100-Year-Old Ship in Peril in Upscale Newport Beach Neighborhood

A court order fueled by neighbors' opposition could leave Dennis Holland high and dry

By Phoebe Unterman
|  Tuesday, Mar 6, 2012  |  Updated 9:52 AM PDT
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Dennis Holland still has the 1929 Ford Model A he drove to high school half a century ago.

He houses his tool collection in a barn built that same year on a buffalo ranch in Irvine. He took it apart, brought it to his home in Newport Beach, and reassembled it in his yard.  

“I just like old things,” Holland, 66, said.

One such “thing” is the Shawnee. The 72-foot, ketch-style wooden ship, wedged between the barn and Holland's ranch-style home, is the latest in the shipwright’s lifetime’s worth of restoration projects.

But the ship’s presence has alienated some of his neighbors, who say -- privately and not for attribution-- that a lumbering boat has no place in the neighorbood. The median home price in Newport Beach is over $1 million.  

The neighbors took their concerns to the city and now Holland is facing a court order requiring him to remove the ship by the end of April or face fines of up to $1,000 a day or jail time, said Newport Beach Deputy City Atty. Kyle Rowen.

“We hope Mr. Holland will comply with the court’s orders and move the boat to a suitable location,” Rowen said.

To Holland though, the boat’s massive frame isn’t an eyesore—it evokes memories from an almost 60-year relationship with the boat.

It starts with a vivid image of the Shawnee docked in Tahiti in 1924.

Holland saw it in a magazine when he was 8 years old, and shortly after, his father took him to see the ship in San Francisco.

Holland was immediately taken with its shape and finely crafted details—the subtle curve of the interior staircase, the amber tone of the African mahogany, the intricate teak woodwork.

He followed the Shawnee from afar for decades. About ten years ago, the family that owned the ship fell on hard times and was no longer able to afford to maintain it.  

Holland spotted the ship one day when he was sailing near Newport Beach looking abandoned and sagging low in the water.

Holland contacted the family and, when he learned of their predicament, immediately began plotting to save the Shawnee.

“I had to keep her afloat," Holland said. But there were two conditions.  

Before accepting the project, Holland won the city’s approval to restore the boat in the yard outside his home on a residential street in Newport Beach.

Keeping the boat at home saved him the nearly $30,000 a year it would have cost to store the ship off his property.

He also decided to check his health, a decision which may have saved his life, Holland said.

The first doctor he visited diagnosed him with advanced prostate cancer and gave him 18 months to live.

But the second gave him a 90 percent chance of seeing ten years—just the amount of time he estimated it would take to restore The Shawnee.

Holland moved the boat into his yard in 2006. As of four months ago, Holland is experimenting with a new treatment and is doing well.

But now it’s the Shawnee whose future seems imperiled.

“Shawnee’s got the same kind of disease I have,” Holland said. “Now I’ve got to take care of her.”

Holland’s ship violates an ordinance passed in 2009 requiring homeowners to obtain permits for projects such as his and give officials an estimated completion date.

Holland says he can’t offer an exact date because of the restoration project’s complexity, and the city won’t accept his completion prediction of three to four years, Holland said.

But Holland asserts the ship, approaching its hundredth birthday, is impossible to move in its current state—he has yet to piece everything back together.

The city is unsure of the boat’s fate if Holland fails to remove it, but Holland knows he can’t destroy the boat himself.

“If they come to destroy it, I’ll have to leave town,” Holland said. “I can’t watch that happen.”

Follow NBCLA for the latest LA news, events and entertainment: Twitter: @NBCLA // Facebook: NBCLA 


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