Capture the colorful history of the Sausalito houseboat community

  • Independent Journal Sherry LaVars / Marin

    Catherine Lyons-Labate walks near the houseboat community of Sausalito where she has lived for decades. His book, “Sausalito: Once Upon A Waterfront,” features his photos, as well as memories of the vibrant community.

  • Photo by Catherine Lyons-Labate

    “Girls at the Gates” by Catherine Lyons-Labate, 1985. “The waterside style with a touch of attitude appeared at a young age in an environment as theatrical as Gate 6,” she says.

  • Photo by Catherine Lyons-Labate

    “Waldo Point to Paris”, 1984 photo of Catherine Lyons-Labate of Kathleen Roberts and her son Philippe Haas, on their way to visit their family in Paris.

  • Photo by Catherine Lyons-Labate

    Catherine Lyons-Labate’s “Ale’s Stew Extraordinaire”, a 1989 photo included in her book “Sausalito: Once Upon A Waterfront”. “Every year a neighbor by the name of Billy the Punk would drive me to visit Ale Ekstrom, who had lived in Richardson Bay since the 1960s. We spent the afternoons chatting, enjoying a stew and photographing until ‘on the way back from my trip. “

  • Photo by Catherine Lyons-Labate

    Self-portrait of Catherine Lyons-Labate, “Woman Warrior Weds Work”, an image from 1986 included in her book “Once Upon A Waterfront”. 1986. “I bought my first enlarger. This self-portrait, assisted by photographer Orrin Moon, was to celebrate a new chapter in my life as a professional photographer with my own darkroom.”

  • Photo by Catherine Lyons-Labate

    “As I was leaving the parking lot at gate 6 early one morning, I was struck by the ethereal effect of the fog on the old paddle wheel,” says Catherine Lyons-Labate of her 1988 photo of the paddle wheel by Charles Van Damme and Nick Cooke “Gaudi-style fence”.

  • Independent Journal Sherry LaVars / Marin

    Catherine Lyons-Labate is seen on the back deck of her houseboat in Sausalito.

There has been so much written about Sausalito’s colorful houseboat community over the years and so many photographs taken that one might wonder what more can be said or shown.

A lot, says Catherine Lyons-Labate. That’s why the longtime houseboat resident recently published “Sausalito: Once Upon A Waterfront,” a 209-page hardcover book of her photographs chronicling the people and events of the Gates Co-Operative, part of Waldo Point Harbor, and stories from its past. While many have documented the houseboat community, few have been female. It was time, she thought, to present it through a woman’s lens.

“As an initiate and as a woman, I was able to create a certain depth of character and lay bare the fabric of the community. You have to be an initiate to get to that depth, and that’s what I was trying to create with this book. And I feel like I succeeded, ”she says. “My point of view, my point of view as a woman, is more sensual, it’s more intimate. My photos are closer. It is the sharing of small, everyday, rather than big events. It kind of brings warmth to the images.

Lyons-Labate had long wanted to create a book about the community she had photographed since arriving here as a teenager in 1974, after hitchhiking from Chicago, and immediately felt welcomed by locals. “Wanderers, artists and free spirits, seeking to live among the elements. Already in 2008, famous photographer Pirkle Jones, her teacher and mentor at the San Francisco Art Institute as well as another houseboat documentary maker, said of her fledgling project: “From an insider’s perspective as a A waterfront resident for over 35 years, Catherine’s gelatin silver prints describe the way of life, culture and makeup of this vibrant community today. I see this work as an important part of the rich history of Sausalito and Marin County.

But marriage, motherhood and work – she was the in-house photographer for the legendary Sweetwater in Mill Valley, as well as a wedding and portrait photographer and negotiator for the houseboat community – still seem to stand in the way. However, she never stopped photographing.

“It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to include in the book. There were so many options. And then I needed a team, ”she says.

Enter his daughter Calli Rose, producer of photos.

A pivotal year

Lyons-Labate reduced the images to the ones she took from 1983 and 2005, when she lived at Gate 6. It’s not like the photos taken before 1983 didn’t matter, but 1983 has been a pivotal year for the barge community. It was when the stranded ferries Charles Van Damme and Issaquah, where her daughter was born in 1979, which stood guard at Gate 6, were destroyed.

It was then that she began to seriously photograph the community. “I wanted to photograph every moment, every person, everything because it was going away,” she says.

As she writes, “The Van Damme was more than just a charming monument. It was a gathering place. Community thanksgiving took place here; Spook Houses were built every year for trick-or-treaters; Artists set up studios in every nook and cranny available; Yoga classes and kids’ movie nights were a staple in the community. It was all part of the fabric of this surreal environment. I had my 4-harness loom in one of the pilot houses where I spent hours weaving bags and blankets for sale at the annual art festival.

It sounds nostalgic, but Lyons-Labate, who lives on A Dock with her husband, Michael Labate, who is president of the Floating Homes Association, is not.

“I don’t feel like my feelings have changed about this community and the waterfront. I don’t look at the community through the lens; I’m just living it, ”she said. “The book serves a while, but it also evokes the riverside community and that feeling is still a part of their lives. That’s why people stay.

“The soul of a place”

This sense of community was especially important during the pandemic, she says. “I didn’t feel alone. I could still stand outside my door and see people on the platform, ”she says. “Community life is very special and we should all cherish this life by the water and share it as much as possible. I feel like people want that.

Historian, art critic and author Candra Day says Lyons-Labate’s book “captures the soul of a place and, in this case, the place is a rare type of community and a singular moment in time. … A document describing something that is precious and that is disappearing. . “

Lyons-Labate hopes his book will reach people beyond those who call the Sausalito waterfront home, especially how it showcases community.

“I wanted it to be a very sincere, very moving book. And it is, ”she said.

“Sausalito: Once Upon A Waterfront” can be found on Sausalito Books by the Bay and onceuponawaterfront.com.


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