Larry Clinton/Sausalito Historical Society
Long before Forbes Kiddoo’s man-made island gained fame in the 1980s, a set of dry docks became a major landmark in Richardson’s Bay.
In a two-part series for this paper, the Historical Society’s Annie Sutter wrote about the four drydocks, “the many tons of wood, iron and granite ballast that were deposited in Richardson Bay on the evening of a high tide in July 1966.” Here are some lightly edited excerpts from her account:
Nine drydocks were built at Moore’s Shipyard in Oakland in the 1930 s for the purpose of lifting ships out of the water so they could be repaired or worked upon. They were used to repair combat damaged ships during the war, and one account even has them having been towed to and from the South Pacific in 1943.
After the war they were sunk near Moore’s Shipyard where they remained underwater for years until a salvage company bought them, and arranged to have them towed to the Delta and dumped. Enroute, while under tow off Alcatraz, the nine drydocks caught the eye and the imagination of Delmar “Red” Wise as he sat in his second floor office in Sausalito. He arranged by VHF radio with the tug’s captain to buy four of them reportedly for a towing fee of $25,000 and brought them in on a high tide that very same night.
“Red” had two plans for his impulsive purchase. One was to move them into his boatyard, Diesel Marine and Engineering at the foot of Napa St, and fix them up for sale; marine salvage was in those days a lucrative business.
Quickly the City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting drydocks within the City limits. That effectively kiboshed Wise’s plans to restore them.
The other plan — “Atlantis” — was cooked up with the help of artist friend Chris Roberts; they were going to create the “Ghirardelli Square of Marin County.” complete with shops, restaurants and. naturally a waterfront cafe, with tourists being ferried across from the Napa St. Pier.
In 1968, “Red”, who was ill, sold the drydocks to Roberts for $l. Roberts, a free spirited soul and creative artist who had designed and built two fanciful structures, the 80′ tall “Madonna and Child” on a pile driver, and the “Owl,” a houseboat, had some energetic plans for his baby, including a “2.5 million educational and cultural complex”; the “Atlantis” plan; and a “gigantic Lotus shaped art center with studios and live-work space.”
In 1968 a giant daisy blossomed on the west wall. The idea was hatched in the no name bar by some “very respectable people in town,” according to newspaper reports. It took them two nighttime sorties in a rowboat to install it. One of the perpetrators said, “there was no reason, no message; it was just for fun.”
And there was a lot of fun to be had in those first years, the late 1960s. Folks would row out and have lunch. Others rowed out to smoke pot. A local caterer held an elegant wine tasting party for 100 people.
Probably the biggest and best remembered bash of all was in 1969, the 75th birthday party for artist and waterfront guru of good living, Jean Varda. One of the 300 or so participants recalls, “There were bonfires and a band and incense and marijuana smoke hanging in the air. It was really ‘hippiedom,’ beads and long flowing robes — I thought I was in the middle of India.”
LOVE IS was lettered alongside the daisy on Halloween Eve, 1969. This WAS a message. It seems to have gone unheeded except, perhaps, by some of the waterfront community who began to call the dry docks home.
Among others, The “Red Legs,” a waterfront band from Gate 5 began visiting the docks to play music and to generally have a good time. “At first we just visited and played music, then 4 or 5 guys started living there all the time,” recalled Redlegs vocalist Maggie Catfish. From then on it was an ongoing give and take scene between officials and the drydock inhabitants. In April 1970 “a swarm of drug agents, police, a county health inspector and a Fish and Game warden converged on the docks.”
(Next week tune in to Marinscope where we will report on the decline and fall of the dry docks.)