INDIAN HARBOUR BEACH (FloridaToday.com) – A judge has ruled that a Minnesota bank has clear title to Dragon Point, giving the green light to raze the ramshackle abandoned mansion, remove the remains of Annie the dragon, and sell the dilapidated property.
The landmark home at the southernmost tip of Merritt Island deteriorated into a post-apocalyptic wreck during years of ownership limbo. Nowadays from the Eau Gallie Yacht Club docks, the windowless mansion's weatherbeaten wood and rotting roofs form a three-story silhouette of ruin.
And only a few shattered sea-foam-green pieces of Annie's concrete skin remain visible from her coquina perch.
Brevard Circuit Judge Lisa Davidson has discharged a July 2006 ownership claim filed by South Patrick Shores real estate broker Tom Palumbo. He and former business partner Frank Vennes of Stuart had planned to rebuild Dragon Point, but their deal collapsed years ago — and in October, Vennes was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison for helping orchestrate a $3.7 billion Ponzi scheme.
A subsidiary of Private Bank Minnesota acquired Dragon Point from a federal receiver in March 2012. Bank officials next plan to clear the difficult-to-access 0.86-acre riverfront property via barge and resell the land to a future homebuyer.
"Thus far, everything that we have wanted to fall into place has fallen into place," Cliff Repperger, an attorney with GrayRobinson who represents the bank, said of Davidson's court order.
"That was a significant piece of the puzzle that we needed moved out of the way, prior to the demo. The bank now has confidence that it can move forward with its curative action, without any third party coming forward and claiming ownership," Repperger said.
"We have the (zoning) variances, which we wanted for redevelopment. We got the judgment, which clears up the title issue. Now, we've just got the logistics of the demo to work out. That will clear up the outstanding code issues, and afterward we'll see who's got an interest in buying it," he said.
In mid-March, the Brevard County Board of Adjustment unanimously granted five zoning variances that will let Dragon Point's future landowner build a new mansion within the general footprint of the decrepit 5,707-square-foot home.
County officials describe Dragon Point as "one of the most well-known and unique single-family lots in Brevard County" in zoning documents. The property included a pool, hot tub, boat house, below-grade garage, boat ramp and a wooden walkway to Annie.
Two weeks ago, Palumbo filed a motion asking Davidson to rehear her final judgment and let him amend his complaint. Allan Whitehead, his Melbourne lawyer, did not return messages seeking comment.
Repperger said he will file a response to Palumbo's motion by Aug. 5. He said he doubts Palumbo's motion has much legal merit — "if they could do that in every single case, the cases would linger around forever."
Annie (1971-2002) has a prominent role in Space Coast folklore. A framed fragment of her concrete skin — labeled a "dragon bone" — hangs on display at the Eau Gallie Yacht Club bar. And a photo on the clubhouse wall depicts her belching orange flames over the Indian River Lagoon.
In February, 365 runners and 27 walkers participated in the Eye of the Dragon 10K race over the Eau Gallie Causeway and back. The accompanying Tail of the Lizard 2-miler drew 148 runners and 35 walkers.
And Intracoastal Brewing Co. in Eau Gallie occasionally offers a Dragon Point IPA craft beer.
There is no timeline in place for the mansion-demolition operation, which Repperger has estimated may cost "somewhere in the six figures." County code enforcement officials have an ongoing case citing numerous violations on the site.
It remains unknown whether Dragon Point's future buyer will rebuild Annie.
Save Dragon Point, a grassroots group dedicating to purchasing the property and rebuilding Annie in a park-like setting, continues soliciting donations and selling dragon-themed clothing, mugs, tote bags and other merchandise.
President Peter Moolhuizen said the organization has raised between $20,000 and $30,000. The group's two Facebook pages boast more than 19,100 followers, and volunteers staff booths at Friday Fest street parties in Cape Canaveral, Eau Gallie, Melbourne and Cocoa Beach.
"We're still slowly raising funds. Our biggest challenge is, people think that the bank has already sold the property," Moolhuizen said.
"Our first priority is to restore Annie and her kids to the point, after we clean it up. Our ideal scenario would be to put a community center at the site of the old house," he said.
Save Dragon Point is organizing a second, larger Renaissance-themed Dragon Festival for Jan. 24-25 at the Wickham Park equestrian center.
Annie the dragon: R.I.P.
Lewis VanDercar, an unorthodox Miami artist who claimed he was a warlock, sculpted Annie in 1971 from concrete, steel and wire mesh.
The 20-ton monster was commissioned by the Chrystal family, which owned the estate at the end of Point Drive.
In 1982, VanDercar added the tail, an interior "cave" and four dragon hatchlings: Joy, Sunshine, Charity and Freedom. He later crafted a caveman couple standing nearby, Fred and Wilma.
Annie fell into disrepair, and she tumbled onto her right side into the Indian River during an August 2002 storm.
The iguana-like icon served as one of America's most unique nautical landmarks: The southernmost tip of Merritt Island is still named Dragon Point on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration navigational charts. A children's book was also written about her.