Sausalito houseboat photo exhibit opens Monday

Published online: Jun 05, 2009 News Mark Prado
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When photographer Bruce Forrester moved to Sausalito, California in the mid-1970s he ended up residing across the street from the city's houseboat community, became fascinated by it and began to document it on film.

"My home was right off of Bridgeway - and across the street were the houseboats, and I became enamored with it," said Forrester, 56, from his Mill Valley home. "Different scenes would spark my interest."

Beginning Monday evening more than 40 of his photographs of the houseboat community, taken from 1975 to 1980, will be on display at the Sausalito Historical Society's exhibit room at City Hall.

Gate 5, part of the Sausalito houseboat community. (Provided by Bruce Forrester)

"There was a sense of great creativity happening there," said Forrester, whose work has been featured on the cover of American Preservation Magazine, as well as at exhibits at the Marin County Civic Center and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. "It was a low-rent place, people created their own homes. There were musicians, painters, boat builders, it was an eclectic community of extraordinary people."

Many of Forrester's photos ran in the weekly Marin Scope newspaper in a column called "The Freebox," also the name of a large container among the houseboats where people would drop off unwanted items for someone else to use.

"It was a community where people took almost every opportunity to have a celebration, a celebration of life," said Forrester, who helped produce "Subee Lives on a Houseboat," a children's book he published with the late Phil Frank and Frank's wife, Susan.

"One person's creativity inspired the next person's creativity."

Many of Forrester's pictures ended up in a book, "Houseboats of Sausalito," that the cartoonist Frank started and that his wife finished in 2008 after he died.

"These photos represent a real slice of life during the hey-day of the Bohemian houseboat community in the 1970s," said Larry Clinton, president of the city's historical society. "It's a really good mix of a lot of different aspects."

Some of Forrester's favorite

pictures are of the ferries, the Charles Van Damme, the San Rafael and Vallejo and the boat Issaquah, that were converted into homes.

"The old ferries that people lived on were almost like temples or mosques, and had the grace of a church spire," he said. "They were these amazing structures, monuments."

A graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, Forrester eventually moved to Fairfax and went on to a successful career in photography specializing in people and events.

The houseboat community wasn't perfect, but it was special, Forrester said.

"It wasn't Utopia; there were some drug issues and other things," he said. "But it was and is such an amazing place and it's in our back yard, and there is such a wealth to the houseboat community. It's one of those things that adds to my wealth."

The public is invited to attend the opening of "Freebox - Sausalito Waterfront Community of the 1970s" by Bruce Forrester, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Sausalito Historical Society's exhibit room, on the third floor of Sausalito City Hall, 420 L

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