Title: Phil Frank's book details Marin's houseboat history
Author: Mark Prado
Publication: Marin Independent Journal
Phil Frank, the late Sausalito cartoonist and historian, had a deep interest in houseboats that parlayed itself into research and the beginnings of a book on the subject.
Frank died in September 2007 before the book could be finished. But his wife, Susan, took up the cause and helped complete "Houseboats of Sausalito," a 128-page book published by Arcadia Publishing with dozens of black-and-white photos illustrating the history of floating homes in the county.
"He was fascinated by the history of living on the water, it really whetted his historical appetite," Susan Frank said. "He looked in all corners of Marin and came up with these amazing photographs and stories. He was passionate about the history."
For 13 years, Frank and his wife lived on a funky but elegant 1890-vintage houseboat with their two children.
In 1986, they moved off the houseboat, but Frank kept a studio in the pilot house of an 1880s ferry boat in the houseboat community on the Sausalito waterfront.
"Phil had incredible roots in the houseboats," said Larry Clinton, president of the Sausalito Historical Society. "He would come out and give talks during the floating homes tour every year. His expertise on houseboats was unparalleled."
The book uses simple captions and photos to tell the story of houseboats in Marin. The houseboat community in the county can be traced to the 1800s, when arks began to anchor in Belvedere Cove and along Corte Madera Creek; the first third of the Franks' book documents those areas.
In Sausalito, the state began selling underwater lots to be filled for development as a way to raise money in the early part of the 20th century. In Sausalito, it ended up in private hands and marinas were developed.
After World War II, decommissioned boats including landing craft, lifeboats and tugboats, were turned into floating homes for people who found it an inexpensive way to live. Artists and beatniks moved into houseboats and the community was born.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, young families abounded and the community had a distinctive counterculture feel.
"What I tried to capture was the creative spirit that was in the houseboat community," said Bruce Forrester, whose photos are featured in the book. "People there would see anything as a cause for celebration."
But toward the latter part of the 1970s, Marina development threatened that way of life and Forrester's eye caught images of houseboaters trying to block pile-driving work during the "Houseboat Wars" period, which led to concessions by builders.
"This was low-cost housing and people felt their lifestyle was under siege," he said. "They made a real stand."