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Embattled Shipwright Removes Boat from His Yard

posted: 11/7/2012

NEWPORT BEACH -- Homeowner and master shipwright Dennis Holland has been working on dismantling, numbering and organizing the thousands of pieces of wood, bolts and screws that make up the 1916-built wooden ketch Shawnee that he had been restoring in the side yard of his Newport Beach home since 2006. The sailboat had a long and colorful history in Newport Harbor, and it was formerly owned by the late Allan Adler, “Silversmith to the Stars.”

            On Nov. 5, the 72-foot boat, which towered approximately 25 feet above street level and sat inches from a neighbor’s backyard wall, had been completely removed, with merely the scaffolding that once surrounded the stern of the vessel still in sight.

            Newport Beach city officials said that work on the vessel in a residential neighborhood was in violation of the city’s long-term boat storage and construction permit requirements, under an ordinance approved by the city in 2009 -- several years after work on the classic sailboat had already been legally begun, with city permission.

            Shawnee’s future was uncertain following Orange County Superior Judge Gregory Munoz’ ruling in April that the boat must be moved -- and it would be removed from the side yard of Holland’s home on Holiday Road by someone else, if Holland did not remove it himself by Sept. 1.

            After a city inspector found the boat only partially removed by the Sept. 1 deadline, the city went back to court, asking the judge to appoint a receiver to remove the property. The receiver would have been put in charge of removing the vessel at Holland’s expense, and Holland worried that the move would destroy the fragile old boat.

            “If they brought in someone to tear her down, I would lose her for sure,” Holland said.

            Back in 1983, Holland won national acclaim for his 10 years of work constructing the 110-foot tall ship Pilgrim (later renamed Spirit of Dana Point), which is now berthed at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point. He built the vessel in the yard of his former home in Costa Mesa, and he had been profiled on the NBC television program “Real People” during its construction.

            Since 2008, Holland has been battling prostate cancer, and he was hospitalized last August.  Holland thought he could have the boat removed by the Sept. 1 deadline, but health issues pushed the date back and Holland once again worried he would lose the boat.

            After deliberations, Judge Munoz appointed Mark S. Adams as the receiver who would be responsible for removing the vessel from Holland’s property, but he required Adams to present a plan that the court would agree to before dismantling could begin.

            At press time, Holland had the boat’s last frames removed and said he will begin the process of organizing, cleaning and reassembling the vessel in his backyard.

            “She’s a lot worse off than I thought she was when I got her, but her keel’s still in good shape, and so she’s still alive,” Holland said.

            His plan was to reassemble the boat in his backyard, out of sight from neighbors on the street and -- he hoped -- out of mind from the city.

            “I just wish they’d leave me alone now, so I can finish her,” Holland said. “There’s so much stress and anxiety added on to this. If they would have left me alone, I could get this done a lot faster,” Holland said.

            While it appears Shawnee has been saved for the time being, Holland’s plan to reassemble the vessel in his backyard has Newport Beach city attorney Aaron Harp concerned that the same code issues that caused the city to call for the vessel’s removal from Holland’s side yard could be problematic for the boat’s future.

            Height restrictions, along with front and rear side setback requirements could doom the project before it begins, Harp said.

            “There’s a whole variety of municipal code provisions that he’d have to comply with,” Harp said in May, following the court’s original ruling. “But in our take, looking at doing it in the backyard where he has planned, we didn’t think he’d be able to do that in conformance of the code.”

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