The unadorned structure on Provincetown’s Main Street is set back from the galleries, cafes and shops along the popular thoroughfare. For the past century, this nondescript grey-shingled building has been home to the Beachcombers Club – an informal gathering spot for many of the country’s most famous creative types.
Many noted artists from the late 1800s and early 1900s studied in Europe. After making their mark in cities like Paris or Munich, they’d go to live and paint in small seaside villages, called pensiones. “These pensiones would often be built around an evening dinner,” said Bill Evaul the Beachcombers Club’s current “skipper.” “And they’d be out in the field painting all day and then they’d come back and have dinner and talk about art or whatever they felt like talking about.”
When World War One broke out, many of these artists returned to the U-S to escape the conflicts, and hundreds were attracted to Provincetown, a seaside village reminiscent of the pensiones they’d left behind in Europe.
The Beachcombers Club building was once a rigging loft. The building’s owner abruptly left town, leaving the building in such poor condition that it was about to fall off the pier on which it stood. “So this loose band of artists came together and bought the building,” Evaul said.
Over the years, Beachcomber members have included artists like Charles Hawthorne, William Paxton, George Elmer Brown and many others who were drawn by the camaraderie and informality the club offers.
Membership is by invitation. “The harder somebody lobbies for membership, the more difficult it is for them to gain membership,” Evaul said with a laugh. But he quickly adds that if a club member recommends a friend for membership, they’re usually admitted – the only strict criteria being that they must be involved in the arts. Painters, sculptors, writers and musicians have all become members.
The only real requirement of Beachcombers Club members is that they “fit in” – a fairly loose definition. Each week, a club member volunteers to cook dinner for the group. It’s always pot luck, and as Evaul said, “Sometimes you get the best gourmet meal you could have, and other times you get something you wouldn’t want to feed to the dog.”
The club’s weathered building is largely ignored by summer tourists. “And that’s the way we’ve liked it for many, many years,” said Evaul. “It’s much simpler, because the idea is just a place to unwind. You just wanna come here, let off a little steam, and maybe have some good conversation with fellow artists.”
The Beachcombers Club celebrated its 100th anniversary last year.