Gerry Studds house.
“Dean and I are coming home,” Rep. Gerry Eastman Studds (1937-2006) said as his 24 years in Congress were nearing an end in 1996. “Dean” was Dean T. Hara, his partner, who would become Studds’s husband as soon as it was legally possible for them to wed in Massachusetts. And “home” — at least one of them — was this house, which was constructed for Studds in 1983-1984, at the nadir of his political life. (The other home was an apartment in Boston.) Studds was known nationally as the first openly gay member of Congress. But the Democratic lawmaker was known locally, the Banner said, “for his accessibility to constituents and his effective advocacy of their concerns, notably in matters of the environment, health care, fishing and maritime issues.” His name is commemorated in the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, at the mouth of Massachusetts Bay, north of Cape Cod. It is an 842-square-mile expanse of extraordinarily important habitat, and most famously a feeding ground for humpback whales, fin whales, minke whales, northern right whales, Atlantic white-sided dolphins, harbor porpoises, and pilot whales. It’s safe to say that few members of Congress have ever had such a vast memorial.
Studds’s former house occupies the northern half of what was an extremely large waterfront lot, with 132 feet of harbor frontage. The lot was once owned by George Fillmore Miller Jr. (1900-1978), whose home was directly across the street, at 82 Commercial Street. It passed to his daughter Mary (Miller) Henrique (1932-2011). She sold the lot in 1979 to Kent E. Coutinho (1943-2005), a/k/a Kent Kellogg Edwards, the owner of the Kent Edwards Real Estate agency in the 1970s and ’80s. Coutinho divided the Henrique parcel in 1981 and sold the northern half for $84,900 to Congressman Studds and Russell A. Lukes. (This new lot was numbered 91, which had formerly been the designation of the abutting lot, where Perry’s Market did business.) On the southern half of the Miller-Henrique parcel, Coutinho constructed the controversial and inexplicably eccentric 89 Commercial Street.
91 Commercial Street in 2010. Photograph by David W. Dunlap.
Though he officially resided in Cohasset, Studds was already well known in Provincetown by the time the 91 Commercial Street project began. Within months of taking his seat in the House of Representatives in 1973, Studds sponsored legislation to ban foreign vessels from fishing within 200 miles of American shores — a measure deeply desired here and in the many coastal communities of his district. He also fought to prevent oil drilling in the rich Georges Bank fishery. And he learned Portuguese, out of respect for constituents who peopled New Bedford, Dartmouth, Provincetown, and other communities around the fishery.
Descended from Elbridge Gerry, the Massachusetts governor who put the “gerry” in gerrymandering, Studds earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Yale. He taught at St. Paul’s School, worked for the antiwar presidential campaign of Sen. Eugene McCarthy in 1968, and served two years as a foreign service officer in the State Department.
Detail of a preliminary plan by David J. Carnivale, dated 15 May 1983, for “The Gerry E. Studds Residence,” submitted to the Provincetown Building Department.
David J. Carnivale prepared the original plans for 91 Commercial Street in 1983, but the principal architect was Thomas George Green (1931-2015) of Cambridge. “All of the counters (kitchen/master bath) were designed higher than standard height, to accommodate Gerry’s tall stature,” said Bill Dugan, who was Studds’s partner from 1988 to 1991. “The back-of-the house master bedroom was designed to ensure it had a wood-burning fireplace and a full, cross-house bank of windows to view the ocean from bed; and the master bathroom was designed to have two shower-heads, for a couple, and positioned at a higher height to accommodate Gerry.”
Green and his partner, David Simpson, whose summer home was at 168 Commercial Street, were good friends with Studds. Green held a master’s degree in architecture from Yale, and was associated with two of the most important Boston-area firms of the postwar years: The Architects Collaborative (TAC) and Benjamin Thompson & Associates, in which he was a partner. The stark central staircase tower that used to dominate the Commercial Street facade of No. 91 almost looked like something from the Cambridge Brutalist playbook. It’s a measure of how close architect and client were to one another that Green officiated at Studds’s marriage to Hara, a financial adviser, in 2004. Green’s ashes and those of Studds are immured in the same vault at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge.
Front-page news on 15 July 1983. The Boston Globe prominently displayed Studds’s unashamed declaration that he was gay, a first in Congress. From Newspapers.com.
Studds was going through a tumultuous time in the House as the house was under development. Actually, tumultuous is an understatement. On 14 July 1983, the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct declared that Studds and Daniel B. Crane, a Republican congressman from Illinois, had each engaged in sexual relations with young Congressional pages. Studds acknowledged his involvement a decade earlier with a 17-year-old male page, a relationship that he said was brief, private, and consensual — even if it did represent a grievous lapse of judgment on his part. (The age of consent in the District of Columbia was 16, meaning no crime had been committed. The page told House investigators that he did not regret the relationship, though he could have done without the sex.)
On the evening of the disclosure, Studds turned tables on the inquisitors in a defiant speech on the floor of the House, saying:
“It is not a simple task for any of us to meet adequately the obligations of either public or private life, let alone both. These challenges are made substantially more complex when one is, as I am, both an elected public official and gay.”
It was the first such declaration in the history of the United States Congress. The Boston Globe boxed it and placed it at the top of Page 1.
Six days later, Studds and Crane were officially censured by their colleagues for sexual misconduct, meaning that each had to stand in the well of the House of Representatives and suffer the public rebuke of the Congress, read out loud by the Speaker. Studds was temporarily stripped of the chairmanship of the Coast Guard and Navigation Subcommittee of the Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee. Both Crane and Studds ran for re-election in 1984. Crane was defeated.
Above and below: Dean T. Hara and Rep. Gerry E. Studds at their home. Both, by Hara’s courtesy.
News of Studd’s retirement dominated the Banner‘s front page on 2 November 1995.
But Studds easily retained his seat in Congress, with nearly 56 percent of the vote. For his constituents, the fact that he had always worked hard to protect the fishing industry mattered a great deal more than his liberalism or the open secret that he was “part of the gay community in Provincetown,” as The Globe delicately phrased it. In the 1984 election, Provincetown all but threw its arms around Studds, bestowing 83 percent of the vote on him, far more than the other top-of-the-ticket Democrats earned here.
Among his many appealing qualities was a disarming sense of humor. Two examples, from a 1993 hearing of a Merchant Marine and Fisheries subcommittee, of which Studds was chairman, on the Boston Harbor outfall. Noting the attendance at the beginning of the session, which was held in Boston, he said: “Congressman Saxton is our ranking Republican member from New Jersey, and is reported to be, and I quote, ‘In the tunnel.’ I will let that stand.” Later, when Charles “Stormy” Mayo III despaired that his testimony had run over time, Studds assured him, “The red light does not apply to constituents of mine.”
Studds won the 10th Congressional District again in 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, and 1994, and would grow more emboldened in his legislative advocacy of issues involving gay rights and AIDS. His partner, Hara, was granted a pin officially identifying him as a congressional spouse (and refused the demands of Rep. Newt Gingrich and other Republicans that he give it back).
“In a sense, he became a role model,” the author Charles Kaiser commented to The New York Times after Studds’s death. “His experience convinced other people that it would now be possible to run as an openly gay person.”
Left: The house in 2008. Right: The house six years later. In the first view, you can see, in the telltale coloration of the shingles, where the new owner added a front page. He then cut the central stair tower far down, to dormer size. Both by Dunlap.
Studds and Hara made this their Provincetown home until 2003, when they sold the property for $2.15 million to the artist Mary Kass (1930-2009). She owned it all of 16 months, selling it to Michel Wallerstein, a New York playwright and theatrical producer, in early 2004 for $1.875 million. Those transactions would place the property in a spotlight during a long legal war over Kass and her estate.
Mary Kass was the daughter of Rose (Levy) Kass (1900-1996) and Garfield I. Kass (1890-1975), a developer who made a fortune building park-and-shop centers beginning in the 1930s. His career culminated in the 29-acre Seven Corners Shopping Center in Fairfax County, Va., which opened in 1956. This proto-mall took the form of a long, dumbbell-shaped structure surrounded by several thousand parking spaces. The first-ever suburban branch of the Julius Garfinckel & Company department store in downtown Washington anchored one end. The other end was anchored by the Woodward & Lothrop department store. In between were such mid-century staples as F. W. Woolworth, Thom McAn, Franklin Simon, Peck & Peck, and Fanny Farmer.
Garfield Kass was the chairman of the largest inaugural ball held in 1957 to celebrate Dwight D. Eisenhower’s re-election. At a White House dinner the next year, Rose Kass dazzled other guests with her 25-carat diamond earrings, 50-carat diamond ring, diamond bracelet, and diamond tiara. The New York society columnist “Cholly Knickerbocker” (Igor Cassini) said in 1960 that Rose was aiming to be the next Perle Mesta, what with her glamorous parties in Washington and Palm Beach. She made the front page of The New York Times in 1964 when gunmen in Nassau stormed a taxi and robbed her and others of jewelry worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mary Kass in 2009. Photo by Ewa Nogiec, on I Am Provincetown.
Mary Kass, their only child and heir, who had no children herself, was said to be worth anywhere from $40 million to $60 million, and to own artworks by Picasso, Matisse, and Renoir, among others
You wouldn’t have known it by the way she lived, however, in a modest-looking home at 8 Priscilla Alden Road. “Mary first came to Provincetown to study with Hans Hofmann,” the artist and gallerist Ewa Nogiec recalled in the Provincetown Artist Registry. “She made lifelong friends with Haynes Ownby, Lillian Orlowsky, and many other Hofmann students. I met her at Haynes’s studio in 1983, when I was his assistant. She was a very shy, very private person, with a big smile. We took many walks together, cooked wonderful meals, talked about art, life, Hofmann.”
The first battle of the war over Kass and her estate, in 2005, pitted her nephew and niece against Kass’s personal trainer and caregiver, Elizabeth “Betty” Villari, co-owner of the Provincetown Gym, and Kass’s psychotherapist, Mary Ellen Henry. The artist’s relatives contended that Kass was being manipulated by Villari and Henry. The court, however, awarded legal guardianship to Villari.
The next battle occurred after Kass’s death. This was over a 1992 will in which Kass left everything to her niece and nephew, versus a 2004 will in which she left them each $1 million, but bequeathed 91 Commercial and two other waterfront properties to Villari and Henry, and the artwork to the National Gallery of Art. The case was settled but left few public traces, with the possible exception of the Mary Kass Compromise Trust at the National Gallery.
By this time, 91 Commercial Street was in the hands of Wallerstein, whose plays include Chasing Happy, Mighty Real, Five Women Waiting, and Shipwrecked.
“Watching people inspires me,” he told the Banner in March 2020, just before Chasing Happy — a comedy set in town — was to be given a reading at the Provincetown Theater. “Whether it’s people interacting at the Stop & Shop, or New York City’s Central Park, or on the ferry to Boston, if I observe long enough I’m bound to see or hear something that will end up in a scene sooner or later.” He also spoke of how such observations add to his plays even after he has written them. “I love watching actors at work,” Wallerstein said, “reacting to each other, playing off each other, constantly breathing new life into the work.”
Wallerstein, who is married to the choreographer Eryc Taylor, worked with Stephen A. Magliocco Associates, an architectural practice based in Truro, on the design of the renovations. In the mid-2000s, he added a deep front porch running the length of the front facade. In the 2010s, he drastically reduced the exterior profile of the central stair tower, leaving it much more closely resembling a traditional dormer.
Wallerstein opened his home to the 2007 Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum House Tour, which had this to say about 91 Commercial:
“Visitors will be stunned by the panoramic view of the harbor when they enter through the narrow front doorway. Indeed one of the objectives of the owners during the restoration was to open the house to the waterfront. Bluestone floors and sheer white curtains frame but don’t distract from the view on the main floor. A modern dining area and efficient new kitchen with black granite countertops occupy the west side of the main room. A fireplace and sitting area fill the other end of the room, creating a fancy but not formal place to relax.
“As you ascend the stairs to the master suite, notice the iridescent glass tiles used on the floor of the bathroom. It is not surprising that the view of the harbor from the master bedroom on the second floor was the feature that sold the present owner on the house. A guest bedroom with deck is located on the top floor. The modern widows walk that crowns the house is closed during the tour.”
Of course, that’s exactly the place I’d most like to see.
Map of the vast area around the Stellwagen Bank, named to honor Studds. The map was prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
¶ Last updated on 3 October 2020.
Rob Jason wrote on 28 December 2014: The current owner of Gerry Studds’s house also added the front porch and roof extension a few years back.
Dean T. Hara wrote on 24 February 2015: While originally designed by David Carnivale — Gerry’s friend, Thomas Green, was the principal architect for 91 Commercial during construction and its renovation in 1999. Tom worked in Cambridge and shared a home in Provincetown at 168 Commercial with his husband, David Simpson.
91 Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Thumbnail image: Photograph, 2014, by David W. Dunlap.
• Thomas George Green (1931-2015)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 167365803, Cambridge.
• Mary (Miller) Henrique (1932-2011)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 74650557.
• Mary Kass (1930-2009)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 146004575, Washington. Her foot stone reads “1933,” but other accounts I’ve consulted place her birth year in 1930.
• George Fillmore Miller Jr. (1900-1978)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 155301712.
• Gerry E. Studds (1937-2006)
Find a Grave Memorial No. 16170119, Cambridge.