The leasing contest for eight dune shacks in the Cape Cod National Seashore — and the National Park Service’s eviction of Sal Del Deo, 95, and Janet Armstrong, 71, from two more of them, decisions that the agency eventually reversed — was a major news story this year.
Many of the people interviewed about the dune shacks mentioned the role of Sal’s wife, Josephine Del Deo, who died in 2016, in securing the Province Lands for the National Seashore. A pivotal town meeting vote on March 13, 1961 plays the starring role in her New York Times obituary by David W. Dunlap, as her actions that day helped ensure that the entirety of the publicly owned Province Lands were included in the Seashore, rather than developed according to plans that had been submitted to Provincetown town officials.
Those plans for development included a golf course in the West End Moors that inspired dithering lawmakers in Boston to support a bill transferring ownership of 1,475 acres from the state to the town.
Stormy Mayo, a former member of the town’s conservation commission, remembers finding a two-by-three-foot watercolor rendering of the proposed Province Lands development plan behind a file cabinet in town hall.
“It would have been the 1980s,” says Mayo. “I was looking for something else when I found this beautifully done poster, too big for a drawer and too heavy to roll up, just wedged behind a file cabinet.”
Mayo put the poster back and never saw it again. He says his memory of it isn’t perfect, but he recalls at least two large hotels and perhaps as many as five around Race Point Road. There was a golf course, too, and other details that Mayo says “were really fanciful — not at all consistent with a sand-dune environment.”
Town reports from that era say that Boston landscape architects Sidney Shurcliff and Vincent Merrill were commissioned by the select board in 1960 to illustrate a plan for the Province Lands.
Provincetown Library Director Amy Raff says she has never seen that plan or the painted poster that Mayo remembers — but she did find an October 1960 news clipping from the Cape Cod Standard Times that described them.
According to the article, the painted map showed five motels and 417 residential lots in the Beech Forest and Race Point Road area — roughly where the Beech Forest bike trail now runs. Clapps Pond, north of Route 6, was to be dredged into “a beautiful swimming and boating area” with a parking lot and bathhouse. A golf course built on the mud dredged from the pond would run between Shank Painter Pond and Herring Cove.
An immense battle broke out in town after that article was published, much of it documented in archives at the Provincetown History Project. Mary Heaton Vorse testified against the town’s plans in Congress; Hazel Hawthorne Werner bought ads in the newspaper opposing them. State Sen. Edward Stone revised his bill in the legislature from one that gave the town 1,475 acres of the Province Lands to one that merely studied the idea.
Even that bill was mooted when Del Deo, the painter Ross Moffett, and their allies persuaded voters to reject every proposal to take acreage from the Province Lands. The final vote on their petitioned article at the March 1961 town meeting was 144 to 61.
But that wasn’t the end of the town’s plans.
Only four months later, at another town meeting on July 10, 1961, voters endorsed a plan to ask the state for 41 acres of the West End Moors for a “harbor of refuge” that could protect the fishing fleet in the winter and service yachts in the summer. In her book The Watch at Peaked Hill, Del Deo wrote that she tried to stop that plan, too, but the voters would not be dissuaded.
There was no breakwater in the center of town then, and the fishing piers there were dangerously exposed to violent storms from the south. The most Del Deo and Moffett could do was get Sen. Stone to add a clause to his bill that would automatically return the land to the National Seashore if no harbor were built there within 17 years.
Shurcliff and Merrill drew up the plans for Moors project, too — and the Army Corps of Engineers still has them. The drawings from 1963 show a 200-foot-wide channel through the breakwater and a seven-acre basin behind it that could hold 53 trawler-sized boats, along with parking for 200 cars.
The Army Corps didn’t like that plan, it turns out. It wanted something bigger.
By the Army’s math, $2 million to shelter 53 boats was not cost effective. The Corps counterproposed a dredged 50-acre mooring field behind the natural shelter of Long Point, accessed by a brand-new 3,400-foot causeway with a road on top and 30 acres of filled land behind it. About six acres of that would provide parking for 150 cars, and the new pier at the tip of the causeway would be almost exactly halfway between the Provincetown Inn and Long Point.
That would cost only $1.2 million, the Army Corps wrote to the town in March 1965, and would protect 240 boats, making it cost effective.
But something had changed in Provincetown. Two select board members resigned in 1964, and the voters lowered Town Manager Walter Lawrence’s salary on town meeting floor by a vote of 170 to 161, prompting his resignation.
By June 1966, the select board had told the Army Corps that the town wanted a breakwater just offshore from the piers in the middle of town — a plan that had been authorized in 1948 but never built.
The Corps assented, and that breakwater was finally begun in 1970 and finished in 1972 at a cost of $4.3 million. The 41-acre slice of the West End Moors that the town had secured from the state in 1962 became part of the National Seashore in 1973.