Wednesday, July 11, 2012

South Coast Shipyard

The "green fence of death" that stalks so many of our historic buildings, has now gone up around the South Coast Shipyard on the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach. I found out about this on a tip from urban archaeologist Sarah Adams, and went over to see for myself.

Most of the buildings on this block appear in 1938 aerial photos, although I don't have a definitive construction date for any of them right now. (During the 1890s it was the site of Horace Salter's feedlot.) The shipyard's main "period of significance," however, was World War II, when the 103,000 square-foot facility was, according to the Los Angeles Times, "among the West Coast's most booming building and repairing shipyards." Then known as South Coast Boat Builders, they won war contracts to build rescue vessels, convert aging tuna clippers into wooden minesweepers, and outfit other Navy vessels. Some of those ships, like patrol frigates, were surprisingly large for Newport Harbor.
During Orange County's post-war building and development boom, property values in Newport Harbor skyrocketed, and pricey residential development replaced industrial. Also, the kinds of large vessels and working boats the shipyard specialized in were slowly disappearing -- replaced by yachts and sailboats.

In a sign that residential development was faring far better than ship building, the South Coast Shipyard was sold to a swimming pool company in the mid-1960s. But by 1970 (when I suppose every house in Newport already had at least one swimming pool), the shipyard was cut up into smaller properties. There were a lot more spaces than tenants. Cranes and equipment were left to rust, and the property was soon put up for sale again.

In 1974, the historic shipyard was "renovated and restored" by William Blurock & Partners and became the South Coast Shipyard & Design Center, with a variety of shops selling nautical equipment and decor in addition to the shipyard's usual services. (The Shipyard was also initially discussed as a potential home for the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum.)

Over the past three decades, the South Coast Shipyard specialized in restoring vintage watercraft. The adjoining mix of shops became more eclectic as the years went on.

The photo above shows some of those shops, including one with a pretty nice 1930s deco facade, surrounded by green construction fencing. Please note that the Crab Cooker is not fenced and is in no danger. The photo below shows the interior courtyard of the shopping area.
In 2009, the Coastal Commission approved replacing the buildings with a "mixed-use project ," including a 21-slip marina, a dozen tie-up slips, 27 condos, 246 parking spaces, and 36,000 square feet of office and retail space. (Yawn!) After several years of a wacky real estate market, I'm not sure if the plan has been modified, but I assume that something very much like the 2009 plan is what will take the place of the South Coast Shipyard.

It's truly a shame that the developer made no attempt at adaptive reuse of the main Shipyard buildings, which played such an important role in history. Certainly, there are some good examples of that kind of "recycling" in Orange County, with a hotel now in the old Irvine bean warehouse, a gourmet food court in the old Anaheim Railroad Depot, CSUF's Art Center in Santa Ana's old Grand Central Market, etc., etc., etc.

In discussing this site a few years ago, a Newport Beach City Councilmember said that it was only feasible to save "super-historic buildings, like the Balboa Pavilion." Sorry, Charlie,... You don't get to invent a new category of "super-historic." Either something is historic or it isn't. And the South Coast Shipyard most certainly is.


Manny Med said...

NO0ooo!!! Leave historic landmarks alone . We dont need another cheesy strip mall !

Mateo said...

Wait so it's going away? It's understandable if it's more profitable as land than as a shipyard but if it's just going to be office space, then why not adapt and reuse? Given its location across from the Newport Pier and the Crab cooker and its age, it's just short of postcard iconic.

tramky said...

Don't you just LOVE the negative commentary from so-called, self-professed 'preservationists' who demand that old buildings be kept in their old configuration--as long as someone ELSE pays for it. Well, the world doesn't work that way. This is the 21st century, not the 19th or 20th. Times moves on, and so must old buildings.

nancyap said...

Sherman Gardens has a 4 or 5 inch thick document put together by and architectural firm / historical archivist. It is a riveting document with the history of the building. I can't figure out why they bothered paying for all of that research if they were gong to ignore its historical importance and level it. I'm horrified. Judging by the dismantling of the fun zone that ExplorOcean is gradually accomplishing, I am not so certain that the "super historical" pavilion is safe from destruction. HELP!

Chris Jepsen said...

nancyap: That's how the process works. You must identify the historical impact of demolishing such a site before you demolish it. Theoretically one must "mitigate" the impact, but that's often a pretty hollow thing. (Whatcha gonna do? Build a new historic building?) It's a process that's riddled with enormous holes, but it just barely beat having no process at all. Anything can be bulldozed if that's what the current owner wants -- Even buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. It happens all the time. If the entire community gets behind preserving local historical sites, sometimes local rules can be put in place that can help over the long haul. Some of these approaches are more "carrot" than "stick" -- like the Mills Act which gives property owners tax breaks for doing the right thing. If anyone threatens the Balboa Pavilion, one would hope that the alarm would be sounded early enough to allow some public outcry and a serious preservation fight. Of course, some developers like to sneak in as quietly and as early as possible, to avoid any community input on their project. And sometimes for REALLY historic buildings, fires just *mysteriously* occur. (Most folks call those "redevelopment fires.") So while we're all disappointed to see the shipyard go, at least it seems that all the legal steps were followed and that some significant documentation of the site was done.

tramky: Preservationists are usually pretty willing to sit down and talk about ways that the existing historic structures can be adaptively reused (e.g. the wildly successful Anaheim Packing District, or The Cannery in Newport). Often there are real financial benefits to doing this, as well as the moral benefit of preserving a landmark that played a significant role in history. Based on your (lack of) logic, we would have NO historic buildings left ANYWHERE because old is bad, right? So long, Mt. Vernon! Hello 7-11! There's a dollar to be made!