The loss of Grozier Park more than 50 years ago — and its replacement by the Boatslip Waterfront Hotel & Beach Club — is still a very sore subject among those who remember the park fondly. Those of us without firsthand recollections can watch a 1940 home movie, With the Richmonds at Provincetown on Cape Cod, by Lawrence S. Richmond (1909-1978), which depicts an uninterrupted 150-foot-long waterfront panorama framed by a deep green lawn and handsome ballast walls; an amazing space that was, though privately owned, open to the public for much of the 20th century.
Composite still photographs taken from With the Richmonds at Provincetown on Cape Cod, by Lawrence S. Richmond, 1940, Vimeo No. 4552176.
Until 1898, the property that would become Grozier Park was unexceptionable. There was one dwelling, a boat house, two fish sheds, and a group of wharf-head structures leading to the great Central Wharf (after which nearby Central Street is named — even though it’s not as central as Center Street): a fish shed, two coal houses, and a chandlery.
In 1897, Edwin Atkins Grozier (1859-1924), the owner of The Boston Post, purchased 160 Commercial Street, the magnificent cupola-topped captain’s house, from the estate of William A. Atkins, his uncle through marriage, whose father built the house. The next year, during the Portland Gale, the Central Wharf was wrecked.
Grozier Park in 1918. The ship in the foreground is Golden Eagle. Behind it is what remained of the Central Wharf. The picture was posted by Salvador R. Vasques III on his My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection Facebook page, 29 June 2019.
Grozier then set about to purchase and raze the buildings opposite his house, with the exception of the dwelling and boat house on the westernmost lot, bounded by the Fifth Town Landing and owned by Charles H. Nickerson. In their place, Grozier built a small park down to the water. Sheltered from the beach by a low ballast-stone wall, the park had a walkway, benches, and a two-tiered bird house. Grozier enjoyed it mightily.
“From his veranda, where he loved to sit, he commanded an unobstructed view of the harbor,” Charles A. Merrill wrote in The Boston Globe.¹
“The little patch of green across the street, by the water’s edge, testified to his generous instincts. He did not appropriate it exclusive for his own use, but kept it open to the public. He liked to see children playing there.
“Crowds of excursionists, arriving early in the afternoon, used to camp there and open their lunch boxes.
“Once the custodian complained to Mr. Grozier that the excursionists were littering the property with paper and egg shells.
“‘That’s all right,’ he replied. ‘Pick up the refuse. I want the place used. That’s what it’s for — to give people pleasure.'”¹
Before the Boatslip, the greatest threat to Grozier Park had seemingly come in 1917, when it was rumored that the westernmost lot was to be acquired by a developer who was planning a cold storage plant on the site. A week after that rumor was published in The Advocate, the newspaper reported that the lot had been acquired by Grozier instead. “By this purchase, Editor Grozier (Boston Post) possesses the widest shore frontage in Provincetown,” The Advocate‘s follow-up article reported.²
Grozier Park was especially popular in the days before a state highway made it easy to get from town out to New Beach, as Herring Cove was known through the early 20th century. But it’s also well within living memory. As late as the summer of 1964, the Provincetown Recreation Department offered swimming lessons there.
Detail from Walker’s Bird’s-Eye View of Provincetown, by George H. Walker, circa 1910. Boston Public Library, Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Call No. G3764.P78A3 1910. W3.
“My favorite place to swim with the big kids, and maybe dig and eat a raw quahog or two,” Leo E. Gracie said.³
Marlene Carreiro Sawyer said, “I would sit with my Nana in her yard and watch the Steel Pier arrive from Boston.”²²
“It was such a beautiful spot,” Janet Russe Francis recalled. “Even just walking on Commercial Street and looking over at the water, boats, and all the other beauty that went with it.” She also said, “I went swimming at Grozier’s Park all of the time, but was always afraid to jump off the wall.”⁴
“I remember going to the block with friends (we were very young) and playing for hours on the steps,” Susan Darnell said. “We found clay pipes and so many things.” She added, “We were there almost every day. I loved to find treasures, i.e., colored glass, clay pipes, and everything else a 6-year-old could hold.”⁵
“My sister Carol and I would walk from Winthrop Street,” David Jane Peters said. “Took us all of two to three minutes. I used to dive off the wall once the water was over the first level. What a wonderful place it was to raise kids back in the day.”⁶
“When they dredged between the Town Pier and Cabral’s Wharf, they put all the sand in front of this stone wall,” Geoffrey Kane said. “I remember going there looking for coins that were never retrieved by the kids diving near the Town Pier when the Boston boat came in or was leaving. We found a few quarters and dimes. [“Using home-made sieves,” Mel Joseph added.] I was probably about 12 at the time. Around 1960, I think. I think we also played touch football.”⁷
In a letter to The Advocate, Wendy Hackett Everett wrote, “At the risk of being over-sentimental, I will mention that as a child of 10 (this was 27 years ago) roller-skating past Grozier Park on Good Friday afternoon, I suddenly felt spring and the sky and the damp earth and a harbor in a way that doesn’t happen often, and so is remembered.”⁸
Left: Ralph C. Browne at Grozier Park, around 1918. His brother, George Elmer Browne, lived opposite the park at 162 Commercial Street. The picture was posted by Salvador R. Vasques III on his My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection Facebook page, 8 September 2018. Right: A young Sal Vasques, in his Boy Scout uniform, at Grozier Park. The picture was posted on My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 24 October 2016.
And a lovely meditation, set in Grozier Park, was the lead item in The Advocate‘s long-running column, “To Fellows and Friends Far & Abroad,” on 28 February 1957:
“Thirty-four gulls are lined up, first row, balcony, on the stone wall of the Grozier Park, beaks all pointing out toward invisible Wood End, waiting for the curtain to go up. Around the end of the pier rest the vessels of the fishing fleet, slumbering in the fog that conceals them. Now and then a blaze of sun glints through the haze, but there is no break. In a far distant space may be the shores of Truro, and Long Point is a memory. With so much taken away it is possible to savor what remains. For right now, the only world that exists consists of us. Such is the comfort of a late winter fog.”
All that came to an end in July 1963, when the Town considered — and then rejected — a plan “to acquire by eminent domain, purchase, or otherwise, the land of Helen D. Grozier, 161 Commercial Street, for public purposes, namely parking and beach use.”⁹ The price being discussed at the time was $29,000, Joel Grozier recalled.²¹
Two months later, in September 1963, surviving members of the Grozier family sold the captain’s house at 160 Commercial Street and Grozier Park for $40,000 (about $340,000 in 2020 dollars) to Reginald Warren “Reggie” Cabral (1923-1996) and his wife, Meara (McKie) Cabral (1926-1996).¹⁰
The Cabrals lost no time. In November 1963, they applied for a construction permit for a motel on the park site. The building inspector, Fernando Gonsalves, approved the plan, but the town manager, Walter E. Lawrence, refused to sign off on it.¹¹
Lawrence was not alone in opposing the idea.
“I cannot conceive anyone who loves nature and beauty wanting this, especially on the small area of Grozier Park, which is one of the loveliest spots in the West End,” Florence M. Browne told The Advocate. (Her husband, Ralph C. Browne, had his picture taken in uniform at Grozier Park around 1918. His brother, the artist George Elmer Browne, lived at 162 Commercial, next door to the Groziers.)¹²
The artist Barbara H. Malicoat took an even broader view in a letter to the editor:
“It is perhaps unrealistic to regret the passing of this beautiful shorefront lawn which has graced and enhanced the residential neighborhood west of B. H. Dyer’s for so many years.
“Its replacement by a motel, however, if granted by the town, will be one more instance of the desire to build within the present limits of our already congested town large accommodations for the tourists and visitors to the national park. Does it not seem ironical that the character and beauty of Provincetown must be lost because the federal government sees the importance of preserving the character and beauty of our back lands?
“The tourist should be accommodated, of course, but with planning this can be accomplished without evading or defacing our town.”¹³
Simultaneously with their pursuit of a building permit, the Cabrals offered to sell Grozier Park to the Town.
In honor of President John F. Kennedy, who had recently been assassinated (and who had a strong connection to Cape Cod), Grozier Park was to be renamed Kennedy Park.
As described in Article 12 of the Town Meeting warrant, Kennedy Park was to be used “as a public park, public beach, and public playground for children” and there would be ban within the park on “all structures entirely, hard top, including parking meters, with the exception of flagpoles, monuments and statues or memorial plaques” and playground equipment.¹⁴
That plan alone might have sounded enticing. But the Cabrals’ price was $75,000 (about $625,000 in 2020 dollars), an 87.5 percent markup over what they’d paid a year earlier for both the park and the monumental house across the street.
Just who — besides Reggie Cabral — had been responsible for placing such an article on the warrant? That was the question that attendees wanted answered, during a four-night marathon in March 1964. The article simply said, “On petition of Cabral and others.”
Fingers pointed at 63-year-old Frank Dears Henderson, a former selectman and aide to Rear Adm. Donald B. MacMillan. He came to the final session of Town Meeting in the auditorium of Town Hall on Thursday, 12 March, “to clear himself and other friends of his of any knowledge about a $75,000 appropriation,” The Advocate reported.¹⁵
The meeting began at 7:30 p.m. Fatefully, it continued past midnight.
Now, it was Friday the 13th.
“Mr. Henderson, speaking on the matter, said that he had signed the petition along with friends of his, but none of them knew anything about the $75,000 amount,” The Advocate stated. “He wanted to let the people know, he said, that he and his friends had nothing to do with it.”
“He resented the $75,000 figure,” the official minutes of Town Meeting noted. “He resented the fact that petitioners went to East End to pick out strangers to sign the petition.” (Henderson lived at 579 Commercial Street and spent most of his time at Admiral MacMillan’s house, 473 Commercial Street.)
Moments after he finished speaking, Henderson collapsed on the auditorium floor. He had suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage — a burst blood vessel in his brain.
“Dr. Daniel H. Hiebert rushed to the scene, and the Provincetown Rescue Squad and nurses in the assembly attempted to revive Mr. Henderson,” The Advocate said.¹⁶
It was no use, however. Henderson never regained consciousness.
Article 12 was indefinitely postponed by unanimous vote of the assembly, as was the accompanying Article 13, calling on the Town to acquire Grozier Park “by eminent domain, purchase, bargain and sale, or otherwise” for “$1.00, or any other sum, or such amount as a court of competent jurisdiction may award as the value of said land.”
(This wording is likely the origin of an urban myth that has the Town of Provincetown passing up the chance to buy Grozier Park for $1. No such possibility ever existed.)
The Cabrals’ asking price wasn’t the only stumbling block. “Some were afraid the maintenance on the sea wall would break the town coffers,” Joel Grozier said.¹⁷
“The town did have its chance to acquire the park twice, but it was scuttled by the false belief of the sea-wall maintenance,” Gracie added.¹⁸
Jean Fields Nadeau put it simply: “Biggest mistake Provincetown ever made.”¹⁹
The Cabrals received a building permit in May 1965. Construction of the Boatslip was delayed several years. But the fate of the park was sealed.
“I too wish it were still Grozier Park,” Jennifer Cabral said in 2020, “and my parents built the damn thing! Sigh.”
Composite still photographs taken from With the Richmonds at Provincetown on Cape Cod, by Lawrence S. Richmond, 1940, Vimeo No. 4552176.
¶ Last updated on 9 May 2020.
161 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Also at 161 Commercial Street:
• Boatslip Waterfront Hotel & Beach Club.
Thumbnail image: Detail of the 1910 Atlas of Barnstable County at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum.
For further research online:
• Meara (McKie) Cabral (1926-1996)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 107021044.
• Reginald Warren “Reggie” Cabral (1923-1996)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 51635551.
• Edwin Atkins Grozier (1859-1924)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 50818504.
• Frank Dears Henderson (1901-1964)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 105089362.
¹ “Provincetown Mourns Death of E. A. Grozier; Help He Gave Needy There Praised by Townsfolk,” by Charles A. Merrill, The Boston Globe, 11 May 1924, Page 11.
² The Provincetown Advocate, 11 October 1917, Page 2; 18 October 1917, Page 2.
³ My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection (Facebook), by Salvador R. Vasques III, 24 October 2016.
⁶ My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 9 December 2014.
⁷ My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 9 October 2017.
⁸ The Provincetown Advocate, 27 February 1964.
⁹ “Board Tables Disturbance Complaint, Seeks Acquisition of Grozier Park,” The Provincetown Advocate, 25 July 1963.
¹⁰ Grozier to Cabral, 13 September 1963, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 1218, Page 15.
¹¹ The Provincetown Advocate, 19 March 1964.
¹² The Provincetown Advocate, 5 March 1964.
¹³ The Provincetown Advocate, 9 January 1964.
¹⁴ Annual Report of the Town of Provincetown, Massachusetts, for the Year Ending December 31, 1964, Page 91.
¹⁵ “Former Selectman Collapses at Meeting, Voters Approve $1,260,200, Tax Rate $71,” The Provincetown Advocate, 19 March 1964.
¹⁶ “Town Mourns Frank Henderson,” The Provincetown Advocate, 19 March 1964.
¹⁷ My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 9 December 2014.
¹⁸ My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 9 October 2017
¹⁹ My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 13 March 2020.
²⁰ My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 4 May 2020.
²¹ My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 4 May 2020.
²² My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 11 May 2020.