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Hear Here: Down (home) by the Bay at the Berkeley Marina

Courtesy of Flickr user jdnx // Daniel Ramirez
Houseboats at the Berkeley Marina.

Roger Boyvey lives in a three-story house he built himself. It contains a complete kitchen, a view room, computer room, living room, master bedroom, guest bedroom, bathrooms adorned with stained glass, and a cat named Leo. In his neighborhood, there are just thirteen other houses like his. In this installment of our series of place profiles, Mary Rees visits Boyvey at his home at the Berkeley Marina.

MARY REES: When you pull up to the Berkeley Marina – and when I say the Berkeley Marina, I mean just the harbor with the thousand boats that are in there – you pull into one of a couple of different parking areas, depending on which ramp you’re going to have to go down, and what you notice is that it’s very much like a gated community. There are ramps with gates and a little extra fencing around the gates. There are people who actually live in the boats and, you know, maybe take – well, in smaller boats, they’ll take them out on the water, but there are some people who just have houses on the water there, in the bay, and who knew?

ROGER BOYVEY: I built it at the Fifth Avenue Marina in Oakland. I was the only houseboat under construction, but that’s where I built it and then launched it right there, had it towed – there’s no motor in this; it’s just a big floating home – I had it towed up to Berkeley, and then it was the first houseboat in the Berkeley Marina. That was 1966.

And the reason they let us in was economics. They had just built new docks, and they couldn’t, there wasn’t enough business in sailboats and motorboats to fill the spaces, and they had a loan from the state, and they had a mortgage on it. They had to pay off the loan, and so they would let pretty much anybody in, but then by the time they had thirteen houseboats here, they had enough sailboats and motorboats to make the mortgage payments, so at that point they stopped it, and they didn’t allow any more houseboats in.

I bought a book on how to build a house, because a houseboat is essentially a house. Well, the houseboats that you rent on a lake are different, ‘cause they have motors and you can chug along, but a floating home is just a box, either a wooden box, or a fiberglass box or a concrete box, which provides the floating base, and then you just build a house on top of it.

By the way, a houseboat’s the best place to be in an earthquake. Houseboats move in an earthquake. I was sitting on board the houseboat during the Loma Prieta Earthquake, and the whole houseboat rolled a little bit, not much, but you could feel the shock waves ‘cause the water transmits the earthquake shock waves. But the reason it’s so safe is that the boat just moves with the shock.

It’s very seldom, even in a raging storm, that you would be uncomfortable sitting here inside the houseboat. The smaller ones move more; this is a big houseboat, and it’s heavy because of the big concrete hull, and it doesn’t move much. You can hear the wind howling, but you don’t – unless you’re very sensitive to movement, you wouldn’t even know.

What’s a place in your neighborhood that means something to you – and why? Our Hear Here community storytelling project wants to know the answer. If you’ve got a story of a significant place, visit the Participate page at www.hearhere.kalw.org and tell it to us! You can also find the project on Facebook and follow it on Twitter at @hearhereradio.

Hear Here is part of a national initiative of AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio, Inc designed to bring new journalistic and technical ingenuity to extending public media service to more Americans. From Chinese restaurants in Boston, to shuttered factories in Dayton, to the oil fields of North Dakota, to Bay Area startups, the ten Localore production teams are working with their public station incubators to uncover ground-up stories of America in transition. Follow their development, and learn more at Localore.net.

Crosscurrents Berkeley