Quite a lot of history is packed into this small house, which has been — from time to time — under common ownership with the abutting property at 130A Commercial Street, on Briggs Lane. This building was labeled “Tobacco” in the 1889 street atlas, when the lot was denominated 125 Commercial Street. Manuel C. Sylvia opened the West End Shoe Shop here in 1931, promising “first class shoe repairing.”
The famed sandal maker Roger Rilleau (1909-1977) and his wife, Marjorie “Peggy” (Tryon) Rilleau (1921-2011), acquired this property in 1938. In the mid-1940s, it served as the West End branch of the Rilleaus’ Hand Industries, offering “Hand Weaving, Tailored Belts, Hand-Made Sandals, Pottery Off the Wheel, Sculptured Hand-Wrought Silver.” The couple placed a charming want ad in The Advocate in June 1948: “I’m 4½ years old and want someone to help me take care of my little sister, Robin, who is only two. We will want to go to the beach afternoons. Gabby [Gabrielle] Rilleau, 130 Commercial Street.”
During the latter years of the Carter family’s ownership of 130 Commercial Street, the house and its furnishings were pretty much untouched. David W. Dunlap (2011).
As late as 2010, the house retained its old shutter dogs. David W. Dunlap.
130 Commercial retained its Old Provincetown ambience well into the 21st century. David W. Dunlap (2008).
(The Rilleau family’s last business stand in Provincetown was at 5 Allerton Street. Rilleau Leather now operates out of Woodstock, Vt.)
The imaginative jeweler Arthur King (1921-1991) also operated out of this building in the mid-1940s. “The bark or vine-like gold work in his designs is highly appreciated today and desired by collectors of Modernist jewelry,” the Beladora blog said in 2013. Here is a thumbnail biography from Christie’s:
“Although incorporating traditional jewelry materials, [King] managed to transform a piece of jewelry into a work of contemporary art by mounting rough gemstones in a cage-like structure. This technique became his specialty. He operated in premises on 59th Street and, later, at 611 Madison Avenue in New York. He maintained as many as 18 branch locations but preferred not to sell out of established jewelry locations. His branches were located in such areas as Cape Cod, Havana and Miami. He also sold through Fortnum & Mason in London.”
The joint was jumping after World War II and into the 1960s. The Phoenix Bookshop was run by Anne Maxted and Gretchen Fisher. The ad in the upper left corner ran in The Advocate on 27 July 1961. The ad in the lower right corner was published 14 September 1961. The Rilleau family’s Hand Industries advertised itself explicitly (upper right, 6 June 1946), but the jeweler Arthur King was a bit more coy (lower left, same date).
The Coffee Pot Restaurant seems to have existed only briefly, in the late winter of 1951, when these ads appeared in The Advocate. (8 February, on the left; 25 January, on the right.)
No less a celebrity than the Town Crier himself, Amos Emanuel Kubik (1868-1961), bought this house from the Rilleaus in 1948. Kubik, a native of Bohemia, moved to town in 1916. He was a part-time real-estate broker in the Mayflower Heights neighborhood. After Walter T. “Hoppy” Smith gave up the bell in 1927, Kubik succeeded to the role, which he seems to have played, on and off, through the 1940s. He’s frequently the fellow you’ll see in vintage photos, dressed in imaginary “Pilgrim” attire. Kubik was not long for 130 Commercial. He sold the property in 1950 and moved back to Springfield, where died at age 92.
Helen Mae Jason bought the property in January 1951 and immediately began advertising the Coffee Pot Restaurant, open from breakfast to dinner, with a menu of substantial “comfort food,” as we’d call it now. (The idea of linguiça pizza makes me wish that time travel were possible. I’d definitely set the meter to early ’51.) Jason sold the house only three months later to Philip A. Cook — of the Cookie’s Cooks — and ceased advertising the Coffee Pot, suggesting that it may have been short-lived. Nevertheless, it is fondly recalled by Josephine A. “Bunny” Rabbitt, who told me in 2019: “That was my Aunt Helen Carlos Jason’s restaurant. The kitchen was in her house. She lived upstairs. I stayed there a lot. They also made great ice cream.”
For at least three seasons, from 1961 to 1963 (if not longer), this was the Phoenix Bookshop, operated by Anne Maxted and Gretchen Fisher. Phoenix specialized in second-hand and out-of-print books — exactly the kind of books that accumulate in summer houses that are used for generations.
Left: Amos E. Kubik, Provincetown’s actual town crier in the 1930s and ’40s, posed as the “modern town crier” for Telephone Topics, the employee newsletter of the New England Telephone Company, in August 1945. In the Municipal Collection on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 5996. Right: David Jarrett took this portrait of Jean F. Frottier in 1981 on the porch of the Gifford House, which he then owned.
Several transactions later, in 1971, both 130 and 130A Commercial Street were acquired by Jean F. Frottier (1943-2012), a successful stock broker in Boston who got the sand in his shoes and moved to Cape Cod, living one of those lives that seem to happen only Provincetown: a nightlife impresario who owned the Gifford House from 1976 to 1988, but then turned to scalloping, lobstering, and fishing as his vocation.
“He knew most every face on the pier, of course,” The Boston Globe said of Frottier in 2012, “but could just as easily hobnob with big shots in government fisheries agencies or regulars at the hotel and club that he owned decades ago in downtown Provincetown.” The paper quoted Vaughn Cabral as saying admiringly that Frottier “could talk a dog off of a meat wagon.” The tragic occasion of this assessment was Frottier’s drowning at age 69 when his 40-foot scalloper, Twin Lights, capsized off Race Point.
At about the time Frottier was taking over the Gifford House, in 1976, he sold this property to Lynne E. Carter, a journalist, and her husband, Lacey W. Carter (1920-2005), a retired social services director. The couple lived here many years before his death. She sold the property in 2012 for $360,000 to Michael E. Palmer of Boston. The real estate listing at the time said, in a bit of understatement, “The property is in need of renovation.” Palmer undertook that job, working with Ted Smith Architect, in a project that was approved unanimously by the Historic District Commission.
A “View Easement” that runs with the land prohibits the owners of 130 Commercial Street from allowing any vegetation or structure to enter the “View Corridor” from 8 Pleasant Street, which extends “infinitely” skyward from a point 26 feet above Commercial Street. Diagram by David W. Dunlap.
Palmer and his partner, Scott R. Dolny, own 8 Pleasant Street, which overlooks 130 Commercial. They were granted a remarkable “View Easement” in 2013 by Douglas D. Tracey and William R. Singleton, who owned No. 130 from 2013 to 2017.
The document first defines a “View Corridor” from 8 Pleasant Street to Provincetown Harbor as a swath of air space beginning 26 feet above the level of Commercial Street and then rising infinitely. It stipulates:
“No trees, shrubs, or other vegetation, whether now existing, or hereafter placed on or permitted to grow on or from the Land (‘Vegetation’) shall be permitted to placed in, exist in, or be permitted to grow into, and no structure shall be caused to be constructed or placed in (‘Structures’) the View Corridor. All Vegetation, new Vegetation, or Structures shall remain and be maintained outside of the View Corridor.
“In order to insure that the Vegetation does not grow into the View Corridor and to maintain the View Corridor from additional growth, new plantings, or other new Vegetation, the Grantors [130 Commercial Street] hereby agree to allow Grantees [8 Pleasant Street], for their own benefit and that of the Grantors the right to enter onto the Land, to trim any Vegetation that extends into the View Corridor into the View Corridor (‘Trimming Right’). The Trimming Right shall be exercised by the Grantees acting through agents, employees, or contractors.”¹
Here, the author pauses a moment to imagine the scene if all the property owners in Provincetown had Trimming Rights in their neighbors’ land.
Mark A. and Gillian L. Abramson of Manchester, N.H., currently own 130 Commercial Street, having paid $1 million for it in late 2018.
The before and after photos, from 2010 and 2013, speak to the transformation of 130 Commercial Street by Michael E. Palmer. Photos by David W. Dunlap.
¶ Last updated on 24 January 2019.
130 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Thumbnail image: Photo, 2014, by David W. Dunlap.
Josephine A. “Bunny” Rabbitt wrote on 26 January 2019: That was my Aunt Helen Carlos Jason’s restaurant. The kitchen was in her house. She lived upstairs. I stayed there a lot. They also made great ice cream.
For further reading online
• Jean F. Frottier
“Friends Devastated by Loss of Fisherman; Fearless P-town Scalloper Emblematic of Their Lifestyle,” by Martine Powers, The Boston Globe, 22 November 2012.
Obituary on Legacy.com.
“On November 18, 2012, We Lost Captain Jean Frottier – Beloved Husband, Father, and Grandfather – About the Jean Frottier Family Fund,” Fisherynation.com, 11 December 2012.
• Arthur King
Arthur King Jewelry on Tumblr.
Biography on Christie’s website.
Description on the Beladora website.
• Amos Emanuel Kubik
“Amos Kubik, 92, Past Town Crier,” The Provincetown Advocate, 26 January 1961, in the Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 4, Page 6, on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 1269.
• Michael E. Palmer and Scott R. Dolny
“Clean View: From Their Penthouse Shower, Two South Boston Homeowners Can See All the Way to the Harbor Islands,” by Barbara F. Meltz, Design New England, July-August 2008.
• Roger and Marjorie “Peggy” Rilleau
Rilleau Leather website.
Marjorie Rilleau obituary on Legacy.com.
¹ Douglas D. Tracy et ano to Scott R. Dolny et ano, 3 December 2013, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 27860, Page 17.