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Landmark Newport Shipyard Sold but Deal Includes Longtime Owner

March 18, 1989|SHEARLEAN DUKE | Shearlean Duke is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Larson's Shipyard, a Newport Beach landmark since 1948, has been sold. The bad news is that the 77-year-old owner, Al Larson, is retiring. The good news is that it will be business as usual at the boatyard--and he will still be "hanging around there."

Swedish-born Stefan Ullman, who purchased the yard last month with his brother Thomas, says that the shipyard at 2703 W. Coast Highway will continue to be operated under its well-known name.

"And Al is still welcome as much as he wants," Ullman says.

Larson admits that Ullman's invitation is a welcome one because after 41 years of coming to the boatyard every day, five days a week, it's hard to break the habit.

"I have been here so long it is hard to stay away. I told Stefan if I come down and visit and get in the way, throw me out," says Larson, who has stopped by for coffee nearly every morning since selling the yard.

It was Larson's love of boats that drove him to open the yard. "During (World War II), I had worked at Bethlehem Steel, operating their floating dry docks," he says. "I'd been boating since I was a kid. I built my first boat when I was 13 and floated it in the L.A. river."

After the war, Larson was looking for a business he could operate close to his Newport Beach home and a boatyard seemed to be an obvious choice, he says. In 1948, yachting had really started to take off in Newport Beach after being on hold throughout the war years, when the harbor was closed and pleasure boats were not permitted to leave or enter without permission.

During the 1940s, there were about 3,000 boats in Newport Harbor; today, it is home to nearly 9,000 boats. And roughly 60,000 boats are registered in Orange County.

Over the years, Larson has watched boating change in the county as commercial fishing and work boats have practically disappeared to be replaced by sleek sailboats and huge, high-priced motor yachts.

He also has watched Newport Beach change from a small, summer vacation town to a year-round attraction, renowned for its well-protected harbor and its pricey waterfront real estate--which soon became more valuable than the boatyards that occupied it.

Many yard owners opted to sell out to developers and nearly half of the city's dozen or so boatyards have given way to restaurants and offices. In 1979, Larson, too, sold his choice waterfront parcel on Pacific Coast Highway to a developer and leased back a tiny section to operate as a miniature version--about one-third the size--of his old yard.

"Back when I went in business, there were more boatyards here than restaurants," Larson says. "Now everywhere it's high-rises and restaurants."

Today, the city has only seven boatyards, about half as many yards as it once did--even though the number of boats to be serviced in the harbor has tripled since the 1940s.

Keeping Larson's Shipyard operating as a shipyard was part of the deal worked out in 1979 between the city and the developer who bought Larson's property. At that time the city of Newport Beach took a stand to maintain all the shipyards it could as a service to the boating public.

"Larson's Shipyard will continue to be a shipyard," says new owner Stefan Ullman, who was in the ship and marine service business in Sweden for 25 years.

Plans are under way to increase service and make the yard a one-stop maintenance and repair operation for boat owners from Dana Point to Marina del Rey, says Ullman. The small yard can accommodate four boats at a time up to a maximum length of 55 feet.

In addition, Ullman plans to introduce a line of marine windshields and aluminum-framed cabin windows built by O-Metal Corp., his family-owned company in Hono, Sweden. And he plans to import Swedish-built sail and powerboats that will be sold through the yard.

Off to the Races--Balboa Yacht Club's 30th annual "66 Series," which is expected to attract more than 75 boats, will get under way today with the first race in the six-race series.

The "66 Series" owes its name to the original concept of holding six races, each lasting about 6 hours each. Other races will be held on April 9, May 20, June 10 and July 22 and 23. Races begin at noon off the Newport Pier. For information, call the Balboa Yacht Club at (714) 673-3515.

Channel Islands Cruising--Author and professional cruiser Mike Pyzel will present a two-session seminar on cruising the Channel Islands on Thursday and March 30 at the Orange Coast College Sailing Center, 1801 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach.

The seminar is aimed at local sailors who want to venture beyond Santa Catalina Island and cruise the more distant Channel Islands. Pyzel is a veteran of more than 400 Channel Islands cruises and is a former Coast Guard search and rescue officer.

The two-evening seminar will meet from 7 to 10 p.m. Cost is $48. For information call (714) 432-5880.

Safety Workshop--A workshop designed to teach families to recognize and prevent dangerous situations in and around the water is being offered this spring by the Dana Point Harbor Youth and Group Facility, 345451 Ensenada Place.

The workshop will cover self-rescue and basic rescue techniques. Children are encouraged to participate, according to Gloria Czleger, program instructor.

The class will meet from 10 to 11:30 a.m. April 8. Fee is $3. The workshop will be repeated on May 6. Information is available by calling (714) 661-7122.

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