PROVINCETOWN — The Provincetown Inn was opened in 1925 by Joshua Paine as a two-story, 28-suite hotel with a restaurant, but its footprint and offerings have been shaped and reshaped by each of its five successive owners.
The most radical transformation came in 1957, when under the management of Chester G. Peck Jr. the inn expanded into the harbor. Peck, who had become the inn’s third owner in 1935, was, writes David W. Dunlap in Building Provincetown, “an absolute dynamo” who managed to persuade the town to allow him to fill four acres of waterfront, where he built a giant parking lot, a one-story motel, and the beloved Pilgrim hat-shaped pool.
It was a move that “flips the modern paradigm on its head: unapologetically subordinating the beachfront and wetlands to the car,” writes Dunlap.
From 1966 to 1972, artist Don Aikens painted floor-to-ceiling murals throughout the property that depict Provincetown’s history and geography. Aikens’s commanding illustrations still set the mood in the tangle of sprawling hallways, seating areas, event spaces, and eateries that make up the place, transforming the spaces into something more like an old art museum than an inn.
The décor, featuring oversized Naugahyde sofas, plastic plants, and thick, smelly carpets, evokes an era of mid-priced motels not seen much in these parts since the end of the second Clinton administration. In an age dominated by faux-midcentury sterility, however, the inn offers a welcome dose of nostalgia.
Even during Provincetown’s busiest summer weekends, the property is noticeably quiet, with the feeling of retreat interrupted only occasionally by a wedding party and always by the sociable scene around the pool, which is open to the public. Sometimes, the only people in the interior venues are the figures captured in the murals.
Peck sold the inn to a group of investors in 1972, with Brooke S. Evans emerging as the owner, perhaps after a foreclosure in 1977, according to Dunlap’s account.
This August, the Evans family put the inn up for sale, and with the news came a wave of anxiety among devoted guests and visitors about what comes next.
Every year for the past 15, Janice Labroad and her husband have arrived at the inn on the Sunday following Labor Day weekend, staying for a week and a half. “We really like to settle in,” she says. “We even bring our own coffeemaker.”
Just outside her room, in the inn’s original two-story interior court from 1925, Labroad is seated at an out-of-place cafe table, laptop open. There’s hardly anyone else around. She seems at home.
“They always bring me a table from the back so I can get work done,” she says. She relishes being a regular. “I’d rather come here than go wander Italy and come home exhausted,” she says. She wonders aloud what might happen to the price of a stay here after a sale. (For a mid-September stay, a standard room runs $249 on Friday night and $309 on Saturday. A room with a water view is a little more, $289 on Friday and $349 on Saturday.)
Out at the pool, Bruce Richard is wearing a blue Speedo, chatting with friends made right there. The pool is a place that brings townies and visitors together.
“I’ve met a lot of people at the pool who live in town, who are visiting, and we’re all good friends,” says Richard. Drinks and food are served, another big draw. On a windless September afternoon, people say hello to one another and find their lounge chairs. Or stand around and chat.
Richard has stayed in the same room during the same September week for 15 years, he says. It’s one floor above Labroad’s. There’s a deck that overlooks the pool and harbor and a thick wall-to-wall blue carpet.
If new owners come along, Richard says, he would like to see new flooring. “The rugs are shot,” he says. But he feels just as strongly that not much should change. “They’ve got to keep all the murals,” he says. “Those are really great.” He hasn’t witnessed much turnover in the years he’s been coming, and that contributes to the congeniality of the place. “I just really hope the new owners don’t get rid of the staff,” he adds.
At breakfast the next morning ($15.99 for the buffet, not included in the room rate), Adele Travisano and Catherine Sandquist, college roommates turned lifelong friends, tell me they’ve been vacationing at the inn together for the past 20 years. “It’s a great spot,” says Sandquist. The two are seated by a window in the Beachside Breakfast Room, which overlooks the pool and harbor. The buffet menu, like the room’s decor, evokes the aughts.
They usually stay in the Breakwater Room. “It’s the water,” Travisano says, taking a sip of her coffee. “You open the door, and you’re right there.”