In 1948, Frank Denison purchased Dooley’s Dry Dock on the New River in Ft. Lauderdale, while on honeymoon with his wife, Gertrude. He renamed the yard Broward Marine, a nod to its location in Broward County. Frank had grown up near the water in Michigan and at age 13 served as cabin boy on a 300-foot lake steamer. As a young man, he built a trucking business, but his dream was to build boats. Shortly after the purchase of Dooley’s, Frank bid on the construction of a dozen 146-foot and 172-foot minesweepers. “Mom and Dad drove to Washington to deliver the bid package personally,” said Ken. “Mom typed the final details in the back seat of the car and Dad raced up the stairs of the Navy Procurement office, just beating the deadline.”
Ft. Lauderdale locals referred to Broward’s first project as “Denison’s folly,” believing it was impossible to get such large vessels down the New River. Frank built the hulls at the Broward yard and floated them downriver to Port Everglades, where he added the superstructures and armaments. He launched a minesweeper every 90 days and soon Broward Marine became the largest private employer in Broward County. “Dad was a production genius,” said Ken. “Anybody that ever worked with him would tell you that he took little interest in a boat after it was launched—his passion was getting the boat in the water.”
Broward’s first yacht commission came in 1954. Built for $500,000, the 96-foot Alisa V was the largest motoryacht launched in the U.S. in decades, according to Time Magazine. “She had a powder-blue hull and a bright red bootstripe and trim—she was a shocker for the blue blazer set,” said Ken. Frank continued to focus on “large” yacht projects through the 1950s. “These boats were around 80 feet which, for the time, was akin to building a 60-meter boat today,” said Ken. Frank also built smaller sport fishing boats in the 1960s. “Dad didn’t care what sort of boats he was building as long as the yard was busy.” While Frank built the boats, his wife Gertrude launched Yacht Interiors—one of the first interior design firms to focus exclusively on yachts.
Market change was coming, driven by a favorable economy and a material new to yacht construction. The Reynolds family of Reynolds Metals Company commissioned Burger to build a boat with a metal alloy that it supplied. The first all-welded aluminum yacht built in the U.S. was launched in 1955. Ultimately, this change in medium would prove to be a significant waypoint in custom yacht construction that neither Grebe nor Trumpy would successfully navigate. The first aluminum Broward, the 74-foot Howlen, was built in the Ft. Lauderdale yard in 1975. Broward’s shift to aluminum had been expedited by Frank’s purchase of the nearby Argosy yard, which had built a number of aluminum yachts designed by Jack Hargrave. Frank also hired two key former employees of Chris-Craft’s aluminum Roamer division. Don Nash had been foreman of the Roamer hull department and Donald Stroenjaus, the plant superintendent. “Dad and the ‘Dons’ designed Broward’s Saugatuck, Michigan, plant on airline napkins while traveling from Michigan to Florida,” said Ken.
“Broward North was built in Mom and Dad’s backyard.” The first boat was started while the well for the Travelift was still being dug. “Dad’s neighbors thought he was nuts. Even if he managed to launch the boats, how would get them past the low bridge at the Calumet locks?” Frank hinged the masts and flooded the bilges of the boats to gain a precious few feet. Over the next 20 years, 80 boats averaging 100 feet would be built in “Frank’s backyard.” The largest, a 120-footer, rose eight feet above the lock’s bridgework. “Dad sent her on her way in a snowstorm with a crew armed with welding machines and Sawzalls,” said Ken. The lock keeper watched in amazement as the crew cut away the top of the pilothouse, lifted it up and lowered it atop the deckhouse. Once past the bridge, the pilothouse was welded back in place.