National Register of Historic Places in San Francisco

National Register #79000256: Lewis Ark Houseboat 4 July 2010


National Register #79000256: Lewis Ark Houseboat 8 February 2004


Arks in Belvedere Lagoon Near Sausalito c.1900 Arks in Belvedere Lagoon
c.1900 - From NRHP Nomination Form

(Click Photos to Zoom)

National Register #79000256
Lewis Ark Houseboat
Hyde Street Pier
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park

Houseboats were developed in the 1880's as a unique form of maritime architecture indigenous to the San Francisco Bay. They were used as summer cottages by residents of San Francisco, Oakland, Belvedere, Berkeley, and Tiburon. Lewis Ark is from Belvedere.

Owners called their floating cottages arks because they had built them to conform to the one Noah built in obedience to the Lord's commandment. Owners called themselves the descendants of Noah.

Carefree ark life met its first blow after the 1906 Earthquake and Fire. Arks took on a new use, as a refugee home, as the only shelter for some residents of the city who had lost all else.

As Sunset magazine stated in their August, 1906, edition:

Gay then, this season will not be. Our men are too busy; our women are too busy. There is a city to be builded, the most beautiful and beloved of cities. The ark, the country home of the sea-lover, is this year his home where he must think and work for the "city beautiful...." Rather soberly then, in comparison, will life go aboard the houseboats this year.

It was during this time that Lewis Ark was built.

After San Francisco recovered, the arks resumed their role as floating summer homes, but the fleet was reduced. The only substantial gathering of arks was at Belvedere. One member of that gathering was Lewis Ark.

Because arks were not powered, they had to be pulled or towed by powered craft to their mooring. At Belvedere, the arks were berthed in a small lagoon near Tiburon during the harsh weather of the winter months. In the summer, the small drawbridge that traversed the lagoon would be let up to allow for the passage of the arks.

When the bridge was converted into a permanent structure in 1939, many arks were trapped inside. This doomed them. Some were removed to other waters, but many were left in the lagoon to decay and fall into disrepair. Some were hauled ashore and used as land dwellings, including Lewis Ark.

Adapted from the NRHP nomination form.

Lewis Ark is approximately 50 feet long and 20 feet wide, with a rounded, barge-like bottom and a one story residential section. The actual house is divided into six rooms. A roofed veranda encloses the ark proper, with two stairs affording public access to the ark. Originally, the stairs were not part of the structure but were added when the Ark became part of the Hyde Street Pier collection in 1969. The wood is painted with the Ark's historic color scheme, white with green trim.

Her interior is panelled with dark wood. Sliding doors lead into the two sleeping chambers, each with a built-in bed, closet, and dresser. All of these interior features are original. In the front room, or parlor, is a brick and iron fireplace, which is also original. The only surviving furnishing is also in the front room. It is a pump organ, vintage c.1915.

Who built Lewis Ark and exactly where is long forgotten although she was probably built in Belvedere. She is named for Rear Admiral Robert Lewis who resided in the ark with his wife from 1959 until 1968 when all of the arks remaining in Belvedere were removed or destroyed.

In 1969, Lewis Ark was moved to Hyde Street Pier where some minor restoration work took place before she was opened to the public in late 1969.

Adapted from the NRHP nomination form.

Aquatic Park and Vicinity

Hyde Street Pier Pier 45
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