Safe bet: if you came across this wild, woolly, in-your-face sculpture garden and were asked which of the town’s shopkeepers made his home here, you would probably guess, “It must be the guy who runs the wild, woolly, in-your-face Shop Therapy.” And you would be right. This is indeed where Ronny Hazel lives. Built around 1870, 4 Center Street served originally as the parsonage for the Center Methodist Episcopal Church across the street (now the Public Library). Hazel bought the property in 1991. “The garden is now full of sculptures so striking that some tourists think it’s an art museum,” Boston Spirit said in 2008. “And it kind of is.” Hazel told The Boston Globe in 2008 that he’s counted up to 20 visitors at a time gathered outside. “‘Oh, look at that, honey! Oh, did you see that?’ Not just one voice, like 10 voices. It’s so cool. You just want to tape it.”
As Hazel described it, the project began as a fairly modest stone wall, constructed by Peter Annese of Stone by Columbus. But the stonework just kept growing — especially the arches — eventually defining and framing abundant gardens that are themselves settings for some very large sculptures, including two imposing figures by Pierre Riche: a 10-foot-long gryphonlike creature that Riche calls Living Image, near the arched front gate, and the seven-foot-high wizard, crystal ball in hand, that Riche titled Merlin, near the front door to the house. The inventory of sculpture and statuary and oversized tchotchkes includes ganeshes and Buddhas. The Globe reported that the collection comes from Guatemala, India, Nepal, Thailand, Borneo — and from Shop Therapy. “I’ll have something in the shop,” Hazel said, “and if it breaks, I’ll say, ‘Send it to the garden.’”
Hazel, a Brooklyn native who attended Woodstock and served in Vietnam, has never played by the rules and — according to the federal government — he has sometimes not played by the law, either. Hazel was confined to 4 Center Street under house arrest from 2006 to 2008 for selling drug paraphernalia and evading taxes. When his liberty was restored and the electronic monitoring device was removed, he headed for Nepal. “Nobody is complaining about a bracelet,” he told The Cape Cod Times, “but it’s nice to get out of Provincetown.”
Here we go, falling into the “they-couldn’t-possibly-have-foreseen” cliché of historical writing. Yet, it’s fun to imagine the look on the faces of those who built the Methodist parsonage — if they could only see it today. Or, really, almost any time since the church began seeking buyers in 1962 as part of the movement of the entire Methodist complex out to 10 Shank Painter Road. The last parson to live here was the Rev. Gilman L. Lane. He left in 1965. The building was sold to Harold K. Hersh — a/k/a Mr. Kenneth — and Irving M. Baff.
“Kenneth was the delightful and flamboyant creator of extravagantly decorated and very popular hats he sold at Mr. Kenneth’s,” the historian Irma Ruckstuhl said in a comment to Building Provincetown. (The store was at 227 Commercial Street.) “Both Kenneth and Irving were lovers of classical and operatic music and had a large collection of recordings. Sadly, Kenneth died at a fairly young age.”
¶ Adapted from Building Provincetown (2015).
Irma Ruckstuhl wrote on 20 May 2011: When the Methodist Church sold its building on Commercial and Center Streets, the parsonage was sold to Kenneth Hersh and his partner Irwin [Baff]. Kenneth was the delightful and flamboyant creator of extravagantly decorated and very popular hats he sold at Mr. Kenneth’s. Both Kenneth and Irwin were lovers of classical and operatic music and had a large collection of recordings. Sadly, Kenneth died at a fairly young age (40s to 50s, I think ) of melanoma. The last minister living with his family at the parsonage was the Rev. [Gilman] Lane, who was a regular and seemingly obligatory attendant — with the priest at the Catholic Church and the minister of St. Mary’s — at numerous local functions. The sale of the church, which the congregation could no longer maintain, caused a great deal of dissension among the members.
Carmen Falcon wrote on 4 March 2017: OMG, I was there last week, and was hypnotized and captivated by the beauty, statutes, and stone wall full of crystals and precious stones. Stunningly magical house with calming mystical vibrations.