Farfalla (“Mushroom House”).
Hidden deep in the woods — a fantasy spot for generations of neighborhood children who knew it as the “Mushroom House” — is one of the few serious works of mid-century Modernism in Provincetown. And almost no one knows it’s there. (Be forewarned. You cannot see it from Bradford Street.) This is “Farfalla.” Butterfly, in Italian; so named in 1955 by its 26-year-old architect, Donald Anthony Jasinski (1929-2011), and Warren Hassmer (1921-2018), with whom he spent summers in the cottage. The analogy to a flying creature is especially apt, since this little building (about 250 square feet) prefigures Eero Saarinen’s T.W.A. terminal at Kennedy International Airport, whose shape is often likened to a gull in flight. One delightful difference between this concrete shell and Saarinen’s: until recent years, it was covered in vegetation. This was a green building a half-century early.
Farfalla was built in 1955 by Donald Anthony Jasinski and Warren Hassmer, and this photo is by their courtesy.
In June 2010, Farfalla was being used as a garden shed. Photo by David W. Dunlap.
By October of 2010, Richard P. “Rick” Wrigley had begun to reopen the structure for habitation. Dunlap.
And by 2017, it was serving as his summer studio. Photo by his courtesy.
Though it doesn’t look at all like a dune shack, Farfalla is very much in the Provincetown tradition of freewheeling, amenity-free summer dwellings without a 90-degree angle in sight, which encouraged their occupants to be creative, to commune with nature, and to keep their lives simple. At almost exactly the same time, Alan Peter Dodge (1929-2017) and the painter Betty Lou Martensen built their Cement Hideaway (“Bubble Shack”) on the Back Shore.
Happily, Farfalla has been owned since 1995 by Richard P. “Rick” Wrigley, a well-known sculptor and furniture maker (represented in the Smithsonian American Art Museum), who lives up the hill, at 232 Bradford Street. Wrigley, who currently uses Farfalla as his summer studio, is committed to the preservation of a building so quirky it doesn’t even show up on the Town Map.
The parcel on which Farfalla nestles is now formally designated 232 Bradford Street, but was known before the consolidation of Hassmer’s plots as No. 236R. In their day, Hassmer and Jasinski used the address 234 Bradford Street. And they called the hill that rises behind the house “Fair Phoebus,” or Apollo, presumably after the ballad “When Daphne From Fair Phoebus Did Fly.” They bought this property in 1954 from Catherine E. (Caton) Melis, a daughter of Almeda Caton (d1966) and John B. Caton, who developed the Bayberry Bend Motel and Cottages, 910 Commercial Street, known now as the Bayberry Bend Condominium.
Jasinski, a native of Chicopee, had been a child singer and tap dancer on the old vaudeville circuit, performing as one of the three Mitchell Brothers. He received a bachelor of science degree in architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1951, then enrolled at the Università degli Studi di Firenze, completing his graduate work in 1953. He founded Jasinski Architects International in Waterville Valley, N.H., where he also built a house called Zakopane, presumably with reference to an ancestral home in Poland. “His architectural passion was his concept of earth-sheltered structures and design for the human animal,” said his obituary in The Boston Globe of 12 January 2011.
Hassmer was born into poverty in Brooklyn and attended P.S. 193 and the renowned Erasmus Hall High School in that borough of New York City. To support himself at Middlebury College, he worked as a janitor in the dorms. And he taught himself how to play the flute. After Hassmer was graduated from college in 1943, he was inducted into the Army and served in France during World War II. Hassmer picked up his graduate studies after the war, on the G.I. Bill, earning a master’s degree from Boston University in 1948. At the time he and Jasinski bought the Bradford Street parcel, Hassmer was an English instructor at Endicott College in Beverly, which then granted associate degrees.
Photos by Donald Jasinski and Warren Hassmer
I was lucky enough to correspond with Jasinski not long before his death. In July 2010, he answered my questions about the origins of the house with this lovely account:
“There never were any drawings. It was built by marking out the plan directly on what looked like the best location on the ground, and developing the ideas for the shape and size of the structure from there. My close friend Warren Hassmer and I built it as a cottage to spend summers in. The category ‘Studio’ covers the codes. There is no bathroom; we used the facilities of our neighbors Yela Brichta, Gizi and Elemir Kardos, and Diana Kemeny.
“There is a small room we used as a kitchen with a built-in concrete countertop surfaced with broken bits of tile and glass à la Guadí. I had recently returned from Barcelona. We used Sterno and other portable cooking heaters. There was no electricity.
“It was only meant for summer use, although there is a fireplace. We did a little cooking in it, too. Nestling into the slope did help keep the better part at a constant temperature. Planting on the roof was planned as a future project; never did get to it, but Mother Nature took over.
“The structure is all thin-shell concrete, i.e. rebar bent to the desired shapes, expanded metal lath attached to the rebar, and white waterproof Portland cement hand-troweled on several coats to build up a 3- to 3½-inch thickness. There is no structural steel. The strong curved forms created by the sidewalls as they bend and become the floors replace the need for standard foundation walls. The concrete floors were thickened at the glass walls.
“It never entered our heads to get a permit. I knew the man and he knew what we were doing. It was all fireproof. It didn’t fit into any category. And Ptown is/was P-town.
“We loved it. We wished we had the money to put in plumbing and electricity and make it bigger, but it suited our needs at the time. The garden gave us some veggies and flowers and pleasure, too. The decorative pavement in front of the house is my design, again Gaudí-inspired.
“Of course, I’ve learned to insulate properly for year-round use; i.e. double low-E glass, foam or other insulation for walls, floors and roofs, and, above all, selecting a site with good exposure to the southern sun.”
Snuggled into the hillside, deep in the woods off Atkins-Mayo Road, the strange and mysterious Farfalla delighted the children of Provincetown. “The local kids nicknamed it the ‘Mushroom House’ right away, and thought we must be elves,” Jasinski said. Susan Leonard confirmed the architect’s account in 2010: “It was usually boarded up for the winter when we kids were climbing all over it. It was fairly low to the ground, making it easy to climb on, and barely looked big enough for a full-grown person to stand up in. Perfect for kids and their imagination. Every kid in town knew it as the ‘Mushroom House.'” (Leonard and her partner, Rosemary Hillard, showed me the way to Farfalla in 2010, and I was instantly smitten.)
“I never thought of it as a ‘curiosity,'” Mel Joseph said on Facebook on 4 May 2021. “We thought it was just another town playground. The Provincetown I grew up in never seemed to have boundaries, as long as you weren’t destroying anything.” “To a little kid, it seemed like we were in the middle of nowhere,” John Crobar recalled on 4 May 2021. “I probably didn’t realize how close we were to civilization.” “Yeah,” Jason Ribeiro answered, “always felt like we were soldiers in the Platoon movie when we were out there.”
Neighbors like Irene Rabinowitz regarded it affectionately, too. “I lived at 252 Bradford for years and loved this little gem,” she said on Facebook on 4 May 2021. “When I first moved there at the end of 1986, I expected a hobbit or two to come out.” Hobbits and elves weren’t the only woodland sprites to emerge from the Mushroom House. “This was in my back woods off Howland Street,” Julia Perry said, also on 4 May. “Surprised two naked young men once as a child! Ooooo, did they holler and scare me away. Fortunately it was a summer place, so we enjoyed it the rest of the time. It was truly a fairy fantastic house.”
With a rooftop like this, it’s no wonder that children climbed over the structure and called it “Mushroom House.” 2010, Dunlap.
In 1959, Jasinski transferred his interest in No. 236R to Hassmer and opened the East End Gallery at 491 Commercial Street. “Clinton Seeley and I worked hard transforming the old dark, dingy, and dilapidated general store into a bright, pristine, all-white gallery to show the colors of the art uncompromised,” he told me. “Even the floors were white. We opened in July, and started selling the first day!
“Our selling method was very different from the other galleries: They had midweek afternoon openings once a month, serving tea or coffee with cake or tidbits. This was, of course, beach time for most visitors, so attendance was limited. Our gallery had weekly changing shows with openings at cocktail time on Saturday evenings before dinner, with great hors d’oeuvres. No wonder the place was jumping and sales were good. The East End Gallery closed in 1966-1967 when my architectural work took me to New Hampshire.”
By that time, Hassmer’s green thumb was becoming renowned around town, as he would arrive in early summer with the products of his winter greenhouse in Beverly: “potted plants suitable for decks, terraces, shops, restaurants, and galleries” and “a few interesting annuals for garden beds and window boxes.” He sold them from the 10-car garage at 232 Bradford Street. Hassmer became a full professor at Endicott in 1966 and the chairman of the English department.
“Warren and his partner, Bob Hayward (d2012), lived in Farfalla for many summers, selling plants and flowers down on Bradford Street,” Wendy Doniger wrote in Hassmer’s obituary. “Warren lived, both literally and figuratively, the life that Voltaire, at the very end of his novel Candide, advised Candide to lead: to withdraw from the horrors of the world and ‘cultivate his garden.'”
The pleated fireplace hood is the most prominent interior feature. 2010, Dunlap.
The central column conceals the cluster of rebar from which the roof was built up in Portland cement. 2010, Dunlap.
Jasinski embedded glass bottles in the cement, as Alan Forbes Dodge did in the Cement Hideaway on the Back Shore and Rose “Sunny” Tasha did at the Harry Kemp Cottage on Tasha Hill. 2010, Dunlap.
Inspired by a recent trip to Barcelona, Jasinski emulated the organic quality of Gaudí. 2010, Dunlap.
The couple moved to Truro and Hassmer sold Farfalla to Wrigley, who designed and developed the abutting Provincetown Bungalow Haven as well as his own large home and studio on Fair Phoebus Hill. Wrigley actually spent one summer in Farfalla, then converted it into a garden shed. In 2014, he power-washed the interior, installed electricity and internet service, and moved his drafting board in to create a summer studio. But he’s not through with it yet, and envisions an exterior renovation and re-landscaping.
“As Donald Jasinski’s original design included a fully transparent, floor-to-ceiling glass and screen front,” Wrigley told me in 2021, “I have been struggling with how to faithfully recreate this look and also provide for security and much needed ventilation. The compound curved front presents a challenge in this regard.”
A challenge that may be best solved by an imaginative sculptor.
“So glad it still exists,” the artist Robert M. Adamcik said on 4 May 2021. “It’s sort of like our Brigadoon.”
¶ Last updated on 4 May 2021.
232 Bradford Street (now incorporating 236R) on the Town Map.
Also at 232 Bradford Street:
Donald Jasinski wrote on 22 September 2010: You’ve done a great job pulling all the info together from various sources. Would like to see photos of the interior, especially the fireplace. I’m very happy to hear of the proposed future renovations and use as a guest cottage.
• Warren Hassmer (1921-2018)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 189002455.
• Donald Anthony Jasinski (1929-2011)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 68971135.