For a time in 2007, 184 Commercial Street was the epicenter of the perennial agonizing over whether This Is The End Of Provincetown As We Knew It. That was because Marc by Marc Jacobs — not just a chain store, not just a luxury chain store, but a luxury chain store based in Manhattan! — had opened where Caroline May “Carrie” (Santos) Silva (b1903) once lived and where she sold lobsters and crabs. Year in and year out. Boiled and live. Caught by her husband Manuel M. Silva (1901-1970), and their son Albert Manuel Silva (b1923), and their grandson Christopher Albert Silva (1947-1976), lately aboard Christy Boy, the younger man’s namesake. At 184 Commercial, Carrie Silva peddled lobsters out of the basement for $2.50 a pound in the 1980s. Marc Jacobs was now peddling tote bags here for $558 — equal to 223 pounds of lobster. What clearer demarcation did you need of old and new?
“I remember when Al would stack his lobster traps in his mom’s front yard,” Leo E. Gracie wrote on the Facebook page, My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, on 7 February 2020. “No one cared, just normal.”
“The odors from dried bait on the pots outside in the yard, and the smells of the shellfish cooking inside, permeated the neighborhood on Commercial Street, which wasn’t bothersome to anyone then,” Rachel White said in an Instagram comment on 4 February 2021. “People were glad to get takeout — already-cooked lobsters and shellfish. That probably would not be welcomed today. A way of life then.”
“The front yard of a house on Commercial Street filled with lobster traps,” by Edmund V. Gillon Jr., in Provincetown Discovered (Schiffer Publishing, 1986). Posted by Salvador R. Vasques III on his Facebook page, My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, 30 September 2018.
Most of the front yard was later occupied by a 23-by-25-foot addition, creating a 575-square-foot retail space and an upstairs apartment. Photo taken in 2008 by David W. Dunlap.
Long before the Silvas arrived, this was the home of Joshua Elsbery Bowly (1813-1883), then James Fuller (1822-1906) and his wife, Maria F. (Atkins) Fuller (1829-1906). At the time, it was denominated 181 Commercial Street. James was from East Sandwich. His trade was masonry. And in Provincetown, he established a business at the head of Central Wharf: James Fuller & Son, Master Builders & Masons. The firm advertised itself in 1885 as experts in plastering and kalsomining (whitewashing), and dealers in cements, lime, hair, and all other materials used in masonry. James and Maria died within seven weeks of one another in 1906. The “Son” in the business partnership was Charles Atkins Fuller (1854-1923). His brothers, who also lived here at one time or another, were Albert W. Fuller, a tailor, and James Wallace Fuller (1851-1941), a fisherman, who married Angie Young Cook (1856-1944).
From the 1885 guide and directory, Chequocket; or, Coatuit; The Aboriginal Name of Provincetown. From the MacMillan Collection on the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 364.
With the death of Angie Fuller in 1944, the family’s era at 184 Commercial came to a close. Her executor sold the property later that year, for $5,000 (about $73,000 today), to Carrie and Manuel Silva, who moved here from 3 Mozart Avenue. Manuel, a Provincetown native, was a lobster fisherman, as his father had been, and as his son and grandson would be. His father, Joaquin “Joe K.” Silva (1866-1956), was born on the island of Faial in the Azores, from which he had shipped on whaling trips. After moving to Provincetown in the 1890s, Joe K. turned to trawling and lobstering. He married Amelia Jesus Silva DeMello (1872-1949).
Manuel began lobstering after he completed the sixth grade. In 1939, he worked only 18 weeks and earned all of $600 ($11,000) — to put that “cheap” house price in perspective. He and Carrie were wed in 1922. Their son Albert was born the next year. Sharing the house at 184 Commercial were Carrie’s mother, Carrie (Lopes) Santos (±1874-1950), and her brother George Allen Santos. Al Silva had enlisted in the Navy a year before his parents moved here. The infamous Hurricane of 1944 blew so furiously against the two elms in the front yard that they pulled up the pavement with their root systems as they fell over and on to 184 Commercial and 186 Commercial.
Aftermath of the Hurricane of 1944, which pulled so furiously at the elms in front of 184 Commercial Street that they took the pavement with them when they were uprooted. From the Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 6, Page 140, in the Dowd Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 1975.
After World War II ended, Al returned to Provincetown and joined his father lobstering aboard the 34-foot Sea Friend. That vessel met a dramatic end in June 1952 when the Silvas were preparing to depart for their lobster pots, off Highland Light. A fire broke out aboard. “In a matter of minutes, the small craft was enveloped in flames and smoke,” the Advocate reported. “Then those along the shore, watching helplessly, saw the Sea Friend bulge and lift from the water as the gasoline tank with 150 gallons of fuel exploded.” Neither the Silvas nor their crew member, Joseph Sants, were injured, but the boat and 30 lobster pots were a total loss. A total uninsured loss of $5,000, since the premiums were too expensive and the Silvas had let coverage lapse.
“Al was a true waterman and always lended a guiding hand to youth he sensed might be influenced by an interest in seaside occupations,” Christopher Snow said in a Facebook comment on 6 February 2021. Snow cited Al’s dedication to “his mom’s business of reliable, freshly cooked lobsters; a staple of ours, around the corner on Carver Street.” When unexpected guests arrived at the Snow residence craving lobster, Mrs. Silva could be counted upon on a moment’s notice to provide the meal, Snow recalled, “never disappointing.”
“I have fond memories of going with my dad to pick up lobsters from Mrs. Silva’s side door,” said Lauren Richmond, whose parents were Lawrence S. “Larry” Richmond (1909-1978) and Helene A. Richmond (1904-1985), of 40 Commercial Street. “I can still smell the ‘low tide’ aroma coming from her kitchen. We’d also make a stop at the Portuguese bakery, and I’d run in for a loaf of still warm bread that my mother would make into garlic bread to go with the lobster feast.”
Christy Boy was the lobster boat most residents still associate with Al and Chris Silva. Chris was graduated from Provincetown High School in 1965; a class that included Robert P. “Bobby” Anthony, Susan Avellar, Paul Corea Mendes and Victoria Andrews, and Francis John “Grassy” Santos.
Carrie was not her son’s only account, Avellar noted. Another customer was Matthew Costa, out at the Dairy Land on Shank Painter Road. Dan Pannoni remembered the drill: have breakfast at Dairy Land, go out for the day on Christy Boy, then return to the Dairy Land and sell lobsters to Costa.
Everything changed on 21 May 1976, when Chris Silva was diving for lobsters off New Beach. Something evidently went wrong with his equipment and he suffered what was determined to have been an air embolism. He was dead at the age of 28. Barbara Rushmore, who planted a Japanese black pine honoring Silva in the Provincetown Memorial Waterfront Park, said of Chris: “He was only in his 20s, and so handsome, and so knowledgeable about the sea, this harbor, shell-fishing, catching and cleaning fish. He received the largest funeral since Monsignor [Leo] Duart,” who had died a year earlier. Al Silva died later of an inherited form of ataxia known as Machado-Joseph Disease, Snow said, which principally affects people of Portuguese and Azorean descent.
This unforgettable photograph of Albert M. Silva and his son Christopher A. Silva aboard Christy Boy was taken by Nathaniel Champlin and shared on Facebook by his wife, Mildred Champlin, on 17 October 2018. “Al was waiting for someone to come along to help him with the boat, which wasn’t working,” Mildred said. “He was such a sweet man. And his son.”
Christy Boy, hauled up for a winter in the 1970s at the West End Boat Launch. Photograph by Bruce Deely.
Left: Portrait of Al Silva by Bill Berardi, lent by the family of Gordon Ferreira to the “Faces of Provincetown” exhibit at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum in 2013, assembled and scanned under the direction of Judith Stayton. Right: Portrait of Chris Silva from the Long Pointer of 1965, in the School Collection of the Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 5563.
Lawrence S. Richmond had this card tacked to the wall above his workbench in the garage at 40 Commercial Street, said Bruce Deely, who took this photo.
Ad in the Provincetown Advocate, 6 July 1961. Advocate Online, Provincetown Public Library.
Like many households, the Silva family made a bit of extra money by renting out rooms in their home. Photograph by Susan Wasson.
Lobster sales were not the only source of income for the Silva family. They rented out rooms in the house. One lodger in the early 1950s was Richard Allan, who lived in the attic. “The insulation was not in the roof but in the floor of the attic,” he recalled in 2021. “Sooo, during the day it would be scorching. At night, since only one of the two windows could open, it was also very warm. When I would do some laundry —hang it to dry, it would be done in minutes.” But there were compensations, too. “Mrs. Silva sold lobsters from the side door of the house,” Allan told me in 2014. “Every few days she would leave me a quart of milk and the most delicious lobster sandwich at the door that led to the steep stairs to the attic.” Fortified by such a good diet, Allen went on to be a television producer and director at CBS, a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, and a professor of law at the Brooklyn Law School.
Charlotte Viner, a guest of the Silvas in the 1960 summer season, spotted something one day that was unusual even for Provincetown. A 10-month-old capuchin monkey was “frolicking around in the Sea View Restaurant parking lot” across the way, at 183-185 Commercial Street, according to the Advocate. The creature was friendly enough to accompany Viner to the Animal Rescue League on Snail Road, through which it was reunited with its owners. They had left the monkey in their car, trusting it could not get out. Enough said.
Another roomer at the Silvas’ was the pianist Herbert O. “Bert” Perry (±1917-1966), who played for 13 seasons at the Ace of Spades Club, 193A Commercial Street, and at the Galleria Lounge of the Town House Restaurant, 291-293 Commercial Street. In the winters, which he spent in Boston, Perry was a pianist at the Playland Cafe, 21 Essex Street, which was known at the time of its closing in 1998 as the city’s oldest gay bar, having been established 60 years earlier and gaining its notoriety during World War II. Perry’s body was found here on 2 June 1966 by his roommate, John F. Kennedy. The cause of death was determined to be alcoholic intoxication. Perry left a wife and 12-year-old daughter in Boston.
Carrie sold the house in 1991 for $165,000 to Eileen (Rusling) Roland (1932-2017) of 155 Commercial Street. With her husband, Romain, Roland had been co-owner of Chez Romain, 157 Commercial Street, and the Rose & Crown Guest House, 158 Commercial Street.
Left: Ad in Provincetown Arts (Volume 13) of 1997. Right: Note how the new addition has filled the front yard, where the lobster traps were once piled. Taken in 2004 for the Massachusetts Historical Commission photo inventory (07-2-144).
This was when 184 Commercial Street began its active retail life. Roland and Ronald Cram built a 23-by-25-foot addition to the house that took up almost all of the front yard; the yard that used to be piled high with lobster pots. The ground floor was retail space. Upstairs was Roland’s apartment. The wall of her kitchen had once been the Commercial Street exterior of the Silva house. Though construction was new, extraordinarily wide old “pumpkin pine” floorboards were installed. Other apartments in the property were rented to seasonal and year-round workers.
In the newly created storefront, Thomas M. Rogers, proprietor of Tommy Custom Floral Design in Boston, opened Wa in 1996. The word — 和 — means “harmony” in Japanese. Wa was an early conceptual, or thematic, store; both the setting and offerings were intended to embody harmony. “Hear waters of fountains and be appeased by the narrow color palette of neutrals, cream, black, ivory, and celadon,” said the Shopping Guide in the 1997 Provincetown Arts. “An oasis of peace and Zenlike tranquillity,” Fodor’s 22nd Edition Cape Cod said in 2003. An Explorer’s Guide: Cape Cod, Martha’s Vineyard & Nantucket, published the same year, used the same word to describe Wa. “This Japanese-inspired oasis carries teapots, ceramics, incense, and fountains, as well as off-beat specialty items such as wooden masks from Zaire [Democratic Republic of the Congo] and antique suitcases covered with Chinese calligraphy.” The store moved from here to 220 Commercial Street.
Marc by Marc Jacobs store in 2011. Dunlap.
Left: 2012, Dunlap. Right: 2009, Dunlap.
Left: The New York Times of 24 July 2008 included a column devoted to Provincetown’s store. Right: The store advertised conspicuously. This full-page display appeared in the Provincetown Banner on 2 July 2009.
Wa was followed by the Marc Jabobs outlet in 2007, an event of great enough significance to warrant the attention of Mike Albo’s “Critical Shopper” column in The New York Times of 24 July 2008:
“I thought it would be full of precious, overpriced safari bags — and it does have them — but here’s the shocking thing: a lot of stuff here is cheap and pretty great. …
“Right away you notice the staff: a pretty girl with blond punky hair and three adorable boys in their early 20s, all with gracefully tattooed arms and pale S.P.F. 50 skin. Together they look like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs …
“As you can imagine, when Marc by Marc opened last summer, some Ptown regulars grumbled that it was too snooty for this salty, sexy town, and would dilute the charming local flavor. But anyone with a speck of taste would choose the place any day over that irritating Black Dog store down the street. With luck Provincetown can hold on to its lovable eclecticism. It’s actually not that easy to get rid of because there is only one lucrative season and Commercial Street lies within the historic district, where merchants must comply with strict guidelines regarding facade, renovation and construction …
“Marc Jacobs makes sense. It complements MAP and the other cool clothing shops, creating a healthy, stylish ecosystem for the town. And anyway, the brand’s trend-making, gossiped-about namesake is brazenly gay, has a messy love life, and can’t stop posing half-naked in front of people. Sounds like Provincetown to me.”
What Albo did not mention in his column was that the store owed its place in Provincetown to the simultaneous presence of Robert Duffy, the president of Marc Jacobs Inc. In 2004, Duffy had purchased 27 Commercial Street, the home of the founder of the Provincetown-Boston Airline, and then transformed it into an 8,985-square-foot Modernist beachfront mansion. Besides lavishing money on himself, however, Duffy turned out to be a generous patron of the Provincetown Public Library and Provincetown Art Association and Museum. Duffy’s benefactions also made possible the 2011 revival of the Beaux Arts Ball at Town Hall. But Duffy left Provincetown in 2013, and Marc by Marc Jacobs wasn’t too far behind. It lasted through the 2015 season.
Upstairs from the hard edges of Marc by Marc Jacobs was the cozy apartment of Eileen Roland. These three photos were taken by her nephew Kenny Haines shortly after her death in 2017. The back wall of the kitchen is what was the original front of 184 Commercial.
It was followed briefly by Urban Man Made, a men’s accessories store owned by Todd Couchman and Thomas Stajmiger, which started on the web in 2013. “Urban Man Made sourced items specifically made for the stylish guy from the best artisans from around the country,” Stajmiger said on his LinkedIn profile. The Provincetown store, its first and only bricks-and-mortar location, closed in 2017, as did the business itself.
That was the year, too, that Eileen Roland died, having spent her last years in a cozy little apartment directly over Marc by Marc Jacobs and Urban Man Made. “We have fond memories at Christmastime, all gathered around a large Christmas tree, and many summers where we would watch the Provincetown Carnival pass beneath the windows, on Commercial Street,” Roland’s nephew Kenny Haines told me in 2021. “I can just see all the family sitting around the dinning table for lunch, or an evening meal, talking of old times or what we had done that day — whale-watching, kayaking to Long Point, biking in Beech Forest, et cetera. … We had to be mindful of the store below and try not to make too much noise. For example, the washing machine was only used when the store closed in an evening. It was old and noisy!”
Seaplane, a store specializing in vibrant shirts, opened here in 2018. The company, founded and led by Schuyler Brown, has its headquarters in Palm Springs — where its other bricks-and-mortar store is located — and a six-person factory in Philadelphia. After one season at No. 184, the store moved to 347 Commercial Street in 2019. Seaplane was unable to occupy 170 Commercial Street in 2020, but Brown told me in early 2021: “We loved 184 and hope to be back soon.” During the pandemic, the company added face masks to its lineup of brightly pattered and boldly colored apparel.
At the end of the 2018 season, Roland’s estate sold the property for $1.56 million to Ronald Cram, as Marc Roland L.L.C.
Three tenants in three years: 2016, 2018, and 2019. Dunlap.
A construction drawing for Seaplane’s space clearly showed the Roland-Cram addition at left, offset slightly from the original house. This was posted on the Seaplane website on 22 March 2018.
The abrupt change of grade in the retail space also indicated the dividing point between new and old structures. Posted on the Seaplane website on 22 March 2018.
An unusual photo, from the inside looking out. Posted on the Seaplane website on 22 March 2018.
Next up was a Lululemon Pop-Up store — another “formula business,” as chain stores are known to town planners. Making Lululemon’s case before the Zoning Board of Appeals on 7 March 2019 were Cram; Robin B. Reid, the lawyer for the L.L.C.; and Robert A. O’Malley, the rental agent. According to the minutes:
“The board was concerned about the company’s designation as a ‘pop-up’ store and its implications regarding commitment to the town and contributions to local charitable causes. Mr. O’Malley clarified that the ‘pop-up’ designation refers to a division within the company and that Lululemon fully intends upon becoming part of the community and making contributions to local charities. It also hopes to extend its short-term lease at the end of the summer. Attorney Reid read a letter from a regional manager, Christine D’Ambrosia, of Lululemon, stating how the business intends to integrate into, benefit, and support the community.”
The board approved the application unanimously and Lululemon Athletica opened a yoga and athletic wear store at 184 Commercial in 2019. Whatever the intentions of the company, whose headquarters are in Vancouver, the Provincetown store did not survive the Covid-19 summer of 2020. At this writing, word on the street is that the next retailer in the space will be St33le (read the 3s as backward Es), a beachwear store.
Live lobsters are not likely to be available.
A model seaplane completed the array of Seaplane shirts in 2018. Dunlap.
Left: Seaplane in 2018. Dunlap. Right: Lululemon in 2019. Dunlap.
The St33le beachwear store opened in 2021. Photograph by Stephen Borkowski.
¶ Last updated on 14 May 2021.
184 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Richard Allan wrote on 18 November 2014: In the summer of either 1951 or ’52 [I lived] in the attic. Mr. [Manuel] Silva owned a small lobster boat (as did his son, who did not live at home); Mrs. Silva sold lobsters from the side door of the house. Every few days she would leave me a quart of milk and the most delicious lobster sandwich at the door that led to the steep stairs to the attic. I am now a retired professor of law, but in 1953 went to work at CBS in television.
Thumbnail image: Photo, 2008, by David W. Dunlap.
• Angie Young (Cook) Fuller (1856-1944)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 153519330.
• Charles Atkins Fuller (1854-1923)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 153955177.
• James Fuller (1822-1906)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 144351131.
• James Wallace Fuller (1851-1941)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 153517613.
• Maria F. (Atkins) Fuller (1829-1906)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 144351150.
• Eileen (Rusling) Roland (1932-2017)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 176376728.
• Christopher Albert Silva (1947-1976)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 162500732.
• Manuel M. Silva (1901-1970)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 54388077.