Celebrating the Life of Sausalito Houseboat Resident Phil Frank, the Cartoonist Behind “Farley”

This photo was taken Sunday, September 16, 2007, only days after Phil Frank, a cartoonist (the comic strip Farley), author, historian and much loved floating home owner, had passed away. The photographer is Bruce Forrester who stationed himself on the top deck of the ferryboat Vallejo, home to writer and Zen philosopher Alan Watts and legendary artist and party-giver Jean Vardo.

This celebration of life was initiated by Stewart Brand (the Whole Earth Catalog) who also lived on one of the 400 or so floating homes in Sausalito. Attendees appear to be happily waving, however at lower right a couple’s sign faintly reads, “GOODBYE PHIL,” referring to the reason for coming together. In a small way, it’s also a reminder that life hasn’t always been fun and games for the houseboats of Sausalito. During WWII, Marinship — a massive shipbuilding operation that employed 20,000, ran 24/7 and produced 93 Victory Ships in 40 months — dominated Sausalito’s waterfront. Then, once peace was declared, out of work shipbuilders used whatever they could find to build sea-born shanties; the result being a chaotic setting that attracted beatniks then hippies.

Next came the infamous “Sausalito Houseboat Wars” when Marin County supervisors sought to clear the area of slovenly floating hovels by towing them away. The high (or low) point of that era came in 1971 when an occupant attempted to cut the towline connecting his houseboat to a sheriff’s tug boat, and officers, seeing his knife, quickly drew their guns. Eventually, peace was restored and, with time, dingy houseboats have become colorful floating homes with all the amenities of life on land including telephones, cable TV and computers. Today, comparatively low sale prices ranging between $600,000 and $2.5 million are offset by monthly dock fees, plus utility and sewage fees that can run upwards of $1,500 per month. However, at last report, nary a floating home owner is complaining.