Originally a U.S. Navy vessel pressed into service during World War II, eccentric Sausalito houseboat “Evil Eye,” once inhabited by beloved children’s author and cartoonist Shel Silverstein, is up for sale once again. Only this time it’s been given a thorough makeover by its latest owner. Sold for $375,000 in 2017, today’s asking price is a few fathoms beyond twice as much at $783,000, arguably a fair price for such a storied piece of local literary and pop music history.
Waldo Point Harbor’s gated-and-docked community is no stranger to repurposed tubs. Amidst the colorful flotilla of Sausalito’s vibrant, unique community of floating homes can be found a variety of remodeled military vessels: barges, tugboats, submarine chasers and landing craft.
Some houseboats, like “Evil Eye,” are constructed over the foundations of balloon barges. First used during WWII, these marine vehicles were deployed as surveillance and defense ships, from which gigantic helium balloons – like tiny blimps – were tethered by cables to help American forces thwart possible attack from Japanese aircraft. From such barges anchored outside the Golden Gate Bridge, the airborne cables were meant to act as a sort of aerial fishing net to ensnare low-flying enemy bombers and fighter planes.
After the war ended, the naval barge was decommissioned. Ultimately it was repurposed into a 1,200-square-foot houseboat, from all outward appearances made up of a seemingly random assortment of oddly shaped, asymmetrical wooden boxes, like a row of sagging 1800s ghost town structures leaning against each other for support.
In 1967 Shel Silverstein and artist/photographer Larry Moyer came to San Francisco from New York as a collaborative artistic team on a Playboy magazine travel assignment, exploring the Haight-Ashbury district and its hippie scene. During their Summer of Love sojourn in the Haight, they visited rock-and-roll guitarist Dino Valenti (of Quicksilver Messenger Service) on the Sausalito waterfront. “There were a few hundred boats. It was total freedom,” Moyer reminisced later. “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.” Silverstein acquired “Evil Eye” later that year.
Notorious waterfront artist Chris Roberts bears credit for converting the barge into a marine residence and giving the bohemian houseboat its moniker, likely inspired by the boat’s large “eye-like” stained-glass windows. Silverstein purchased “Evil Eye” three years after the publication of his masterwork “The Giving Tree.” During these years he split his time among homes in Greenwich Village, Martha’s Vineyard and Key West as well.
On YouTube the songwriter and two-time Grammy winner can be seen aboard his nautical retreat accompanying a spirited jam session by the band Dr. Hook and The Medicine Show, for whom he wrote most of the music and lyrics on their first few albums. (Look for a rousing rendition of the 1972 hit “Sylvia’s Mother,” written by Silverstein.) The video clearly shows band members partaking in a leafy medicinal substance now legal in California. “Uncle Shelby” inhabited the houseboat until about 1975, shortly after writing and illustrating “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” his first collection of poems for children.
Silverstein had a daughter, Shoshanna, born in 1970 to Susan Taylor Hastings, then living in Sausalito. Silverstein and Hastings never wed; Susan and Shoshanna lived in an apartment in town. Tragically, both mother and daughter died young, Susan in 1975 and Shoshanna in 1982 at age 11. Silverstein’s “A Light in the Attic” is dedicated to his Marin-born daughter.
After Silverstein’s death in 1999, longtime colleague and friend Moyer inherited the legendary houseboat, retaining captaincy of the craft. Moyer lived aboard with his wife and cats until his own death in 2016. Over the years, sadly, “Evil Eye” fell into disrepair. In the 2016 book “Floating in Sausalito,” authors Lars Aberg and Lars Strandberg wrote that the floating home was “covered in a layer of historical dust,” and that the interior decoration style was “an indoor desert garden.” When the houseboat was on the market in 2017, realtor Paul Bergeron said it was “a great opportunity to remodel.”
The current owner preserved the houseboat’s ramshackle exterior and vintage countenance. The interior, however, is a spick-and-span renovation, complete with skylights, a raised lounge, custom dining table, hardwood floors, updated bathroom fixtures and a sleek, ultra-modern kitchen in whites and pale grays. The refurbished interior boasts a warm, wooden glow, illuminated by lots of windows of various shapes and sizes. There’s an attempt at a second bedroom with a bed hanging several feet off the ground, suspended by chains worthy of an anchor. Some retro elements persist: portholes and a wooden door panel painted with organic, tribal forms best described as “far out.”
“Evil Eye,” with its provenance and stunning views of Richardson Bay, can be found at 8 Liberty Dock near Gate 5 Road off Bridgeway. She is represented by Dianne Andrews of Engel & Volkers, Sausalito. The realtor describes the property as a possible second home or vacation rental.