The Forbes Island Houseboat
Forbes Island was once the most famous houseboat in Sausalito, even more renowned than the Taj Mahal (the barge for which came from the same shipyard). In the late 1970s and 1980s Forbes Island was a fixture in Richardson Bay off of Sausalito. Contrary to many peoples’ assumptions it had nothing to do with entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes, having been built by local contractor Forbes Kiddoo (see full story below), who first came to Sausalito in 1959.
Since then Forbes Island’s history has had more twists and turns than a Dragon Tattoo novel, taking it from a Sausalito Landmark to life as a wandering exile, then a rebirth as the high-end Forbes Island SF destination restaurant. When he floating restaurant version of Forbes Island closed in 2017, Forbes Kiddoo announced his retirement, and in 2018 the restaurant was moved to the Holland Riverside Marina in Brentwood, in the Delta waters of Contra Costa County. It now serves as an events venue and Airbnb site.
Builder and master carpenter Forbes Kiddoo (his real name) had great success in the 1970’s during the heyday of Sausalito houseboat construction, when his shipyard built 24 concrete barges for houseboats a year. Residents paid no rent and could simply anchor off the Sausalito shoreline.
To celebrate his success he spent five years building a 288-ton 1,600-square foot concrete barge for his own home and hand-building the masterful structure both above and below the water line. On the surface he added tons of sand, boulders and palm trees to create an artificial beach. Above and below the water level he used his personal carpentry skills to create amazing living and dining quarters — every door was hand assembled without the use of nails, and the portholes were recycled from old ships. The vessel launched in 1980.
Fed by stories of lavish multi-day parties where fish swam by the underwater portholes in the bar, Forbes Island became a symbol of Reagan-era 1980s excesses in Northern California. The island and Kiddoo were featured in the National Enquirer (which hired models to lie on its beach in bikinis for the photo shoot) and the TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with Robin Leach.
The dream did not last long in its original form. When the Sausalito houseboats were regulated and organized in piers in the 1980s the berths were all filled, rent had to be paid and demand for barges and new boats dwindled. Kiddoo closed his shipyard and opened a construction business that specialized in piers, but went through some tough years. By 1986 the Island was up for sale with an asking price of $2 million, but a deal was never closed.
The never-approved Island was eventually condemned as “illegal Bay fill” and forced to go into exile at a pier at the northern tip of San Francisco Bay in Antioch, where Kiddoo added the 40-foot-tall working lighthouse and continued his elegant carpentry. After failed attempts to convert the houseboat into a restaurant in Pillar Point Harbor near Half Moon Bay (San Mateo County) and in Coronado (San Diego County), Kiddoo got the necessary approvals and signed a lease at Pier 39 in San Francisco.
In 1998 the Island was towed to Fisherman’s Wharf, where it has been reborn as a lavish island restaurant served by a shuttle boat, often operated by Kiddoo himself.