Man’s lifetime of unfinished projects become son’s hobby

Dennis Holland Jr. stands inside his father's barn in Newport Beach, where his late dad worked on numerous side projects, including a Ford Model T and a 72-foot sailboat.
(Christina House / For The Times)

Eleven classic cars are arranged side by side, bumper to bumper on the concrete floor of a bright red barn that stands as an eye-catching oddity on a quiet Newport Beach street.

Nearby are the disassembled pieces of a 72-foot sailboat, the bones of a once majestic vessel.

Scattered here and there is a collection of pewter dishware, antique baby carriages, a trunk filled with Mason jars and even a penny-farthing bicycle that its former owner was once photographed riding.


When Dennis Holland died of cancer this spring, he left behind a lifetime of unfinished projects, perhaps more than one man could hope to complete. The dream of finishing them kept him young, his son says.

Now Dennis Holland Jr. plans to pick up this collection of broken history and finish his father’s work.


As a kid, the younger Holland watched his father’s every move. When he got home from school, he said he would throw his homework aside to go see what his dad had been up to that day.

His dad was a patient and cautious worker, and when he turned off the oldies and put on classical music instead, his son knew his father was particularly focused.

Holland junior, 28, is now a finish carpenter with a mustache that looks much like his dad’s did when he was younger. “He’s got his dad’s lust for projects,” his mother, Betty, said.


But what’s spread before him in the red barn is a daunting task.

There’s a 1913 Pierce-Arrow that lacks a coat of paint, an old wooden kayak that needs freshening, a 1929 Ford pickup that’s still in pieces.

There’s the two-toned cream-and-burgundy 1927 Buick that father and son found in Colorado. Nearby is the last car the pair bought together: a black, red and rusty 1914 Model T.

“It was a good find,” Holland said. “It just needs to be restored.”

The two had planned to fix up the vehicle together. Now Holland will take it on by himself.

And gleaming in the late-afternoon sunlight streaming through a barn window is the 1909 Buick, one of the vehicles in the collection that has been brought back to life.

The elder Holland bought the old car, restored it and then drove it across the country five times in the Great Race, an annual endurance rally for vintage cars.

Getting the car from start to finish in one piece was no small feat. One year, the wheels caught fire and Holland had to fashion new wooden spokes. Another time, a fellow contender stole a piece from the car’s engine and Holland had to make the metal part anew.


Holland won the race once, his son said, and might have won a second time if he hadn’t been slowed down by a California Highway Patrol officer, who gave him a citation. That annoyance is framed on the barn’s wall, its ink fading.

Outside the barn — itself one of the elder Holland’s restoration projects — is the enormous keel of the Shawnee, a sailboat made of oak, Douglas fir and mahogany. Holland fell in love with the ship when he saw its photograph in a magazine. He was only 8.

Decades later, he bought the boat, moved it into the sideyard and, late in life, began to restore it. Like much here, the job remains unfinished.


When the elder Holland was in high school, he built a boat in his garage. When he and Betty were dating, they built a 30-foot sailboat, the Molly B.

They married in 1969 and drove the Ford truck — a Model A Roadster pickup (now in pieces) — to Canada for their honeymoon. He never got around to refurbishing it.


“Something else came up, you know,” their son explained.

The Hollands sold the Molly B. to buy the lumber for the elder Holland’s first big project, the construction of a replica 118-foot, Revolutionary War-era tall ship.

He spent 13 years building it in front of the family’s home, eventually moving his wife and three daughters inside so they could rent out the home for extra income.

“He was unique,” said his son, who was born after the ship’s completion. “He lived for challenges. If it was easy, he didn’t want to do it.”

The ship was dubbed the Pilgrim of Newport. Its painted nameplate hangs on a rafter in the barn with an old wooden sign nearby, its red lettering announcing the time and day in 1983 that the vessel would be moved from the yard (8 p.m. Nov. 12) and launched into Newport Harbor (9 a.m. Nov. 19).

He sold the boat around 1997, and the Ocean Institute in Dana Point acquired it in 2001. Five years later, he took on the Shawnee.

Holland junior concedes that he may not be able to complete all the unfinished work. But then again, he has two young sons.

Twitter: @emfoxhall