Yorktown Beach Hotel
Yorktown Beach Hotel creates ambiance, opportunities on waterfront
By Melissa James, York County Contributor
Yorktown Beach Hotel, formerly the Duke of York, is the only waterfront hotel in the Greater Williamsburg area. Originally built by the Crockett family in three phases between 1962 and 1977, the beloved property had fallen into disrepair over recent years. By the time the pandemic hit in 2020, family members operating the hotel decided it was time to retire. Thankfully, they knew just who to call: Matt Bowry, managing partner of M.A. Bowry & Company.
“Fourteen years ago, I was in town having lunch at the Yorktown Pub and I noticed the hotel for the first time,” said Bowry. “I grew up in Newport News and had seen it before, but this time I really noticed it and saw its potential.”
Bowry—a Hampton Roads Academy graduate who earned his bachelor’s from James Madison University and his MBA from William and Mary—had left the area years earlier to pursue a career in investment banking and real estate private equity. He was home visiting his mother when he saw the Duke of York property—and knew he wanted to buy it and bring it back to its glory days.
“I was determined and patient,” Bowry said. “I wrote letters to Paul Crockett and met with him when I was in town. I developed a relationship with him and other family members and stayed in touch for more than a decade.”
On July 2, 2021, Bowry, along with his investors, became the official owner of the property. He had big renovation ideas, planned in phases over the next few years, but the very first change he made was to the name.
“I knew this might be controversial with some of our legacy guests who had been coming here for generations,” Bowry said. “But I felt strongly that we needed potential guests to know right off that we are a waterfront hotel; in fact, we’re the only one in the Historic Triangle.”
His next move also turned heads for longtime guests and locals alike. Bowry decided to demolish the restaurant space and create a modern lobby in its place.
“The restaurant facility was in disrepair and needed tremendous work,” Bowry said. "Plus, our parking is limited, and the restaurant was competing with the hotel for available spots.” Confident that folks would come around once the renovations were complete, Bowry hired local contractor Scott Olsen with Fjord Construction to begin the work. For the next year and a half, Olsen’s team fully renovated the first floor of the main and largest building on the property, newly dubbed The Chesapeake Building. All windows along the front façade were replaced, the building received a fresh coat of paint, and the old plastic balcony furniture was swapped out for high-end matching chairs—offering the optimal beach-gazing experience. A new breakfast area and market will open soon.
The pool area was also refurbished, with resurfaced concrete, a new salt-water filtration system and all-new furnishings… though one day per year, he lets it go to the dogs. Literally. The day before he winterizes the pool each fall, Bowry opens it to locals for a “Pooch Plunge” event. It’s just one of many creative ways he’s integrated the community.
“The best compliment I could have received came from Paul Crockett’s son, Cole,”
Bowry said. “He told me that his grandma would be proud of what we’ve done with the hotel.” Bowry said he has plans for even more renovations in the near future.
“My fiancée, Ferren Wolfe, is an interior designer, and she’s been remarkably important to the renovation,” Bowry said. “Her vision and talent are really making it what it is. I can’t wait to see her ideas for overhauling the guest rooms come to fruition.”
In addition to upgrading the rooms, Bowry said he has high hopes of being able to bring back the rooftop sundeck that was part of the original hotel in the ’70s. Bowry credits the revived hotel’s success to his team, the community and the County staff.
“I am only a small part of the success we’ve experienced,” Bowry said. "Our team, especially longtime staff members Leelee King and Gill McCauley, have been so tremendously instrumental to our efforts to bring this hotel back to life. County staff has also been very helpful and supportive from the beginning.”
Financial assistance provided by the EDA allowed Bowry to upgrade the windows and replace the balcony chairs. Additionally, Bowry said the many events held at the waterfront help to bolster his business and others by bringing much-needed exposure to the area.
“The County is focused on continual enhancements to the Historic Area, from Riverwalk Landing to the beach picnic area and up the hill on Main Street,” said Kristi Olsen-Hayes, director of the County’s Economic & Tourism Development Department. “Our EDA is also focused on retaining the long-standing businesses in our legacy industries. So, helping Mr. Bowry revive the aging hotel, and choosing Yorktown Beach Hotel as this year’s award winner, made perfect sense. We’re excited to see this tourism asset refreshed and thriving again.”