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Vallejo Gallery ready to pull up anchor

After decades of selling maritime memorabilia, the owner will give up the shop, store his remaining goods and market them online.

March 14, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Joe Vallejo holds a French Prisoner of War model ship circa 1790, one of his favorite and most rare items he is letting go at the Vallejo Gallery, which closes this weekend after being in business for 41 years in Newport Beach.
Joe Vallejo holds a French Prisoner of War model ship circa… (Don Leach, Daily…)

Setting a hand on the old rail gun, which graced the top rail of an English ship some time around 1790, Joe Vallejo smiled thinking how much about it he didn't know.

At the back of his gallery across the street from the Balboa Bay Club & Resort, Vallejo tilted the brass barrel up slightly on its hinge. What he surmised from history was that the blunderbuss, 42 inches long and mounted on a wooden base, lived in the Tower of London between maritime journeys and probably saw a battle or two, or maybe more.

"And here it is — what, 200 years later — sitting in here," said Vallejo, who opened his eponymous gallery in 1972. "So if that could talk, it would be pretty amazing to look out and see what it was looking through there, firing at."

Plenty of things in the Vallejo Gallery, 1610 W. Coast Hwy., meant life or death at some point. Among the artifacts that line the cluttered walls and glass cases are a U.S. Navy 1-pound gun from 1898, complete with original shells, and a privateer's letter of mark for British ships in the early 19th century — without which, the crew could be hanged as pirates.

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For the last 41 years, though, those items and others have simply been Vallejo's life. And this Saturday, he's finally ready to move them out.

The gallery, which has offered all its stock at a heavy discount for the last few months, will close at 5 p.m. Saturday. At least, that's the official time — the owner is more than willing to keep the lights on if demand requires it.

"If the place is mobbed, we'll keep selling until everyone leaves," Vallejo said.

When the venue finally shuts down, he plans to keep his business going online; the remaining items will move to a warehouse, with possible opportunities for occasional public viewing. But Vallejo, who has surrounded himself for decades with ocean paintings and maritime memorabilia, is eager to spend more time by the real ocean across the street.

By now, he estimates that he's sold off 80% of his stock — though a first-time visitor might never guess that, given how many items still pack the floor and walls. On a recent afternoon, customers milled around while a painting outside, featuring a group of pirates storming the beach, declared "Everything Goes — Carry Away the Treasure."

Jonathan Levin, who lives in Malibu, said he's bought many model ships and other items from the gallery over the last 15 years. He called Vallejo's business one of a kind.

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