Last house-dweller on beach won't leave
Despite new high-rise neighbors, John Shillingburg hangs on to his small-scale Singer Island paradise.
By Ian Trontz
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
RIVIERA BEACH - NOTFor Sate: Oceanfront home, view partially obstructed, no pool (though neighbors have noisy one), occasional fiooas, no room to expand. No calls, please.
As sure as the sunrise and high tide,
John Shillingburg knew they'd come.
Cranes from the south. Cars from the north. Concrete waves 200 feet tall, splashing thousands of retirees onto Shillingburg's slice of paradise.
He couldn't beat them; he wasn't that rich.
He wouldn't join them.
So today, Shillingburg sits firmly as the last house-dweller on Singer Island's 3-mile strip of condominiums and hotels.
"I've had numerous offers," said the 62-year-old retired stockbroker. "More money than I ever
had in it, but never enough to tempt me. I'll never get another chance to have a single-family house on the ocean.
Only two other homes remai~ on this beach, both hoarded-up and, waiting to be flattened.
Shillingburg's northern neighbor, the Corniche, has 20 stories and 108 apartments. The city already has approved developer E. Llwyd Ecclestone Jr.'s plans for, The Savoy, a 20-story luxury condo on the other side.
Shillingburg did score a little man's victory this year. Ecclestone's firm agreed to cut away a
corner of its garage to preserve Shillingburg's southeastern view.
"He's definitely an anomaly," said Frank Palen, an Ecciestone attorney. "He'll have high-rises on both sides. There'll be a shadow, across his house at noon. ... People will be able to see his property. He better keep his clothes on."
In 1969, the young man who grew up around an Arizona desert trading post was one of Palm Beach County's financial high-risers.
He bought a 50-by-430-foot noodle of vacant land for $35,000 and built a modestly comfortable 2,100-square-foot home at the top of the dune.
"Everyone thinks their business is stressful, and mine surely was," he said last week while sitting on a rickety wooden deck festooned with Christmas lights and rusting patio furniture. "I could come home and see this and feel OK."
So fearful was Shillingburg of losing it that he moonlighted as a Carpenter and painter to pay off his mortgage in five years.
Besides the house, which he could not build under today's beachfront setbacks, he has a room full of animal hides and beads and a garage for his 1936 Rolls Royce, which sits below the house and sometimes floods from Ocean Drive storm runoff.
The county property appraiser says the house is worth $75,662. The half-acre, by comparison, is taxed at $350,000.
Shillingburg, who is divorced and lives alone, also owns land on Lake Huron in Michigan and coowns a cabin near Breckenridge, Cob.
"I've been unbelievably lucky," he said.
The eastern view, the one Shillingburg stays for, has changed little: coconut palms, sea grapes and rubber trees framing more shades of blue than one can find in a J. Crew catalog. Call it a window of seized opportunity.
The only difference: a busier beach. "The condo people like to stay healthy," he said.
He has become a keen observer of their social habits. Like no direct eye contact. Noisy relatives who saturate the pool during spring break. Concrete-etched rules.
Buildings with funny names. Ocean-front property hundreds of feet above sea level. Guard shacks and "mausoleum effect" entryways.
You can find his house number hand-painted on an upright boat rudder, next to the only curbside garbage bin for miles.
"I see him sitting on that little rundown thing that's held up by posts," said Howard Metrick, a friend and sixth-floor Corniche resident, referring to Shillingburg's deck. "I love seeing it because it makes the beach look kind of pristine.
"I got a much better view," Metrick said. "And I hear the same waves he does."