Shel on the Beach in Sausalito

By Larry Clinton -  Sausalito Historical Society

Poet, cartoonist, songwriter playwright and bon vivant Shel Silverstein was one of the most famous early residents of the Bohemian Sausalito houseboat scene.  

In 1957, Silverstein was a cartoonist for Playboy Magazine, which sent him around the world to create an illustrated travel journal. During the 1950s and 1960s, he documented his own experiences at a New Jersey nudist colony, the Chicago White Sox training camp, San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district, and other destinations.  It was on his Haight-Ashbury assignment that Shel discovered the Sausalito waterfront.  In a recent interview, Shel’s longtime colleague, Larry Moyer, recalled how they first got here:

 Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

Courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society

“In February 1967, when I lived in a Greenwich Village apartment, a friend sent me a birthday present: A woman named Nicki knocked at my door, delivering a hot pastrami sandwich and a pickle.” Having just returned from San Francisco, Nicki suggested that the blossoming Haight-Ashbury scene would make a great feature for Playboy.

“So Shel and I got sent out West. We spent three months in the Haight. While we were there, we visited a friend of Nicki’s—rock guitarist Dino Valenti—here on the Sausalito waterfront.”

Moyer and Silverstein liked what they saw. “There were a few hundred boats. It was total freedom. The music, the people, the architecture, the nudity—all we could say was, ‘Wow!’ So Shel bought a boat, and I bought a boat. And that was that.”

When Silverstein died in 1999, he had residences on Martha’s Vineyard, Key West, Greenwich Village, and a converted balloon barge on Liberty Dock here in Sausalito.  During WWII, these barges were anchored outside the Golden Gate Bridge, deploying tethered helium balloons as a sort of airborne submarine net. Shel’s  barge had been converted to a residence by legendary waterfront artist Chris Roberts and named “The Evil Eye.”  Today, it’s the home of Larry Moyer.

On Friday, May 1, Larry Moyer and Bill Kirsch of the Historical Society will present a multi-media show entitled “Remembering Shel Silverstein,” as part of the Sausalito Library’s speakers series.  After the presentation, which begins at 7 p.m., there will be a reception in the Historical Society’s Exhibit Room one floor above the library to introduce the Society’s new exhibit of Shel Silverstein works and memorabilia.