PROVINCETOWN — Patricia Ainsworth came home to 288A Bradford St. the day she married Victor Alexander in 1982, and she never left. For 41 years, she has lived in the post-and-beam former barn next to the Tennis Club: it was there that her husband died in 2015, there that she has learned to manage in a wheelchair over the last 20 years, and there that she grows spinach, cilantro, and parsley in the back yard.
In November of last year, the town bought the property from Ainsworth’s former landlord, Shaun Pfeiffer, for $1,475,000, planning to build up to 15 units of affordable housing there. In the 20 months since funds were approved by town meeting, town staff have been working to relocate Ainsworth.
Ainsworth, whose legs are paralyzed from spinal cord cancer, requires a wheelchair and a live-in home health aide to get through the day. The town has committed to finding her appropriate and affordable new accommodations but has not yet located a handicap-accessible two-bedroom apartment for her.
“It’s a waiting game,” she said. “It’s mentally, emotionally, physically taking its toll.”
The Bradford Street house, which Ainsworth estimates was built in 1870, is adorned with whale bones, cranberry scoops, an old sea captain’s chest, and a desiccated hornets’ nest. Ornamental shells from her late husband’s shell shop decorate every surface.
Ainsworth first came to Provincetown in the summer of 1976 with her family. She was 16. They drove down to Maine from Montreal for a vacation and, finding no vacancies in the motels there, kept driving until they reached the tip of Cape Cod. Ainsworth fell hard for the Outer Cape. The family came back every year, and at the end of every summer, she said, she would sob and scream and demand that the car be turned around.
Ainsworth met Victor Alexander in the summer of 1982, when she was 22 and working at Paparazzi’s in Truro. He’d lived his entire 53 years in Provincetown, descended from a Portuguese family of hog farmers and landscapers who had lived in town for generations. He worked as a bartender at the A-House and at Rosy and was trailed constantly by two black Labradors. For much of Ainsworth’s life, it was “a lot of me and him” in their rental tucked away in the East End.
The town began considering buying the house in March 2022 after it was listed by Pfeiffer. Chester Pfeiffer, Shaun’s father, had owned the property for decades, running the Provincetown Framing Company in a shack close to the street. In the back sits another small house; the town was able to relocate the tenant who had been living there to a rental unit at Harbor Hill this year. The purchase was approved at town meeting in April 2022.
That’s when the town and the Provincetown Housing Authority began searching for a new residence for Ainsworth. At October’s special town meeting, Ainsworth said that Town Manager Alex Morse “has been very kind and helpful.” Several options were offered, including an apartment in town, but Ainsworth visited and found that it wasn’t accessible.
“I could barely roll into the kitchen,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to turn around, and I wouldn’t be able to open cupboards or anything. It was too narrow.”
Assistant Town Manager Dan Riviello said in an email that Morse and the town “are committed to working with the tenant to find suitable housing before any development takes place.”
Finding an affordable two-bedroom apartment anywhere on the Outer Cape is difficult, Ainsworth recognizes, and she partly wishes she could just stay at 288A. She said she is currently filing for Section 8 vouchers and that the rent she has paid for decades is far below the average rate in town, though she would not say how much she currently pays. “It’s kind of ironic that this is low-income housing” for her, she said, “yet I’m being kicked out for low-income housing.”
At the same time, “It’s not easy living in an old house,” Ainsworth said. “None of my outlets work properly. And things go wrong. It’d be a luxury, I think, to live in a new house where things were all on my level.”
At that same town meeting, $200,000 was approved for demolition, debris removal, and site readiness at the property (as were similar preparations at 26 Shank Painter Road, another site slated for affordable housing).
Ainsworth will likely leave the house in the coming months. She said she will mourn the loss of its beauty and the memories of the lifetime she spent there if it is demolished. “I don’t see how a place like this could be just bulldozed,” she said.
Its demolition is not yet scheduled, but according to Building Commissioner Anne Howard the buildings at 288A are subject to the town’s demolition delay bylaw because, although they are not in the historic district, they are more than 50 years old.
The bylaw is meant “to protect from demolition historically significant buildings which reflect the historical, cultural, or architectural heritage of the Town.” It calls for a hearing before the historical commission within 30 days of a request for a demolition permit and a six-month delay of demolition if the commission determines the demolition is historically or culturally detrimental.