007 Commercial Street

Cape Cod Home  /  Winter 2019 /

Writer: Chris White / Photographer: Greg Premru 

Solving a structural and aesthetic challenge, Bannon Custom Builders renovates a historic building in Provincetown from the ground up.

In one of the most significant pop cultural events of the 21st century, Daniel Craig made his debut as the new face of James Bond in Casino Royale. The 2006 film reinvigorated the venerable franchise by combining modern action sequences, a new degree of grittiness, and cutting edge special effects to help propel the hero through a story rich in the drama and intrigue that audiences had long yearned for. Set in locations such as Montenegro, the Bahamas, and Venice, the plot crisscrossed the globe as viewers would expect, but the film’s impact pushed beyond the confines of its genre and drew the attention of “serious” critics; some lifelong fans even argued that Craig had, in just one movie, supplanted Sean Connery as the definitive Bond. The aggregating review site Rotten Tomatoes certifies Casino Royale “fresh” with a 95% approval rating and states in its “critics consensus” that “Daniel Craig delivers what fans have been waiting for: a caustic, haunted, intense reinvention of 007.” In a Hollywood era of remakes and reruns, most of which fall flat, the new Bond represented hope, not just for the future of the brand, but for the future of blockbuster filmmaking. It restored faith in one of the pillars of pop culture and helped construct a foundation for a new generation of movies. To further the building metaphor, it completely gutted and renovated a classic fixture that had languished for years in neglect. 

While one could probably superimpose the “Casino Royale” effect onto any type of project, the restoration of one Provincetown property, known as the Hofmann House on Commercial Street, actually fits the comparison in a number of key ways. Most obviously, like the film franchise, the rebuilt home is both more structurally sound and far more contemporary, whilst retaining the charm and general appearance of the original. The Hofmann House and the Bond brand both sport their familiar tuxedos, as it were, while updating the timeless design for today. One similarity begins in the basement. An ironic twist to this new Bond bedrock is that one of the film’s most enduring scenes involves a house that collapses because it lacks proper footing. More specifically, Agent 007 causes a palazzo to crumble into the Grand Canal of Venice by shooting the massive flotation piers that serve as the building’s temporary foundation. As the giant balloons explode, water appears to rush upward, flooding the historical home. The exterior shots, a blend of models and CGI, reveal in realistic detail what happens when a structure fails from below. Although no canal runs through Commercial Street, the foundation of Hofmann House was in dire need of support when New York businessman Fadi Hanna purchased the property in 2015. “It was just a perimeter wall made of two sets of bricks, and the inside section had already collapsed in areas,” he says. “Eventually, the house would have suffered some kind of catastrophic damage.” For these reasons—to avoid the same fate as that Venetian palazzo—renovation naturally began with a massive undertaking to shore up the base of the house.

A classic ship captains home, this Commercial Street property has some surprises hidden inside

The task of renovating a three-story home with a failing brick foundation seems significant enough, but another layer of complexity thickens the plot of this particular mission—previous owners, back in 1983, had divided Hofmann House into four condominium units, each inhabited by separate owners. One unit was formerly the garage, a second was once the famed studio of artist Hans Hofmann, and another comprises the third floor of the building. Fadi Hanna took ownership of the fourth and largest unit, which included the decaying root cellar along with the first and second floors. His first year of ownership was busy. He built relationships with the owners of the other three units, he chose Bannon Custom Builders and Hammer Architects to help him realize his vision, and he waited for permitting and approvals from the Provincetown Historical Commission. Hanna and the other residents collectively own the building and make up the condominium board; with the green light to renovate, the building team would have to proceed with sensitivity out of consideration for the other residents, including the owner of the third floor unit, who remained in residence throughout the project, even while the building “floated” a few inches off the ground. As Paul Bannon recalls, “Part of the program was to create a usable basement, so we had to pick up the entire building while someone was living upstairs. We had to hand-dig much of this because the neighbor’s house is only five feet away and we had to maintain its integrity as well.”

Hanna and the Bannon team knew that the house was in fairly rough shape before they began, but as they started to dig beneath the surface, both in the dirt and in the home’s interior, new challenges sprang into view. The unit is a vacation home for Hanna, but prior to the renovation, “the house would creak when I was staying there,” he reports, “and from the basement, you could see the floor bounce; the Bannon team did some temporary reinforcement with four-by-fours.” Prior to his purchase, two other potential buyers had walked away, in part because of the asbestos in the root cellar. Hanna says, “It was friable—the most dangerous kind because you can inhale it. This main part of the house hadn’t been renovated in over 100 years.” Other surprises appeared as work began, including a rotten corner post and cracked ceiling beams that drywall had previously concealed. They would also need to replace the entire front wall. Hanna had purchased the unit fully furnished, and Bannon says, “It was unbelievable how bad it looked once we removed all of that, but Fadi had a great vision for the place; he knew what he wanted.” 

This Commercial Street home is a perfect balance of history and modern day Ptown

Hanna wanted to preserve as much of the building’s original integrity as possible and maintain its Cape Cod style, but with modern amenities. He explains, “I tried to imagine how it would have developed if previous owners had been able to invest more into it but hold true to the ideals of a vacation home—a slightly gussied-up beach house.” In the process, he conducted extensive research and learned of the property’s long history. He believes that it was originally constructed in two stages and that part of it may have been a “floater,” like many homes in Provincetown that were built across the harbor and transported over to this tip of the peninsula by barge. He says, as he points to a section of the home, “This part may have been sited when Jonathan Nickerson still owned it.” The house retains a plaque from that early resident, but it came to fame in the 1930’s when artist Hans Hofmann conducted painting classes from the studio—which in itself is something of a work of art, having been built mostly from the remains of shipwrecks. Hofmann, a contemporary of Picasso and Kandinsky, helped establish Provincetown’s reputation as a haven for artists and writers to learn and hone their techniques. Local institutions such as the Cape Cod Museum of Art, located right on Commercial Street, regularly celebrate his painting and his influence as a teacher. In renovating his home, Hanna has also helped to prolong Hofmann’s legacy.

Hanna chose Bannon specifically for their attention to detail, and together, owner and builder would proceed with a precision and style that would surely impress James Bond himself. Paul Bannon says, “Fadi requested that we pick up every floorboard and reinstall it exactly where it had come from. I was super proud of our guy who took it apart and put it back together—so, high-five to him.” The team also managed to preserve the fireplace, even when the rest of the unit’s interior had been completely gutted. Rather than pour a basic foundation, the builders encased the new concrete-and-rebar structure in brick to maintain its historical appearance. “No matter where you look, it’s easy to pretend that this is the original,” says Hanna. The first major functional revision to the home, and Hanna’s favorite subplot of the entire project, was to create an additional living space in what had once been a toxic subterranean cavern of decay and asbestos particulate. The plans for the new basement literally developed from a napkin drawing. “Now it’s the most adorable little room,” he says. The space also contains a wine cellar and a mechanical room. Secret doors in the wine racks allow for passage between these chambers, and further enhance the home’s “Casino Royale” effect. Upstairs, the library features a trundle bed between the bookshelves, which is suspiciously similar to the Murphy bed in the opening sequence of 1967’s You Only Live Twice

Project manager Ed Lanoue describes Hanna as “very talented, and very involved. For the countertops, he chose Imperial Danby marble, some of the most expensive available, and selected specific patterns. It’s a magnificent kitchen.” The handles on the stove and on all of the cabinets are made of unlacquered brass, which tarnishes, because Hanna “likes the idea that a house ages with you.” All the plumbing fixtures came from England, and required conversion to U.S. sizing, and much of the lighting—antique, imported from Germany—needed UL wiring before it could work safely here. The windows, from Boston Sash & Millwork, are custom-made, crafted from mahogany. Hannah says, “The tone of the floors was quite red, which is why we picked this wood. All of the mahogany is African, including the Dutch front door, which we sent out to be recreated with all of the original, refurbished hardware.” 

Although Provincetown bears little resemblance to Montenegro or Venice, and, at least according to LinkedIn, none of the building’s owners has ever worked for MI6, this historical landmark achieves the refined aesthetic for which Bond is so famous. Hanna, who had vacationed here for about eight years before buying his unit in the Hofmann House, chose Provincetown out of his belief that “the best places to vacation are the hardest to get to.” Completed in time for Thanksgiving 2017, the rebuild of this Commercial Street fixture was something of action-adventure. “It was wonderful working with Bannon,” says Hanna. “They are, truly, as the name suggests, custom home builders.”

Visit Bannon Customer Builders online at bannonbuilds.com and Hammer Architects at hammerarchitects.com.

Heading up to Ptown and Commercial Street? Make sure to check out our Best Of Outer Cape list here!

Chris White

Chris White is a frequent writer for Cape Cod Life Publications and has written on topics ranging from the history of Smith’s Tavern on Wellfleet Island to the sinking of the SS Andrea Doria off Nantucket. Chris also teaches English at Tabor Academy in Marion.