2020 Commercial 148 01Beachfront Realty | 148 Commercial Street Condominium (Units 1-3).

“F. Gaspa” declares the stencil carving in the bargeboards around the second-story porch of this unusual house, which looks almost as if a small slice of Bourbon Street had been set down on Commercial. It may seem boastful to put one’s name so prominently on a property but Capt. Frank “Vardi” Gaspa (1869-1953), a celebrated fisherman, had much to recommend him. Born on Pico, in the Azores, he’d come to Provincetown at the turn of the century. By 1917, he was known to the entire nation as one of the two “killers” of Provincetown, along with his rival, Capt. Manuel C. Santos, thanks to an article with that title by Wilbur Daniel Steele in Harper’s Magazine.

“No ‘little fellows’ these, but lords of the fleet. Bronzed, booted, blue-shirted … thorough-going Latins. It would be hard to find two better specimens of this race of men, come over from the Western Islands [the Azores] to do the Cape’s fishing, and do it better, some say, than ever the Yankees did it before them.”

2020 Commercial 148 02“Gaspa, at the wheel, whirled the spokes,” said the caption of an (uncredited) illustration in the March 1917 issue of Harper’s Weekly, accompanying Wilbur Daniel Steele’s article, “The ‘Killers’ of Provincetown.” Scanned for the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 1133.

Steele said Captain Gaspa was “the lord of a little creation, dark, handsome, with the mustachio of a brigand and the instincts of a prince.” An elegiac obituary in The Advocate added, “Captain Gaspa was one of the last of a line of great fishing captains with an instinctive knowledge of the sea and its ways.”

One almost had to have such knowledge for the kind of fishing in which he and his crews were engaged. Schooners under Captain Gaspa’s command, like Matchless and Valerie, would sail some 900 miles out to the Grand Banks off Newfoundland in early spring. There, in rich but wild fishing grounds, small dories would be lowered overboard around 2 a.m. every morning from the mother ship, each with one man in it. They would spend their days, widely dispersed, fishing with handlines that carried baited hooks. The schooner would pick them up at day’s end. Perils abounded, of course; not least of which was the chance that the mother ship would never find her little dories again, absent any form of communication between them except a torch. The Advocate continued:

“A stern, hard skipper aboard a vessel, conscious of his position and tolerating no opposition, [Captain Gaspa’s] greatest boast was, nevertheless, that in all of his years of fishing on the treacherous Grand Banks, he never lost a man. It was his task, at the end of the day’s fishing, to go back along his course, and in fog, sudden storm, or darkness, pick up his dories, bobbing on the heavy seas. It was said that he seemed to be able to ‘smell them out.’”

2020 Commercial 148 03David W. Dunlap (2008).

2020 Commercial 148 04David W. Dunlap (2011).

2020 Commercial 148 05David W. Dunlap (2011).

2020 Commercial 148 04AThe “F. Gaspa” carvings were executed by Jesse Rogers, who was responsible for the facade of the Delight Resort Cottage, which stood at 113 Commercial Street. This salvaged bargeboard now ornaments the facade of 571 Commercial Street. David W. Dunlap (2018).

Captain Gaspa fished until 1935, when he was 66 years old. He spent the rest of his life in this house, which he had purchased in 1909 from Simeon C. and Emily A. Smith. The house did not have a porch when he bought it. But it had been added in time to show up on a 1912 insurance map. The charming decorative carving was the work of Jesse Rogers, who was responsible for similar ornamentation at the Delight Cottage Resort at 113 Commercial Street.

“At the pillared house on the front street,” Steele wrote, speaking of Commercial Street, “I had known [Gaspa] for years as a lavish and courtly host, loving to be surrounded by people and conscious of the background of the tradition of his romantic escapades.”

2020 Commercial 148 06David W. Dunlap (2011).

2020 Commercial 148 07David W. Dunlap (2010).

2020 Commercial 148 08David W. Dunlap (2008).

The captain transferred ownership in 1947 to his son Edward F. Gaspa (1897-1980), a fisherman who had served in the Navy during World War I, and his daughter-in-law Virginia (Vincent) Gaspa (1905-1988). Three years after her husband’s death, Mrs. Gaspa transferred the property in 1983 to their daughter Elaine F. (Gaspa) Sants (1926-1994) and her husband, James Aloysius Sants (1922-2002), who had served in the Navy during World War II.

David M. Nicolau bought the property from James Sants in 1996 for $323,000. Two years later, Nicolau established the five-unit 148 Commercial Street Condominium: three units in the main house, one unit next door at 148A Commercial Street, and one unit composing a garage on Conant Street.

2020 Commercial 148 09David W. Dunlap (2010).

2020 Commercial 148 10Architectural details photographed in 2011 (left) and 2008 (right), David W. Dunlap.

2020 Commercial 148 11David W. Dunlap (2011).

2020 Commercial 148 12Marie O’Shea owns Unit 2, which opens out on to the porch. She had the structure — which she loves — rebuilt and fortified in 2010. David W. Dunlap.

2020 Commercial 148 13The blizzard of February 2015 transformed the entrance to Art Market Provincetown, as documented by Debbie Nadolney, the director and curator of the gallery.

Unit 1 includes the retail space. In 1999, the painter Dianna L. Matherly opened the Tristan Gallery at 148 Commercial. (Tristan also happens to be her son’s name.) The gallery operated for much of the next decade. It was succeeded in 2009 by Gallery West, a showcase for the artwork of TJ Walton, whose current gallery — at the time of this writing in 2019 — is at 346 Commercial Street.

Debbie Nadolney then opened AMP: Art Market Provincetown, which describes itself as a “‘live’ contemporary gallery space dedicated to the exhibition of multi-disciplined work by visual, conceptual, and performance artists, filmmakers, and writers. AMP has since decamped to 432 Commercial Street.

2020 Commercial 148 14Two galleries that occupied 148 Commercial Street in the early 2000s were run by Dianna L. Matherly (left) and TJ Walton (right). Photo by David W. Dunlap and advertisement from the 2010 issue of Provincetown Arts. The painting in the ad is Walton’s Moon Over Hatches Harbor.

2020 Commercial 148 15Debbie Nadolney’s gallery was AMP: Art Market Provincetown. Both the photo and the ad come from 2012.

Beachfront Realty currently occupies the retail space in the main house. Robert O’Malley, who has been a realtor in Provincetown since 1985, is the principal broker and owner, working with Jon Goode, the founder of the BodyBody clothing store and a well-established blogger on real estate, and with Bill Farmer, who has been a licensed broker since 1980 and a town resident since 2000.

Marie O’Shea wrote on 8 December 2021: I’ve owned 148 Commercial Street Unit 2 since November 2004 and was responsible for rebuilding the amazing F. Gaspa porch, which I absolutely love.

148-148A Commercial Street on the Town Map.

Also at 148-148A Commercial Street:

148 Commercial Street Condominium (Unit 5).

AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod Drop-In Center | 148 Commercial Street Condominium (Unit 4).

For further reading online

• AMP: Art Market Provincetown

AMP website.

• Beachfront Realty

Beachfront Realty website.

Jon Goode: Your Real Estate Partner in Provincetown blog

• Edward F. Gaspa (1897-1980)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 55413162.

• Capt. Frank Gaspa (1869-1953)

“The ‘Killers’ of Provincetown,” by Wilbur Daniel Steele, Harper’s Magazine, March 1917. Scanned for the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 1133.

Find a Grave Memorial No. 125277363.

• Virginia (Vincent) Gaspa (1905-1988)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 55413189.

• Elaine F. (Gaspa) Sants (1926-1994)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 139249217.

• James Aloysius Sants (1922-2002)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 139249157.

• TJ Walton

TJ Walton website.

¶ Last updated on 25 April 2019; comment added on 8 December 2021.

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