Historic Edgartown Restaurant Changes Hands Come January

By JAMES KINSELLA

An investor group headed by principals in Conover Real Estate has signed an agreement to buy the landmark Navigator Restaurant and Boathouse Bar in Edgartown from its longtime owners, the Young family.

Gerret (Gerry) Conover Jr. and Tom LeClair hope to renovate what Mr. LeClair calls "the most important commercial property on Edgartown harbor." They plan to retain the property as a restaurant and bar.

The sale price has not been disclosed for the business and property situated at 2 Main street. The deal may close in January.

Mr. Conover and Mr. LeClair said Wednesday that they and their fellow investors see the property's purchase and renovation as a catalyst for the rejuvenation of downtown Edgartown.

"Fifty years ago, the Young family created the Island's signature restaurant and bar on Edgartown harbor's best commercial location," the men said in a written statement. "Today an investor group, who all live or summer on the Island, plan to carry on the Young family legacy by recreating a first-class restaurant and bar facility."

If the deal goes through as planned, the investor group would operate the Navigator and Boathouse Bar this coming summer as in past years while pursuing permits for a "historically inspired" renovation of the property. Renovations are tentatively planned for next winter, with the property reopening in spring of 2006.

Co-owner Nancy Prada (Convery) Young said the Navigator is the largest restaurant in Edgartown, employing more than 200 people at the height of the season. The restaurant, which is seasonal, has served up to 900 lunches on summer Saturdays.

Mrs. Young said her family was considering what to do with the property even before her husband, the well-known innovative restaurateur Arthur W. Young Jr., died in July 2003.

After his death Mrs. Young and her five children, all of whom live off-Island, debated what to do with the property. "It was a family decision," she said.

None of the children wanted to take over the property going forward. "None are able to pack up and move down here," Mrs. Young said, although she also observed: "I think they spent too many summers up against the dishwasher, while all their friends were outside having a good time."

Young family members all decided that the time had come to sell the property. Late last winter, the family listed the property for sale with Conover Real Estate.

A number of offers came in, including ones that would have converted the Navigator and Boathouse, with their traditional Yankee nautical theme, into a Chinese restaurant.

When Mr. Conover and his fellow investors stepped forward with their own offer, the Youngs were ready to listen.

"This is a group that is very interested in the town," Mrs. Young said. "They want to keep Edgartown the way we'd like to have it."

The Conover family operates the Charlotte Inn on South Summer street which, in a historic parallel to the Harborside properties, consists of five separate historic houses acquired over time.

The Navigator and Boathouse have deep roots in modern Edgartown history. In 1914, Mrs. Young's grandfather, Antone Prada Jr., bought what had been a South Water street rooming house and transformed it into what became the Harborside Inn. Later, Mrs. Young's father, Leo Convery, enlarged the inn by buying four whaling captain houses on South Water street.

Arthur Young became Mr. Convery's general assistant and later married his daughter, Nancy Convery. Mr. Young then took over as the Harborside general manager.

The Navigator owes its existence to Arthur Young's grasp of the changing tourism economics in the United States following World War II.

Like other resorts in New England, the Harborside had operated on what was called the American plan, in which guests ate all their meals at the hotel and paid a corresponding higher rate.

Mr. Young shifted the Harborside to the European plan, in which guests had the option of dining at the inn, but paid separately for any such meals.

Mrs. Young said Monday that her husband realized that the price of the American plan had exceeded the means of many of their guests, who in any case did not want to be tied to one dining place in their increasingly short vacations.

"Everyone thought he was crazy," she recalled. But other resorts in the region later followed his lead.

Mr. Young subsequently shifted the Harborside's dining room to a stand-alone restaurant, known at the Navigator, at the Main street site. The property included the Boathouse Bar.

A newspaper advertisement published in August 1993 stated that the Navigator "features hearty New England fare, fresh seafood and lobster, and an unsurpassed view of Edgartown harbor."

In the Boathouse Bar, the advertisement stated, "artifacts from old whaling ships create a nautical setting in which to enjoy a cocktail . . . a light meal . . . good company. In fair weather, the patio is open for dining and boat watching."

Should the proposed purchase go through, the fate of the existing structure, which Mr. Conover and Mr. LeClair said was built in the early 1960s, is open to question.

They pointed out that it is clearly not a historically important building.

The investor group, they said, is interested in giving the Navigator a setting that reflects historic downtown Edgartown. The group also plans to hire a management team to operate the restaurant and bar.