When I think back on that September day in 2011, I remember the winds gusting to 60 mph, the white caps frothing up over a slime-slickened pier stretching far out into the bay and me trying to get out of walking the length of it. I was in Garibaldi to visit a one-of-a-kind historic boathouse, but in that moment, there was no place I wanted to visit less. Standing there on the pier in my big yellow raincoat, trying to force a stubborn zipper that refused to budge, I told my guide there was no need for me to see it in person. I already knew it was a special place, and I could further get the gist from pictures. Besides, I was already running late. (Nothing like invoking the sacred ‘on deadline’ excuse.)
Today that boathouse, originally the US Coast Guard Lifeboat Station, and later dubbed Pier’s End Boathouse, is the first preservation project of the Garibaldi Cultural Heritage Initiative and an apt choice, indeed. The station was built in 1936 and put into use in 1937. Set at the end of a 760-foot stretch over 100 wood pilings, it came with its own marine railway, and could accommodate two 36-foot-motor lifeboats and one 26-foot oar-powered surfboat. When the call for help came in, crewmen rolled the lifeboat over the rails into the water, then, when their work was done, winched it back up over the rails into the boathouse. The two-story structure was decommissioned in the 1960s.
“It’s the last boathouse in existence in the Pacific Northwest of this type, actually off the water,” said Mike Arseneault, GCHI volunteer marketing consultant and all around community advocate. “Once it’s gone it’s gone. If it falls into the bay it is not going to be coming back.
Last summer, Arseneault invited 10 photographers to come to the boathouse and shoot it from sunup to sundown. Now, a recent grant from the Tillamook County Cultural Coalition will go toward installing lights in the boathouse for a photography exhibition, including vintage shots as well as those taken summer — the latter donated by the photographers. Arseneault is paying out of his own pocket to have the photos printed.
“This will help us tell the story and communicate the significance of the boathouse,” he said. “Our goal is get the space open over key weekends to allow more people to see and experience the space to hopefully generate more funds to help with the full scope of repairs. GCHI is a 501c3 non-profit. In addition to raising funds, we could use donated services of contractors to evaluate and repair the pilings and exterior, repair the pier structure, upgrade electrical and all interior mechanical work.”
The photo exhibit will no doubt allow visitors to appreciate this Tillamook Bay icon, but plans for its use are not only for museum-like displays, but practical hands-on workshops and other special events, such as the recent kayak-building workshop hosted there.
“The goal right now is to get people vested in the history and why it is important to keep for the future,” Arseneault said. “We have kind of fallen in love with it. We love working with something people have such a connection to. People tell me their stories. We’ll give people a tour and they are completely blown away. There is nothing left like this on the coast. As far as I am concerned, it is a national treasure.”
GCHI leases the boathouse from the Port of Garibaldi for $1 a year, and hopes to have repairs and fresh painting completed in time to open the building to the public on select weekends this spring.
While the boathouse is closed to the public except for special events, the 760-foot pier is open and includes a concrete staircase to the shoreline and seven disabled-accessible turnouts for wildlife viewing, crabbing and fishing. Even in blasting winds and splashing waves, it’s a popular place for those obviously more hearty than I. On that day in September — felt like December — I gave in and reluctantly inched my way out across the slippery pier past numerous folks minding crab rings and fishing rods, apparently not too concerned about the conditions we were in. My only thought was getting to the boathouse, getting inside and surviving the trek back to terra firma. Today, I still grin at the experience (yes, I am such a chicken) and count myself lucky to have had it.
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.