Sharp-eyed guests of the Queen Vic may note that its nine rooms seem to be unconventionally numbered: 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. What happened to the lower ranks? Where, for instance, is Room No. 3? Hello, Room No. 8? Well, they’re all next door, at the Prince Albert Guest House, 164 Commercial Street. The Prince Albert even took its name from 166 Commercial Street. (To even things up a bit, the Queen Vic took the grand chandelier in its entrance foyer from the Prince Albert.) All this back-and-forth results from the fact that the two properties were run as a single guest-house complex under the Prince Albert name from 2007 to 2014, when both were owned by Robert W. “Bob” Sanborn. The purchasers of No. 164 — the property Sanborn sold first — were Dale J. “Josh” Scaturro and Stanley J. Cottner. In renaming their business, they honored Prince Albert by recalling Queen Victoria, to whom Albert was prince consort.
At this writing in 2020, the accommodation enjoys a 5.0 rating on TripAdvisor, which has awarded the Queen Vic a certificate of excellence.
Stanley J. Cottner (center) and Dale J. “Josh” Scaturro (right), the proprietors of the Queen Vic Guest House, and their associate Paul Benson (left) decorated 166 Commercial — and themselves — in the spirit of ancient Egypt for the 2017 Carnival. Andy Towle took the photo and posted it on Facebook, 17 August 2017.
The Italianate-style house was constructed around 1870, according to the Historic District Survey. Then denominated 165 Commercial Street, it was purchased in 1884 from Martha M. Hartford by George Allen (1846-1922), a Provincetown boy who’d enlisted as an 18-year-old in the Third Massachusetts Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, which participated in the Red River Campaign, an attempt by the Union Army in the spring of 1864 to occupy Shreveport, La. Allen was mustered out as a second lieutenant. Four years after the war, he married Eunice T. Quinn (1849-1926), also of Provincetown.
Among their children were George Matheson Allen (1875-1957), who spent all but the first nine years of his life in this house, and his younger brother David Lewis [“Lou”?] Allen (1880-1969). George attended the Bryant & Stratton National Business College at its Boston location, then became a civil engineer in the employ of the Sanborn Map Company of New York. Readers of Building Provincetown will find reproductions of Sanborn maps throughout. They’re among the most valuable research documents for urban archaeologists, since they were prepared for insurers. Therefore, they showed every structure on every parcel of property, carefully delineated, with materials and dimensions noted exactly, and the building’s purpose specified. Frequently, they highlighted structures — like Herbolt’s merry-go-around at 165 Commercial Street — that seem to be illustrated nowhere else.
The title page of the 1912 Sanborn Map Company fire insurance atlas for Provincetown. George Matheson Allen worked for Sanborn for 30 years or so. From the Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Digital ID No. hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3764pm.g038261912.
Allen worked for Sanborn for around 30 years. Then he went into the heating, plumbing, and appliance business with his brother, as Allen & Allen Inc., at 191 Commercial Street.
Helen Allen was active in local politics, serving for a time as the president of Women’s Republican Club of the Lower Cape. (Kids, the Republican Party of the mid-20th century was far less reactionary than the contemporary institution.) She was also president from 1934 to 1936 of the influential Nautilus Club, across the way, at 161 Commercial Street. During World War II, she was responsible for compiling a registry of all the men and women from town who had enlisted in the armed forces (including the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps; looking at you, Katherine Young) and in the Merchant Marine.
“My father [Charles Allen] talks often of visiting his aunt and uncle, Helen and George, every summer,” Pamela Even said in 2014. “He always recalls the wood-fired cook stove in the summer kitchen.”¹
George Allen was on the job at Allen & Allen until the hour of his death, at 81, working on the company books. “The end came quickly and quietly,” The Advocate reported, “for Mr. Allen was found still holding his pencil.” Seven years later, in 1964, Helen Allen was found dead in her bed at 166 Commercial after a friend grew worried when she couldn’t raise her by phone.²
Left: An Allen & Allen advertisement from The Provincetown Advocate of 1 October 1931. Right: 1910 street atlas — not by Sanborn — shows the “G. Allen” property at 166 Commercial, with an abutting perpendicular parcel at 5 Central Street.
As executor of Helen Allen’s estate, Beatrice M. Connell sold the house in 1964 to Robert E. and Dorothy M. Oliver, for $15,000 (nearly $125,000 today). The Olivers lived there until 1968, when they sold it to Arthur Hegner and Paul Hegner of Boston. They sold it in 1972, for $45,000, to Alan J. Wagg and William J. Roberts III, of 10 Pearl Street, and William J. Curran on Boston.
Its life as a transient lodging now began, principally under Wagg’s management at first. No later than 1975, his Casablanca Guest House had opened here.
Almost simultaneously, Wagg opened Atlantic Bay Real Estate at No. 166. (Now Atlantic Bay / Sotheby’s International Realty, it operates next door, at 168 Commercial Street.) Marcy Celiz was one of the early partners in Atlantic Bay in the ’70s. By 1986, Wagg was running the office with Greg Russo. Partners and agents at the time included Ellen Campbell, Valerie Carrano, Avice Crocker, Lincoln Sharpless, and David Nicolau.
Among the regular guests at No. 166 in this period, according both to Sanborn and to the local historian Leo E. Gracie, was Rep. Barney Frank of the Fourth Congressional District in southeastern Massachusetts, the first United States representative to volunteer that he was gay, in 1987.
Advertisement placed by Alan Wagg in the Provincetown Business Guild’s 1979 guide. From the David Jarrett Collection.
The Casablanca was the other business Wagg operated at 166 Commercial. This advertisement appeared in Gay Community News on 23 May 1981, just 6 weeks before The New York Times carried a story headlined, “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals.” This copy comes from the Internet Archive, Identifier gaycommunitynews0843gayc.
Wagg’s life — and Provincetown’s — were about to be upended, as he described in an oral history available from the Provincetown History Preservation Project.³ I quote from it at length because of its chilling relevance in 2020.
“We had just come through the ’70s, which were just so wonderful, and, of course, everybody was young then, houses were affordable, and the town was just terrific and spirited and a great sense of community.
“Then all of a sudden, we started hearing about the disease that was hitting gay men and it became a big mystery. Nobody knew what it was; we’re talking about the early ’80s now. It kind of happened in little spurts, little bits and pieces. And somewhere along the line, what I can remember is there was a meeting at the [Unitarian Universalist] Meeting House with Alice Foley [the town nurse, and namesake of Foley House, 214 Bradford Street] and Doctor [Donald] Butterfield [of Dr. Don’s Landing, 43 Commercial Street]. There were notices for men to come, and they were going to talk about this new thing that was happening.
“Everybody sat at the U.U. I think we were all kind of anxious to hear what they were going to say, and of course there really wasn’t very much that they could say because there was very little known. It was before we even had the word AIDS. What I remember is they called it GRID at that time and they were talking about people getting pneumocystis [pneumonia] and people getting Kaposi’s sarcoma [a cancer] and things of that nature. And dying.
“Of course, we hadn’t had anything like that happen here yet, but I remember Don saying, ‘A lot of people are going to get sick and a lot of people are going to die.’ And I don’t think we wanted to believe that. But he was absolutely correct in saying what he said.”
166 Commercial Street in the 1970s. Photo posted by Josh Scaturro on Facebook, 15 June 2018.
Soon, Wagg was invited by Preston Smith Babbitt Jr., proprietor of the Rose & Crown Guest House, 158 Commercial Street, to attend what became a regular Thursday meeting at Babbitt’s house, with Foley and others. This was the nucleus of what became the Provincetown AIDS Support Group, now the AIDS Support Group of Cape Cod.
“People volunteered from all over to come and help, and we would sit with people who were sick, we would sit with people who were dying, we would bring meals, take care of them as best we could. We really got into action and it just got more and more devastating. I lost many close friends, very close friends, and I lost the majority of my peers in the community. I don’t know if I can count on one hand the number of people that are left from that period of time for me. …
“The group was donated a car so that we could drive people up to Boston to Beth Israel [Hospital], to be checked out and to get medication. We were going to have this listed in The Advocate newspaper, but we decided not to do that because we didn’t want people to know what the car was like and what the car was because we were keeping things very hush-hush, so that people didn’t know who was sick. It’s unbelievable for me to sit here and think about that today [October 2008] but that’s how it was. It was a very scary, underground period of time which luckily changed, but at first, the lack of education, the lack of knowing, the lack of interest from the government, of course. It’s amazing what we eventually did in town. It was a community spirit, it was a community feeling. I’m very impressed by gay women who came out and helped and became very concerned and the entire community, straight and gay. …
“Provincetown was special because of the number of gay people, this was one of the gay spots, and when we started taking care of people, the news spread. We were one of the first groups to be taking care of AIDS patients and they got wonderful care, so people started coming to Provincetown in order to live out their lives if they were sick; to get care, because of the acceptance, which they wouldn’t get where they were living. If they were living in the suburbs or wherever, it was very, very hard for them to get care. Here, the community welcomed everybody, nobody was turned away. And it was sad to see some of these people, because the illness brought them out of the closet, and a lot of families ignored them, ignored their sons and they came here to finish off their lives. …
“We were in the middle of a war, but it started kind of gradually and just sort of developed and kind of blew up into a full-blown war for quite a long time. And everybody in this community was affected. It wasn’t just the gay men, it wasn’t just the gay women, it wasn’t just the people who were helping. I think that everyone in the community was affected.”
166 Commercial Street. Photo posted by Salvador R. Vasques III on his Facebook page, My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 19 June 2018.
Left: The Casablanca Guest House. Posted by Josh Scaturro on Facebook, 15 June 2018. Right: Kevin Comey and his husband, Dennis DiMauro, at the Prince Albert Guest House in 1998, its second year of business. They gave the proprietors the red bell under which they were standing. Posted by Comey on Facebook, 20 June 2018.
In 1993, Wagg sold the Casablanca to Gregg Russo, a real estate broker, for $388,000. Russo operated it as the Four Bays and sold it four years later, for $560,000, to Owen H. Hart and John M. Gordon of Conestoga, Pa. They changed the name of the place to the Prince Albert Guest House. Sanborn said the idea was that the name of Prince Albert was evocative of the period in which the house was built (although it may actually have been constructed after his death in 1861). They sold the Prince Albert in 2004 to Richard J. McMaster for $1,450,000.
McMaster and Mark Majeski had just bought the Captain and His Ship, the abutting property at No. 166, and changed its name to Officers Quarters. For a few years, Officers Quarters and Prince Albert operated under different names but common ownership. By 2007, however, they were in financial trouble. “Unfortunately, they were upside down in both properties and decided to forfeit 164 in order to salvage 166,” Sanborn told me in a 2020 email. Sanborn first purchased Officers Quarters, for $1,200,000, then the Prince Albert, for $1,300,000.
“The chandelier that currently is in the entryway of 166 previously hung in the dining room of 164,” Sanborn said. “It was transferred by Majeski-McMaster prior to foreclosure, when they were giving up 164 to salvage 166. I used to joke that I had to pay $1 million-plus to get the chandelier back.”
Screenshot of the website when the guest houses at No. 164 and No. 166 were operated under the same ownership, but different names.
Photograph of No. 166 as the Prince Albert Guest House. David W. Dunlap, 2011.
Left: Robert W. “Bob” Sanborn, the proprietor who united No. 164 and No. 166 under the common Prince Albert name. Photo taken in 2014 by Dunlap. Right: The Prince Albert sign in 2008, when it hung outside 166 Commercial Street. Dunlap.
Sanborn, a 1978 graduate of the University of Connecticut, had spent three years with the accounting giant Peat Marwick Mitchell (now KPMG) in its Washington office before joining the Federal National Mortgage Association. He worked for Fannie Mae in Washington, Los Angeles, and Dallas, ultimately becoming the vice president of national servicing and national underwriting. During this time, he bought 3 Atlantic Avenue in Provincetown as a second home. What propelled him into the hospitality business was the loss of his job at Fannie Mae in 2007.
He united the guest houses under the same name, phone number, and website.
The properties split apart again in 2014, when Sanborn sold No. 166 for $1,564,500 to Josh Scaturro and Stan Cottner, who renamed it the Queen Vic.
After meeting and falling in love in St. Louis, Scaturro and Cottner moved in 1994 to Key West. Over time, they managed a number of properties there, including the Oasis Guest House and Coral Tree Inn. Cottner figured out that there was a promising niche for a commercial cleaning company to serve guest houses and other businesses on the key, and established Reliable Cleaning. He was soon joined at Reliable by Scaturro, who also worked as a consultant.
166 Commercial Street as the Queen Vic Guest House in 2019. Photo by Dunlap.
Benson, Scaturro, and Cottner in a portrait taken by Michael Goff that he posted on Facebook, 24 September 2017.
Left: Scaturro in the lobby of 166 Commercial, with the chandelier that Sanborn joked cost him more than $1 million. Posted by Scaturro on Facebook, 2 December 2014. Right: Scaturro taking a hands-on approach to renovation. Posted by him, 3 August 2015.
Ready for Memorial Day, 2016. Photo by Dunlap.
Ready for Bear Week, 2016. Photo by Michael Goff, posted on Facebook, 8 July 2016.
Home page of the Queen Vic Guest House website in 2020.
In their joint biography on the Queen Vic website, the couple said their success led them to conclude that “their work in Key West was nearly finished, and it was time to make Provincetown their home.” They said 166 Commercial had been their “very favorite historic home” in town, which compounded their delight when they learned it was for sale. The Queen Vic adopted the “Bed & Beverage” name after securing a liquor license for the premises. Besides the bar, the Queen Vic offers its guests a 25 percent discount at Café Heaven, 199 Commercial Street.
Like every business in town, the Queen Vic had to adapt quickly to the new world of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. According to the website, rooms are now left vacant for at least 24 hours between departures and arrivals, with windows kept open in the interval; rooms are cleaned with bleach and disinfectant mist; housekeepers do not enter rooms, but provide fresh sheets and towels as requested; and the temperatures of staff members are checked constantly. Even the room keys are disinfected, awaiting arriving guests in sealed envelopes.
And breakfasts are delivered to guests’ rooms. “Our family-style breakfast table is a feature we love,” Scaturro and Cottner said on the website, “but for this year, the breakfast room will be closed, to keep our guests and staff safe.”
¶ Last updated on 26 July 2020.
Jack Connell wrote on 9 March 2011: When Helen Allen (my godmother) passed away, her home was left to my Mother and I. We sold it in 1964, I’m sorry to say. The house to the east (168) belonged to Lou Allen, the other half of Allen & Allen Plumbing and Heating.
Pamela Even wrote on 18 January 2014: My father [Charles Allen] talks often of visiting his aunt and uncle, Helen and George, every summer. He always recalls the wood-fired cook stove in the summer kitchen.
Kevin Comey wrote on 26 July 2020: I recalled that when John and Owen bought the house, its name was the Four Bays. I messaged John to verify, and he concurred my memory being correct. I think it held the Four Bays name only a couple of years.
166 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Thumbnail image: Photo, 2008, by David W. Dunlap.
• David Lewis Allen (1880-1969)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 119733280.
• Eunice T. (Quinn) Allen (1849-1926)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 120390303.
• Helen (Saunders) Allen (1881-1964)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 54266123.
• George Allen (1846-1922)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 120390112.
• George Matheson Allen (1875-1957)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 54266106.
¹ Pamela Even comment to Building Provincetown, 18 January 2014.
² “Funeral Monday for George Allen,” The Provincetown Advocate, 21 February 1957; “Helen Allen Dies at Her Home,” The Provincetown Advocate, 23 January 1964.
³ “Alan Wagg: Safe Harbor Documentary Transcript,” Safe Harbor/AIDS Archive, Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 4946.