Chequit — 120 years strong — transformed by new ownership

JULIE LANE PHOTO | A total renovation of the Chequit's interior happened over the winter. The Inn will open this Friday, May 8.
JULIE LANE PHOTO | A total renovation of the Chequit’s interior happened over the winter. The Inn will open this Friday, May 8.

A $2 million transition has quietly taken place inside the Chequit Inn.

The work has been ongoing since David Bowd and Kevin O’Shea acquired the grand old hotel celebrating more than 120 years as an Island inn, from James and Linda Eklund last fall in a $3.35 million deal.

When the doors open on 21 guest rooms and suites in the main building this Friday, May 8 — an opening Mr. Bowd refers to as “trial by fire” — the first thing repeat guests will notice is floors have been redone and hallways painted a subtle grey.

Darker hallways encourage people returning to the hotel late to keep voices low so they don’t disturb other guests, Mr. Bowd said.

All floors have been redone and rooms have been redecorated and the main building is almost entirely booked for opening weekend.

In designing the hotel rooms, the two men were reaching for a combination of the warmth and intimacy of a bed and breakfast with the independent feel of a hotel.

One of the first sights seen by visitors to the Island and those returning home from the north, the history of the place begins in the middle of the 19th century. Parts of the Chequit were built in 1849 as a town meeting hall, according to the Shelter Island Historical Society. But the building seen today was completed in 1872, in a Victorian style known as “Carpenter Gothic,” or more commonly known as “gingerbread.”

It was originally owned by the Shelter Island Groves Meeting Association, an organization associated with the Methodist Church when large parts of the Heights were used as summer retreats for city folks. A community dining room, it was known then as simply “the restaurant” and by 1909 was an inn.
In the 1920s, Hollywood discovered Shelter Island, with stars such as Mary Pickford staying at the Chequit.

Ownership changed hands several times, but celebrities were still attracted to the imposing hotel in the Heights, with reports of Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller staying along with various Kennedys who sailed down from Massachusetts.

Mr. Bowd calls the recent purchase a“reinventing the bed and breakfast experience,” a lesson they learned with two properties they operate on Cape Cod. “A hotel is about great service, a great bed and a great shower.”

Sixty percent of the staff comes from Shelter Island with another 20 percent from nearby Greenport to the north and Sag Harbor to the south to ensure guests will get “an insider’s knowledge of Shelter Island,” he said.

Rooms are painted a pale pink on top and a subtle gray on the bottom, with king-sized beds, deluxe custom mattresses and fine linens. Furnishings are simple with a small ladder adorned with a beach towel and hat the new owners hope guests will use at beaches — and perhaps by next season — at the Chequit’s own pool.

One room had simple marble top table and chairs in a corner affording a lovely view of the water during the day and a reading lamp for evenings. Gone are the plastic molded showers in the bathroom, replaced by glass-doored enclosures. All plumbing has been updated.

Prices start at $245 per night in the main building.

Still under construction is a new kitchen, restaurant and coffee shop and work will continue with the aim of completion sometime in June. The original bar remains and the two outdoor levels of the restaurant along with space inside will be called “Red Maple,” the name taken from the tree that stands in the middle of the highest outdoor level.

Chef Richard Pims will be master of the kitchen.

“We’re sensitive to price points” and want people to be able to have a meal at Red Maple without breaking the bank, Mr. Bowd said.

Wines will, of course, be available by the bottle or glass, but for those who order by the glass, they’ll experience something new — wines on tap.

On the side of the main Chequit building bordering Washington Street, the White Hill Café will open serving baked goods and wraps, salads, spreads and dips to go.

Just across Washington Street is a building that will house both hotel rooms and retail space. The ground floor retail space will be operated by Wampum of Bridgehampton and will offer Chequit-branded clothing items as well as other leisure wear.

Upstairs are rooms and a one bedroom garden suite on the third floor will feature two full bathrooms a private roof terrace. The suite will go for $895 per night.

The Chequit through the years
1872 • Built by the local Methodist church, the building served the community as a dining room known as “The Restaurant”
1894 • Converted into an inn and called Bay View House and Bay View Hotel
1909 • The name Bay View House changed to Chequit, a local indigenous name for weak fish
1945 • Bought by Carletto and Mary Kelly Franzoni who purchased the adjacent Cottage, built in 1873, incorporating it as part of the Inn
1960s • Members of the Kennedy family and Marilyn Monroe were among the celebrities who stayed at the Chequit
1978 • The CBS mini-series, “The Dane Curse” with James Coburn and Hector Elizondo was filmed primarily at the Chequit. It received three Emmy nominations
1994 • Purchased by James and Linda Eklund who maintained it until 2014
2014 • Purchased by David Bowd and Kevin O’Shea who own two other inns in Provincetown, Massachusetts,
May 8, 2015 • First renovated rooms opened to guests

Source: The Shelter Island Historical Society