2020 Commercial 131Arcadia.

The quiet far West End was anything but quiet in the late 19th century, when it was home to bustling wharves and all of the ancillary services needed to maintain a large fishing fleet, including many grocers and provisioners. The grocery store of Joseph A. Matthews (1850-1928) was in this building at least from 1886 (when it is listed in the town directory under the old street number, 124 Commercial Street) through 1910 (when it is shown under the name “J. Matthews” on a street atlas, with its current number, 131). Matthews was born on Faial, in the Azores, as was his wife, Candida (Avila) Matthews (1851-1905), whom he married in 1870. In the 1880s, he acquired property along Good Templar Street (now called Good Templar Place).

Street atlases of the time show a tail-like string of four to six sheds between the main Commercial Street store and the beach. These are designated “fish warehouses” in the detailed 1889 Sanborn’s insurance map. (While waiting for experts to weigh in, I’m presuming these sheds accommodated large blocks of ice, nested in hay, on which fish could be stored.) Two sheds apparently survive. A cottage directly behind No. 131 may be one. The other is now part of the 129 Commercial Street tax lot.

2020 Commercial 131131 Commercial Street in 2011, by David W. Dunlap.

The Matthews’ brood included Joseph Matthews Jr. (1873-1905). Young Joseph was working as a clerk at his father’s grocery store in 1898 when he wed Henrietta Midwood (1875-1977) of Wellfleet. He became a house carpenter and, in 1902, bought Manuel Silva’s barbershop. After suffering from pneumonitis for several months, Joseph Jr. died suddenly in early 1905 of a pulmonary hemorrhage, at the age of 31. His distraught mother died of heart failure less than six months later, at 53.

As if the year 1905 could not possibly have been worse for Joseph Matthews, burglars entered his store one night in the early fall, The Yarmouth Register reported “and carried off a quantity of cigars and drank some of the tonics carried in stock.” Matthews sold the property in 1911 to Manuel Rego and moved to California, where his daughter Mary (Matthews) Rogers and her husband, Jesse Rogers, had settled. Matthews lived to be 78.

Rego and his wife, Amelia, sold 131 Commercial Street in 1919 to Elmena A. Davis. She and her husband, Emanuel J. “Paloop” Davis, continued to run it as a grocery store.¹ They sold it five years later to Mary E. Roberts. Roberts owned it for 20 year before selling the property in 1944 to Frank “Friday” Cook (1898-1946) and his wife, Clara (Cabral) Cook (1900-1988), founders of Cookie’s Tap next door, at 133 Commercial Street.

Two years later, Friday Cook opened a fancy sibling to the tremendously popular Cookie’s Tap, here in this building. Friday’s was the name of the new restaurant. Its top-tier offerings — at the stratospheric $2.50 price point (nearly $35 in today’s money) — were broiled live lobster with drawn butter, filet mignon with mushroom sauce, and broiled sirloin steak.

Left: A copy of Friday’s menu was laminated into the Cookie’s Tap bar, which wound up at Clem & Ursie’s Restaurant on Shank Painter Road. Photographed by David W. Dunlap in 2010. Right: Clara (Cabral) Cook and Frank “Friday” Cook, in a photo posted by Clara Spatafore in My Grandfather’s Provincetown on Facebook, 22 August 2018.

Not to be cute about it, but Cook bit off more than he could chew with this second operation. “‘Friday’ himself doubles as bus boy, potato manicurer, pea podder,” The Advocate reported in July 1946, “catching hell from all hands except one of the littlest waitresses who, alone, pales a bit when he yells. That bird will know he’s been through a summer.”

The Advocate‘s throwaway line turned out to be tragically prescient. Three months later, Friday Cook was dead at age 48 of a pulmonary embolism. His obituary didn’t exactly blame Friday’s restaurant for the proprietor’s sudden death, but suggested it may have played a part.

“When anyone tried to caution [Cook], he would say, ‘Let me do things in my own foolish way.’ And events usually justified his faith in this course. But his last venture, Friday’s Restaurant, which he opened last summer, beautifully furnished and perfectly equipped, put him to washing dishes and shelling peas, which he could have sworn he would never do.”

Harry West made an effort to continue the business and, in 1947, was offering fried clams so succulent that they attracted the appreciative attention of Howard Mitcham (1917-1996) of Mississippi, the great seafood chef and very gifted artist. In exchange for several pints of those clams, Mitcham painted a new sign for Friday’s, showing Long Point Light on one side and Highland Light on the other. “I thought bayou cooked oysters as you get them in New Orleans were the world’s best eating,” Mitcham told The Advocate, “but these here clams of Harry’s are revisin’ my gustatorial estimates.”

Despite such raves, Friday’s did not last much longer. In the summer of 1949, after the business had closed permanently, the restaurant’s comfortable high-backed benches were removed from No. 131 and taken across Good Templar Place to be installed in Cookie’s. This property was transferred in 1964 to one of the Cooks’ sons, Joseph F. Cook.

2020 Commercial 131Some of the offerings of the Provincetown Antique Market in 2010. David W. Dunlap.

Among the Cooks’ tenants in the 1960s were Frank V. Motta (1906-1969), a trap fisherman, and his wife Etalvina R. Motta (1909-1990). Their son, Cpl. Manuel V. Motta, was the first casualty of the Korean War among the sons of Provincetown. He was killed in 1950, while the Mottas were living up the road, at 120 Commercial Street. He is remembered today in the name of Motta Field (formally, the Manuel V. Motta Athletic Field). Another son, Frank V. Motta Jr. (1930-1977), skippered F/V Liberty Belle.

James A. Pardy bought 131 Commercial from Cook in 1972 for $47,000. Thirteen years later, he sold it for $235,000 to the One Hundred Thirty One Commercial Street Realty Trust, which held it five years before selling it to the O.M.B. Realty Trust — Sidney J. Dockser of Needham Heights and E. John Fahimian of Milton Village, trustees — for $625,000. O.M.B. also owns 65 Commercial Street and 9 Soper Street.

2020 Commercial 131A composite photo, from 2014 and 2018, shows the transformation of the 131 Commercial Street storefront. David W. Dunlap.

During the years of O.M.B.’s ownership, there have been numerous tenants. No. 131 is a small apartment house, with seven bedrooms, five full bathrooms, and one half-bathroom, according to town records. The accomplished organist Carol J. Crowley (1936-2016) was a tenant in the 1990s. A member of the Radcliffe College Class of 1957, Crowley held a master’s degree from the Yale School of Music and had taught at the Emma Willard School in Troy, N.Y.

Downstairs, meanwhile, the Matthews grocery store remains in commercial use. The Provincetown Antique Market opened in 1992 (at least, that was when it was first listed in the criss-cross Cole Directory). “An engaging assortment of this and that: glass, toys, paper, books, tools, and ephemera,” Kim Grant wrote in the 2003 edition of Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket (An Explorer’s Guide). The store was associated with the Cambridge Antique Market, of which Fahimian was the business manager, and lasted in this location about 25 years.

The Woodman/Shimko Gallery of 398 Commercial Street (and 1105 North Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs) opened a West End branch here in 2018. The gallery is unmistakable as a showcase for Cassandra Complex’s roughly pugilistic paintings of male faces in extreme close-up, and she also painted the sign that hung over the gallery door. Woodman/Shimko also exhibited original works by Tom of Finland. The proprietor, Woody Shimko, told me in 2019 that the West End space “was an experiment to see how well the gallery would do, and it did much better than we thought.” His plans to remain at both Nos. 131 and 398 changed when new space became available at 346 Commercial Street. The two branches are to be consolidated there in 2019, Shimko said.

Arcadia moved here in 2019 from 141 Commercial Street. The proprietor, Jay Gurewitsch, recounted the store’s history on its website, beginning with its establishment in 2000 at 261 West 19th Street in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan:

Famous for the rock garden/candle department in the back of the store and the “found object” displays throughout, it was fun, funky, and got overcrowded if more than five people were in the store at once. In 2006, Arcadia moved around the corner to [228 Eighth Avenue, formerly Big Cup Tea & Coffee House]. … A gloriously huge, two-floor location with 14-foot ceilings, eight full-sized manzanita trees inside the store, and a Dr. Hauschka spa, it was an incredibly beautiful space – but it foundered on the rocks of the Great Recession.

In 2013, we decided to stop waiting for the old economy to return and moved again to a mid-sized, much more affordable space around the corner on West 23rd Street, off Eighth Avenue, but we gradually reached a tipping point where our online business was more profitable than our bricks-and-mortar business. Combined with getting married and the skyrocketing prices of real estate in New York City, leaving … entirely gradually became the logical next step.

My husband [Ian Edwards] and I decided that Provincetown was where we wanted to start fresh, set new roots, live out our sustainability values, and begin a new life together. … We have renovated a house, planted a huge vegetable garden and a small fruit orchard, and become a part of this wonderful and unique community.

The newest incarnation of Arcadia offers a “best of” collection of my favorite artists from the many years I have been in business, along with new artists I find along the way. We focus as always on one-of-a-kind, handmade jewelry and personal accessories for men and women, and ceramics and glass made by American and Canadian artists, along with unique fair-trade items from around the world. We also have some of the most kick-ass amazing greeting cards on Earth.

As another point in its favor, Arcadia is open year-round.

2020 Commercial 131Left: The artist Cassandra Complex painted the sign for Woodman/Shimko’s West End outpost. ¶ Right: The gallery expressed its solidarity with Sal’s Place, 99 Commercial Street, in its long-running fight with the abutters. Both photos, 2018, by David W. Dunlap.

Arcadia moved to No. 131 in 2019, from 141 Commercial Street.

¶ Last updated on 13 March 2019.

131 Commercial Street on the Town Map.

Also at 131 Commercial Street:

Cottage | Former Joseph Matthews fish warehouse?

Thumbnail image: Photo, 2011, by David W. Dunlap.

For further reading online

• Arcadia

Arcadia website.

• Cassandra Complex

Cassandra Complex Gallery website.

• Clara Cabral Cook

Find a Grave Memorial No. 91341793.

• Frank “Friday” Cook

Find a Grave Memorial No. 91341721.

• Candida (Avila) Matthews

Find a Grave Memorial No. 139366559.

• Joseph Matthews Jr.

Find a Grave Memorial No. 137786669.

• Etalvina R. Motta

Find a Grave Memorial No. 31075812.

• Frank V. Motta

Find a Grave Memorial No. 31075787.

• Woodman/Shimko Gallery

Woodman/Shimko Gallery website.

• Henrietta (Midwood) (Matthews) Whight.

Find a Grave Memorial No. 137786498.

¹ Information on Davis from the Francis Joseph Alves scrapbook in the Municipal Collection on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 5957.

2 thoughts on “131 Commercial Street

  1. Having been born and raised in Provincetown from 1936 to 1953, I really enjoy reading the history of the various addresses. Brings back many great memories! Thank you!

  2. Thank you so much. Kind words like these from a Provincetown native mean a lot to me.

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