9 Arch Street

9 Arch Street. [2016, Dunlap]


The ebullient female impersonator Arthur Blake and his business manager and lover, Irving Cohen, lived in this house (c1790), which was originally a three-quarter Cape. Blake made his Provincetown debut in 1953 at the Atlantic House. He would open his shows in a tuxedo, then change into a stunning gown for the second act, John Hardy Wright wrote. Blake and his alter egos — Gloria Swanson, Bette Davis, Tallulah Bankhead — had a long run at the Crown & Anchor. Davis once remarked that she watched Blake perform to learn about herself. Claire Sprague, the next owner, had Claude Jensen make the “1812” plaque, but later learned the house was about two decades older than that.


Advertisement in the Lower Cape Newspaper, 28 June 1972. [Provincetown Public Library]


The “1812” marker, made by Claude Jensen for Claire Sprague, understates the house’s by about two decades. [2016, Dunlap]


Claire Sprague wrote on 24 May 2010: I bought 9 Arch from Arthur Blake and Irving Cohen and enjoyed it for 30-odd years, when it was sold to the current owners. I had Claude Jensen make the 1812 marker on the house on the basis of information I then had. Discovered later that the house is more likely 1790. So do correct your 1812 dating! [Corrected.] A wonderful house, a remarkable project!


Allan MacKinnon and Steve Cook wrote on 4 February 2014: My partner and I are the current owners of the house at 9 Arch Street. I would like to validate the c1790 date for the house. Can you tell us where we might be able to do that? [I put them in touch with Claire Sprague.]


John Uhlich wrote on 26 February 2014: Irving Cohen was my high school speech teacher. Cohen taught for many years at Riverside Brookfield High School [Riverside, Ill.]. I never met Blake, but saw him at R.B.H.S. occasionally when he was lending a hand with a play that Cohen and his Masque and Wig Club was putting on. Do you know when Cohen died, by chance? When did they sell the house? [I told him that I did not yet know when Cohen died.]


Debbie McKown wrote on 25 November 2016: Information about the history of 9 Arch Street may be in the research that I have which was done by Claude Jensen who originally made the floated-over and other historic plaques. Claude in his 90s began to make the plaques with my husband, Rich McKown (1947-2004), an artist. When Claude died, his sons Grady and Hank gave the kilns and all other enameling supplies to Rich who continued to design and make the plaques until his death. Since then I have made the plaques for the Fine Arts Work Center and historically significant homes, studios and businesses. An example is the top plaque on the Schoolhouse Building [492-494 Commercial Street].

I will look through my documents and would welcome hearing from anyone who has found information. It’s very important, though often extremely difficult, to accurately document some structures for various reasons, the loss of records when the Town Hall burned down, buildings moved to other locations, etc. [Contact information at the time of writing: 646 Commercial Street, panorama@neaccess.net, 978-621-8674 (mobile), 508-487-9073 (home).]


9 Arch Street on the Town Map, showing property lines.


¶ Last updated on 24 April 2011.


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