THE 'FLOWER COTTAGES'
Cape Codder - 1981
Route 6 passes through Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro center (blink and you've missed it) before the highway begind to climb a high bluff and suddenly there is a beautiful view stretched out below. In the distance Provincetown and the monument rise above the fist of the Cape. In the foreground Pilgrim Lake and Cape Cod Bay nearly meet, separated only by thin strands of asphalt highway -- and a row of tightly-packed cottages lined up with their foundations nearly touching the Bay.
For decades, people have driven past these cottages, either on Route 6 or Route 6A just beside, and called out the names of flowers written on the sides of these otherwise identical cottages; Zinnia, Dahlia, Peony, Tulip, Lilac, Marigold, Wisteria, 22 all told. "People write several letters a year addressed to 'Flower Cottages, Beach Point'," says Bernard Days, owner of the cottage colony. "I get them, too."
Days' Cottages is the real name of the business, just as it has been since they were built in 1931. Various members of the Days family have managed the cottages and general store attached ever since; Bernard has taken over after 14 years in the post office, and Bernard's son Joe seems interested in taking over when his time arrives, too.
The story behind the building of these cottaages is intriguing. 1931 of course was the depth of the Depression; F.A. Days and Sons, a prominent construction outfit in Truro at the time, had seen its work pretty much dry up and its crews go idle. John C. Worthington, a Truro oldtimer, remembers that Joe Days then approached his men with a proposition: "Days told his carpenters that if they were willing to work for a certain amount, a fixed amount, then he'd supply the materials and build the cottages. It was a very great thing for his group of carpenters because there was no employment at the time."
Bernard Days says that Mr. Worthington's memory is exactly correct. "My father owned a few lots of land here," he remembers. "He decided to bring his house down from Provincetown and put it there. He took it in sections and had it all ready to put up, and then decided it wasn't worth it. We took the house to the beach and made a bonfire.
"Then he decided to build [four] or five cottages... He said to his fellows, 'If you want to take a pay cut, I'll go to the bank and get some money to build.' They thought it over for about five minutes and said, 'Get the money'."
Days started with five cottages, but there was a problem. "He found out after he built them that not one of the five was on his land," laughs Bernard. Joe Days then went out and bought 17 lots, adding cottages all the time. Each lot was 50 feet wide and carried from the bay across Route 6A [then Route 6]. The price per lot? From $100 to $500.
The Days' rented the cottages right away. in 1931, they went for $5 a night and $50 a week during the season, or $3 a night and $15 a week during the spring and fall. The original screen porches were glassed in abotu 30 years ago and the fireplaces have been replaced by gas floor furnaces for cool May and October nights, but basically the cottaages remain as have always been. Today, over 50 years later, they rent for $47 a night or $525 a week during the season, and $30 a night or $200 a week during spring and fall.
Many people think Days' Cottages are in Provincetown, but actually they are a part of Truro's Beach Point, the northern section of town which reaches the P-town line. From the 1930s to the present, Beach Point has provided a crucial tax base for tiny Truro. "Truro depends on two things," says Truro Selectman Sam Levy. "Tourism, and building. Other than that, there's no industry or other business. Beach Point supports the general (town) economy, and provides an excellent service."
Days keeps the cottages open from May 1 through October 15. It used to be that spring and fall would be slow except for weekends, but now, as Days says, "When we close up in October, we're better than 90 percent booked for next season." A business guarantee like that is tough to beat.
Almost all of Days' customers are families, and they usually book a week or two at a time. The arrive here from Connecticut and New York, and there are plenty of situations where the next generation of visitors has picked up where the old folks have left off. "I have one customer, if he makes it this year it'll be his 50th consecutive year," says Bernard.
Some quick multiplication shows that this cottage colony. modest and old-fashioned as it may look, must be a solid income-producer. With the rates and high occupancy which Days can get, the property probably brings in $100,000 a year in rents alone. Plus, the family has a grocery store across the street with plenty of handy customers in walking distance.
The figures look good, but maintenance is no joke either. Days haas a bulkhead on 850 feet of beach to protect his cottages; it cost $65,000 to build a few years ago and needed another $12,000 recently when a section popped out during rough weather. Each year he paints a third of his cottages; last year he went to vinyl siding on all of them. The ever-present utilities and taxes add up as well. He has cut his insurance down to a bare minimum because the premiums are so high.
All of which brings up the fundamental question facing every coottage colony owner these days: To condo or not to condo? Even though the "flower cottages" are very modest, with two small bedrooms, a galley kitchen and a living room, and even though there are only 18 feet between them, there is still no doubt that they would move like hot cakes if they were offered as condominiums. After all, they are right on the beach, and there are no more where those came from.
"I've been approached two or three times about turning this into condominiums," says Bernard Days, "But I'm not going to do it. There' a certain tie between us and the people who come, and I'd hate to do that to them. Maybe 10 percent coould afford to buy, but the other 90 percent couldn't afford it."
So the "flower cottages", like the vacation form they represent, will remain.