PROVINCETOWN — Anton “Napi” Van Dereck Haunstrup, 87, who held onto the town’s rustic, bohemian past with his vast art collection, his stock of employee housing, and his 45-year-old restaurant, died at Cape Cod Hospital on Christmas Day due to complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia.
In one of Provincetown’s two “Napi-villes,” a warren of humble dwellings with stunning views of the Long Point lighthouse, his tenants last week were mourning the loss of the man and worrying about their future. Van Dereck, who was rarely called by either his actual first or last names, created Napi’s restaurant in 1975 and acquired over a dozen properties in town, including clusters at 25 to 27A Bradford Street and around his restaurant on Freeman Street. The buildings house his employees and others and are mostly occupied year-round.
“They are more affordable than affordable housing in this town,” said Frances Cutter, a Bradford Street tenant.
Van Dereck was known as a landlord who provided safe harbors for Provincetown workers and dreamers who are not millionaires, Cutter said. She met Van Dereck when she worked on a whale-watch boat. A lover of nature and animals, he was a major supporter of the Provincetown Center for Coastal Studies.
Down at the restaurant, one can trace the organic way in which the talented and visionary Van Dereck grew his empire from found objects, old wood, stained glass, handmade lights of scallop shells, and a brick wall jutting at strange angles near the bar. The restaurant itself was built from old garages where Van Dereck and his wife, Helen Haunstrup, had run a flea market on Freeman Street. The brick wall was made by the late artist Conrad Malicoat.
The restaurant’s décor owes a debt to one of Van Dereck’s best friends, the late artist Jackson Lambert, said Jim Bakker, an art dealer who fed Van Dereck’s voracious appetite for old Provincetown art.
Above the bar is a handmade model dragger called the Panther. It was built by another of Van Dereck’s best friends, Richard “Dickie” Oldenquist, who went down with the Patricia Marie, a scalloper, in 1976. The Panther was the model for a boat that Oldenquist dreamed of having one day.
“Very few times did Napi shed copious tears in public, but he could do so at the thought of Dickie” was a notable line in his official obituary, produced by the Gately Funeral Home.
During his long stewardship of the restaurant, Van Dereck stayed open year-round when most of his competitors shut down for the off season. He even added lunch in winter only, from October through Mother’s Day.
“It was kind of wonderful,” Bakker said. “The winter was not a money-maker. But he was good to his staff and they were good to him. He wanted to have a year-round place and he was fortunate to buy places for his employees.” Despite multiple attempts to contact his staff, the Independent was unable to interview them.
The properties making up the Napi-ville on Bradford Street are assessed by the town of Provincetown at $2 million and include eight buildings with 15 bedrooms. The dwellings, which still have cesspools, are about as pre-existing nonconforming as you can get.
The property includes what was once the Barnstormers’ Theater, an oddly shaped 1915 venue where a version of the Provincetown Players performed. A tower that must have been the stage still shoots up from an otherwise ordinary house. The building is part of the history of the town that Van Dereck spent his life recapturing in art.
Van Dereck wanted to show his art collection and so his restaurant became a personal museum.
One of Napi’s favorite pieces, of men working on a fishing net, hangs over the dining room’s cozy wood stove, Bakker said. It’s a Ross Moffett, one of many Van Dereck owned.
He did not collect to acquire the works of particular artists, Bakker said. He collected art that reminded him of his childhood. He’d buy multiple paintings of the same tree, home, ice house, or wharf, because every artist had a different take on the subjects that he loved.
The Gately obituary adds that his deep reverence for art was a way to celebrate his father, the artist Anton “Tony” Van Dereck Haunstrup.
Napi was born in Des Plaines, Ill., on March 12, 1932, but was conceived in Provincetown at Captain Jack’s Wharf, Bakker said. His mother, Catherine Murphy, known as “Pat,” and his father moved back and forth between New York City and Provincetown until Tony died when Napi was 11.
His mother then married Jay Saffron, a cameraman, and in 1947 MGM/Metro News sent Saffron and the family to Egypt and Israel. The Eye of Horus symbol, which is a relic that appears in various forms in Napi’s restaurant, harks back to that time.
Napi attended the Governor Bradford School in Provincetown, Friends Academy and Manumit Academy in New York City, and Rhodes Preparatory School, and eventually graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland after a three-year stint in Alaska with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Stories vary as to when he was given his nickname, but all agree that it was short for “Napoleon.” He was opinionated. His love for history, for nature, for art, and for his Provincetown made him a fierce protector and passionate storyteller.
One of Napi’s favorite sayings: “The way it used to was.”
Bakker, who met the Van Derecks in 1985 when they came to one of his auctions in Cambridge, moved to Provincetown because of Napi’s insistence that he run the annual benefit auction for the Provincetown Art Association and Museum (PAAM).
They shared a love and deep knowledge of Provincetown art. Van Dereck amassed hundreds of works. At auctions, if Napi wanted something, he got it.
“He kept his hand up,” Bakker said.
Buying art was Van Dereck’s one vice, Bakker said. Napi and Helen lived across the street from the restaurant. They did not own fancy cars. Napi ate at Napi’s every day, Bakker said.
He never sold his art.
For years, the two art lovers concocted plans for displaying Van Dereck’s collection. They had a draft of a book with over 80 works and plans for a permanent exhibit at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum. None of this came to fruition. The plan now, Bakker said, is that Van Dereck’s collection will be given to PAAM.
Art, sailing, and animals aside, probably his greatest passion was reading. “He was a voracious reader consuming book after book and never letting a day go by without reading the New York Times and doing the crossword puzzle,” noted Gately’s obituary. “He could tell you the histories of the world but could also expound in infinite detail the life of a termite.”
In addition to his wife of 57 years, Helen Haunstrup, and a sister, Judith B. Saffron, he is survived by a brother, Moe Van Dereck.
Family and friends are invited to call at the Gately Funeral Home, 94 Harry Kemp Way, Provincetown on Friday, Jan. 3 from 4 to 7 p.m. A graveside service will take place Saturday, Jan. 4, at 10 a.m. at Provincetown Cemetery, 24 Cemetery Road.
Donations in Napi’s memory may be made to the Center for Coastal Studies, 5 Holway Ave., Provincetown 02657.