BY: JESSICA BEUKER
For more than half a century Richardson Bay, just north of Sausalito, California, has been inhabited by hippies, artists and self-proclaimed pirates. This unique group of characters lives off-grid in a collection of houseboats – the last remaining members of this seaside tribe occupy roughly 38 houseboats at The Gates Co-op.
In recent years, The Gates has undergone a large amount of change. Houseboats have been torn down and renovated to be brought up to code. But it wasn’t always like this – in fact, the residents fought for years to keep The Gates just as it always was.
In the 1950s beatniks started using the abandoned shipbuilding industry as a place to squat – living in vacant construction buildings. In the 60s and early 70s they were joined by hippies, as the area was becoming known as a haven for struggling artists, according to The New York Times.
Captain Garbage the groom holding daisy, Mud Wedding #11, Gate 5, Sausalito, California, 1970. By Pirkle Jones
Wayne with his parrot, Normal-Norman Calin, Michael Scott in the centre and unidentified man on the right, #10, Gate 5, Sausalito, California, 1970. By Pirkle Jones
During this time the residents basked in the easy lifestyle that the houseboat community had to offer. Painters and sculptors used the boats as studios. There were endless parties, and according to Messy Nessy Chic, Bill Kreutzmann, the drummer for the Grateful Dead even lived there for a while. The parties only cost $2, and featured free beer and pirate rock.
In the mid ’70s conflicts began to arise between The Gates Co-op and the authorities. According to KALW, the city even announced plans to burn down the barges. This only led to further altercations and what would become known as “the water wars.”
Penny Glory, a resident of The Gates, and who had her houseboat torn down in 2014, told KALW about some of the wars. “On the Charles Van Damme they had a big whistle, so when the cops were coming they would pull the whistle – and everyone would go to war.” Police would come at any hour of the day or night trying to evict squatters and destroying boats, but the residents would always fight back. “They used to have these big barrels of… shit. And they would roll them and use that against the cops,” she added.
Eventually the city stopped fighting and took the conflict to court. After 20 years of legal battles, the squatters got to stay, but they had to have permits and make sure their boats were up to code. So in 2014, they began tearing down the houseboats to do just that – bring them up to code. Glory’s houseboat was one that got torn down, along with another resident’s, Maria Finn. “I saved just a couple small chunks of it. And I don’t feel sad, but it is a little sad. It was a beautiful boat,” Finn said to KALW, before changing her mind. “No it wasn’t,” she laughed. “It was a crappy boat, it was never a beautiful boat, I have a picture of it. It’s a terrible old boat.”
Houseboat being torn down in 2014
But the residents know that it only adds to the charm and the fun – the rickety dock, the patched-together houses, the shady electricity system, everything seems held together by a thread. Glory and Finn have both been embracing the change. As has Kristine Barrett, another Gates resident. “There’s still like a lot of artists and a lot of people doing really interesting progressive things. It just looks different than it did.”
The Gates Co-op is no longer free, but instead is designated as low-income housing. Residents are expected to pay $400 per month to rent the slips on which their boats sit. The community has undergone a numerous amount of change, but at its heart it is still a community of weird and wonderful characters simply living their colourful lives to the fullest.