29 Alden Street

29 Alden Street. [2012, Dunlap]

Cape End Harbor Condominium (Units 1-5). At the turn of the 20th century, this large three-story building was the home of John F. Francis, listed in a 1901 directory as a hairdresser whose shop was at 306 Commercial Street, in the old-style numbering (present-day No. 331). Francis sold the property in 1903 to Antone Foster, who operated it as a rooming house, primarily for fishermen, as the 1910 United States Census makes clear. The enumeration lists 50 “boarders” at this address, every one of them Portuguese.¹ There was “a kitchen and adjoining dining hall on the first floor, and a second story filled with bunks and hammocks,” George “Moe” Van Dereck wrote in the 2014 Provincetown Portuguese Festival booklet.

“It was the first place many neophyte fishermen came to stay where they could find room and board without paying up front, instead supplying back pay upon returning from their first voyage on one of the Yankee fishing boats,” Van Dereck wrote. “A good many Portuguese seamen found their way here from the Azores as they mingled with the Yankee fishing schooners, and decided to give Provincetown’s fleet a try, given its proximity to the bountiful waters of the Grand Banks. Many spent their first nights at 29 Alden Street.”

In the 1940s, this was the residence of Gertrude C. Gregory (1898-1968), a homemaker and native of Portugal. One month before V-E Day, which ended World War II in Europe, she lost her son, 1st Lt. Matthew A. Gregory. He was 30 years old. Lieutenant Gregory had landed with the Rangers at Normandy in the first wave of D-Day and been decorated with the Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster, the Bronze Star, and the Presidential Unit Citation. He was killed in action in Germany. Five years after his death, he was honored in the creation of Matthew A. Gregory Square at the foot of High Pole Hill, not far from his mother’s house.

Foster and his wife, Florence, sold the house in 1946 to the real-estate agent John R. Agna, who turned around and resold it the same year to Earle S. Johnson. During his years here, Johnson was elected president of the Provincetown Yacht and Tennis Club. His father-in-law, Sivert J. Benson, was a co-founder of the Benson Young & Downs Insurance Agency and also owned the Kalmar Village development just over the Truro line, in Beach Point. The Johnsons spent their winters on Key West, in what The Advocate told its readers was the oldest house in town.

The Alden Street property was purchased from Johnson in 1959 by Jacob H. “Jay” Saffron (1911-1981) and his wife Catherine C. “Pat” (Murphy) Saffron (1911-1993). “The Saffrons over the years renovated the small rooms into five apartments for rent,” their daughter, Judith B. Saffron, said in 2018. “There were two old sheds in the rear of the property which were taken down and rebuilt into a large darkroom for Mr. Saffron’s photography.” The front yard was graced, Judith Saffron said, by the largest catalpa tree in Provincetown. She acquired 29 Alden Street from her parents in 1980.

Judith Saffron was the first woman firefighter in Provincetown, but had to fight in the early 1970s to get her position on the Rescue Squad. She was told by the Board of Fire Engineers that she had to be a firefighter in order to serve on the squad, and that — as a woman — she could not be a firefighter. Benedict F. Fitzgerald Jr., of Cambridge and Hyannisport, a longtime attorney for the Kennedy family, read about the matter in the papers; telephoned Saffron’s mother, Catherine; and offered to take the case for $1. They won the day and she joined the department on Pumper No. 5, eventually becoming an emergency medical technician and joining the Rescue Squad. She moved to Maine, worked as a fiberglass patcher at Hinckley Yachts, then joined the Army. Saffron was a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division, in military intelligence, before joining the Special Operations Command, 4th Psychological Operations Group. Most of her career was then spent in the Pacific. For three years, she headed a forward detachment working for the Commander in Chief of the United States Pacific Command, in Hawaii. She trained joint forces in combined integration of conventional warfare and psychological operations. “I traveled the world,” Saffron said in 2018, “put in a few wars, and had 16 years on jump status.” She retired, after 25 years, as a master sergeant.

Saffron sold this property in 2005 to Cassandra Benson and Mary Alice Wells. The next year, Benson and Wells created the Cape End Harbor Condominium by dividing the property into seven units. The main house is composed of Units 1 through 5. Unit 6 is the building that Jacob Saffron used as a darkoom. Unit 7 is a garage and shack that once served as Moe Van Dereck’s Alden Street Workshop.

The catalpa tree was felled in 2007.

My guess is that the building began as a Cape house whose outlines are still obvious, and then greatly expanded with a three-story annex. [2012, Dunlap]

The three-story annex as seen from Cemetery Road. [2012, Dunlap]

The buildings of the Cape End Harbor Condominium. [Town Map]

Darlene Johnston Andrews wrote on 7 December 2014: [To Andy Ewas] Your great-great-grandfather, Antone Foster (from the Azores), was the boarding master.

Judith B. Saffron wrote on 12 August 2018: The large house at 29 Alden Street was an old rooming house primarily for Portuguese fisherman. The 1910 census recorded 54 boarders for that year. In the front yard the largest Catalpa tree in Provincetown stood before being cut down in 2007. The house was bought in 1960 from a Mr. Earl Johnson of Key West, Fla., by Jay H. Saffron of New York City. … There were two old sheds in the rear of the property which were taken down and rebuilt into a large darkroom for Mr. Saffron’s photography. The Saffrons over the years renovated the small rooms into five apartments for rent. The owner of the property, Judith B Saffron, sold the building in 2005.

29 Alden Street on the Town Map.

Also at this address

Unit 6.

Unit 7.

¹ Transcribed as best as possible from the hard-to-read handwritten census ledger, they were: Frank Albert, Antone Balet, Domingo Balet, Frank Bichiginaha, Antone Bispa, Manuel Bullier, Manuel Bunanca, Joseph Cocnoom, Joseph Corelota, Joseph Cron, Joseph Dalmuda, Antone Donina, Frank Enselma, Manuel Fadagahla, Manuel Fadagahla Jr., Joaquin Frade, Joseph Freira, John Gallio, Louis Gaqueta, Joseph Germana, Joseph Goames, Irmando Janaido, Largara Janarda, Antone Joquita, Rumigo Joquita, Frank Joseph, Domingo C. Lisboa, Alfred Lopes, Joaquin Lopes, Antone Manso, Louis Manso, Joaquin Maqundo, Manuel Marshall, Antone Martin, John Monica, Lawrence Monica, Joaquin Paciadina, Manuel Paciadina, Joseph Pashoa, Manuel R. Periginnan, Frank Pite, Frank Ruge, Antone Santos, Joaquin Sardo, Frank Silver, Louis Simoro, Joseph Tasha, Domingo Ventura, Joseph Ventura, and Joseph Vincent.

¶ Last updated on 30 August 2018.

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