Former Broadway producer Anita McShane transforms a Dutch fort into the backdrop of a boutique hotel on Tortola’s West End
Fort Recovery, perhaps the oldest historic site in the British Virgin Islands, looms large on the waterfront of its namesake hotel, Fort Recovery Beachfront Villas & Suites. Once the gateway to Tortola’s West End, the stone cylindrical tower was built by the Dutch in the 17th century – a tumultuous time when the Virgin Islands were threatened by warring nations, cutthroat pirates and privateers like the notorious Dutchman, Jost Van Dyke. The turret like fort with its crenelated rim situated on the water’s edge made a statement of Dutch primacy. And when these islands were annexed by the British in 1672, the fort remained – ownership and power now ceded to England.
Life was infinitely more peaceful when Anita McShane, a Broadway producer and actress, vacationed on Tortola in 1968. “If you like St. Thomas, you have to go and see the BVI,” a friend in St. Thomas had told her. So she packed her bag and took a short ferry ride to Tortola. She was enamored enough to do some real estate shopping, looking no further than a tract of ocean frontage in the Towers area of West End. It afforded stunning views west towards the sunset, Great Tobago and St. Thomas; as far as Anita was concerned, she had found paradise.
“There was only palm trees, this extraordinary view and a fort,” explains Anita, a gregarious New Yorker with a penchant for meeting new people. “I instantly fell in love. I felt like I could go back to New York and tell my fellow actors that I owned a slice of heaven.”
She bought the property in 1969 moving to the island with her husband, Don McShane, a former “Marlboro Man” and their young son Brian. In short order she built four units facing the sea and an outdoor bar next to the fort. At a time when Tortola’s population was less than 10,000, and the coastal West End road had only recently been completed, the bar became one of Tortola’s most popular hangouts. “It was where everyone from East End to West End went to drink and often we would stay open to 3am,” recalls Anita.
After she and Don went their separate ways, Anita resumed her theater career, collaborating with Vinette Carroll, a trailblazing Broadway actress and playwright, and the first black woman to direct on Broadway. Anita produced and Vinette directed such theater classics as Your Arms are Too Short to Box with God and Don’t Bother Me I Can’t Cope.
“It was an exciting time,” says Anita, who loved both the glamour of Broadway and the allure of her Caribbean home. She soon became adept at balancing both careers, commuting back and forth between her two beloved islands – Manhattan and Tortola. In her absence, Sonny Cottoy, a young Vincentian, kept the hotel running smoothly. “It ran more smoothly than I thought it would. I spoke to Sonny on the phone every day. He took care of the hotel’s maintenance and garden, he was the contractor and the bartender. I couldn’t have done it without him,” says Anita, adding, “It was a perfect life. Whether I was in New York, or at Fort Recovery, each morning when I woke up, I couldn’t wait to go to work.”
In the early ‘90s, Anita’s son Brian returned with his family to Tortola, enrolling his two children, Justin and Tanya in island schools. Then in 1996, Anita decided to retire from the theater and move permanently to Tortola. Until Brian returned to the states a few years later, managing the hotel would be a family affair. Now a new generation of McShanes hopes to become involved in running the hotel. Anita’s grandson, Justin, hopes to join the Fort Recovery team in the near future, making the hotel a family operation once again.
Running a hotel wasn’t that different from staging a Broadway show, explains Anita. “As a producer I had to know about budgets, building sets and managing people – the actors and back stage crew. These are all skills that I needed here, plus I had the most magnificent stage scenery ever – what Mother Nature provided for us.”
Anita and Sonny married in 2000 inaugurating a period that she says was her “real love story.” Sonny, who died unexpectedly in 2016 was both an integral part of her life and the fabric of Fort Recovery. “I really feel I found a special type of companionship, that we shared so many interests. There was a rhythm and passion between us. It was a perfect love story for us.”
Together they oversaw the expansion of Fort Recovery from its initial four units on the beach to 40 one, two and three bedroom villa suites. Modern, comfortable and artfully decorated, each has French doors opening onto an ocean view, fully equipped kitchen and a patio (the two and three bedrooms have two patios). In addition there is a luxury eight-bedroom nine-bathroom villa with expansive sliding glass doors opening onto the beach and a stunning ocean view.
Additional hotel amenities include a spa specializing in deep tissue massage, nails and beauty treatments; a restaurant exclusively for guests, and sitting at the dock is a Sunseeker powerboat available for charter. A couple of years ago a week-long stay at the hotel complete with its amenities was featured as a prize on the popular American game show, Wheel of Fortune.
Meeting and greeting guests from countries around the world and from all walks of life has always been a plus for the gregarious Anita. Among Fort Recovery’s steady stream of guests have been actors and personalities from her show business days, including Vinette Carroll, Melissa Joan Hart, known for her role as Sabrina the Witch, and producer and director Don Segall. Most recently Larramie Cortez “Doc” Shaw of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne and his mother Cassi Davis, who portrays Ella Payne in the same show, stayed at the property. They were featured speakers at a fundraiser for the West End Community Centre and enthusiastic promoters of the BVI and the hotel.
It has been almost five decades since Anita first set eyes on Fort Recovery, and she has not regretted her decision for a minute. “Being involved in what you love to do, I believe, is the answer to what keeps you going. It doesn’t seem like work because you are creating every day.”