Vallejo (ferry)

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Vallejo ferry boat.png
Vallejo during its time as a ferry between Mare Island and Vallejo
  • O&CRR Ferry No. 2 (c.1879)
  • Vallejo (c.1895)
Owner: Oregon & California Railroad
Launched: 1879
General characteristics
Length: 123.2 ft (37.6 m)
Beam: 31.5 ft (9.6 m)
Draft: 9.9 ft (3.0 m)
Installed power: 455 hp (339 kW) Steam engine

The Vallejo is a houseboat in Sausalito, California, United States. It was originally a passenger ferry in Portland, Oregon, known as O&CRR Ferry No. 2, in the late 19th century. After falling into disuse in Portland, it was transported to the San Francisco Bay in California, where it was used as a ferry between Vallejo and Mare Island until the end of World War II. It was later purchased by a group led by artist Jean Varda, and repurposed as a houseboat, where a number of parties and salons were hosted by leading figures in the San Francisco area counterculture scene of the 1960s and '70s.


The Oregon & California Railroad Ferry No. 2 initially served Portland, providing connectivity between the East Portland terminus of the O&C Railroad line and Downtown Portland.[1][2] It was put into service in 1879 by Henry Villard, to replace an aging ferry initially set up by Ben Holladay. Differing accounts have the boat built on the East Coast and coming to Portland around Cape Horn, or else being built in Portland.[3] The Portland ferry service was the subject of a court case appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court: in November 1878, a drunken passenger stepped off the boat before it landed, and drowned.[4]

With the construction of the Steel Bridge in 1888, the ferry was no longer needed; after several idle years, it was transported to the San Francisco Bay, renamed Vallejo, and converted to use coal and then oil for fuel. A bill of sale dated 1923 reflects a purchase by Robert Rauhauge of the Mare Island Line.[3] It was put into service transporting workers and visitors between the city of Vallejo and Mare Island.[1] Ferry service was discontinued after the end of World War II, and with the construction of a causeway connecting Mare Island and Vallejo; Vallejo was the last ferry to be retired. She was sold for scrap in 1947, and delivered to Sausalito to be broken up.[3]

Restored SS Vallejo


Artist Jean Varda noticed the boat while its demolition was pending. He, surrealist Gordon Onslow Ford, and architect Forest Wright purchased it; Wright soon sold his third to Ford. They made extensive, improvised alterations, using scraps in the area, and turned the boat into an art studio and houseboat. Ford described it as "a place where artists blossomed, flowered", adding that "Varda set the tone" with his interest in entertaining.[3]

Under the auspices of The Society For Comparative Philosophy ( 1962- 1984) poet Elsa Gidlow and philosopher Alan Watts bought Ford's share of the houseboat in 1961. The ferry was then used as home base for Alan and Jano Watts and meeting place for hundreds of Society functions.[5][6] The Society's parties and salons continued.

Houseboat Summit[edit]

The most famous gathering on Vallejo was known as the "Houseboat Summit" and featured Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Watts discussing LSD and life style issues; The famous discussion can be found in the counterculture magazine the San Francisco Oracle.[7]

Later life[edit]

Vallejo deteriorated heavily during the 1960s. Varda died suddenly in 1971, as did Watts in 1973.[3] Talks continued on the boat after Watts’ death, from 1978 Alfred Sorensen, a mystic known as Sunyata held weekly meetings there where he would answer questions from visitors.[8]

Marian Saltman, who had begun living on Vallejo in 1971, arranged for its purchase in 1981, and began to restore the boat. She said, "I hope she will continue to be the home of remarkable people and ideas, and I wish her to serve the creative and artistic needs of Sausalito and the Bay Area."[3]

Vallejo was transferred across the San Francisco Bay to an Alameda shipyard for repairs in 2000, and then returned to her dock in Sausalito.[9][10]

A new fiberglass outer hull is currently[when?] being built and will be installed sometime in 2012. The houseboat currently[when?] operates as a private residence, with no visitation permitted.


  1. ^ a b Barber, Lawrence (August 22, 1954). "Last stop for Ferry No. 2". The Oregonian. Archived from the original on 22 August 2011. 
  2. ^ Wright, E. W. (1895). Lewis & Dryden's Marine History of the Pacific Northwest. Lewis & Dryden Printing Company. p. 269. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f Sutter, Annie (1987). "The Old Ferryboats of Sausalito". Sausalito, Calif: Scope Pub. Co. 
  4. ^ Oregon Supreme Court (1880). Reports of cases decided in the Supreme Court of the State of Oregon. 8. West Publishing Co. p. 172. 
  5. ^ Foley, Heide (2003). "Short Biography [of Jean Varda]". The Jean Varda Project. Retrieved 2011-08-26. 
  6. ^ Watts, Alan. In My Own Way, an Autobiography. Novato, California: New World Library. pp. 300–304. 
  7. ^ Liberatore, Paul (18 August 2011). "Alan Watts' life celebrated in his son's animated documentary". Marin Independent Journal. [not in citation given]
  8. ^ A Conversation with William Patrick Patterson by Guy Spiro The Monthly Aspectarian 2001
  9. ^ Forant, Denize (October 2000). "The Vallejo floats again!" (pdf). Floating Times (Newsletter). XV (5). Floating Homes Association. p. 3. 
  10. ^ "Photographs, August 2002 – December 2002". SS Vallejo. Retrieved 2011-08-30.