Creative Scrounging on the Waterfront

By Annie Sutter

Beginning in the 1950s, the area from Gate 3 to Waldo Point, already an established waterfront community of artists and craftsmen, working people and families, became inhabited by people seeking a new life, or at least, a different one. Once called bohemians and beatniks, then hippies, young people heard about the scene in Sausalito where it was said “the living was free and easy.” 1967, the year of the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco, brought the flower children from the Haight­Ashbury scene, creative and footloose, to Sausalito. College dropouts, already rebels before they arrived, decided to hang out, a gal who came to visit liked the scene stayed, an engine mechanic or an out­of­work boatwright found lots of jobs available, paid and unpaid. A seemingly endless supply of materials left from Marinship, abandoned vessels lying on the shore, their owners gone or disinterested, provided the perfect venue for finding an alternative lifestyle. Slowly the newcomers moved in, left pretty much alone by the accommodating landowner, Donlon  Arques. They arrived in droves and settled in at Gates 3, 5 and 6. They built homes, or shacks, or just flop houses on top of anything that floated. And there were many things that floated to choose from.


Bizarre Building Materials

The newcomers floated new/old abodes on unfinished hulls, barges, tugboats, camels, lifeboats, landing craft; on Styrofoam blocks, net buoys lashed together, floats, scaffolding for servicing ships, pilings tied together. Even boilers from one of the ferryboats served as flotation. Living quarters placed atop the various flotation materials were built from construction boxes, old cars, motor homes, abandoned trailers, a VW bus, pilot houses from utility barges, the crow's nest from a crane barge, and even a chicken coop was put into service. An aging sailing vessel was fitted out with telephone poles for masts as it was being readied for a sea voyage.

Little communities sprang up, linked by loyalty to one another, and by labyrinthine walkways, rickety docks, and single board gangways. A loose confederation of groups and sub groups gathered around certain barges or piers and were often separated by intricate systems of catwalks, drawbridges and gates. A common feature was wacky architecture, dangling electric wires, pilfered electricity, and no sewage facilities.

Differing opinions of this growing community are not hard to find. From the Marin Scope in 1968:

“Waldo Point is an alternative community that came into being through a mixture of collective aberrations and spontaneous events. A warren of ramshackle junks, arks, hutches, rotting barges, battered ferryboats,...where the tidewaters slush over a graveyard of shattered hulls, abandoned marine gear, discarded bedsprings, tires, refrigerators, broken pots and rotting timbers.” A far more pleasant scene ... “Smaller boats gathered around the ferry, side tied and connected by planks or rickety walkways. Families with kids, dogs and cats and chickens were part of the little groupings tied alongside Issaquah. Activities included music, sea chanteys, puppet shows, mask making, boatbuilding, herring fishing,” and “sailing boats were floating playgrounds as kids shinnied up and down the lines to the tops of the masts.”

This story is excerpted from a forthcoming book by Annie Sutter titled “The History of Issaquah Dock.”

A tiny floating home perched atop a landing craft.   

A tiny floating home perched atop a landing craft.