Lawrence S. “Larry” Richmond (1909-1978) does not have the household name of Helena Rubinstein (1870-1965), from whom he bought this property in 1945. But in his day, Richmond was every bit the influential tastemaker, as the head of Music Dealers Service in New York, distributors of pop sheet music — a backbone of the industry through the mid-20th century, when sales of sheet music from racks in department stores, stationers and barber shops simply plummeted. When 40 Commercial Street was built, in the late 18th or early 19th century (the Provincetown Historic Survey says 1820), Provincetown was at the height of days as a whaling town. The first lightkeeper at Long Point made his home here.
The house was purchased in 1942 by Rubinstein, then known as Princess Gourielli, together with Nos. 41 and 42. (That year, she also bought a 26-room triplex apartment at 625 Park Avenue in Manhattan.) If there is a reference to the Provincetown properties in her 1966 memoir, My Life for Beauty, I have yet to find it. But Princess Gourielli had far deeper concerns than life at the Cape tip during those awful war years. She recounted her first visit in 1945 back to her apartment on the Quai de Bethune in Paris, only to witness firsthand the depth of Nazi depravity:
My exquisite Louis XVI card tables had been set out on the terrace and left there through the winter months, in the rain and the snow. But what upset me most was to learn that much of the furniture had been hurled out of the windows just before the Nazis vacated the building, in one final, senseless act of destruction.
With more than enough to do elsewhere after the war, Rubinstein sold 40 Commercial to Richmond, who had begun spending summers at 30 Commercial Street five years earlier with his wife, Helene A. Richmond (1904-1985). From a boyhood visit, Richmond could remember what the town smelled like when fish were dried on open-air flakes on any available acreage. (It was not a pleasant memory.) Richmond’s father, Maurice, was the founder of Music Dealers Service, and Richmond played an instrumental role at the time in the 1940s when the pop sheet music business was trying to save itself by expanding dramatically the number of shops and stores where customers could find Top 20 tunes for sale.
In 1945, the couple was looking for property with Ozzie Ball, an attorney and realtor from Truro, Lauren Richmond recounted. “They liked 40 Commercial, and although it wasn’t technically on the market they inquired as to its owner and were told that she was in Europe. They telegraphed an offer of $3,000 and it was accepted!” Princess Gourielli left behind an unusual aesthetic bequest, Richmond noted: “All the furniture in the house … was painted pink and gray. Mr. Arthur Anderson, owner of the Masthead Cottage and the Old Furniture Shop, offered to take all the wood furniture to his shop in Worcester and refinish it. When it was returned it was beautiful!”
Richmond took another step to improve his home in 1947, when he acquired the adjacent property at 38 Commercial Street. “Announcement of the sale was delayed because Mr. Richmond wanted to surprise his wife, who recently arrived in town,” The Advocate reported. “The house was torn down to make plenty of room for a garden.” The triple-decker house did not vanish entirely, however, as Richmond’s daughter said. “He had the local carpenters use the salvageable building materials (it was after the war and materials were scarce) to build a screened porch and garage/attic.”
Richmond threw himself into civic life. He was among the founders in 1953 of the West End Racing Club at 83 Commercial Street. In the later 1960s, he was president of the Provincetown Symphony for three years and then joined the board of trustees of the Provincetown Art Association. “I feel like part of the scenery here although no one asked me to be,” he told The Advocate in 1976. “But we wouldn’t have been here for almost 40 years if we didn’t love it.”
The property was owned briefly in the mid-’90s by the Emmy-winning television director Bob McKinnon.
¶ Adapted from Building Provincetown (2015).
Lauren Richmond wrote on 14 November 2009: When my father bought 40 Commercial Street in, I believe, 1945, all the furniture in the house, owned by Princess Gourielli [Helena Rubinstein], was painted pink and gray. Mr. Arthur Anderson, owner of the Masthead Cottage and the Old Furniture Shop, offered to take all the wood furniture to his shop in Worcester and refinish it. When it was returned it was beautiful!
Lauren Richmond wrote on 15 November 2009: In 1945 my parents, Larry and Helene Richmond, were looking for property with Ozzie Ball, an attorney and realtor from Truro. They liked 40 Commercial and although it wasn’t technically on the market they inquired as to its owner and were told that she was in Europe. They telegraphed an offer of $3,000.00 and it was accepted!