• A section of the bowsprint and figurehead on the bow of BALCLUTHA.

    San Francisco Maritime

    National Historical Park California

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  • Ferryboat EUREKA closed for maintenance.

    Ferryboat EUREKA is closed for maintenance. The gangway that links the ship to the pier is being repaired.

San Francisco Bay Ark

A wooden houseboat painted white with green trim, a front porch, and sitting on dry land.
The San Francisco Bay Ark, also known as the Lewis Ark, located near the entrance of Hyde Street Pier.
NPS
 

This little houseboat, referred to locally as an ark, was one of several dozen boats moored out as summer hideaways for San Francisco families in Belvedere Lagoon, near Tiburon in Marin County during the early 1900s.

Reputedly built for the McGinnis family sometime prior to 1900, this ark was hauled ashore about 1923 and passed through several hands before being donated to the park in 1969.

Summer aboard the arks was an idyllic time. The boats were brightly painted, and glowed at night with colorful Japanese lanterns. Evenings were spent visiting between boats in neatly finished Whitehall rowboats.

The San Francisco Bay Ark is a wooden houseboat, 44 feet long, 25 feet wide, with a rounded, barge-like bottom and a two-foot draft. The builder and date are unknown, but it was probably constructed between 1890 and 1900. This ark is typical of the ark common around the turn of the last century in the San Francisco Bay and was mostly berthed in a cove near Belvedere, CA.

The interior is panelled with a dark wood. In the front room, or parlor, is a brick and iron fireplace. Sliding doors lead to two bedrooms with built-in beds. A narrow hallway leads to the rear of the ark.

The ark is open for visiting during park hours free of charge.

 
A black and white photo showing a flat-roofed houseboat moored in a cove with a hillside behind it.
The ark Minnehaha near Belvedere Island. Guests gather under an awning and a sailing Whitehall boat is ready alongside.

"Here a bath is a matter of stepping off the porch, a stroll is taken in a boat, and the splash of oars announces butcher and baker."
Albert S. Hunt, in "Houseboats and House Boating," 1905.
NPS B12.233321
 
A black and white photo of three women standing on the deck of a houseboat.
A houseboat near Alviso, CA around 1915. Alviso is located in the far South Bay, near San Jose. The Bay tends to be very shallow in this area so one hopes the woman on the right was just pretending to dive.
NPS SAFR B11.22.072
 
Two houseboats floating on the water.
Here is an older picture of the Lewis Ark (top of photo on the right) when she was still afloat. The houseboat was modified over the years.
NPS SAFR B11.28,506

Did You Know?

The exterior of the historic brick buiding that houses the park visitor center.

The brick building that houses the Visitor Center was built in 1908. It was originally constructed as a warehouse for the California Fruit Canners Association. The building was was given Landmark Status in 1975.