Fred A. Bernstein

The Provincetown Outflow Settles in Truro

Cape Cod's first "gay suburb"

Published in The New York Times, November 14, 2003

Published: November 14, 2004, Sunday

JIM BENNETTE and David Cowan met at the Boatslip, a beachside bar in Provincetown, 17 years ago. For the next few years, they visited Provincetown each summer, part of an influx of gay men that goes back at least 40 years.

But when the couple, who own a gallery in Boston, decided to build a weekend house in the late 1990's, they chose a site in Truro, 10 miles south of Provincetown. From their living room, they can see the lights of "P'town" across Cape Cod Bay. ''We wanted to be close to it, but not in it,'' Mr. Bennette said.

As more gay couples settle down -- they can get married in Massachusetts -- Truro has become their haven. Not long ago, Provincetown was a world unto itself, said Nick Brown, the president of Thomas D. Brown Real Estate Associates, which has two offices in Truro.
But in the last year, he said, nearly a third of his firm's sales in Truro have been to same-sex couples -- what he calls ''the Provincetown outflow.''

''They're looking for access to Provincetown -- but they want the ability to return to sanity at night,'' he said.

Erica Dorenkamp, who bought a house in Truro with her partner, Gretchen Neeley, three years ago, feels that way. ''Provincetown is nice to visit,'' she said, ''but by the time you can afford to buy, you want a little quiet, maybe even room to garden.''

Mr. Brown said that the gay couples have spent a lot of money in Truro. Many are able to offer ''far more than the usual 20 percent down payment,'' he said. But the impact on the town goes deeper. Many of the couples are claiming Truro as their primary residence, voting there and participating in local organizations. Mr. Brown said he has seen no backlash against them.

''They're good neighbors and good friends,'' said Richard F. Whalen, 73, the author of ''Truro: The Story of a Cape Cod Town'' (Xlibris, 2002), and a resident for more than 20 years.

The majority of Truro residents are straight. Martin Peretz, editor of The New Republic, and Sebastian Junger, author of ''The Perfect Storm," are locals. Christa Worthington, a fashion writer who was murdered in 2002, lived in Truro.

But for gay couples looking to leave Provincetown, Truro -- separated by a narrow stretch of sand from Provincetown -- is the obvious choice. At night, the drive along Route 6, the only road between the towns, takes less than 15 minutes.

Truro is hardly cheap, however. Nearly half the houses in town sell for $1 million or more, according to Mr. Brown. The least expensive of his current listings is a modest Cape for $525,000. The most expensive is a turn-of-the-last-century farmhouse, with nearly 10 acres overlooking the bay, for $7.5 million. Mr. Brown said there are other houses in Truro that, if they came on the market, would fetch even more than that.

For those who want to build, there are still lots available, Mr. Brown said, though he admits that some have ''tough topography, or regulatory problems, or issues of title.''

''The easy stuff has mostly been built on,'' he said. But Mr. Brown said that it will be at least a decade before all available lots have houses built on them.

For Mr. Cowan and Mr. Bennette, both trained as architects, part of the allure of Truro was the chance to design their house, which has been featured in Metropolitan Home.

The same was true for Kelly Monnahan and Keith LeBlanc, who met in Provincetown 10 years ago. Recently, the couple built a house in Truro with large decks commanding views of both the ocean and the bay. Mr. Monnahan is an architect and Mr. LeBlanc is a landscape architect, and they designed the house together.

In August, a friend of theirs, Paul DesOrmeaux, bought a house in Truro. Mr. DesOrmeaux, who works in sales for RealNetworks, a maker of media-playing software, spent many years living in Boston. ''From the time I discovered I was gay, Provincetown was my summer destination,'' he said.

After he moved to New York seven years ago, he tried Fire Island one summer, but didn't like the social scene. So he began returning to Provincetown, renting with his friend Ross Matthews, a personnel manager in Boston.

On rainy days, he said, they would look at real estate. But as a New Yorker, he said, ''I didn't want to be in a place where houses are on top of each other, where cars are parked outside my window.''

Mr. DesOrmeaux began looking in Truro, and in August he and Mr. Matthews bought a 150-year-old house less than a mile from the beach.

Mr. DesOrmeaux said he is exploring transportation options. Some weekends, he drives from Manhattan to Truro (a trip of more than five hours); other times, he flies to Boston and takes a ferry or plane to Provincetown. (Cape Air makes the 20-minute flight between Logan International Airport in Boston and Provincetown Airport.)

He said the quiet, when he gets to Truro, makes the trip worthwhile.

At least during the summer months, Provincetown is anything but quiet. When the bars let out at 1 a.m., hundreds (sometimes thousands) of gay men crowd the streets around Spiritus, a pizza parlor that stays open late. Spiritus, along with dozens of restaurants and galleries, is on the aptly named Commercial Street.

Housing tends to be compact. One of Provincetown's most fabled condo communities is Captain Jack's Wharf -- a wooden dock built out into the bay, with small, unheated cabins clinging to it. Those cabins, which the likes of Tennessee Williams once rented for a song, now sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Prices run into the millions for waterfront houses -- on lots only a bit bigger than the houses themselves.

Truro, with a year-round population of only 2,300, couldn't be more different. More than half the town is in the Cape Cod National Seashore, meaning it is protected beach or forest. A food shop and a small post office are the hot spots.

It's a great environment for children. Last year, Ms. Dorenkamp, a software manager, and Ms. Neeley, an architect, had twin daughters. The couple, who live near Boston, considered buying a place in Provincetown, but it ''would have been too chaotic'' for the girls, Ms. Dorenkamp said.

And gay people who are looking to socialize with other gay people are finding more of them in Truro than they had expected. ''I thought it was just Kelly and Keith,'' Mr. DesOrmeaux said, ''but I was wrong.''