PROVINCETOWN – Reggie Cabral’s beautiful captain’s house, shuttered for the past 13 years, came back to life last week, restoring an old chapter in the town’s history.
The reopening of the historic house, located at 160 Commercial St. and known for its soaring white façade topped with a cupola, also began an interesting new chapter, being reintroduced to the town with a lively birthday party that ended with several of the guests being thrown in jail.
Local walking tours often point out what historians at the Provincetown Museum call the Grozier House, named for Edwin Grozier, publisher of the Boston Post, who purchased the house in 1897 from its original owner, Capt. John Atkins. Atkins built the five-bedroom house in 1820, and the story is that his wife would hang a lantern in the cupola when she sighted her husband’s ship on the horizon to let the town know he was headed back to port.
“The men would know to go down to the pier to offload (cargo) and wives knew their husbands were coming home,” related Laurel Guadazno, historian at the Provincetown Museum and Pilgrim Monument, who has called the house “one of Provincetown’s most impressive and elegant residences.”
Tourists and residents for years have walked past the house, buried behind a dense hedge, wondering what would happen to the classic structure and how they could get a peek inside. Meanwhile, the house sat silent, with paint peeling, until recently when a section of the front fence was removed and a giant dumpster appeared on the front lawn. And last Friday, a select few were invited to the 50th birthday party of Ian Leahy, the boyfriend of Jennifer Cabral, Reggie’s daughter, who after a long lawsuit involving the trust fund the house was left in, settled with her sister April Cabral Pitzner and moved in on May 24.
“They really knew how to build things back then,” Cabral said, surveying the house. “They knew how to build it to last, and it did.”
The old house, which has sat empty since 1994 when Cabral’s father moved out, needs a lot of work, including a complete electrical rewiring, a new heating system and insulation. In addition, while the water was turned off in 1994, the pipes had not been drained and most of them burst, Cabral said.
But the lines of the house and its unique features – including two “ship’s knees,” wooden brackets from a ship’s hold which are installed in the kitchen – are intact. There are beautiful wooden floors, 10-foot ceilings on the first two floors, clawfoot bathtubs and striking wooden molding and banisters. There are also holes in several places where the lathing shows through, lots of peeling paint and a few places where the floor sags.
Still, the guests last week were thrilled to be inside the legendary house, walking up to the enclosed cupola where the blue light installed there made them look like ghosts dancing on top of the roof.
“This house is haunted only with my own personal ghosts,” Cabral said, referring to the sometimes tumultuous past her family had in the home. “But the [birthday] party cleansed the house. There were really happy people here. This is just what the house needed, a burst of life.”
That burst of life during Friday night’s revelries drew a few complaints from neighbors, who called police. When officers arrived a second time to ask Cabral to turn down the music, a few words ensued, a few tempers were ignited and the result was that Cabral and two guests spent a few hours in Provincetown jail before being bailed out.
But Cabral appears familiar with having good and bad times mix together, describing her family history as “creative, artistic and highly dysfunctional.” She is planning on fixing up the house with Leahy’s help, who was a general contractor in California before moving here. The idea is to restore it enough to rent it out for weddings, she said.
“I’d like to have it the rest of my life. But no matter how long I have it, I’m going to leave it in better shape,” she said.