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2020 Commercial 073A

(2010)

Captain Jack’s Wharf Condominium.

No matter whether you’ve ever set foot here, the quirky, odd-angled, salt-crusted, sea-infused, post-card-perfect Captain Jack’s Wharf has almost undoubtedly helped form your mental picture of Provincetown. Even now, its eccentric and ramshackle charm seems largely intact, though a consultation with its asking rates will quickly dispel any idea that it is still a Bohemian paradise.

Captain Jack was Jackson R. “J. R.” Williams (1861-1935). He was born across the road, at 70A Commercial Street, and became a trap fisherman. He owned 8 or 10 boats used to tend the large weirs made of nets and poles that were erected in relatively shallow intertidal waters. As the tide receded, fish swimming parallel to shore would find themselves involuntarily guided into the netting, with no means of escape. Fishermen would then enter the weirs on trap boats and gather up the netting — and the fish.

The captain applied to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1897 to build a 100-foot wharf into the harbor from his property at 73A Commercial Street. He later added 100 more feet to the wharf. “He only rented out to tourists when the weir fishing business went into major decline in the mid-’20s,” said Ed Fitzgerald, whose family was long involved in Captain Jack’s. “Even then, he was still using some of the rooms for fishing related activities.”

There were a total of 15 units at the time of his death in 1935, with rents of $45 to $75 ($800 to $1,400 these days) — for the entire season. The next year, Dr. Daniel H. Hiebert (1889-1972) bought the property from Williams’s estate and continued renting out the pier sheds as “Studios-on-the-Sea.” Dr. Hiebert wanted his wife, Emily Hiebert (1894-1985), to manage the property. There was just one problem, Fitzgerald said. “The doctor did not tell his wife he was buying the place; she found out by accident during a ladies’ afternoon bridge game. She wasn’t happy, and only agreed to run the wharf starting in 1939. But then she went all in, making it over. She changed the name from ‘Studios-on-the-Sea,’ which the doctor had called it, to ‘Captain Jack’s Wharf.'” This was after trying out the name “Jolly Captain Jack’s Wharf” in 1938.

Management and ownership passed to the Hieberts’ daughter, Ruth E. Hiebert (1922-2004), who also owned the Skiff, at 67A Commercial Street and 67B Commercial Street; Dinghy Dock, at 71 Commercial Street, where she lived; and 73 Commercial Street, where Emily spent her last years, opposite the town landing from Captain Jack’s. Ruth’s life companion was Maurice E. Fitzgerald (1913-1969) of Milford, who had captained a minesweeper in World War II and represented the Ninth Worcester District in the House of Representatives in the 1940s and ’50s. “Ruth was one part ship’s captain, keeping the wharf running smoothly, and two parts social director, ensuring all her guests met each other and were included in activities such as the nightly pre-dinner cocktail party on the wharf’s main deck,” Maurice’s nephew, Ed Fitzgerald, recalled. “Many of her guests came back annually for decades.”

Like any Provincetown landmark, Captain Jack’s has its share of legends — a few of which even have some basis in fact. Emily Hiebert was said to have kept the throne here that Paul Robeson had used in a local production of The Emperor Jones. Tennessee Williams did stay at Captain Jack’s in the 1940s and, by his own account, fell in love with another man for the first time; a man he met here. However, as Michael Cunningham has noted, Williams did not write The Glass Menagerie here, nor did he seduce Marlon Brando as a quid pro quo for the role if Stanley Kowalksi in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Ruth Hiebert sold Captain Jack’s Wharf in 1985 to Ronald M. Fellman and William S. Hawkes.¹ She imposed several important stipulations, among them:

• … not more than sixteen (16) residential dwelling units shall be located on the Premises and the Wharf;

• There shall be no change in the roofline of the buildings located on the Wharf;

• No changes shall be made in the type and nature of the exterior materials and finishes of the buildings located on the Premises and the Wharf …

As of 2018, the cabins rented for $1,100 a week (for two people in Sunset, off season) to $6,273.75 a week (for three to four people in Spindrift-Hesperus, during Bear Week).

The artist and developer Peter Gee (1932-2005) managed to acquire much of the wharf from 1986 to 1990, but subsequently lost control. At one time, he owned Cabin 8½ and Borealis, Hesperus, the Locker, Mars, Nautilus, Spindrift, Venus, Windswept, and the Wreck cabins.

For a view of Cabin 8½, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Australis cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Borealis cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of the Bridge cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Hesperus cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Jupiter cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of the Locker cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Mars cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Nautilus cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Neptune cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Orion cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Rainbow cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Ribbons cabin, please see 73B Commercial Street.

For a view of Spindrift cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Sunrise cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Sunset cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Venus cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of Windswept cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

For a view of the Wreck cabin, please see 73A Commercial Street.

¶ Last updated on 14 July 2018.


For further reading online

Captain Jack’s Wharf website.


¹ Hiebert to Captain Jacks Wharf Realty Trust et alia, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 4703, Page 242.

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