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50-year Cruise Ends for Boathouse

By Jorge Casuso and Teresa Rochester

April 15 -- An era ended unexpectedly early Monday morning, and all that was left after the door locks were changed were leftover drinks and dirty dishes and a longing for one last late-night bash at the 50-year old Boathouse on the pier.

Defying expectations that they would show up mid week, the Sheriffs arrived at the nearly deserted pier at around 8 o'clock under overcast skies, only to encounter workers preparing to put in another day at the family-owned restaurant.

Boathouse owner Naia Sheffield, who has waged an eight-month legal battle to hang on to the restaurant her grandfather started, showed up to do some bookkeeping, only to find the locks changed and an eviction notice posted on the door.

Like many, Sheffield expected the sheriffs on Wednesday or Thursday, the days they normally perform lockouts. In fact, she had a goodbye party planned for Wednesday night, with music provided by a performer who has played at the Boathouse for eight years.

Instead, Sheffield stood on the pier Monday morning by herself. "It's one thing knowing the date and preparing for it," she said. "I wish they had told me.

"It was definitely difficult, but that's the city we live in," Sheffield said, then qualified her statement. "Actually, it's not the city we live in. In the city there are great people. It's the government… My first concern is getting my employees paid because they have stuck with me for years."

City officials also were surprised. Not by the sheriff's arrival (they were notified Friday) but by the condition of the old City-owned wooden structure, which they expected cleared after a judge gave the restaurant two extra weeks to be out by April 15. There were drinks on the bar and butts in the patio ashtrays from the night before and workers lingering outside.

"They were given two weeks," said Deputy City Attorney Eriko Matsumoto, who was at the site for the lockdown. "We were surprised when we found employees were still there, deliveries were still being made. We're hoping that there will be a smooth transition of their personal effects."

The Boathouse has two weeks to clear the premises it has occupied since the dawn of the Cold War. City officials, who will supervise the removal of personal property, say they are concerned about the conditions the restaurant was left in.

"The place was left a shambles," said Mark Richter, who is in charge of the pier for the City's Department of Resource Management. "There's trash, debris, waste, leftover food and dirty dishes. We have to get things out before there's a rat or vermin infestation."

Once the Boathouse clears out, the 4,500 square foot site will be handed over to Bubba Gump, which expects to renovate the century-old structure during winter and be ready to open next spring, City officials said.

The change of tenants comes eight months after the City originally ordered the Boathouse to vacate the site. But in August, the Boathouse filed suits in federal and Superior courts. Last month, a superior court judge ordered the restaurant to vacate by Monday, but the federal court judge decided to hear the tenant's charge that the City had offered the restaurant a 30-year lease that was never signed.

Sheffield said she had not decided whether to pursue the lawsuit and seek damages.

"I could sue for damages, but that defeats the purpose," Sheffield said. "What I wanted was the restaurant."

If it wasn't for the "Notice of Eviction" printed in red block lettering and taped to the middle windowpane of the front door, it seemed on Monday afternoon that the Boathouse hadn't yet opened for business for the day.

A faded red and white Budweiser umbrella still shaded a green plastic table, and cigarette butts filled an ashtray sitting on a ledge on the patio out front.

Inside full and partially full bottles of Johnny Walker Black Label Scotch, Malibu and Absolute Vodka lined the bar, while chairs were neatly arranged around tables as if awaiting customers.

Out front a faded yellow menu offering Naia's Salad and Boathouse Surf and Turf and draped with a white fishing net sat behind the blue framed glass case.

Santa Monica resident Jane Blair, 79, stepped toward the restaurant's entrance and pulled on the doorknob that wouldn't give.

"It's a shame that it has to go," said Blair, of the restaurant's closing. It had been a while since she had visited the restaurant, but out for her Monday walk down the pier, Blair had stopped by to say hello to a bartender she knew.

Blair made a face when she heard that Bubba Gump's would replace the 50-year-old restaurant. "It was fine the way it was," she said.

A couple, who had never been to the Boathouse, let out groans when they heard that the eatery chain would be moving in. "What crap," said the woman, as she and her husband continued on their way.

Another man simply grunted as he tugged on the front door before noticing the eviction notice, which read in part, "Any property you may have left upon vacating the premises is now under the legal control of the judgment creditor."
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