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Commercial 157 ThumbnailMartin House.

It’s one of Provincetown’s greatest secrets hiding in plain sight. A three-quarter Cape — at least 200 years old — turns its back on Commercial Street and instead faces Provincetown Harbor from its front door. The implication is tremendous: when the house was built, the harbor was the Main Street; traffic moved across the water, not the sandy soil. At the time, the southeastern orientation of the entrance made all the sense in the world. To appreciate this lovely and surprising facade today, stroll down the Fifth Town Landing walkway, alongside the Boatslip. Turn around when you’re about halfway along. You’ll find a steeply-roofed structure, its doorway ornamented by a simple fanlight, to which a larger building on Commercial Street was later grafted. What was once the front yard is now a patio, between No. 157 and No. 157A, that was renovated in 2010-11 by the current owners, Kevin O’Shea and David Bowd, the founders and chief officers of Salt Hotels.


Commercial 157This undated photo of the Hatchway was posted 12 July 2014 by Salvador Vasques on his Facebook page, My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection.


2020 Commercial 157An undated photograph in the collection of Deborah Roberts, Harriot Bennett Newhall’s great niece, emphasized the classically Cape Cod front.


Commercial 157The entrance to No. 157, seen in 2011, turns its back on the street — because it didn’t really function as an artery in the early 19th century. Photo by David W. Dunlap.


Commercial 157The blank wall on Commercial Street where a door “should” be. David W. Dunlap, 2017.


2020 Commercial 157It turns out that there was a front door (or, at least, a back door) on Commercial Street, as shown in this undated photo from the collection of Deborah Roberts.


O’Shea and Bowd have chosen to keep calling their home Martin House, even though the restaurant by that name closed in 2006. They are amiable stewards of the legends that have grown up around the house. The first is the construction date. Some sources say it’s  from the 1750s. But Richard Bradford Hall, an “uber-purist” architectural preservationist in New Bedford who has spent time in town, disagrees sharply. “I’ve been over every inch of that house in years past and the main body of the three-quarter Cape is no earlier than 1815-20,” he told me in 2014. “There’s no piece of that structure that’s 18th century.” That said, he added, “There’s no question that it’s a charming house.”

Charming? Or haunted?

That’s another significant legend about Martin House, that it is has so many ghosts, they practically trip over one another. “Any long-term townie knows: the place is supposedly haunted to the hilt,” Rob Jason told me in 2014. Thomas D’Agostino, the author of Haunted Massachusetts (2007), has cataloged them: a small family of liberated slaves huddling in a nook within the large brick fireplace structure; a uniformed sea captain in the dining room; a sea captain’s wife and a young enslaved girl in what was a second-floor bedroom. “The third floor, where slaves were reported hidden, has such temperature fluctuations that only liquor can be stored there,” D’Agostino wrote. “Previous owners and employees have fled that room and stairway leading to it in haste as something grabbed hold of their leg while ascending the narrow stairway.”¹

Slaves? Yes, that’s the third legend of Martin House, that it was a safe house on the Underground Railroad, the clandestine network of routes and refuges by which enslaved people might make their way from the South to freedom in the North or Canada. (There was little safety anywhere in America after the passage in 1850 of the Fugitive Slave Act, which imposed penalties on citizens of free states who assisted slaves in their flight.)

Martin House is one of four properties in Provincetown that were said to have been “stations” on the Underground Railroad. “There is no documentation whatever for this assertion,” Clive Driver, the director of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum, declared flatly in 1995, calling it an “early 20th-century romantic custom to invent such stories.”² In an extensive article about the Underground Railroad in Massachusetts, Wilbur H. Siebert pointed only to Hyannis and East Dennis on the Cape.³

So what can be said about Martin House with greater certainty?

That it was owned in the early 20th century by Mary A. Nickerson (1829-1918), the widow of Capt. Elisha Nickerson (1814-1880), and — through him — the sister-in-law of the late Phebe (Nickerson) Cooke (1811-1868). In 1906, Mrs. Nickerson transferred the property to her nephews, Atkins N. Cooke (1842-1936) and his younger brother, Augustus D. Cooke. (Their surname was often spelled simply “Cook.”)

Harriot Bennett Newhall (1874-1953), a painter who loved architecture and was one of the more prominent women in the art colony, bought 157 Commercial Street from the Cooke family in 1921 and owned it for the next 18 years. Her studio was there, presumably in the building that’s now denominated 157A Commercial Street, which stands between the three-quarter Cape and the shoreline. (It is shown as a “Barn” in the 1889 Sanborn insurance map and as a “Studio” in the 1938 update.)


2020 Commercial 157 Newhall FireplaceThe main fireplace at 157 Commercial Street, by Harriot Bennett Newhall, from the collection of her great niece, Deborah Roberts.


Commercial 157The Institute, by Harriot Bennett Newhall, from the Boston Art Club website.


Commercial 157Lower Mount Vernon Street, by Harriot Bennett Newhall, from the Morphy Auctions website.


Commercial 157By Harriot Bennett Newhall, from the Bakker Project website.


Newhall was born in Mission, Kans., on the outskirts of Kansas City. She attended Smith College from 1892 to 1893, and was graduated in 1897 from the School of Drawing and Painting at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She studied under Frank W. Benson (1862-1951), an American Impressionist; Denman Ross (1853-1935); and — most importantly for our story — Charles W. Hawthorne (1872-1930), the dominant force in the creation of the art colony. Newhall lived in West Newton; spent winters in Nassau, Bahamas; and taught at Miss Winsor’s School in Boston (now known simply as the Winsor School) and at Harvard’s summer school in 1902, on the theory of design. She showed at the prestigious, old-line Vose Galleries in Boston.

“I like to paint whatever is typical of a place — native people, native huts, something historic,” Newhall told an interviewer from The Boston Post in 1932.

“It is fascinating to seek out paintable material. It is interesting to compare Nassau with Provincetown. In both harbors one finds boats of all kinds, boats for toil and boats for pleasure. The sponge boats of the Bahamas, others laden heavily with crabs and turtles, and the fine yachts that come so often, all furnish themes for the painter. It is all very different from Provincetown; even the water is not at all the same in coloring.”

Newhall generously shared stories of her extensive travels. For instance, she invited a chapter of the Camp Fire Girls to a lunchtime lecture in October 1932. “The girls gathered about Miss Newhall, who related her experiences among the Indians of San Salvador and New Mexico, and showed portraits of some Indian leaders and pictures of tribal ceremonies, pueblos, cliff and adobe dwellings which she had made while there.”

In the late 1930s, Newhall rented the Commercial Street building to Mellen C. M. Hatch (1882-1947), the author of The Log of Provincetown and Truro on Cape Cod Massachusetts, a 1939 guidebook. He and his wife, Isabel R. Hatch (1894-1986) ran the property as a boarding house known as the Hatchway, a lithograph of which appears as the frontispiece in Hatch’s book. Newhall’s great niece, Deborah Roberts, said in 2019: “My mother and her mother, Elizabeth Newhall Marschatt Malmberg, and stepfather, Carl Malmberg, lived in the house in the ’30s. My mother’s stepfather wrote ‘dime novels’ in the ’30s under the name Timothy Trent. I believe he was writing when he lived there. You can occasionally find his books at used bookstores online. (All Dames Are Dynamite, for example.)” Under his own name, Malmberg, a public health educator, wrote Diet and Die, a 1935 exposé of dieting fads, nutrition myths, and snake-oil remedies.

During the Hatches’ tenancy, in 1939, Newhall sold the property to J. Bennett Pike. Pike and his wife, Lotta I. Pike, sold the property in turn six years later to Florence McLeod and her husband, Malcolm McLeod. That year, the Hatches moved their business to the Octagon House at 74 Commercial Street.


Commercial 157A lithograph of the Hatchway, courtesy of John W. Gregory, was published in The Log of Provincetown and Truro on Cape Cod Massachusetts (1939) by Mellen C. M. Hatch, who ran the Hatchway boarding house with his, Isabel R. Hatch.


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“I have a photo that I hold very dear of what I’ll always call Snug Harbor,” Richard Bradford Hall told me in 2014. “I took it as a boy visiting Provincetown with my parents. Its asymmetry and the way the façade addresses the bay had always made it singularly appealing to me. … The photo I took all those years ago showed a house, very down on its luck, but with so much potential. I suspect it was unoccupied at the time.”


It was the McLeods who divided the property in 1946 into a Commercial Street parcel (containing the future Martin House), which they sold to Florence (Payne) Goodwin (1893-1973) and her husband, Frank A. Goodwin (1882-1954) of Bedford. The McLeods kept the waterfront studio parcel for themselves.

Traffic coming down Atlantic Avenue must make a sharp right on to Commercial, and vehicles have taken chunks out of Martin House as a souvenir. When a town snow plow crunched a corner off the house in the winter of 1960-1961, Florence Goodwin took her anger all the way to the Board of Selectmen. “I want the town to supply drivers for their vehicles who will not knock into my house,” she pleaded — not unreasonably.

By then, the Goodwins’ daughter, Lois E. (Goodwin) Lovely (1930-1999), had been added to the deed. She was joined by her husband, Albert E. Lovely (1920-1990), in 1971.

With the sale of the house in 1978 — for $45,000 — a golden period began in which it served as three well-regarded restaurants in a row: Chez Romain, Snug Harbor, and Martin House. The first purchasers were Romain Roland (1927-2008) and his wife, Eileen (Rusling) Roland (1932-2017), who also owned the Rose & Crown Guest House at 158 Commercial Street, and lived next door, at 155 Commercial Street.


Commercial 157Left: Romain Roland, the proprietor of Chez Romain, pictured in his obituary in The Provincetown Banner, in the collection of David Jarrett. Right: An ad for Snug Harbor Restaurant that appeared in Provincetown Magazine in 1986.


2020 Commercial 157The Snug Harbor restaurant in 1985, from the collection of Deborah Roberts.


Romain Roland was a native of Italy, but his cooking was influenced by the years of his youth that he spent in France and in the French Foreign Legion in Algiers. He came to New York City in the mid-1960s and moved to Cape Cod not long before buying the Rose & Crown. Glen Martin (one of the Martins in Martin House) described Chez Romain as an “exceedingly elegant French bistro” that served “classic French cuisine.”

A 1984 guide referred to the establishment at No. 157 as the Bistro Restaurant.

The next important transformation occurred in 1985 when Eileen Roland sold the property — for $153,000 — to the Cape Cod Cajun Realty Trust: Valerie A. Carrano and Diane J. Corbo, the co-owners of the Ravenwood guest house at 462 Commercial Street, and Edward Walker “Ted” Alexander and John Wayne Mercer, with whom Carrano and Corbo had worked at Vorelli’s Restaurant.

They opened Snug Harbor, which offered what it called “original Cajun on Cape Cod”: crawfish and shrimp étouffée, barbecued shrimp, panéed pork with sweet potato sauce.

“Together, they had plenty of experience,” Karen Christel Krahulik wrote in Provincetown: From Pilgrim Landing to Gay Resort (2005).

“Alexander and Mercer had been fine-dining waiters in New Orleans; Corbo’s fa­ther and grandfather owned successful restaurants in Connecticut; Car­rano came from a ‘three-generation restaurant family’; and Corbo and Carrano had had a restaurant called the Eleven Forty Cafe on Chapel Street in New Haven.

“In its first years, Snug Harbor was a smashing success. Corbo remembers the long waiting lines even when they ac­cepted reservations. Although they catered to local patrons from Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet, the bulk of their clientele were gay men who arrived in droves from the establishment next door, the Boat­slip Motor Inn.

“The foursome that owned Snug Harbor demonstrate how gay men and lesbians often worked together in Provincetown. … Also, in times of cri­sis, gay men and lesbians created new kinds of partnerships. Corbo de­scribed how this took place.

“‘We had a good business,’ she explained sadly, ‘and then AIDS hit. And it hit hard.’ According to Corbo, the onset of AIDS put fear into at least two kinds of tourists: straight visitors, who were ‘afraid they were going to catch the ‘unknown virus’ from the toilets and from the forks coming out of the kitchens,’ and gay male vacationers, who ‘stopped coming to Provincetown for a while because they were afraid they would relax with their health precautions and they didn’t want to be promiscuous.’

“For Corbo and hundreds of other Provincetown resi­dents of all sexual, ethnic, and class backgrounds, the AIDS crisis meant not only that businesses would suffer but, worse, that friends, partners, and family members would die. ‘It didn’t take long for it to hit really close to home,’ admitted Corbo, ‘and that was my partner, Teddy, and he was gone in three months.’ Although Snug Harbor began losing money, keeping the restaurant open was particularly important to John Mercer because his health insurance was attached to the business. When Mercer died of AIDS two years later in 1991, Corbo and Carrano sold Snug Harbor to Glen Martin, who had been working for them as a waiter.”

Glen S. Martin opened the Martin House restaurant in 1991. The effort was a family affair, involving his brother Gary Martin; his mother, Virginia M. (Buss) Martin (1932-2019); and his father, Stanley J. Martin. The Martin Family Realty Trust acquired the property in 1993, for $180,000. Their aspiration, Glen Martin wrote, was to serve the “growing number of Americans who yearn to eat exciting, contemporary American food; that is, cuisine embracing a whole world’s worth of cultural influences.”


Commercial 157Left: A sign in the house explains the meaning of Snug Harbor: “Built around 1750 when Provincetown used its beach as a highway, this is one of the few old houses left which still is facing the shore road. Its 3 chimney complex encloses a Snug Harbor.” Right: The Martin House sign was still hanging in 2008, two years after it closed. David W. Dunlap.


Commercial 157Left: Glen S. Martin, in a photo by Jennifer Teeter. Right: Alex Mazzocca, in a photo by Jennifer Teeter. Both pictures are from the Aguacate Vieques website.


Commercial 157Painting of Martin House by Dan Rupe, from the Aguacate Vieques website.


Commercial 157Martin House menus, from the website of its successor, the Aquacate Vieques catering company in Puerto Rico, run by Martin and Azzocca.


Commercial 157Left: 157 Commercial in 2008. Right: Roughly the same view of the building in 2017, after a substantive renovation by Kevin O’Shea and David Bowd.


The New York Times was fairly quick to take notice of its “local ingredients prepared with international seasoning” formula. “Alex Mazzocca, the chef, appears to be the first in town to have figured out that Japanese wasabi and pickled ginger make an addictive foil for Wellfleet oysters,” Molly O’Neill wrote in The Times on 20 August 1995, “and that the local squid is toothsome when grilled and served over cellophane noodles with a spicy relish of minced cucumbers and carrots.”

Yankee Magazine named it one of the 10 best restaurants on the Cape in 1997. “Even jaded foodies can expect to be blown away by the brilliant fusion cuisine practiced in this 1750 snuggery, brightened by multiple hearths and faux-boiserie,” the magazine said. “Picture a Gauguin who can cook.”

Kim Grant paid the restaurant a high compliment in the 2003 edition of An Explorer’s Guide: Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket. “Year after year, after dining out oh-so-often, I can long recall my dinners here.”

“Sib­lings Glen and Gary Martin preside over one of my favorite Cape restau­rants, where the dining experence rises to an art form. The circa-1750 whaling captain’s house is rustic colo­nial through and through: exposed beams, wall sconces, sloping dormers, fireplaces, low ceilings, wainscoting, and a series of small dining rooms. As for the classic New England cuisine with world influences, it’s decidedly modern and complemented by well­-paced service. Chef Alex Mazzocca’s dishes always push the proverbial (creative) envelope. Look for innova­tive variations on game, Black Angus beef, roast duck and local seafood; halibut is always popular. Oysters Claudia are particularly renowned. Life is short, save room for sublime desserts like Glen’s bread pudding. In summer, meals are also served in a lovely garden.”

Laura Reckford gave the restaurant three stars in the 2005 edition of Frommer’s Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. “Easily one of the most charming restaurants on the Cape, this snuggery of rustic rooms happens to contain one of the Cape’s most forward-thinking kitchens.”

The 2005 season, however, was the Martins’ last. They transferred their liquor license that year to Scott Anthony “Tony” Valentino and Richard Valentino, who were able to continue the business only one more year. (Glen Martin and Mazzocca, still partners, operate the Aguacate Vieques catering and events business in Puerto Rico.)

A 2009 proposal by the New York restaurateur Nick Accardi to open a rustic Italian restaurant included a proposal to seat 22 diners on the small patio outside the original front of the house, which did not make it especially popular with abutters. The plan would also have involved significant structural alterations. Accardi dropped the project two months after the neighbors’ opposition was made plain at a zoning hearing.


Following is a portfolio of photos taken in 2011, after O’Shea and Bowd remodeled the Martin House to be their home in Provincetown. They kept many elements of the restaurants that had been conducted in the building. David W. Dunlap.

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Commercial 157Right: The triangular notch in the brick fireplace structure is the opening to the “snug harbor” niche. O’Shea and Bowd playfully put a mannequin there.


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Commercial 157-07-340The dome of the beehive oven adjoining the main fireplace, a sign of the building’s great age. These ovens worked by heating the bricks with fire until they were hot enough to cook food, beginning with breads.


Commercial 157Remnants of Martin House that O’Shea and Bowd have kept.


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Commercial 157The kitchen has already been re-renovated, O’Shea told me, rendering this photo out of date.


Commercial 157Left: An old restaurant sign on the kitchen wall. Center: The first kitchen renovation. Right: O’Shea himself, preparing dinner.


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That set the stage for the property’s acquisition in 2010, for $600,000 by Bowd, a hotelier, and O’Shea, an interior designer who is an alumnus of the Rhode Island School of Design. Both men, partners in life as well as business, were veterans of the Morgans Hotel Group, the boutique chain founded in 1984 by Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell. O’Shea’s goal at 157 Commercial was, in his own words, “to return the structure back to a private home while retaining many of the elements of its colorful past.”

At this writing, Bowd is chief executive officer and O’Shea is chief creative officer of Salt Hotels, a small chain of meticulously designed hotels: the Salt House Inn and Eben House in Provincetown; the Asbury and Asbury Ocean Club in Asbury Park, N.J.; and the Chequit, on Shelter Island, N.Y.

It is worth noting that Bowd and O’Shea own and have restored the home of another important woman painter in the Provincetown art colony, Pauline Palmer, at 5 Webster Place. The building is now called the Cottage, and is in their Eben House hotel complex.

Now, about those ghosts. For a full-page profile in The New York Times on 25 September 2014, O’Shea told Rocky Casales that the couple had to remove a small ladder to the attic, “where the ghosts are said to live. Though we haven’t seen sign of them yet.”


Commercial 157Left: David Bowd and Kevin O’Shea, from the Salt Hotels website. Right: A full-page profile of the couple, and of their renovation of Martin House, was published by The New York Times on 25 September 2014. Rocky Casales wrote the article. Jane Beiles took the photos.


¶ Last updated on 11 January 2020.


Richard Bradford Hall wrote on 15 April 2014: There was recently an article about Snug Harbor/the Martin House as now restored back to a private home. In that same article in This Old House Magazine, one of the owners states, “We know the house was here in 1750,” after citing that the town records were burned in 1850. I’ve been over every inch of that house in years past and the main body of the three-quarter Cape is no earlier than 1815-20. There’s no piece of that structure that’s 18th century. There’s no question that it’s a charming house (pity the windows were changed to vinyl replacement), but why must nearly every owner of an old house err on the side of earlier rather than later. Does 1750 somehow give Snug Harbor more credence than 1820? I think not. I wish it still looked like it does in the photo from the 1920s-’30s.


Kimberly Hicks wrote on 7 June 2015: I think what Kevin O’Shea has done with the Martin House is incredible — what a talented man! His inn is now completed (actually I think he has two) and they are beautiful too. I wish we had more people in town who wanted to restore old buildings to their former glory as he did, rather than come in with new construction.


Deborah Roberts wrote on 14 April 2019: My great aunt Harriot B. Newhall owned the house in the ’20s and ’30s. … My mother and her mother, Elizabeth Newhall Marschatt Malmberg, and stepfather, Carl Malmberg, lived in the house in the ’30s. My mother’s stepfather wrote ‘dime novels’ in the ’30s under the name Timothy Trent. I believe he was writing when he lived there. You can occasionally find his books at used bookstores online. (All Dames Are Dynamite, for example.)


157 Commercial Street on the Town Map.


Also at 157-157A Commercial Street:

157A Commercial Street Condominium.


¹ “A Famous Provincetown Haunt: The Former Martin House Restaurant,” by Thomas D’Agostino, The Yankee Xpress, 18 December 2016.

² Looking Back, by Clive Driver, Provincetown: Cape Cod Pilgrim Memorial Association, 2004, Page 27.

³ “The Underground Railroad in Massachusetts,” by Wilbur H. Siebert, Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, April 1935.


For further research online:

• David Bowd

Biography (PDF) on Salt Hotels website.

• Atkins N. Cooke (1842-1936)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 124139691.

• Glen S. Martin

Aquacate Vieques website.

• Virginia M. (Buss) Martin (1932-2019)

Virginia M. Martin (1932-2019),” The Greenfield Recorder, 18 December 2019, through Legacy.com.

• Alex Mazzocca

Aguacate Vieques website.

• Harriot Bennett Newhall (1874-1953)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 42005567.

A Book About the Artists: Who They Are, What They Do, Where They Live, How They Look, Nancy W. Paine Smith, 1917, in the Municipal Collection on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 4455.

• Mary A. Nickerson (1829-1918)

Find a Grave Memorial No. 124138844.

Kevin O’Shea

Biography (PDF) on Salt Hotels website.

Kevin O’Shea Designs website (Martin House).

• Romain Roland (1927-2008)

Romain Roland; Well-Known Chef, Restaurateur,” The Provincetown Banner/Wicked Local, 18 December 2008.

• Hauntings

A Famous Provincetown Haunt: The Former Martin House Restaurant,” by Thomas D’Agostino, The Yankee Xpress, 18 December 2016.

• Martin House

Choice Tables; Where Provincetown Fare Takes a Lively Turn,” by Molly O’Neill, The New York Times, 20 August 1995.

Martin House Vintage Menu Gallery,” on the Aguacate Vieques website.

On Location: Spirits They Can Live With,” by Rocky Casale, with photos by Jane Beilies, The New York Times, 24 September 2014.


 

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