Surrounded by million dollar “floating homes” on beautiful docks behind locked gates, the low hanging-bundled wires and a “Private Property Enter at Your Own Risk” sign constitutes the entrance to the rickety Gates Co-op dock in Richardson Bay, Sausalito. This cluster of eccentric houseboats - a pirate ship, a floating traitor, homes built on the remnants of WWII shipbuilding tugs and homes atop concrete barges - are the last vestige of what the old-timers call “The Last Free Ride”.
Richardson Bay has been home to houseboats for over a hundred years, but the end of Sausalito’s WWII warship building days coupled with the 1950’s bohemian movement and the 1960’s hippie migration west brought a booming community to the shallow tidal waters. The harbor, then owned by Don Arques, became home to a variety of cobbled together, and sometimes barely floating, houseboats and a community of “free-thinking” bohemians and hippies.
“It was the wild west back then. I guess it still is.” Jack who has lived in the Gates for 35 years remembers the early years: “New people arrived, we’d help them tow a sunken boat out of the mud, then build a boat and they lived free.” Notorious all-night, and even all-week parties, were held in the old paddle boat ferry, and for a short time Bill Kreutzman, the drummer for The Grateful Dead, lived on a boat and played all the parties.
In the late 1960’s tensions between the waterfront community and the local authorities reached a breaking point and the legal battles moved from the court house to the water. In a series of police raids Co-op members call the “water wars”, house boats where cut free of their moors by local police and the coast guard. Facing mounting health and building code violation charges Don Arques sold Waldo Point and the 1970’s became a time of drastic change as permanent docks where built and houseboat-specific building codes where put in place and enforced. The resulting construction left 38 boats without slips in the new docks.
Today, these 38 forgotten boats give a fleeting glimpse into the history of the Sausalito waterfront. Many of the original bohemian artists and hippies still live in these boats and their children have bought the boats of those who have moved on or passed away. Some of the children have never lived on land while others leave for a period and come back. The visuals have changed slowly; a rusty smoke stack and paddle wheel is all that’s left of the old ferry boat, metal WWII boats are slowly being taken apart piece by piece and replaced with wood, and the dock has become more and more “respectable.” But the bohemian and hippie roots of the Co-op are still visible for the time being.
This community, in it’s current incarnation, is fleeting. New contruction and development will relocate and dispierce the boats over the next 5 years.