Richard Graef: Galilee Harbor’s Ace

by Steefenie Wicks

 Richard Graef
Photo by Steefenie Wicks

Richard Graef is known in Sausalito as the ace behind the design company ACE Design, which was located on the waterfront in the old ICB building from 1972 until recently.   He has also been a member of Galilee Harbor since 1980, making him one of the elders of the community.  He was trained in many different design principles, including graphic design, fashion and industrial design in which he finally took his degree. 

“Life had taken a turn for me; I was in the process of looking for a place to live while camping out in my studio,” Graef says. “I was getting to know people here in town, including Chris Hardman and Annette Rose.  I remember, it was the 4th of July; we were attending the event in Dunphy Park, when I mentioned that I was looking for a place to live.  Annette said ‘We have a boat; do you want to stay on it?’  Right then we walked over to the old Napa Street Pier where the boat was docked; after taking a look at her, I decided yes, I could live there.”   He smiles and adds, “It’s funny but later they would sell me the boat. I have been here ever since”.

Graef has worked many different jobs in his profession, from designing a museum in Texas to designing a pavilion in Japan for IBM.  He explains, “I was asked to design some of the first interactive displays. You see, this was the beginning of the computer age, the signage, the graphics all had to be interactive so as to encourage the user to take part.  I would travel to Japan several times before we completed the project.  But the best was working with Quincy Jones.  Jones had been asked to do the musical layouts for the interactive displays.  It was very interesting and exciting working with him, watching how he approached the exhibits, how his mind worked to turn them into music, it was a very special experience.”

Graef’s very special experiences would continue when he was asked to design an aquarium in Monterey.  He would end up working with the Packard family, who had decided that this is what they wanted to have constructed as an environmental tribute to the California coast.  Although the job was exciting in the beginning no one knew if it would be finished.  He worked alongside architects and biologists to ensure the correct procedures.  Graef explained, “This would be David Packard’s legacy so he insisted that everything be done right, top of the line. I was able to experiment with design on tanks, displays, interactive exhibits with never a worry about cost.  Then I was asked to do the logo. At that time, no one had any idea that the project would become as big -- also as progressive -- as it has become:  the Monterey Aquarium.”

Along with making trips back and forth to Monterey, Graef was becoming more involved with the Galilee Harbor Community where he lived.  “At this time in the early 1980’s,” he recalls, “there was this fear that we would all have to leave the Napa Street Pier, meaning the entire community would have to be relocated, so I started to attend meetings.  At the time there was talk of trying to keep the community together if they had to be relocated.  Susan Frank came on board and, along with the City, negotiated a deal with Schoonmaker to take in the Galilee Community. Then the group that owned the Napa Street property went bust and Schoonmaker bought the property.  But it soon became apparent that Schoonmaker was not going to be able to develop it the way they wanted so they turned around, sold it to the Galilee Harbor residents.  The rest is history.”

During this time, Graef became involved with a Maritime Day project that had to do with Marinship.  Before that maritime day, there was no mention in the Bay Model about Marinship or WWII.   So he crafted the logo and was asked to design a display in the lobby. What started out as a miniature exhibition grew into the permanent display on view today at the Bay Model.  He explained, “I managed, designed and helped build the exhibition.  During the process some reaching out was done to people who had been part of the Marinship, then Bechtel got involved because of their previous involvement with the shipyards. They put money into the project and we were able to hire people, turning this display into a real exhibition. I was able to hire a staff to work on this, helping it to become a real exhibition that today is informative, a link with history.”

When asked if he had any final thoughts on his life at Galilee Harbor, Graef says, “Galilee Harbor has had to make many adjustments but they have all been for the good.  The Harbor promotes participation, involvement that shows how people grow when they get involved with their community. In many ways Galilee Harbor is an amazing entity.”

Galilee Harbor celebrates its 36th Anniversary during Maritime Day on Saturday August 6, 8AM to 6PM, next to Dunphy Park in Sausalito