C-Scape | Dune Shack 1 (Wolfe)
Text last updated in 2015 | The Dune Shacks of Peaked Hill Bars Historic District were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, after a 23-year struggle by preservationists against the once-intransigent National Park Service. Fifteen of the 19 shacks are within town limits. The westernmost is C-Scape.
The shack was begun in 1937 by Albert Noones, of Cape End Motors, and his brother, Edward Noones. It was owned until 1979 by the painter Jean Cohen, who had studied with Leo Manso. The artists John Grillo, Jan Müller, and Marcia Marcus also used it. The last full-time occupant was the psychologist Larry McCready. It was moved to its present location in 1978. It’s been managed since 1996 by the nonprofit Provincetown Community Compact, run by Jay Critchley and Tom Boland, and made available to artists and writers.
About the shacks
Along the Back Shore, settlement meets sea, and the built environment is humbled. The Pilgrim Monument looks distant, almost inconsequential. There is no place for human-engineered grandeur against the mighty Atlantic Ocean, the treacherous Peaked Hill Bars, and the towering, ever-shifting dunes. Instead, snugness, modesty, and adaptability are rewarded. Structures perform the most elementary services of salvation and shelter.
From the Old Harbor station to the Truro line are Provincetown’s 15 renowned dune shacks. (Three more — the Wells, Jones and Armstrong shacks — are slightly east of the Truro line. They’re included in the Peaked Hill Bars Historic District, but not in Provincetown Encyclopedia.)
The very notion of these shacks is happily inimical to precision. Dates, occupants, and anecdotes will inevitably differ among sources. There isn’t even an agreed-upon naming convention. Provincetown Encyclopedia borrows the west-to-east numbering system used by Robert J. Wolfe in his seminal 2005 study for the Park Service, “Dwelling in the Dunes.”
The shacks are a source of identity to the town and a half-century of tension between residents and the National Park Service. The definition of cultural landmarks has expanded to embrace such eccentric structures, which once would have been swept away to render the seashore as pristine as possible. Indeed, some shacks were razed, leaving the dune community especially wary of the park service’s intentions. It wasn’t until 2010 that a comprehensive management plan was advanced for all 18 shacks.
In 2023, the dune shack community — whose members trace their occupancy back as far as the 1940s, long before the creation of the national seashore — was convulsed by an ominous new threat. The service announced that it would evict most current residents and re-lease the structures, apparently putting a premium on getting top dollar. When the rangers came for 94-year-old Salvatore Del Deo, as they did, the story drew the attention of the national press (including The New York Times) and of Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren. The park service was compelled by political pressure, bad press, and local outrage to relent — just a bit. As I write this summary in November 2023, however, the situation remains fluid. (This was the most recent development: “2 of 8 Leases May Go to Local Applicants; But One Previous Dune Family Gives Up, Worn Down by the Process,” by Paul Benson, The Provincetown Independent, 21 November 2023.)
If you want to see the shacks for yourself, the best way is on foot, but this can be arduous. It makes sense for a newcomer to get the lay of the land in one of the SUVs operated by Art’s Dune Tours. The business was founded in 1946 by Arthur J. Costa as Art’s Beach Taxi and is continued by his son, Robert Costa.
Important dune etiquette: If you go out to see the shacks, please maintain a respectful distance from them. Dune residents are out there for solitude, tranquillity and privacy, not to entertain strangers or answer questions.
¶ Republished on 24 November 2023.