Yacht Club facility feeling its age

For any social group, with age often comes prestige.

At the Newport Harbor Yacht Club — the oldest yacht club in Newport Beach — it also brings a crumbling building.

For at least a decade, a club committee has tried to find a way to address the issues that arise with a facility that is about as old as the 98-year-old club itself.

The proposed solution is to replace it with a new structure — one that looks nearly the same but larger.

Although club members have yet to vote on the plan, it has been passed on to the city's Planning Commission, which gave its approval Thursday. It will move next to the Newport Beach City Council and the California Coastal Commission.

Plans for the space aim to address problems like decaying pilings and periodic flooding that plague the current facility.

"Our club has been there almost 100 years now, and it's kind of going to fall down one of these days," said Jeff Gordon, chairman of the committee trying to solve the problem. "It's on its last legs, literally."

The city should support such private groups, which benefit many residents, when the owners are willing to update them, said Larry Tucker, vice chairman of the Planning Commission.

Big Canyon Country Club, established in 1971, opened a new facility in 2010, and the Newport Beach Country Club, founded in 1954, has been given permission to replace its clubhouse too, Tucker noted.

The Balboa Bay Club has also made recent improvements.

Under the current plans for the yacht club, the new building would be about 4,000 square feet bigger, largely to come into compliance with modern requirements for wider hallways, more restrooms and bigger food-preparation areas.

It would also be a little taller, to the chagrin of at least one neighbor who enjoys his view of the bay over the top of it. The foundation would be raised to 9.5 feet above sea level to address concerns about possible flooding.

But the facility would still be two stories, covered with white paneling (though of a more modern material) and built largely within the same footprint.

The layout will be similar, with major rooms in the same areas where they are now, in keeping with the wishes of members, Gordon said.

The current structure dates to 1919, when finalized plans for a development that promised to "be the finest thing of its sort in Southern California when completed" were announced by the Los Angeles Times.

Established in 1916, the club initially used a one-story structure that adventuring members of what became the Los Angeles Yacht Club once operated from, according to a historical review by the Chambers Group, an environmental consulting firm.

The Los Angeles boaters had abandoned the space — called Station A — in 1915 as dangerous and remote, and the early Newport Yacht Club members made an effort to restore it, the review continues.

But they too moved on, occupying a rented home complete with a wharf and a rowboat instead, at least until the 1919 construction began.

The building has undergone so many changes since that it was not found to be of historical significance, though members want the feel to stay the same if it is rebuilt, Gordon said.

"We're not doing any of this to attract more people," Gordon said. "We are a yacht club. We could operate out of anything. It is what we do, not where we do it."

Membership is expected to remain around 900. The hours of operation will go unchanged.

[For the record, 11:25 a.m. Jan. 27: The photo caption on this story originally referred to the yacht club as the Newport Beach Yacht Club. It is the Newport Harbor Yacht Club.]

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