Story by Sayde Moser-Walker/Photos courtesy Tillamook Coast
The Garibaldi Cultural Heritage Initiative aims to preserve and repurpose the former United States Coast Guard Boathouse known as Pier’s End.
The harsh creak of rusty chains and tired groan of metal pulleys accompany the opening of the garage-like doors of Pier’s End in Garibaldi. Sunlight floods the inside of the boathouse and suddenly disturbed sea gulls and cormorants, perched on the roof, take off on the breeze. An old rail line that runs the length of the building jets several more hundred feet beyond the open door before disappearing into the water.
The Coast Guard once housed two 36-foot lifeboats and one 26-foot oar-powered surfboat in this building, now commonly referred to as Pier’s End. The rail lines allowed the boats to be rapidly launched, fully manned, into the water—enabling a rescue mission to get a running start, if you will.
But the boathouse, built in 1936, was decommissioned in the early 1960s, when 44-foot lifeboats became the norm, and eventually the Port of Garibaldi took over ownership. Now, the 80-year-old building sits at the end of a 760-foot boardwalk, its windows covered in bird droppings, insulation drooping from the ceiling—with nothing but memories left of its former glory days. Until now.
Kristen Penner is president of the Garibaldi Cultural Heritage Initiative, a nonprofit aimed at—among other things—restoring and rehabilitating the boathouse and creating a cultural space that can tell the fascinating history of the area.
“As you walk out onto the pier, everything changes,” Penner says. “You get this new perspective of the coastline, the winds change, even the weather is different out here. It’s a nice way to experience the bay without being on a boat, and it creates this opportunity to view the area and the industries here from a different angle. We want to bring people out here to experience that and to tell them the stories of how Garibaldi and Tillamook Bay came to be what they are today.”
Recently, Rockaway Beach resident and photographer Mike Arseneault has taken an interest in the project and is spearheading endeavors with Penner to get the word out about saving the boathouse. “People are drawn to it,” he says. “They walk out here to crab and fish and they want to know what its story is. This boathouse could be our vessel for storytelling.”
The laundry list of repairs and project needs is lengthy—from replacing the pilings to restoring the pier itself. It’s enough to make anyone think twice about getting involved, but it’s one of the most important projects happening on the coast right now, Arseneault says.
“It’s incredibly important that we preserve the pieces of our history that are left,” he says. “It’s important to this community, and it’s even more important that we realize that when it’s gone, it’s gone. We need to step up and take care of it, because if we don’t, we will lose it forever.”
This urgency for action is why Arseneault coined the hashtag #savetheboathouse as a way to generate interest in the project as well as to collect stories and photographs that will help preserve its legacy. “We are actively looking for people who can share their memories of the boathouse as well as their photographs, so we can begin to compile those into a cultural center that tells the story of the bay,” he says.
Ultimately, Penner and Arseneault dream of a living museum—a space that can keep the history of Tillamook Bay alive and that can serve as a cultural meeting hub where groups gather for events, meetings, educational opportunities, and more. There is even a kitchen and loft upstairs that could make catered events and additional group gatherings a possibility. “Not just another museum, but a place that still breathes and has life,” Arseneault says. ■
Contact the Garibaldi Cultural Heritage Initiative for more information on the boathouse. www.savegaribaldipier.org
This story appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of Oregon Coast magazine.