hackett Walking Along Commercial Street” is in the Town Art Collection on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 1525.
Working conditions were not simply harsh. They were dangerous. Mel Joseph told this story of Manuel “Boy Blue” Santos in the 2010 Portuguese Festival booklet:
He survived working the freezer by wrapping his feet in newspaper and burlap and stuffing them into oversized boots — rather than drink — to insulate his body from the damp and cold. In Manny’s early days working in the freezer, he had a freak accident when a Freon pipe burst and his legs were instantly flash frozen like a whiting fillet. The fast action of the Cold Storage crew saved his legs from amputation. Quickly, Harmanaka [Louis Jason], Ralph Fields, and Blan [Manuel Souza] put Manny in a barrel of chilled water and loaded him in the bed of a pickup truck. My father [Francis “Molly” Joseph] and Harmanaka stood up in the bed of the pickup holding Manny, immersed in the barrel, all the way up old Route 6 to the Cape Cod Hospital [in Hyannis, nearly 50 miles distant]. The doctors told Manny that the quick action of his friends saved his legs.¹
Here’s what makes it a perfect Provincetown tale. “My father never told me this story,” Joseph continued, “it was Manny himself that recounted this story to me at my dad’s funeral, and my mother confirmed it with many references to my dad’s modesty.”
The Advocate recorded the freezer’s final hours in the issue of 30 January 1975. The clipping is in the Cold Storage/Trap Industry Collection on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 690.
Demolition afforded a brief glimpse of the inside of the freezer. The photo, 1975, is from the Municipal Collection on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 5110.
A year after the plant closed, on Labor Day in 1974, the east side of the 62-year-old freezer collapsed. That prompted town officials to call for immediate demolition. “Yards of rusty freezing coils were strewn about like giant strands of spaghetti,” The Advocate reported as the work began, warmer even in January than they’d ever been when the plant was in operation.²
¶ Last updated on 30 November 2018.
125 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Also at 125 Commercial Street:
Thumbnail image: Photo, 1974-1975, from the Municipal Collection on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 5110.
For further reading online
• Francis Grant Joseph
Find a Grave Memorial No. 170861793.
¹ “The Cape Cod Cold Storage and Freeman’s Wharf,” by Mel Joseph, Provincetown Portuguese Festival 2010, Page 44.
² “The End of an Era: Cape Cold Storage Comes Down,” The Provincetown Advocate, 30 January 1975, Page 9.