2020 Commercial 027 Perspective Corrected


Robert Duffy expansion.

“This is a big house, and I wanted it to disappear,” Robert Duffy, the president of Marc Jacobs Inc., told Elle Decor about his reconstruction in 2007 of the property that once belonged to John and Betty Van Arsdale, founders of Provincetown-Boston Airline. Stephan Jaklitsch of Jaklitsch/Gardner Architects in New York — which does a lot of work for Marc Jacobs — certainly performed a skillful job of disguising much of the 8,985-square-foot house from the street, where it blends effortlessly with its neighbors. On the beach side, however, there is no disguising the palatial dimensions of its 80-foot-long Modernist mahogany and glass facade, unlike anything the West End had seen before.

For a view of the former Provincetown-Boston Airline headquarters, please see 27 Commercial Street.

Duffy grew up spending summers in Truro, working odd jobs in Provincetown, and taking drawing classes at the Provincetown Art Association. He bought the Van Arsdale house in 2004. “Originally meant to be a renovation project, the house underwent major reconstruction when it was discovered that the original structure was built without an adequate foundation,” Jaklitsch/Gardner states on its website. “Additionally, three-quarters of the house was deemed structurally unstable and torn down under an emergency order.” (For what it’s worth, that’s the standard line when it comes to renovation of historical properties: We wanted to save as much as we could, but as soon as we opened the building up, we found it was rotten to the core — so we tore it down.)

Working with Jaklitsch and the interior designer Richard McGeehan of McGeehan Design, Duffy fashioned an “idiosyncratic retreat,” as David Colman of Elle Decor wrote in September 2009. “The interiors flow from colorful space to colorful space but rarely solidify into actual rooms or bloom into wide-open expanses. This in-between dynamic reconciles Duffy’s desire for a traditional floor plan and his wish to maximize the ocean view to the lighthouse at the fishhook tip of Cape Cod.” (It seems doubtful that you can see the Atlantic from the living room at 27 Commercial.) Among the artists on the walls of Duffy’s summer home were such Provincetown artists as Tracey Anderson, Milton Avery, Fritz Bultman, John Dowd, Charles W. Hawthorne, and Myron Stout.

Because of Duffy’s presence in town, his company opened a small outpost of the lower-cost, contemporary Marc by Marc Jacobs line, at 184 Commercial Street, in 2007. Until that time, Pru Sowers wrote in The Banner, “Duffy kept a low profile and was known chiefly for annoying his neighbors in the West End with construction on his new house.” He quickly gained a higher profile with large benefactions to the Art Association and the Provincetown Public Library, and sponsorship of the 2011 revival of the Beaux Arts Ball at Town Hall, a tradition that had been abandoned in the 1950s.

Less than a decade after his arrival, Duffy exited the scene in 2013. He sold the house to Ryan Murphy, the film and television writer, director, producer, and creator who has seemed ubiquitous at times, with series, shows, and movies like American Crime Story, the winner of the 2016 Emmy for outstanding limited series; Inside Look: The People v. O. J. Simpson, American Crime Story, the winner of the 2016 Emmy for outstanding short form nonfiction or reality series; The Normal Heart, the winner of the 2014 Emmy for outstanding television movie; Glee, the winner of the 2010 Emmy for outstanding directing for a comedy series; American Horror Story, Nip/Tuck, Feud, and Eat Pray Love. Murphy owns the property with his husband, David Miller.

¶ Last updated on 5 May 2018.


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