History Of 'Gay Hotels' in Provincetown?
February 17, 2012 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Recently, I found out that a now deceased family member worked at a 'gay hotel' in Provincetown MA in the 1940's. I'm trying to find out more about what 'gay hotels' were like in Provincetown, and just generally more about gay life in Cape Cod during that time. Can someone point me toward some good resources? I'm particularly interested in the sexual identities of the men who lived and stayed in Provincetown.

Would it have been assumed that my relative was gay because he worked at a gay hotel? Were people who identified as straight involved in running them as well? Were there other 'gay hotels' in other cities and towns on the Cape? Would working at a gay hotel have been the sort of thing that you would have been seriously mocked for doing, or were people just so generally in denial about homosexuality that they denied that some hotels were 'gay?'

Also, what was a 'gay hotel,' back then? Am I imposing a contemporary concept upon a period of time when the concept had not yet existed?

What are the addresses of the most famous 'gay hotels' of that time? I'm curious, because I'm going up to P-Town this weekend.
posted by shushufindi to Society & Culture (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to start with Karen Christel Krahulik's book, Provincetown: From Pilgrim Landing to Gay Resort. Part II, especially.

The Boston GLBT History Project may also be a good resource, but I'd start with Krahulik's book.
posted by yellowcandy at 9:25 AM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just did a quick search on Google Books for 'gay provincetown 1940' and got a hit that looks interesting.

Provincetown: From Pilgrim Landing to Gay Resort By Karen Christel Krahulik -- the preview includes an excerpt from a letter by Tennessee Williams talking about his adventures in P-town in 1944.

(on preview I see I'm late to the party!)
posted by sevenyearlurk at 9:26 AM on February 17, 2012

Ptown has this pretty interesting looking site that may help drive your research, or give you some leads.

You should totally go in person, too. Straight or gay, Ptown is a lot of fun.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:26 AM on February 17, 2012

I'm straight and I don't work in the hotel industry, but my whole mothers' side of the family has lived on or near Cape Cod for years; Provincetown has been a popular LGBT-friendly travel destination from as far back as I can remember (which admittedly is only to the mid-70's). Although, that may be because it's also had something of a "boho" vibe as well -- we went to P-town for a day trip when I was about seven, and my impression of that trip feels a lot like the stereotypical depictions of San Francisco in the '70's (a little bit hippie, a little bit arty).

Wikipedia actually seems to back us both up -- at the beginning of the 20th Century, Provincetown had a couple of artist's colonies and experimental theaters, and Wikpedia argues that there was the beginnings of a "gay scene" as part of the general bohemian vibe. They also report there were a few drag shows in the '40's, and it was in the 70's that the spot really started taking off as a big LGBT tourist destination.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:00 AM on February 17, 2012

Best answer: Gay bars and gay hotels definitely existed and self-defined as such in the 1940s, and pretty much had since the turn of the century. It was a little trickier in the pre-Stonewall days, because many states and municipalities had laws about things like same-sex dancing as well as actual same-sex sex.

I'm third-ing the Krahulik book as a must read. But if you have a chance, reading George Chauncey's Gay New York is a great background in the evolution of a self-identifying gay culture between 1890 and 1940. There's a direct connection to Provincetown, too: a lot of the early gay scene there arose out of the New York arts scene's adoption of the town as a summer resort (the Provincetown Players, for example, began there in 1916).

Both gay and straight people worked at gay establishments (just as it is today). I doubt there were other towns on the Cape where "gay hotels" were A Thing, just because tourism wasn't as big on the Cape in those days. Remember, too, in that era it was perfectly legal for two men or two women to get a hotel room together, whereas it wasn't (at least notionally) legal for an unmarried man and woman to get a hotel room together.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:12 AM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

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