The Ark Sausalito: the Charles Van Damme Ferry
Modern attention may be drawn to Sausalito’s two most famous (or notorious) houseboats, the Taj Mahal and Forbes Island. But it so happens that the two most famous boats in 20th Century Sausalito history gained their fame as retired ferries: the S.S. Vallejo and the S.S. Charles Van Damme.
A club and performance venue in the 1960’s, the Ark was the popular name for the old ferry boat Van Damme, moored (and eventually grounded) at Gate 6 in Sausalito. Apart from its musical prominence, it was also a psychedelic-era cultural center for the entire region. The Santana Blues Band (before their name was shortened to Santana) played their first-ever gig there on March 1, 1967, and returned again in 1968.
Local bands like the Redlegs (shown in the video above, and still playing locally with different lineups as The Hippie Voices, The Gaters and Catfish & Tate) played benefits there in an unsuccessful effort to save the antique boat. Old handbills from the Ark can sell for hundreds of dollars each on the collectors market.
You can see old photos of the Ark and read about the effort to preserve its paddle wheel and smokestack (all that’s left after the old ship was declared unsafe and demolished) at the Charles Van Damme Ferry website.