Catherine Lyons-Labate and Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
Catherine Lyons hitchhiked from Illinois to Sausalito in 1974 and found her way to the Gates waterfront community. A photographer since childhood, she immediately began recording her impressions of what she recalls as “a beacon for wanderers, artists, and free spirits, seeking to live among the elements.”
Now, nearly a half century later, she has created a 209-page hard cover picture book featuring hundreds of her photos, as well as recollections of her own and of others who formed the Gates Co-Operative, a sub-tenant of Waldo Point Harbor. The book, Once Upon A Waterfront, tells the stories of many colorful Co-Op characters, and of some of the memorable events, both magic and tragic, that marked their lives.
A turning point for Catherine came with the destruction of the beached ferries Charles Van Damme and Issaquah in 1983. We recently recounted the early history of the Issaquah, but in this excerpt, Catherine writes its obituary:
In 1983, rumors solidified into fact that the Charles Van Damme and the Issaquah, the entrance pillars to the Gate 6 community, were marked for imminent demolition. From across the waterfront, neighbors gathered together in front of the Charles Van Damme for an historic portrait.
The Van Damme was more than just a charming landmark. It was a place of gathering.
Community Thanksgivings took place here; Spook Houses were put up every year for trick-or-treaters; Artists set up studios in every available nook and cranny; Yoga classes and children’s movie nights were regular staples of the community. These were all part of the fabric of this surreal environment. I had my 4-harness floor loom in one of the pilot houses where I spent hours weaving bags and blankets to sell at the annual Art Festival.
In the final days before the Charles Van Damme was demolished, I took a group photo of our waterfront community, as well as many family portraits. This was a final act of protest; showcasing the fabric of the community relying on this grand vessel.
When the bulldozer toppled our beloved ferry boat, more than a structure was crushed. The hopes that this would be a lasting pillar of our community and an historical site were buried along with it.
On this day I began documenting the waterfront in a serious manner. I felt compelled to capture every moment, person, and structure as a way to preserve the fabric of our community. Once Upon a Waterfront is the result of that urgency to document this unique lifestyle and community. My camera and I have been on a mission spanning a lifetime.
For many years, the Issaquah was a destination for world travelers who had heard of this magical waterfront dwelling. People came in response to Doyle Nance’s open invitation to share stories and drink chai served each evening. Native American fishermen used to drop by each January during herring season. My daughter, Calli Rose, was born on the Issaquah in 1979. Her birth was celebrated by the entire neighborhood, welcoming her with flowers, food, and blessings.
Immediately following the harrowing destruction of the Charles Van Damme, we banded together as a community and negotiated to dismantle the Issaquah ourselves. I could not bear to see another of our monuments reduced to driftwood before our eyes.
The Issaquah was a private residence. Doyle Nance, the last owner/resident of the Issaquah, shared the space with me and our daughter Calli Rose. He arranged for the dismantled sections to be removed and stored off the property Unfortunately, negotiations did not allow the dismantled sections to return to the Gate 6 property. The two pilot houses were refurbished and eventually placed at the Galilee Harbor dock entrance where they remain today, preserving some of the rich history of the waterfront.
Some relics of the Van Damme were salvaged and a group of neighbors is spearheading a campaign to have them restored for display in the new park at Waldo Point Harbor, near where the ferry was beached. Learn more about their campaign at https://www.charlesvandammeferry.org.
Today, Catherine lives on A Dock with her husband, Michael Labate, who is president of the Floating Homes Association. On June 9, the FHA will present a Virtual Gala & Tour featuring video visits to some of the more unique floating homes, a history walk to local landmarks, live and silent auctions, magic, music and more. For information and to purchase tickets, go to https://www.floatinghomes.org.
Catherine’s book will be for sale at Sausalito Books by the Bay where a book signing is scheduled for Sunday July 18 at 2:00 p.m. She’ll conduct a drop-by book signing on Sunday afternoon, June 20 in the new Waldo Point Park. Or the book can be ordered directly from www.onceuponawaterfront.com.