The family plot. [2012, Dunlap]
Reginald Warren “Reggie” Cabral (1923-1996) was born in Provincetown to Mary T. “Mamie” (Taves) Cabral (1899-1969) and William “Captain Bill” Cabral (1898-1972), who was a fisherman and party boat operator. He grew up at 122 Commercial Street as the world beyond marched steadily into the second global war of the 20th century. He wrote an agonized poem “Why This War” for the 1940-1941 Long Pointer, not long after which he found himself serving as yeoman first class aboard U.S.S. Harry F. Bauer, a destroyer minelayer fighting — often under great peril and with more than one close call — in the Pacific Theater.
After World War II, he and his brother-in-law Frank J. Hurst Jr. (1916-2001) bought the Atlantic House. It’s hard to imagine many musical venues that headlined Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Eartha Kitt within a one-month period, but that was Cabral’s lineup in the late summer of 1955. Cabral also “opened the doors of his club to such young and rising painters as Mark Rothko, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, Franz Kline, and Red Grooms,” Peter Manso wrote in Ptown: Art, Sex, and Money on the Outer Cape (2002), “with the result that he assembled the core of an important collection, one he supplemented with regular purchases of works by other Provincetown artists.”
“All of the artists would congregate in the Big Room where jazz would be played and Meara and I guarded the door,” the artist Selina Trieff recalled years later.
In 1959, Cabral and Meara McKie Cabral (1926-1996) were wed. Meara exhibited her drawings and sculpture at the Front Street Gallery, 432 Commercial Street, in the summer of 1961. The couple had three daughters: April Cabral, born in April 1960; September Amanda “Mandy” Cabral, born in September 1962; and Jennifer Eugenia Cabral, born in December 1969.
Between Mandy’s birth and Jennifer’s, in 1963, the Cabrals purchased the magnificent Grozier House at 160 Commercial Street and the private Grozier Park opposite. They moved into the house and, the next year, offered to sell the park to the town for $75,000 (an 87.5 percent markup over the price they’d paid a year earlier for both parcels). The town demurred on a purchase and on condemnation. So the Cabrals eventually built the Boatslip Motor Inn, sometime between 1968 and 1970.
Meanwhile, Reggie’s first-class collection of art kept growing, to include Francis Bacon, Keith Haring, Charles W. Hawthorne, Jasper Johns, Karl Knaths, Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Max, James Wingate Parr, Myron Stout, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wesselmann. Many works were on display at the Atlantic House.
“By a strange combination of timing, accident, and personal preference, he came to embody something not just important, but crucial and visceral about this community … a native son who reinvented himself, who created a mythic aspect to his life here in town. He did what most people who come to Provincetown from elsewhere hope to do. He transformed himself into his own new image.”
In the early 1970s, Cabral began transforming the A House into a gay venue. According to Manso’s account in Ptown, Reggie’s embrace of the gay world so infuriated Meara that she slashed a small Larry Rivers portrait of the couple into tatters. As a consequence, Manso wrote, the artworks were immediately removed from the club. (A less colorful explanation of the migration was furnished in Reggie’s obit in the Banner: “As time progressed, Cabral’s collection of paintings and photos grew too large to house safely in the Atlantic House and were moved to his home. There, a collection of abstract and Provincetown art began to fill any available space on the walls.”)
The Cabrals divorced in 1976. Meara and Jennifer moved to Georgia. An enormous tragedy befell the family in 1984 when Mandy, then 21, was murdered in Bradenton, Fla., just north of Sarasota, where she had taken up residence earlier in the year. The cottage in the rear yard of 160 Commercial Street is still known as Mandy’s Cottage.
Reggie Cabral collected more than artwork. He owned first editions and literary ephemera pertaining to John Dos Passos, Norman Mailer, Eugene O’Neill, and Tennessee Williams. During the O’Neill centennial in 1988, he was the host of a benefit for the Fine Arts Work Center at this house. The attraction was his collection of O’Neill memorabilia.
Two years later, he was the host here of a “literary soirée” in the midst of the national furor over an impending criminal trial involving Mapplethorpe’s work. The Cincinnati Contemporary Arts Center and its director had been charged with obscenity and illegal use of a minor in connection with seven photos in a posthumous retrospective. In a $50-a-head benefit for the Provincetown Art Association, Cabral offered to show his private collection of Mapplethorpe photographs, which he had begun collecting in the mid-1980s. “At the time, the discussion was of their artistic merit and their beauty,” he told The Boston Globe. “I would like the people who come to the literary soirée to have the opportunity to return to those aesthetic issues and be able to ignore the current hoopla.” If that weren’t soirée enough, Mailer was also on hand to give a reading.
If there were a Provincetown salon in those years, 160 Commercial was at many times its setting. “The first time I visited there just blew my mind,” said Andy Towle, who writes and runs the gay news blog Towleroad and publishes the minimagazine Ptown Hacks, with Michael Goff. It was a reception for Fine Arts Work Center fellows in honor of Henry Geldzahler, the first curator of 20th-century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the famous friend of Warhol, David Hockney, and others. “I remember walking into the house and just being astonished at the floor-to-ceiling artwork there, and glass cases with first editions of Tennessee Williams, etc. For a budding writer it was a very heady experience.”
One of Cabral’s last acquisitions, with April, was the Grand Central Café at 5 Masonic Place, directly opposite the A House. They bought it for $160,000 in 1992.
What made Cabral a true man of the town — and a symbol of its fast-vanishing past — was that he did not neglect Provincetown’s seafaring past. For several years near the end of his life, he worked with James Theriault on two extremely important historical books. Wooden Ships and Iron Men, a year-by-year chronicle of the era of sail, doubled as the catalog to an exhibition in the summer of 1994 at the Heritage Museum, 356 Commercial Street (now the Public Library). A year later came Every First Monday: A History of King Hiram’s Lodge, Provincetown, and Its Members: 1795-1995. Theriault was given sole credit as the author, but he noted his indebtedness to Cabral’s historical collection.
“Great as our arts history is, it’s only a small part of the story of Provincetown,” Cabral told Jeff McLaughlin of The Globe in 1994, as the Heritage Museum show was being readied. “And many of the natives, the working people of this town, don’t really connect to it. To them, it’s not their history. I want to show them that the real history of Provincetown is about the ocean, about whaling, about Provincetown sailing to the farthest seas of the earth. I want the people to feel the museum here is their museum.”
An hour after closing the A House on Monday, 19 August 1996, Cabral died of a heart attack. He was buried — with military and Masonic honors — beside his parents and his daughter.
“He did more than acquire art, or preside over a popular bar,” Seth Rolbein wrote in Provincetown Magazine a week after Reggie’s death. “By a strange combination of timing, accident, and personal preference, he came to embody something not just important, but crucial and visceral about this community … a native son who reinvented himself, who created a mythic aspect to his life here in town. He did what most people who come to Provincetown from elsewhere hope to do. He transformed himself into his own new image.
“None of this made Reggie Cabral saintly. But it did in some ways make him prescient. It also put him in the position of being the living symbol of Provincetown’s transformation. All the town’s elements seemed to coalesce, somehow much managed to reside within this one small man who was not always articulate, who did not always remember things the same way others did, whose life (to those who did not know him well) seemed neither simple nor obvious.”
Only three months later, Meara Cabral perished of smoke inhalation during a fire that devastated the Maushope residence for the elderly at 44 Harry Kemp Way. She was 70.
“Y1” on his service member’s stone means yeoman first class. The Masonic square-and-compass symbol separates his birth and death dates. [2012, Dunlap]
• Find a Grave Memorial No. 51635551.
• Provincetown’s Historic Cemeteries and Memorials, by Amy Whorf McGuiggan, Memorial No. 79.
¶ Last updated on 10 December 2021.