The Charles Van Damme

1972 - The Charles Van Damme

The old Charles Van Damme ferry was the very first thing that caught my attention late in 1969   early 1970 during one of my very first trips across the Golden Gate Bridge into Marin County. I drove through the tunnel and over Waldo Grade on my way into the town of Sausalito thinking as I did so how cool it was to have just entered a tunnel built through a hillside that had a colorful RAINBOW painted around it's curved entrance. I had the feeling (as I entered a rainbow of all things) that something VERY special might be about to happen. Seeing the Charles Van Damme ferryboat along the Sausalito waterfront, and the Issaquah, a wonderful old riverboat off to the side and out behind it confirmed this gut feeling. Something special WAS happening. I knew somehow that I needed to enter the parking lot in front of the Van Damme, get out of my vehicle and check things out. I felt that I had just entered an area that I can only describe as special, even MAGICAL. My very first impression was the sense that I had arrived at an abandoned movie set but I was somehow meant to be at this incredible location doing something special. It wasn't until later on that I figured out that, yes in fact, I was meant to be here and I really was going to do something special.

I came to California from New Hampshire, after teaching Art for three years in both Sunapee   New London, New Hampshire with ONE sole purpose. I needed to spend one year, doing anything at all to meet expenses, so that I could claim residency in the state of California and be able to work on a Master's Degree in Art as an in-state student. Who could beat that deal. I knew what it would have cost me if I had stayed on the East Coast to get my degree since I had been looking for a while at Art Schools such as RISD, in Providence Rhode Island, the Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, New York etc. and simply knew that I didn't have the money to even consider it. Also, the lure to head to the San Francisco Bay Area was getting stronger   stronger due to the music scene, and the sense of freedom that seemed to be occurring there. During the year I was working and keeping track of my pay stubs , to prove that I truly had been in the state for the required amount of time. I did some really fun things. I took a number of very interesting night courses in creative photography at UC Berkeley. Then I actually set up my own black   white dark room in my kitchen at the apartment I rented in Daly City, south of San Francisco. I started checking out the music scene at places such as Fillmore West, the Family Dog down by the beach in San Francisco, and the free concerts in Golden Gate Park. Since I had recently passed up the opportunity to go to Woodstock during my trip West, I actually attended the free Rolling Stones Concert at Altamont. Things certainly WERE different out here.

I applied to San Francisco State College and was accepted into the Creative Arts Department in June of 1970, exactly a year after leaving my teaching position. Knowing that I would much rather create some sort of interesting Master's project than write any type of thesis I began traveling around the bay area looking for possible locations which might suit my needs. The floating houseboat community at Waldo Point intrigued me. Seeing the Charles Van Damme for the very first time was all I needed to know that my project would need to be done here. This was too special a place to ignore. I would start with drawings of the Charles Van Damme and the great looking Issaquah and, hopefully, develop a game plan. After all, I was a creative guy and I knew that if I had a goal to reach I could put in the positive energy to make that goal happen. After all, I was now in a school I liked, working on the Master's Degree I came out to California to get, and I was doing it for only $75.00 a semester. UNREAL!!!

I found out a lot about the Charles Van Damme as I did my research. As the boat had gone out of service as a ferry between Benicia and Martinez in the 1950's, it had been reincarnated as the Canton Ferry restaurant while moored outside the City of Oakland. When the restaurant failed, Don Argues, who owned a great deal of the property at the Gates, purchased it for its salvageable materials. Then, as some say he had it towed late at night under mysterious circumstances to his property near the mud flats of Richardson Bay. Juanita Musson, who was in the restaurant business in Sausalito, agreed to rent the ferry and continue to use it as a restaurant. She beached her new restaurant, gave it a facelift then started attracting celebrities such as Jonathan Winters, Tommy   Dick Smothers, Phyllis Diller and others before going deeply into debt. After loosing the ferry it was later permanently scuttled. It then became "The Ark" and was frequented by David Crosby, Dino Valente, Steven Stills, Neil Young and the group Sparrow (later called Steppenwolf). About then Don Argues started allowing just about anyone to stay in the area in their makeshift houseboats and said it was OK to have benefits on the Charles Van Damme for the new floating community that was getting together. The newly formed local houseboat band the REDLEGS, led by Joe Tate, featuring Maggie Catfish, Jeff Costello, Joey Brennan   Kim Carrigg made this THE place to be from then on. Many Benefits for the Houseboat Defense Fund ensued. With some great live music and a donation of only $2.00 each for all the beer you could drink, with some nudity thrown in I was right where I was now supposed to be at precisely the right time to be there. As an artist I would attempt to capture the look and feel of this magic floating community and get my Master's Degree at the same time. HOW PERFECT!!!

Prints & Pricing
Please contact artist John A. Kendall if you would like a custom size: or 603-763-3295.